1. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Garrett is entering his third season as Dallas’ head coach. In 2011 he led the Cowboys to an 8-8 record as the team missed out on a playoff berth after losing to the New York Giants – the eventual Super Bowl winners – in the final game of the regular season. Garrett’s Cowboys went 8-8 once again in 2012 as Dallas missed out on the NFL playoffs for a third consecutive season.
As a head coach, Garrett is under particular scrutiny because of the high expectations of the Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones.
Jones recently said the atmosphere at Cowboys’ training camp was “conducive to putting a [successful] team together”, and suggested that he expected the play of his offense to improve due to the increased incentive for Tony Romo to play well – Romo has 119.5 million reasons to do so – and the balance he expects to achieve from hiring Bill Callahan as offensive coordinator.
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Quite simply, if the Cowboys don’t reach the playoffs this season, I believe Garrett will be fired. Jones is impatient and feels his team is primed and ready to win; I would argue otherwise. Their secondary play is poor, as is that of their offensive line and their running game. Dallas has problems and Garrett is being scrutinized as a result.
2. Rex Ryan, New York Jets
After a promising start in New York in which Ryan led the Jets to the AFC Championship game in both the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the team has faltered in recent years. In 2012 the Jets finished third in the AFC East with a 6-10 record. Much of the poor play of the Jets in recent years can be attributed to Mark Sanchez’s ineptitude as an NFL quarterback. Indeed, it could be argued that Ryan was unfortunate to be given a poor quarterback situation by former general manager Mark Tannenbaum. Regardless, Ryan’s Jets must improve this season otherwise he is likely to lose his job.
Unfortunately for Ryan, I don’t see the Jets making great strides in 2013. They solidified their defence somewhat via the NFL Draft with the selections of Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama) and Sheldon Richardson (DT, Missouri), but their offense is too weak to make the team a contender. Regardless of who emerges from the Jets’ quarterback battle as the starter, the team will be little better off. Sanchez is poor and Smith is inexperienced. Jets fans should not expect Smith to have a Russell Wilson-esque impact upon their team; he needs time to develop in order to have a chance of improving Ryan’s team. The NFL is a quarterback driven league, and without a strong starting quarterback I cannot see the Jets improving greatly this year.
Moreover, the Jets have problems at receiver. Their star wide out Santonio Holmes is unsure of when he’ll return from a foot injury. This leaves the Jets seriously in need of a playmaker at receiver. The recent signing of Braylon Edwards is a step in the right direction, but he will not be as effective as he used to be. Edwards has not had a 1,000 yard receiving season since 2007 and with Sanchez potentially throwing him the ball, repeating that feat seems unlikely.
In short, New York’s offense has serious problems that will prevent them improving greatly in 2013. As a result, Ryan could be out of the job.
3. Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions
Despite the fact that Schwartz led the Lions to a 10-6 record and the playoffs in 2011, he is under pressure in 2013 due to the poor performance of his team in 2012. Their 4-12 record ensured that they finished last in the NFC North and questions are being raised once again as to Schwartz’s ability to lead the Lions – or any other team – to success in the NFL.
Schwartz’s career coaching record is an abysmal .349. He is safe currently, but if the Lions don’t improve dramatically he may suffer the consequences during the offseason.
With the NFC North significantly weaker than it has been in the past few seasons – Chicago have a new head coach, Green Bay have questions in their running game and I’m not sold on Christian Ponder in Minnesota – I expect the Lions to improve from last season. The addition of Reggie Bush gives Matthew Stafford another weapon in both the passing and running game, while Calvin Johnson will continue to strike fear into opposing defensive backs. Detroit’s defense should be stout this season, particularly up front after the addition of Ziggy Ansah via the NFL Draft. Detroit’s secondary has been poor in recent seasons and the drafting of Darius Slay (CB, Mississippi St.) should help improve the group.
Detroit has to improve this season; they have few missing pieces and they’ve just handed Matthew Stafford a bumper contract. If Schwartz is to keep his job in Detroit, this season is make or break.
One to Watch: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Reid’s job is by no means in jeopardy in 2013. However, he has inherited a team that was solid apart from at the quarterback position – last season the Chiefs had five pro bowlers. The free agency addition of Alex Smith has solved the Chiefs’ quarterback woes and I think this team is a serious contender for the playoffs; they wont win their division but they could be in with a shout for a Wild Card spot. Simply put, Reid’s coaching credentials will be seriously questioned if he can’t find success with this strong Chiefs team. If 2013 doesn’t go well for Kansas City, Reid may be on a short leash in 2014.