(Note: This is the fourth in a six-part series).
Three teams will open the 2010 season with a new head coach, the Buffalo Bills (Chan Gailey), the Seattle Seahawks (Pete Carroll) and the Washington Redskins (Mike Shanahan). It's a much smaller group than last year's "new coaches" but more experienced. The 2009 season began with nine teams featuring a different head coach from the one which had been on the sidelines for Week 1 of 2008. The list included seven first-time NFL head coaches plus the Bay Area duo of Tom Cable (Raiders) and Mike Singletary (49ers), who had been named interim head coaches during the 2008 regular season and then had the interim title removed. The 2008 season began with four new head coaches from 2007, all being first-timers. I discussed both of those two groups in my previous article and here will I'll take an in-depth look at the 2010 season's new "group of three."
Chan Gailey enters this season as Buffalo's fifth head coach since 2000 and 15th in the team's history. The franchise which is the only NFL one to appear in four consecutive Super Bowl (of course the Bills lost all four) has now missed the postseason in each of the last 10 seasons (longest drought in its 50-year history). Gailey spent two seasons as the Cowboys' head coach (1988 and '99), each time making the postseason but went 0-2. He had previously served as Miami's OC in 2000–01 when the Dolphins posted consecutive 11–5 records. He was also on the Pittsburgh Steelers staff from 1994-97 when the Steelers won four straight AFC Central titles and coached in one Super Bowl (XXX).
Gailey also spent six years as head coach at Georgia Tech from 2002-07. The Yellow Jackets went to a bowl game in each year under Gailey (six straight winning seasons) but won only two. While Gailey produced six consecutive winning seasons at Tech the list of things he didn't due loomed larger. He never defeated Tech's biggest rival (Georgia), never won the ACC, never went to a BCS bowl, never won more than nine games and never finished in the top-25. Gailey was hardly the team's first choice and fans surely wanted a bigger 'name.' What are his chances in Buffalo in 2010?
Let's remember the AFC East also includes two playoff teams from 2009 (Pats and Jets), both of whom are heavy favorites to be back in the postseason in 2010. The Dolphins are the division's fourth team and are just one year removed from an 11-5 record in 2008 which was good enough for Miami to win the division that season. The Bills have had just one winning season (9-7 in 2004) in their 10-year playoff drought while winning a total of just 66 games (6.6 per). It seems almost impossible to believe they'll win six games in 2010.
The team's No. 1 pick (9th overall) was Clemson's CJ Spiller but the team already has RBs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson, who led the NFL in all-purpose yards in 2010 (2,516) while becoming the first player in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards (1,062) and return kickoffs for more than 1,000 yards (1,014) in the same season in 2009. The OL started NINE different starting combinations and allowed 46 sacks (ranked 28th). The QB competition is between Trent Edwards (the favorite), Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm. With T.O. and Josh Reed gone it leaves only WR Lee Evans. Buffalo finished 28th in PPG (16.1) and 30th in total offense (30th in pass offense), finishing in the bottom-seven in total offense for the seventh consecutive year.
The defense is being switched from a 4-3 formation to a 3-4 up front and it has to improve on its 156.3 YPG allowed in rushing (30th) in 2009. It marked the fifth straight season in which the Bills finished among the bottom-11 in rushing D. The team's pass D ranked No. 2 last year (184.3 YPG) and while it also ranked second in interceptions (28), it only had 32 sacks (T-18th). Buffalo's five road games against non-division teams this year come against 2009 playoff clubs Green Bay, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Minnesota plus Kansas City. Don't expect many wins there. The team's home games vs non-AFC East teams come vs Jacksonville, Chicago (in Toronto), Detroit, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. That group offers a few more winning opportunities but it will be a long first year for Gailey.
Pete Carroll Carroll's tenure at USC from 2001-09 was spectacular but with recent allegations, surrounded by controversy. Did he get out of Los Angeles while the "getting was good?" I'll let others be the judge but it's hard to argue against the opinion that his timing seemed be in his best interests. Now comes the question of will Carroll's move be in the best interests of the Seahawks? Carroll started in the NFL beginning back in the 1984 season but didn't get his first head coaching job until 1994 with the Jets. The Jets got off to a 6–5 start under Carroll that season but in Week 12 he was the victim of Dan Marino's infamous "clock play," a fake spike that became a Miami Dolphins game-winning touchdown. The Jets lost all of their remaining games to finish 6–10 and Carroll was fired after the season.
He served as the 49ers' DC the next two seasons and was hired as the Patriots' head coach for the 1997 season when Bill Parcells resigned. The 1997 Pats team won the AFC East division title (10-6) and after beating the Dolphins in a wild card game, lost 7-6 to the Steelers in the divisional round. His 1998 team went 9-7 and earned a wild card berth but lost 25-10 to the Jaguars. The 1999 team finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs, costing Carroll his job. Patriots owner Robert Kraft said firing Carroll was one of the toughest decisions he has had to make since buying the team but in hindsight, since he hired Belichick to replace him and he's led the Pats to three Super Bowl titles, he can't be too disappointed with that decision.
Seattle made five straight postseason appearances from 2003-07, winning division titles in each of those last four years. The 2005 team went an NFC-best 13-3 and made it to Super Bowl XL (franchise's only appearance), where it lost 21-10 to Pittsburgh. However, the Seahawks have gone just 4-12 and 5-11 the last two seasons. The offense has steadily eroded over the last few years and last year's 280 points (17.5 per game) was the team's fewest points scored since the 1993 season. QB Matt Hasselebeck turns 35 in September and he's missed 11 games the last two seasons due to injuries.
Hasselebeck is a quality QB when healthy but it's hard to count on him these days. Surprisingly, the Seahawks acquired San Diego's third-string QB Charlie Whitehurst to back up Hasselbeck, despite the fact that Whitehurst has never attempted a regular season pass. The running game which once featured players like Curt Warner and Shaun Alexander, now features a no-name unit which ranked 26th in the league in 2009, averaging 97.9 YPG. The OL used six different starting combinations in the season's first nine games last season but did draft Russell Okung (Okla St) with the 6th overall pick, a player many felt was the draft's best OL. Notre Dame's Golden Tate was a 'steal' in the second round at WR but considering the fact that the Seahawks have spent millions on veteran free agent WRs Branch, Burlseson and Houshmandzadeh with little results in recent years, it's hard to be optimistic.
Defensively, Earl Thomas (Texas safety) the first round's 14th pick and Oregon DB Thurmond (4th round) will help a pass D which ranked 30th in the league (45.4 YPG). Seattle ranked 24th in overall D last year (356.4 YPG) and tied for 25th in PPG (24.4). The NFC West is wide open in 2010 with Arizona's Warner retiring and while the 49ers are improved and seem poised to win the division, one can't ignore the fact that they haven't been to the postseason since 2002. As for the Rams, they went 1-15 in 2009 and no team has won fewer games over the last three seasons (6-42).
Seattle's road games vs non-division opponents are at Denver, Chicago, Oakland, New Orleans and Tampa Bay. The Raiders and Bucs provide excellent winning opportunities and the Bears are surely beatable. Home games vs non-division opponents come vs San Diego, the NY Giants, Kansas City, Carolina and Atlanta. Other than San Diego, all other games are "up for grabs." I'm not sold on Carroll in the NFL or this year's Seattle team but considering the state of the division and the team's schedule, the Seahawks could go 8-8 or 9-7.
Mike Shanahan Shanahan was hired as head coach and executive vice president of football operations for the Washington Redskins in January of 2010. He becomes Daniel Snyder's seventh head coach in the owners' 12th season with the team. In the previous 11 years the Redskins own just two postseason wins. Shanahan got his first head coaching job with the Raiders in 1988, going 7-9. He was fired after a 1-3 start the following season and remained an assistant until replacing Dan Reeves in Denver prior to the 1995 season. He went 8-8 that first year but then went 39-9 (.813) over the next three regular seasons. The Broncos lost their first playoff game under Shanahan in 1996 but then won seven straight playoff games in 1997 and '98 capturing back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
The Redskins are expecting Shanahan to return the Redskins to their glory years but I believe they are being overly optimistic. The fact is that Shanahan had only moderate success in Denver after Elway retired and Terrell Davis ran into injury problems. Shanahan went 47-17 (.734) in his first four years at Denver (7-1 in the postseason) with Elway plus RB Davis gaining 6,413 yards (4.8 YPC) and scoring 56 TDs in those four seasons. Elway retired after the 1998 season and Davis would play just 20 games the next three seasons before injuries forced his retirement. Shanahan was a much more modest 91-69 (.569) in his final 10 seasons with the Broncos, winning just one playoff game in five tries.
Like with Elway, Shanahan inherits a quality veteran QB in McNabb, who has had great success (has led his teams to five NFC championship games) but has never "won the big one" (Eagles reached just one Super Bowl under McNabb, losing to the Patriots in SB XXXIX). The Redskins made the playoffs in 2005 and '07 but went 8-8 in 2008 and just 4-12 last year. McNabb owns just one quality WR in Moss plus a reliable TE in Cooley. He's never played with great receivers throughout his career and this year will be no different. The OL is a question mark (overall No. 4 pick Trent Williams of Oklahoma will help) but the Washington RB trio of Larry Johnson, Willie Parker and Clinton Portis could all be "has-beens."
The Washington defense was the key to the team's playoff appearances in 2005 and '07 but last year's unit was fairly mediocre (18th in PPG at 21.0 and 10th overall with 319.7 YPG) and with Albert Haynesworth providing a daily soap opera during July and August, it's hard to see the Redskins surviving in the always tough NFC East. However, Washington's road games vs non-division teams are at St Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Tennessee and Jacksonville, providing plenty of winning opportunities. The team's non-division home schedule features much tougher competition with games against Houston, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Minnesota and Tampa Bay. The Redskins should be better than the Eagles but maybe not the Giants and surely not the Cowboys. 9-7 or 8-8 seems about right.
I'll be back on Tuesday when I look at playoff-repeaters from 2009 and which new teams are likely to join the postseason 'party' in 2010.