WHAT WE LEARNED: NFL WEEK 14

BY ADAM GREENE

We’re wrapping up Week 14 and heading into the final full month of football in the regular season. Only two teams have been officially eliminated from playoff contention, which means 30 other squads still have a mathematical shot.

Which just means, as I always suspected back in high school, math just can’t be trusted.

Here’s what we’re talking about this week.

BILL BELICHICK’S TIME IN NEW ENGLAND COULD BE ENDING

Wednesday morning a report surfaced that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has already decided to “move on” from future first ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame Head Coach, noted video recording enthusiast and football inflation expert Bill Belichick this coming offseason. It’s an offseason that, because the team is currently 3-10 and, if the NFL Draft was held today, would hold the third overall selection.


According to Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston, the decision to send Belichick off onto a skiff and fire flaming arrows onto it was made back in early November when the Pats lost an epic 10-6 contest to the Indianapolis Colts.

“When they came out of Germany, conversations I had that week made it very clear that a decision was made and they were going to play out the string,” Curran said. “And at the end of the year, there would be a parting of the ways for a variety of reasons.”

There are, of course, the obvious questions about this report, starting with, “is it true?”

Now, Curran has been hounding this angle all season from what I can tell, and certainly he does when he shows up in my YouTube recommendations as a guest on any show or podcast, but it’s still tough to believe. The defense, which, of course, is Belichick’s forte, remains one of the best in the league in spite of losing some key players like Matthew Judon. New England has given up 21 or fewer points seven times in 13 games and lost five of them. This is a franchise that hasn’t picked near the top of the first round in over two decades. At some point, that had to show up on the field, even with free agency.

At the same time, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire and this can’t keep coming up over and over again without being categorically dismissed by the team or owner Robert Kraft without there being some truth to it. So, if I’m a betting man, and I obviously am, then I think it’s going to happen.

Does that mean Belichick will be fired?

I don’t see that happening. What I do think we’ll watch unfold is that the Super Genius will “retire,” as his mentor Bill Parcells did so many times, and sit out for a season or two while weighing his coaching options. Belichick is very rich, and deservedly so. I’m sure he loves to coach, but I can’t see him just getting fired and re-hired somewhere else like a Frank Reich. He’ll take some time to pick his best option if he decides he does want to come back. It’s not like he won’t have massive offers on the table from ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports and the NFL Network to talk about football behind a desk for as long as he wants.

If he does decide to coach again in 2024, where would it be?

Well, the odds say that the leader in the clubhouse is currently the Carolina Panthers at +300, and it’s tough to argue with that. Here’s how the rest stack up;

Washington Commanders +325

Los Angeles Chargers +375

Chicago Bears +800

Las Vegas Raiders +800

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

New Orleans Saints +1800

Seattle Seahawks +2000

Arizona Cardinals +2000

Cleveland Browns +3300

Green Bay Packers +5000

Denver Broncos +5000

Atlanta Falcons +5000

I think you can knock off the Seahawks, Cardinals, Browns, Packers and Broncos off that list. I can’t see any coaching changes happening there. Pete Carroll won’t get fired and doesn’t look any closer to retirement than he did five seasons ago. Johnathan Gannon has done a solid job in his first season on a tanking Cards team. Kevin Stefanski still has the Browns in the playoff hunt, and if they started today Cleveland would be in, in spite of one of the worst ownership and quarterback situations in professional football. Matt LaFleur is literally one of the best head coaches in the history of the NFL and Sean Payton not only has the Broncos on the right track, they are flirting with the playoffs as well.

Like I said before, the Panthers make a lot of sense and they’d certainly make a play for Belichick, even gladly welcoming his two horrible sons, Skunt and Fjarnt (or whatever the hell their names are), but Carolina doesn’t have a first rounder this season and not a lot of draft capital with which to build.

The Commanders have deep pockets with the new ownership and would certainly love to make a splash adding a six-time Super Bowl winning head coach to their sideline, regardless of how it all worked out in the end.

The Chargers? If I’m placing a bet on who they hire right now, it’s Jim Harbaugh after a Michigan exit.

As for the Buccaneers and the Saints, neither job looks particularly interesting from Belichick’s point of view other than the fact that the weather, minus the occasional hurricane, will be much nicer than New England.

Parcells, as I mentioned above, took many of these “retirement sabbaticals” in his Hall of Fame tenure. He first “retired” in 1990 after winning two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. He returned from “retirement” in 1993 to coach the New England Patriots for four seasons and take them to a Super Bowl and lose. He hung up his whistle in 1996, only to break it back out in 1997 for a three-year stint with the New York Jets. At the end of which, he stepped down, “retired” again, to hand the reigns to Belichick who promptly resigned immediately to become the head coach of the New England Patriots. We all know what happened after that.

But Parcells wasn’t done. Four years later he took out the old clipboard, broke the seal on the coach’s whistle and returned one final time, spending four seasons as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys and giving us Tony Romo in the process.

While Belichick is older, and more successful overall than Parcells, I do think he’ll take at least a season off to pick the best possible position for himself. So, get ready for those “retirement” celebrations that will be meaningless in one to two years.

The third question is, who will the Pats hire if Belichick takes the long walk?

Here are the odds;

Jarod Mayo +200

Mike Vrabel +300

Jim Harbaugh +600

Eric Bieniemy +900

Brian Johnson +1000

Bill O’Brien +1100

Kliff Kingsbury +1600

Kyle Shanahan +1600

Ben Johnson +1800

Josh McCown +1800

Josh McDaniels +2200

Mike Kafka +2200

Zac Robinson +2500

Rick Bisaccia +2500

Joe Brady +2500

Jim Schwartz +2500

Dan Quinn +2800

Kellen Moore +2800

Nick Caley +3300

Tom Brady +10000

Teddy Bruschi +10000

First off, we can knock a few names off this list right off the bat. Basically, anybody you’ve never heard of? Forget it. And there’s plenty of “who the hell is that?” on this list. So that means Mike Kafka and Nick Kaley won’t have to worry about renting any U-Hauls come January.

Mayo is an interesting choice, not because he should get the job, but the fact that he’s so beloved inside the Patriots’ facilities. He’d be a popular choice with the actual players on the team. I’m just not sure it would work out on the field. This will be, at least on the offensive side of the ball, a near complete rebuild for New England. But, for real, I don’t think Kraft will give him the job, though he’ll probably be the team’s defensive coordinator in 2024.

Jim Harbaugh (if he does decide to leave Michigan), along with Ben Johnson, Brian Johnson and probably Dan Quinn, will have their pick of pretty much any available NFL job. The Pats’ gig is not a good one, especially following the guy most consider the best NFL coach in all of history. None of those guys would even consider it.

Kyle Shanahan? Why would he want to leave the 49ers? What would it even cost to land him? I’m thinking three first rounders is where the conversation starts, so why would Shanahan want to go to a place that spent that kind of player capital to land him when he could remain on one of the richest teams in the league with one of the best rosters you could conceivably put together in the modern day NFL? There’s just no way.

Joe Brady and Zac Robinson haven’t done enough to be seriously considered for a head coaching job. Josh McCown only appeals to teams run by religious nuts (and Kraft definitely isn’t one of those). Eric Bieniemy is more likely to be promoted to head coach with the Commanders than land a job anywhere else.

Rick Bisaccia and Jim Schwartz? Only as last resorts after every other avenue is closed. Teddy Bruschi and Tom Brady are just troll odds. I can’t even imagine either of those happening. Kellen Moore would never last half a season as head coach in New England so there’s no reason for Kraft to even invite him into the building.

That leaves Mike Vrabel, Bill O’Brien, Kliff Kingsbury and Josh McDaniels. And this is where we can all rub our hands together because it gets interesting.

Vrabel and Kingsbury are both former Patriots. Kingsbury was one of Brady’s many back ups and Vrabel was a key cog at linebacker (and sometimes as a pass catching tight end) in the Pats’ first half of their six Super Bowl dynasty. He’s also a proven and successful head coach. Which, like Shanahan, means he’d cost draft picks to land. Draft picks that Vrabel, if he took the job, would really want to keep. So, I say he’s out.

Josh McDaniels has proven, beyond any shadow of doubt, that he has no business being an NFL head coach so nothing would be funnier than seeing Kraft hand him the keys. The idea that McDaniels could turn any team into a “winner,” especially the Patriots, tickles me. I hope to God it happens, but I’m relatively sure it won’t.

Kingsbury could fix the offense, especially with the team likely picking a quarterback high, but I feel like he’d rather go somewhere with a tad less pressure. My bet is the Panthers.

So that leaves Bill O’Brien, the most successful member of the “Bill Belichick coaching tree” and one of just two former Belichick coaches to boast a winning record (52-48). The other? Al Groh who went 9-7 as head coach of the New York Jets for a single season before resigning to return to college football at Virginia.

I think that’s who it’ll be. O’Brien. He’ll want the job. He knows the culture and Kraft and he’s the only guy in the building other than Bill who you can say isn’t a complete loser, scientifically.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

It’s once again time to look at our current playoff positioning with four regular season games to go and see who’s in, who’s currently out and who’s actually mathematically eliminated.

AFC

1. Baltimore Ravens 10-3

2. Miami Dolphins 9-4

3. Kansas City Chiefs 8-5

4. Jacksonville Jaguars 8-5

5. Cleveland Browns 8-5

6. Pittsburgh Steelers 7-6

7. Indianapolis Colts 7-6

In the hunt: Buffalo Bills (7-6), Denver Broncos (7-6). Cincinnati Bengals (7-6), Houston Texans (7-6), New York Jets (5-8). Los Angeles Chargers (5-8), Las Vegas Raiders (5-8), Tennessee Titans (5-8)

Eliminated: New England Patriots (3-10)

Few things make me happier than seeing that Pats elimination notice, earlier this season than ever before. It’s a real early Christmas present. The four division winners in the AFC are all locks, so the only real race is for the Wild Card and I’m not excited about any of the teams that currently hold down spots 5-7. While math might tell us that the Jets, Chargers, Raiders and Titans are all still in this, they are not. In fact, all four of those could drop out of that “mathematically alive” situation this very weekend.

The four teams truly in the mix — the Bills, Broncos, Bengals and Texans, all make a compelling case, but I don’t want to see a backup QB in the playoffs. I want to see the best teams, with the best rosters, playing for it all and that means I’d love to see the Bills, Broncos and Texans usurp the Browns, Steelers and Colts and take those three Wild Card positions. They would certainly provide the best Wild Card weekend matchups.

NFC

1. San Francisco 49ers 10-3

2. Dallas Cowboys 10-3

3. Detroit Lions 9-4

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-7

5. Philadelphia Eagles 10-3

6. Minnesota Vikings 7-6

7. Green Bay Packers 6-7

In the hunt: Los Angeles Rams (6-7), Seattle Seahawks (6-7), Atlanta Falcons (6-7), New Orleans Saints (6-7), New York Giants (5-8), Chicago Bears (5-8)

Eliminated: Carolina Panthers (3-10)

The important thing to see when you take a look at this list is that the Eagles are probably going to win the NFC East and, at worst, be the two seed. Yes, Dallas currently holds that spot, but Philly’s last four games are a cakewalk (Seahawks, Giants, Arizona Cardinals and Giants again) while the Cowboys have a much tougher road (Bills, Dolphins, Lions and Commanders). Because of the tie breaks, if both squads finish with the same record, Philadelphia gets the division. I think they’re safe to go ahead and crown.

But that means whoever doesn’t get it will be the fifth seed. No team other than the division winner out of the NFC South will make the tournament and even that franchise, by season’s end, could have a losing record. It happened last year. You can go ahead and knock off the Falcons and Saints, here.

That just leaves spots six and seven open and, realistically, only so many options. Most of the teams involved, the Rams, Seahawks, Giants and Bears all control their own destiny. While my old enemy math might argue, realistically, any of these teams win out (you can toss the Vikings and Packers in that conversation too), they’re in. Most of them will play each other at some point or already have. Who has the best chance to do it? I think Green Bay will probably hold onto a Wild Card spot and the Rams, who have three very winnable games left on their schedule (Commanders, Giants and Saints) will lock down the other spot. Certainly, by doing so, they’ll clear out the other potential contenders. As for Seattle? They lose the tiebreaker with the Rams, so they’d need LA to stumble in one of those three contests. But, considering the Seahawks are probably losing bad Monday night, that point will be moot soon enough.

Follow Adam Greene on Twitter @TheFirstMan.

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