Bobby Petrino's sudden resignation from the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday to return to the college ranks marked the official first spin of the NFL coaching carousel.
But don't expect the spinning to resemble what we've seen over the past two years.
We certainly won't see anything like a repeat of the post-2005 season, when 10 coaches were replaced. For that matter, we shouldn't even have anything approaching what occurred after the 2006 campaign, when seven teams changed coaches.
Entering the 2007 season, the two hottest seats had presumably belonged to Tom Coughlin and Romeo Crennel. With Coughlin's New York Giants on the verge of securing a wild-card playoff berth and Crennel's Cleveland Browns in postseason contention, both of their jobs would have to be considered safe.
The most speculation of another possible coaching turnover is focused on the 0-13 Miami Dolphins. However, like Petrino, Cam Cameron is only in his first NFL season as head coach. With the Dolphins having made two changes in only three years, there is reason to believe they won't want to again hit the reset button that quickly.
Other clubs whose struggles have sparked media conversation about the security of their coaches are, in alphabetical order: Baltimore, Carolina, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and San Francisco.
A contributing factor to such discussions is the availability of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who has spent this season as a studio analyst for CBS. Cowher would top any short list for a replacement candidate.
Here's a closer look at teams that could be considering a coaching change and the reasons they probably won't make one:
Why they could ponder a change: 4-9 record. ... Seven-game losing streak, with the bottom seemingly falling out in a 44-20 home loss to Indianapolis in Week 14.
Whey they probably won't make one: Brian Billick signed a four-year contract, reportedly worth $5 million per season, after leading the Ravens to a 13-3 finish in 2006. ... The inability of starting quarterback Steve McNair to stay healthy. ... Billick has insisted publicly that he will return, and although team owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome have not done the same, the three do meet regularly during the season.
Why they could ponder a change: 5-8 record. ... Whatever hopes had been raised by a Week 13 victory over San Francisco to snap a five-game losing streak quickly evaporated after a humiliating 37-6 loss to Jacksonville in Week 14.
Why they probably won't make one:John Fox lost his starting quarterback, Jake Delhomme, to a season-ending elbow injury after three games. Ten games later, Delhomme still leads the team with eight touchdown passes.
Why they could ponder a change: 5-8 record, assuring that the Bengals will not surpass 8-8 for the fourth time in Marvin Lewis' five seasons as head coach. …Lewis' forte is defense, yet the Bengals continue to struggle on that side of the ball.
Why they probably won't make one: The team has shown modest signs of progress, and continues to have hope with one of the NFL's top quarterbacks, Carson Palmer, and an explosive passing game.
Why they could ponder a change: 0-13 record and the very real prospect of a 0-16 finish. ... Veteran players openly questioning Cameron's decisions.
Why they probably won't make one: Cameron is only in his first season as an NFL head coach. ... He was put at a disadvantage when Trent Green, whom the Dolphins acquired to be their starting quarterback, was lost for the season after taking a blow to the head. ... The Dolphins' defense has suffered key injuries, including the loss of linebacker Zach Thomas for the season due to recurring migraines.
Why they could ponder a change: 5-8 record. ... Three-game losing streak, putting a team that many picked to be a Super Bowl contender on the verge of elimination from the playoffs.
Why they probably won't make one:Andy Reid's quarterback, Donovan McNabb, spent the first part of the season battling back from a major knee injury he suffered last year and then sustained ankle and thumb injuries. ... Reid has dealt with an enormous distraction with his sons' legal problems.
St. Louis Rams
Why they could ponder a change: 3-10 record. ... Extremely disappointing season for a team picked by many to challenge for the NFC West crown.
Why they probably won't make one:Scott Linehan, in only his second season, has been hit hard by injuries to quarterback Marc Bulger, running back Steven Jackson, and especially to the offensive line.
San Francisco 49ers
Why they could ponder a change: 3-10 record. ... A 20-point loss to Minnesota in Week 14 after a 17-point loss to Carolina a week earlier. ... Major falling out between Mike Nolan and the 49ers' franchise quarterback, Alex Smith, who publicly accused the coach of trying to turn the team against him by questioning his toughness.
Why they probably won't make one: The quarterback situation, which has gone from bad to worse with a head injury suffered by reserve veteran Trent Dilfer. Getting it resolved could give the 49ers hope for improvement under Nolan.
» The most amazing part of the Green Bay Packers' incredible season is not the performance of Brett Favre; his greatness was established long before this season. Is it surprising that he's still as effective as he is as a "senior citizen?" A little, but he already had a tremendous foundation for success. Not so with Ryan Grant. The Packers' acquisition of the running back for a sixth-round draft pick at the end of training camp was an afterthought. Now, Grant is a prominent part of an 11-2 season.
Since Oct. 29, when he became the Packers' primary halfback, Grant has averaged 102.4 rushing yards per game and five yards per carry. Earlier this year, the book on Green Bay was that as long as Favre was throwing touchdown passes, it could get by with a virtually non-existent rushing attack. Grant has changed all that. As coach Mike McCarthy pointed out, the Packers' offense can play "whatever end of the spectrum" is necessary.
» It was bad enough that the Pittsburgh Steelers proved, for the fourth time this season, they can't win on the road. Now they will have to try and reverse that trend and win the AFC North without one of their top defensive players, end Aaron Smith, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn biceps. Although the opponent was the unbeaten New England Patriots, the Steelers still were given a chance to post their third road victory in six attempts. Smith isn't a pass-rushing force, but his ability to control the line of scrimmage does plenty to allow Pittsburgh's blitzing linebackers to apply pressure and get sacks.
» Ten years ago, Todd Collins had a forgettable and brief stint as starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. Collins' chances for success were virtually doomed from the start, because he had the misfortune of being the immediate replacement for Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly. After washing out, Collins carved out a career as a seldom-used backup in Kansas City and, until recently, Washington.
Collins took the Redskins' No. 1 job after an impressive relief showing in Week 14 against Chicago in place of Jason Campbell, who suffered a dislocated kneecap. Collins made good throws and excellent decisions. His considerable knowledge of the scheme of Redskins offensive coordinator Al Saunders, who ran Kansas City's offense when Collins was there, was a key factor in the veteran quarterback completing 15 of 20 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, against the Bears. But another major reason for his success is Collins' work ethic.
As Redskins guard Pete Kendall told reporters in Washington, "Todd prepares as hard as anybody. That's got to be a very difficult position to be in, to always be one play away but knowing it's not going to be your turn unless something goes wrong." It is, although Collins has been doing it long enough to know how to handle it well.
The Colts still are without some key offensive players, including receiver Marvin Harrison, but they have gotten impressive rookie tackle Tony Ugoh back and rookie receiver Anthony Gonzalez has become more of a difference-maker as he becomes more comfortable with working on the perimeter rather than from the slot. "I think we are hitting our stride at the right time," coach Tony Dungy said.
Here's proof: In the last three games (victories over Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Baltimore), Peyton Manning has completed 70.5 percent of his passes for 809 yards and 11 touchdowns, with only two interceptions.
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