Several coaches feeling the heat
Mangini, Cable among most likely candidates to suffer same fate as Jauron
For former Bills coach Dick Jauron, it was only a matter of when he would be fired. Tuesday turned out to be the day, and now Bills owner Ralph Wilson has to go back to drawing board to figure out how to rebuild his franchise.
Midseason firings usually don't work unless the long-term replacement is already on staff, and that doesn't appear to be the case. Interim coach Perry Fewell is a good defensive coordinator who draws great effort from his players, but he'd almost have to win out to earn the long-term job.
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Former Bills linebacker and Saints coach Jim Haslett fits the profile of what Wilson might consider. Economics will be a part of Wilson's decision-making because he'll be paying Jauron $6 million over the next two years not to coach. Wilson can't afford hiring Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren or Bill Cowher.
Jauron's firing officially cranks up the season for coaching casualties. No coach is under a hotter seat than Eric Mangini of the Browns. Through only nine games, players have grown tired of the two-hour practices, 30-minute walk-throughs and constant barrage of fines. Fans have grown tired of a horrible offense and mounting losses.
This could be the year of the one-and-dones. It will be difficult for Raheem Morris to keep his job if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers go 1-15 or 2-14. Tom Cable has little chance of keeping his job in Oakland after being given the full-time title this past winter. Todd Haley probably needs to win a few more games to keep things safe in Kansas City.
John Fox (Carolina), Jim Zorn (Washington) and Lovie Smith (Chicago) are also on hot seats, but an $11 million payout to fire Smith should keep him around another year. Jack Del Rio (Jacksonville) and Gary Kubiak (Houston) probably have saved their jobs with their 5-4 starts.
As for the Bills, Haslett or whoever takes over the job after the season won't have it easy. These days, a winning team needs a good quarterback, and the Bills appear ready to give up on Trent Edwards. The new coach will have to find a starting quarterback and give him the right offensive coordinator and system to succeed. Haslett could bring in Jim Fassel from the UFL or Jeremy Bates off the Southern Cal coaching staff. Bates worked magic with Jay Cutler while they were together in Denver.
Jauron is a nice person, but the Bills' poor offense led to his demise.
From the inbox
Q: It's not really baffling why the Eagles do poorly in close games. The reason is Andy Reid. We know all about his consistent success, but he absolutely cannot manage the clock.
Cary in Longview, Wash.
A: The Eagles' inability to win close games is becoming a major mystery in the league. I don't know why, either. How can a team that has been to five NFC title games not win close games during the regular season? By my count, Donovan McNabb is 1-8-1 in his past 10 games decided by eight points or fewer. I can't buy the notion that Reid can't manage the clock. He always wins first-round playoff games, and bad clock managers don't win playoff games. I also can't figure out how McNabb could have a career record worse than .500 in these close games. McNabb manages the game well and has a great arm. It's a mystery, but if they don't solve it, the Eagles won't have to worry about the playoffs.
Jim in Indianapolis wants somebody to write a story about players faking injuries to stop the clock and allow substitutions against the Colts' no-huddle offense. He saw the Texans do it a few times recently. I agree that the officials have to tighten up those rules so teams can't get away with that. Ed, a fellow Duquesne University grad in Pittsburgh, still can't believe the Steelers won a Super Bowl with what he thought was a shaky offensive line. I see plenty of improvement in the line this season. Max Starks has become a better pass-blocker because he goes against linebacker James Harrison in practice. Willie Colon is blowing people up on running plays to the right with Rashard Mendenhall. D. in Cleveland is irate that I didn't pick the Dallas-New Orleans game as one of the five best remaining games of the season. The reason is simple: The Saints will clinch the NFC South in the next two weeks, and by Dec. 19 they will be playing out the string. It may be too early for the Saints to rest starters, but they won't have to play their best. We'll see a lot of that leaguewide in the final three weeks of the season. Thano in Allston, Mass., wonders about the status of Patriots halfback Fred Taylor. He is still weeks from returning. Sammy Morris should return to the Pats this weekend. Saul in San Diego is excited about the Chargers' recent push to tie Denver for the AFC West lead, but he's wondering whether this could be their last serious chance to reach the Super Bowl. As long as they have quarterback Philip Rivers, they have a chance. Still, they will have to restock their defense in the next couple of drafts. Dwayne in California notes that the Chargers have dominated Eliand Peyton Manning the past couple of years. He calls it karma. All I say is that the Chargers have pulled out some important victories in games against the Manning brothers. You'd like to see more games to see whether it could develop into a rivalry. Eric in Massachusetts disagrees with a recent comment saying the Dolphins have been without question the Patriots' No. 1 nemesis. Eric contends it's Denver. I offer Indianapolis. Bob in Blenheim, Ontario, says when safety Kenny Phillips was lost for the season, the Giants' defense collapsed. It's been more than that, though. The Giants haven't had cornerback Aaron Ross all season. They've had numerous injuries at linebacker, and their defensive line has been banged up. Steve G. in Damascus, Ore., wants to know whether the Vikings will increase Percy Harvin's playing time in the second half of the season. The answer is yes. He's becoming one of Brett Favre's favorite targets on third down. Remember, he's also been playing with a shoulder injury. He's getting healthier, which is not good news for opposing defenses. Josh in Winston-Salem, N.C., wonders about the future of Colts safety Bob Sanders, who is lost for the season. His injury history could lead to his possible release, which would be sad. He's a great player.
Q: In this week's Power Rankings, you stated that "the Dolphins are finding that the tougher schedule after an 11-win season is burdensome." Isn't it true that only one of their games so far, Week 3 versus San Diego, would have been based on last season's record? The only other one comes against Pittsburgh in Week 17. Otherwise, they still would have to play four against the AFC South, six against the AFC East and four against the NFC South, just like the other teams in their division.
Marc in Woodbury, Minn.
A: Here are the numbers I go by. The Dolphins have played teams that are a combined 47-34 this season, a .580 strength of schedule that is the fifth toughest in the league. Overall, including the remaining games, the Dolphins play a .549 schedule that is the fifth toughest in the league based on the current records. Last season, the Dolphins played a .461 schedule, but this season's team is the same if not better. The Dolphins simply are playing tougher teams, which is why they are 4-5. Look at the quarterbacks who have beaten them -- Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning.
Q: As a Broncos fan, I haven't yet declared that the sky is falling, but the inability of Denver to adjust on offense is troubling. I've heard countless analysts diagnose the problem -- Kyle Orton's inability to stretch the field -- but no one has offered an offensive remedy (besides getting the running game going). If the Broncos can't make their run game more of a threat, can they pass their way out of trouble against teams that can sit on the short routes? Or is Orton too big a limitation?
Kyle in Waukesha, Wis.
A: Certainly, the idiot -- that would be yours truly -- who said the Broncos would finish the season with a 3-13 record won't be overly critical about a team he miscalculated. Orton's inability to throw the long pass was something I took into account with my horrible 3-13 prediction. That doesn't mean he's not a good quarterback. Brad Johnson went to a Super Bowl with the same type of arm range.
The adjustment that needs to be made is getting the receivers into good yards-after-catch positions. The Ravens and Steelers played off coverage to limit Denver's yards after the catch. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels will have to use more motion or more pick plays to free up Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall.
When I made my 3-13 pick, I thought I spotted a lot of limitations on the Broncos, obviously too many. Things still can be fixed, but McDaniels needs to do it quickly. The Broncos could lose the division title to the Chargers if they don't act soon. I think the coaching staff is bright enough to handle things.
Q: Do you think the Saints will get some true respect when we beat the Pats (Week 12)?
Jay in New Orleans
A: What better respect can there be than a No. 1 rating over an unbeaten Colts team? The Saints are getting plenty of respect. Everyone loves Brees. Sean Payton is considered one of the brightest offensive minds in the league. Darren Sharper is up for defensive player of the year. Gregg Williams is being recognized for turning around the defense. We can't hand them a Super Bowl trophy yet, but the Saints are winning the media war from what I see.
Q: You've already given the defensive rookie of the year to Brian Cushing, unless Brian Orakpo goes off. Are you kidding me? Have you seen Jairus Byrd's stats? Eight picks in five games. Three multipick games. He leads the league in INTs, and he's started only four games! How can you justify not even putting him in the conversation?
Xander in Philadelphia
A: I can justify Brian Cushing from watching him play. He's a tackling machine. Remember, I gave him first-half honors, but that doesn't mean he'll win the award. Byrd will be in the conversation because of his eight interceptions. I also said Orakpo could win it if he finishes the season with more than 10 sacks. (He has seven in nine games.) Analysts are like announcers at a race: We're asked to call the leaders at different points of the race, but it's our job to describe the race. Cushing has been fantastic. Watch him.
Q: I was wondering about the 2010 schedule. Since 2002, we have known whom a team was going to play except for the two opponents that are determined by a team's finish in the division. Is the NFL just going to stay with the status quo and continue the current rotations, or are there big changes in place?
Matt in Fort Wayne, Ind.
A: The league is staying status quo. In March, it extended the current scheduling formula through 2010. The league didn't do anything for 2011 because of the uncertain labor situation. In the future, though, expect an 18-game schedule once there is labor peace. The plan for the additional two games won't be much different. The league will try to follow the same formula it currently uses for the two uncommon games.
Q: After hearing Tony Dungy name Buffalo as a dark horse to land Michael Vick this coming offseason, I could not believe the Bills would even consider this notion. The smartest move would be for the Bills to take advantage of this upcoming draft that is going to be loaded with quarterbacks and finally put an end to this seemingly unending merry-go-round of starting quarterbacks; after all, half the battle of rebuilding a team is finding a franchise QB. Do you see Buffalo having this sort of mindset being how they are looking at a top-10 pick in the 2010 draft?
Garren in Clifton Park, N.Y.
A: The Bills will indeed be back in the quarterback mix after the season. The decision to bench Trent Edwards in Week 11 ends the confidence they have in his being the long-term answer. I agree with you that Vick isn't the answer in Buffalo. They will want more of a passing threat. I'm sure Dungy mentioned Vick because he felt the Bills would be in the market for a quarterback. He was right, but I can't see them committing to Vick unless they bring him in only as someone to compete for a job.
Q: I know that the NFL is driven by TV revenue and commercials, but Sunday night games are way over the top and making the game we love virtually unwatchable. The games are taking three-and-a-half to four hours to complete. Can the NFL do anything to prevent NBC from grinding games to a halt with commercials?
Kyle in Minneapolis
A: Believe it or not, the league hires people on the sideline to coordinate commercials. The problem is inventory. To pay for the game, the networks try to sell as many commercials as allowed. That's sports in the modern era. Things are indeed a little different in prime time because most of the day games are done in three hours. The key is having good games. I don't think anyone is complaining about the length of the Colts-Patriots game, but you raise an interesting point.
Q: The Tony Romo-led Cowboys have done exactly what I thought they could. They have spread the ball around sans T.O. and have an offensive strategy similar to New Orleans'. Given their recent play, are the Cowboys legit Super Bowl contenders?
Naitik in Chicago
A: Just when I thought the Cowboys grew as a team, they played a stinker in Green Bay, losing 17-7. My fears about their offensive line may be starting to materialize. Marc Colombo is out for the season with a broken leg. Andre Gurode has a knee injury. Kyle Kosier is banged up. Flozell Adams is playing with a sore shoulder. The offensive line could teeter on disaster if these older players can't hold up. I was ready to jump on the Cowboys' bandwagon to run away with the division. Now it seems inevitable that it'll be a fight to the end with the Giants and Eagles.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.