BOSTON (CBS) — It’s finally January, and it’s finally playoff time for 12 fortunate teams. But for 30 percent of the remaining 20 teams, the search for a new head coach has begun.
The flurry of firings this week — in Detroit, Cleveland, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Washington, which followed the firing in Houston a few weeks ago — wasn’t completely out of the norm, but it was a harsh reminder of how difficult life is in the NFL. “Difficult” is a relative term, of course, considering these guys are compensated plenty, as evidenced by the more than $10 million that will still go to Rob Chudzinski over the next few years. But still, the pressure to win at least eight games a year — no matter how terrible your inherited team may be — is so great that it doesn’t matter if you’re a relative unknown like ol’ Chud or if you’re a two-time Super Bowl-champion head coach like Mike Shanahan. If you don’t get the job done, you’re toast.
So while six teams search for head coaches, and while at least a small handful more — like, say, Atlanta, Dallas, Buffalo — may be within a year of doing the same, at least 12 coaches can breathe easy. For now. If they lose 10 games next year, they could all be gearing up for another round of NFL head coaching musical chairs.
The task at hand now for these coaches is to win a playoff game and thereby earn the right to lose next week in Seattle, Denver, Carolina and New England. (I kid. Sort of.)
(Home team in caps; Friday lines)
INDIANAPOLIS (-1) over Kansas City
Saturday, Jan. 4, 4:35 p.m. ET
In Week 14, I wrote this of the Colts: “The loser [of the Cincy-Indy game] will likely end up losing at home in the wild-card round against Kansas City. If a one-and-done home playoff loss doesn’t sound like the perfect ending to Indianapolis’ 2013 season, then you haven’t been paying much attention this year.”
And what kind of person would I be to change course after such an outstanding prediction just a few weeks ago?
(A smart person. I’d be a smart person.)
In my grand prognostication, I failed to take a few things into account. One was the Chiefs’ late-season fizzle, and the other was a thorough Colts victory over the Chiefs, which was part of that December fade for K.C.
Now, the Colts are very much a team that occasionally forgets to show up to games (see: 40-11 loss to Cardinals, 42-28 loss to Bengals), and the Chiefs are 4-1 against the spread in their last five road games, so by no means do I think either team is going to run away with this one. Yet the Colts’ offense is just a touch more capable than any offense being run by Alex Smith, and that ought to be enough for Andrew Luck and Co. to get by the Chiefs.
PHILADELPHIA (-2.5) over New Orleans
Saturday, Jan. 4, 8:10 p.m. ET
This is by far the most difficult pick of the weekend, thanks to two simple facts:
- The Saints are a better football team than the Eagles, but …
- The Saints are an absolute mess on the road.
It really comes down to how comfortable you can be with trusting Drew Brees, despite being on the road, despite playing on grass, and despite January weather conditions in Philadelphia. And I don’t.
For all of the Saints’ road woes, the Eagles have only recently figured out how to win at home, and one of their four victories at Lincoln Financial Field came in the midst of a blinding snowstorm. They’re 1-7 against the spread at home this year, which isn’t all that encouraging … until you realize that the Saints managed to go 1-7 ATS on the road.
Granted, home/road results from September and October won’t mean a ton come Saturday night, but given that the Saints have given up more than 20 points per game over the last six weeks despite never facing an offense ranked better than 14th, and given that the Eagles hold the upper hand if it comes down to a shootout, the Eagles get the slight edge. But picking against Brees in the playoffs is never a comfortable proposition.
San Diego (+7) over CINCINNATI
Sunday, Jan. 5, 1 p.m. ET
Now I do believe there is a very good chance that the Bengals win this game and end their NFL-worst 22-year drought without a playoff victory. I think this is the year, finally.
But seven points for Marvin Lewis? I watched him make the most boneheaded of bonehead challenges in Week 17, and I took it as his special message to me: “I’m going to do stuff like this in the playoffs, and it’ll probably prove costly — embarrassingly so. Don’t pick my Bengals to cover a seven-point spread, Mike. Don’t do it.”
OK, Marvin Lewis. OK.
San Francisco (-2.5) over GREEN BAY
Sunday, Jan. 5, 4:30 p.m. ET
If Aaron Rodgers had returned last week guns-a-blazing, maybe I’d spend more time considering Green Bay’s chances this week. But the Packers are a team that spent the final month-plus of the regular season constantly living on the brink of death (as far as their season is concerned, not in real life), and the 49ers are the right team to finally close the book on the 2013 Packers.
San Francisco hasn’t had any issues when it comes to beating the Packers lately, with a win coming in Week 1 both this year and last, as well as a 45-31 win in the divisional round last year. The Niners may end up finishing well short of the Super Bowl this season, but they’re on a six-game winning streak, and they’re simply good enough to win this game.
Last week: 10-6
Regular season: 114-132-10