While the most important current issue settled in the last week of the NFL regular season was the final playoff spots among the dozen teams that advanced to the postseason and home field advantages, the future for many teams was also determined.
There are now eight NFL coaching vacancies after six head coaches got their pink slips on Monday. Joining Mike McCarthy and Hue Jackson, who were let go during the season by the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns respectively, the six former head coaches as of Monday are Miami’s Adam Gase, Denver’s Vance Joseph, Tampa Bay’s Dirk Koetter, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, Arizona’s Steve Wilks and New York’s Todd Bowles.
No big surprises, although it took 16 years without a playoff win and three straight losing seasons for the Bengals to finally part ways with Lewis. Who, will probably be best remembered in Cincinnati for his 0-7 postseason record. The Cardinals gave up on Steve Wilks after only one season, a year marked by injuries and a rookie quarterback who was mentored by multiple offensive coordinators. That almost appears as if they thought they made a mistake last year in hiring Wilks, given he wasn’t really given a chance to succeed.
What Wilks does leave behind for his one year tenure is the top pick in this year’s NFL draft. With a commitment to quarterback already tied to Josh Rosen, who they selected in the first round last year, the Cardinals will likely be looking at a trade or a position other than quarterback.
The Oakland Raiders, who still don’t know where they are going to play their home games next season, have three first round choices including their own pick in the fourth slot. Trading Khalil Mack to the Bears and Amari Cooper to the Cowboys for first round choices this season didn’t work out as well as it could have for the Silver and Black. Both the additions to those teams from former Raiders were instrumental in the Bears and Cowboys advancing the postseason, making the final two first round choices for the Raiders in the last dozen first round selections.
Two teams that appear on the cusp of breaking through with good seasons have the second and third picks in the upcoming draft, namely the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets. Both these franchises are set at quarterback, the 49ers looking forward to welcoming back Jimmy Garoppolo after he missed most of 2018 with injuries, and the Jets, with a new coach running the show, have Sam Darnold who will no doubt improve after his learning rookie season.
There were seven first-year head coaches in the league this season, and while all seven lost on opening day, two led their teams to the playoffs. Matt Nagy reversed the Chicago Bears fortunes, a team that won the NFC North Division this season after four consecutive last place finishes.
In Indianapolis, Frank Reich engineered a season long recovery not unlike the greatest comeback in NFL history he quarterbacked for the Buffalo Bills in the 1993. That year, in an opening playoff game against the Houston Oilers, the Bills trailed by 32 points, 35-3, with 28 minutes left in the second half. Reich then led the Bills to a 41-38 victory enroute to their third straight Super Bowl appearance.
This year, his Colts became only the third team in NFL history to earn a playoff spot after opening the season with a single win in the first six weeks. On Saturday, the playoffs open with his Colts meeting the Houston Texans.
Houston earned a playoff spot after losing their first three games this season, with means these two teams combined for a 1-8 start to their seasons and finished their campaigns with a combined 20 wins in 23 decisions.