The final regular season of the NFL season is just a few days away, and once it is over as usual some big changes will take place throughout the league. Coaches will be fired, or quit. 12 Teams will begin their quest for glory, and teams that miss out will start making moves to prepare for next September. Below are some things that I think will make headlines as the regular season closes out on Sunday:
1. Coaching changes – You can almost for sure say good-bye to the following coaches come next Tuesday (not sure if any will be fired on New Year’s Day) – Jim Mora of Atlanta, Art Shell of Oakland, Denny Green of Arizona and Bill Cowher of Pittsburgh. Add to the list the possibility of Nick Saban in Miami, Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, and if the Giants miss the playoffs – Tom Coughlin.
2. An interesting choice for Coach of the Year – This is going to be one of the tougher years to choose what coach wins the award. While it doesn’t really mean much, it’s always fun to look back and see what coach really earned the award. We have Sean Payton in New Orleans, who took a team that stumbled last year under tough circumstances and turned them into the second seed in the NFC. In Chicago, Lovie Smith has the Bears looking Super Bowl bound. Marty has San Diego thinking Miami the first week in February. Jeff Fisher took a team many thought would be lucky to win 3-4 games and has them at worst finishing 8-8. How about Brian Billick – he took a Ravens team that was plodding on offense after four games, fired his friend and started calling plays, and since has gone 9-2 and has a grip on the two seed in the AFC. Then there is Andy Reid, who took the Eagles, who were written off after McNabb went down, and made all the right moves to pace his team to a 4-1 mark down the stretch and a likely NFC East title. My vote – it’s tough, but you simply can’t overlook the job that Jeff Fisher has done with the Titans. This team is going to be very dangerous in 2007, and while everyone thinks the Jaguars will one day be the team to unseat the Colts in the AFC South, I think it may be the Titans.
3. New Blood with the top spots in the playoffs – While we have been use to seeing teams like the Pats, Steelers, Broncos, Colts, and Seahawks all host playoff games, this year we have some stadiums ready to rock with wild card and divisional games that haven’t seen them for years. You don’t think the SuperDome is going to be off the charts as the Saints play at least one home game there? How about Philly? The Eagles are back, and in the wild card round they will be tough to beat at home. The Chargers will be hosting a playoff game for the first time in two years, and this time they will likely have the #1 seed, which means the road to the Bowl in the AFC goes through San Diego. And finally, the city of Baltimore will gear up as the Ravens host their first playoff game since 2003.
4. Rookie of the Year – While Saints wide out Marques Colston seemed to have it all wrapped up about 8 weeks ago, an injury has opened the door for other players to step in and make a run at the ROY. How about Colston teammate Reggie Bush, who has a combined 1247 yards catching and rushing, and 8 total TD’s? His presence has pushed the Saints to the next level. What can you say about Vince Young, who has led the Titans to six straight wins. In 14 games he has thrown for 12 TD’s and 11 picks, but his feet have been the game-breaker the Titans have needed, as he has rushed for 37 yards per game while behind center and six TD’s. His poise has helped the Titans have comeback after comeback vs teams like the Texans and Colts. Then there is game-breaker Devin Hester. The 2nd round pick from Miami does not have a pick or TD on defense, but his five kick returns for TD’s and one off a missed field goal have sparked the Bears to their 13-2 record. I would have to go with Young on this one, as despite the remarkable impact that both Colston and Bush have had on the Saints, Young has week in and week out been a difference maker for the Titans.
5. Who wins it all? – What makes this field of 12 getting set for the playoffs so interesting is that it truly is anyones ball game. Every team has their issues, and while you usually look at the top two seeds in each conference as the favorites, we learned with the Steelers run last year that a #6 seed can be a dangerous as a number #1 seed. Sure it looks like the Bears and likely the Chargers could be headed to Miami, but can you really count out the Saints, Ravens, Colts, Pats or other six teams? To me the darkhorse in this years playoffs has to be the Eagles. They have a veteran quarterback playing at a high level right now that has something to prove, a running back that is playing with a chip after being snubbed for the Pro Bowl, and a defense that seems to be gelling at the right time. Picking the two teams in Miami right is really anyones guess.