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NFL Wildcard Round Open Thread


Before we get to the games, Tanier has a good post about how inept personnel people somehow keep avoiding the axe on Black Friday:

The Broncos fired head coach Vance Joseph after two seasons of failing to overcome team president John Elway’s spectacularly misguided quarterback decisions and the famine-stricken draft classes of 2012 through 2017.

Joseph was an ineffective in-game coach and game-planner. But Vince Lombardi would have struggled to earn a playoff berth with Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and one-year wonder Case Keenum under center. Joseph also started his tenure saddled with a coaching staff full of holdovers from the era of predecessor Gary Kubiak, who remains in the Broncos organization as Elway’s vizier/majordomo/food-taster.

Elway remains atop an organizational chart in which all the arrows point directly to Elway, rendering the head coach almost irrelevant. That would be fine if Elway was a Bill Parcells-like personnel wizard and empire-builder. Unfortunately, Elway, who claimed that the Broncos only need to “bring the energy back” and vowed to “shake some trees out there for the quarterback” in Monday’s press conference, is more like Dan Snyder with athleticism.

Speaking of ineffective org charts, no team builds rabbit warrens of never-ending boardroom intrigue like the Dolphins, who fired head coach Adam Gase on Monday and reassigned Mike Tannenbaum from vice president of football operations to vice president of office parking spaces (or something), leaving general manager Chris Grier in charge of the football operations.

A full accounting of all of the decade-plus organizational machinations in Miami could fill an encyclopedia. At various times, Jimmy Johnson, Nick Saban, Bill Parcells and (for a few hours) Dan Marino held sway within the organization, often with their tenures (or those of their proteges) and their conflicting philosophies overlapping, so that half of the organization was in win-now mode while the other was rebuilding.

Grier, while well-respected, is an old Parcells guy, which shows just how long remnants of old regimes retain power in Miami.

Gase was an ineffective coach—an alleged quarterback guru who never guru’d a quarterback who wasn’t already Peyton Manning, and who reportedly rubbed both players (via ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe) and ownership (SiriusXM’s Craig Mish) the wrong way. And Tannenbaum’s reassignment to the mail room will be lamented only by the agents who wrested market-setting contracts from him.

But after grinding gears for over a decade, the Dolphins have given power to someone who has had his foot on the clutch the whole time. That’s a great way to ensure more of the same.

Mike Maccagnan retained his job as the Jets’ top executive by shifting all of the blame for a three-year 14-34 record onto fired head coach Todd Bowles, a former top Dolphins assistant and interim head coach. AFC East also-rans are like guys trapped at the bottom of a well trying to get out by borrowing each other’s shovels (which is why the Patriots can have a down year and still host playoff games).

Bowles, like Joseph, was a defense-oriented coach who never missed a chance to punt on 4th-and-1 near midfield while trailing in the fourth quarter. (Gase was more of the “screen pass on 3rd-and-30 to make the stats look good” type.) Also like Joseph, Bowles was saddled with meager talent, thanks to Maccagnan’s knack for using second-round picks as bonfire kindling.

Executives like Maccagnan invariably hire head coaches who don’t make them feel threatened, just as Elway-level philosopher kings seek obedient yes-men. If a franchise somehow assembles a perfect storm of omnipotent emperors, mediocre execs and obedient company men, they become the Jaguars.

The only coach you can make any kind of case for is Joseph, who did a lot of weird in-game shit but did keep a middling roster in the DVOA top 10 for most of the year and played a lot of quality opposition tough. But all three of these organizations needed a deeper housecleaning.

Incidentally, for those interested in the racial semiotics of the NFL coaching pool, look carefully about the media treatment of Gase (held a tablet while an established Hall of Famer ran the offense from the line of scrimmage, got a completely ordinary Jay Cutler season out of Jay Cutler, outscored by 243 points in 3 years in a bad division while getting Ryan Tannehill performances out of Ryan Tannehill, bad even for Jay Cutler work from Jay Cutler etc. and alienating players and management in the process) and Jim Caldwell (won a Super Bowl as an OC while getting a Joe Montana-like playoff performance out of…Joe Flacco, went 36-28 with a historically bad organization that collapsed immediately after replacing him with the latest branch of the Bill Belichick coaching wasteland) and what kind of opportunities they get.

On to today’s games:

Indianapolis (+2) over HOUSTON Speaking of coaching follies, the Colts got a huge break when perpetual callow fratboy Josh McDaniels left them at the altar, leaving them with a Coach of the Year candidate instead. And the post-Grigson personnel work has been equally strong, helping Luck have his best season since 2014 if not ever. That’s not to say that the Texans will be an easy out. I don’t particularly like the organization but the thing about a stars-and-scrubs team is that it can work if the stars stay healthy and are really good, and Hopkins/Watson/Watt/Clowney/Mercilus is a hell of a core. If the supporting wideouts were healthy I would take Houston, but as things stand I’ll grab the points; the Colts offensive line has been excellent and if the Texans pass rush doesn’t get through Luck will make a lot of plays.

Seattle (+2 1/2) over DALLAS
Action seems to be trending towards Seattle, and the case for them is obvious: they were 9 notches ahead of Dallas in DVOA and have big edges at the crucial positions of QB and head coach. There is a pretty decent counter-case: the Cowboys offense has looked better since acquiring Cooper, and Marinelli and Richard have really whipped the Dallas defense into shape. I can see Carroll and Schotty going three and out again and again trying to ESTABLISH THE RUN against one of the league’s best rushing defenses and allowing the Cowboy offense to do just enough playing from ahead. But…if I had to bet on this I’d come back to Wilson/Carroll vs. Prescott/Garrett. The Legion of Gritty Underdogs survives to the divisional round.

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