FOOTBALL: NFL overview, from coaches to up-and-coming players to Super Bowl winner

 

Coaches wield the power on NFL teams, and this season eight of
those teams will have new men in charge, the most since 2006, when
10 teams made coaching changes.
By Randy Covitz – McClatchy Newspapers

Coaches wield the power on NFL teams, and this season eight of those teams will have new men in charge, the most since 2006, when 10 teams made coaching changes.

Two of the new guys, Minnesota’s Leslie Frazier and Dallas’ Jason Garrett, were promoted after finishing the 2010 season in interim roles. Denver’s John Fox spent nine seasons as the coach at Carolina.

The other five – Carolina’s Ron Rivera, Cleveland’s Pat Shurmur, Oakland’s Hue Jackson, San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh and Tennessee’s Mike Munchak – are first-time NFL coaches.

There’s little question Garrett and Jackson are the two newcomers working for the most impatient owners.

Garrett led the Cowboys to a 5-3 record last year after Wade Phillips was fired by Jerry Jones following a 1-7 start. Garrett is Jones’ sixth coach since the Cowboys last won a Super Bowl, after the 1995 season.

Oakland’s last two coaches, Lane Kiffin and Tom Cable, ended up in legal squabbles over money and left on bad terms. In both cases, 82-year-old Al Davis provided a boot out the door with scathing critiques.

Jackson, by contrast, has taken to calling Davis “coach” in public forums and is unapologetic about seeking his advice and counsel. The Raiders went 8-8 last year under Cable (6-0 in the AFC West) after seven consecutive seasons of 11 or more losses. Jackson expects the Raiders to contend for a Super Bowl this season.

“Why not us? Why not the Raiders?” Jackson said. “We’re trying to win a championship. It’s what I talk about.”

THREE COACHES TO WATCH

Texans’ Gary Kubiak

Kubiak was one of 10 coaches hired in 2006. He’s had just one winning season and the Texans still have yet to make the playoffs. Houston failed to capitalize on Indianapolis’ vulnerability last year, and after a 4-2 start finished 2-8 for a 6-10 record. The Texans won’t have to wait long to find out how they stack up: They open against the Colts, whom they beat 34-24 in last year’s opener in Houston.

Chargers’ Norv Turner

It’s amazing that Turner keeps his job after the Chargers disappoint year after year. Their talent was superior to the rest of the AFC West last season, when they led the NFL in total offense and defense only to be undermined by horrid special teams. Poor starts have haunted them, too: They opened 2-5 last year and couldn’t overtake the Chiefs, and began 2-3 before winning 10 straight in 2009.

Chiefs’ Todd Haley

This is a make-or-break year for Haley, who is in the third year of a four-year contract. It’s never a good idea to have a coach go into a lame-duck season, so the Chiefs will likely offer him an extension before the season is over or hand him a pink slip if they slide back. Making the decision tougher? They might improve but not have the record to show for it thanks to a tougher schedule this year.

THREE TEAMS READY TO SHOW THEIR POWER

Houston Texans

Already had NFL rushing champion in Arian Foster and gifted WR in Andre Johnson. Brought in Wade Phillips to install a 3-4 front and drafted DE J.J. Watt.

Tampa Bay Bucs

Improved from 3-13 to 10-6 in 2010. QB Josh Freeman broke through last year, and drafting DEs Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers early aids the pass rush.

Dallas Cowboys

QB Tony Romo has recovered from broken clavicle, offensive line has been upgraded, Rob Ryan has been brought in to fix the defense.

THREE TEAMS THAT LACK FIREPOWER

Cincinnati Bengals

With a rookie QB in Andy Dalton; new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who has spent most of his career in Arena League; and a new playmaker in rookie A.J. Green, concerns abound in Cincinnati.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Owner Wayne Weaver spent big, handing huge contracts to LBs Paul Posluszny ($45 million) and Clint Session ($29M) and safety Dawan Landry ($27.5M). But QB and coaching are still big issues.

Denver Broncos

The Kyle Orton-Tim Tebow QB question is the kind of thing that will split a locker room. And Dennis Allen is their sixth defensive coordinator in as many years, so continuity will be a problem for a unit that was anemic in 2010.

FIVE MVP CANDIDATES

Tom Brady, Patriots QB

Won his second MVP last year and there’s no reason to think Brady, 34, will slow down after leading the league with a 111.0 passer rating, throwing for 36 TDs and guiding the Patriots to a league-best 14-2 mark.

Philip Rivers, Chargers QB

Directed NFL’s most prolific offense in 2010, throwing for 4,710 yards, 101.8 passer rating and 30 TDs despite missing WR Vincent Jackson for 11 games and TE Antonio Gates for six.

Michael Vick, Eagles QB

Chosen Comeback Player of the Year in 2010 after missing two full seasons and spending 2009 as a backup in Philly. New cadre of supporting players should only accentuate his passing and running skills.

Aaron Rodgers, Packers QB

Career passer rating of 98.4 ranks No. 1 in NFL history and 12,394 passing yards during 2008-10 ranks No. 2 in league history behind only Kurt Warner (12,612 in 1999-2001) for most in a QB’s first three seasons as a starter.

Ndamukong Suh, Lions DT

It’s been a long time since a defensive player was selected league MVP, but the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year had 10 sacks in 2010 and is certainly in the heads of passers and blockers.

FIVE POWERFUL ROOKIES

Cam Newton, Panthers QB

Reigning Heisman winner from Auburn (above) will supplant Jimmy Clausen as No. 1 soon enough, but the chants of “CAM! CAM! CAM!” have already begun in Carolina.

Mark Ingram, Saints RB

Saints may have a steal in 5-9, 215-pounder from Alabama . The 2009 Heisman winner looks capable of 1,000-?yard/10 TD season.

Corey Liuget, Chargers DE

This was a guy the Chiefs could have used (6-3, 300-pounder is prototypical run-?stopper), but Chargers snapped him up with the 18th overall pick. Could be the starter opposite Luis Castillo.

Aldon Smith, 49ers OLB

Didn’t take long for Smith, the seventh overall pick from Missouri and Raytown, to take a starting spot from Ahmad Brooks.

Mark Herzlich, Giants LB

Missed all of 2009 at Boston College because of battle with cancer. Went undrafted and Giants signed him as free agent. Talented player who wiill find a role on the team.

NFL PREDICTIONS

AFC East

New York Jets: Rex Ryan has done something no one else has _ figure out Bill Belichick.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger is available for all 16 games this year.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts: Would be first team to reach the playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons.

AFC West

San Diego Chargers: Just too much talent on both sides of the ball.

AFC wild cards

New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens: Ravens get four wins vs. Browns, Bengals.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles: There’s just too much hype surrounding this team.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers: No NFC team has made back-to-back Super Bowl trips since the Packers 14 years ago.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints: How’d they lose to Seattle in the playoffs last year?

NFC West

St. Louis Rams: Who do you like at QB, Sam Bradford or Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson?

NFC wild cards

Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: NFC South is a bear.

Super Bowl XLI

In a rematch, Packers beat Steelers as Mike McCarthy ties Vince Lombardi with two Super Bowl wins for Titletown, USA.

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