Top NFL Head Coaching Vacancies

1. Green Bay Packers

Pros: Most head coaching opportunities involve taking over a losing team with a poor quarterback situation. The Packers are coming off of back-to-back losing seasons, but they also come with a built in franchise quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and it’s not every day (or even every year) that you get the opportunity to coach a future Hall of Fame quarterback. The rest of the roster needs some serious help, but Rodgers has shown in the past he can mask flaws and take teams with issues to the post-season. Like we’ve seen with the recent revival of Drew Brees and the Saints, all it takes is one good off-season for you to go from out of the playoffs to Super Bowl front runners when you have a franchise quarterback.

Cons: The one drawback of having Aaron Rodgers is the high expectations. A new coach will be expected to come in and win right away. There’s also the issue of Rodgers’ age and injury history. Rodgers will be in his age 36 season in 2019 and, while we’ve seen Hall of Fame quarterbacks play well into their late 30s in recent years, Rodgers has taken more punishment than most and his down year (by his standards) in 2018 could be the start of his decline. If that’s the case, the new coach will likely be blamed for a drop-off that would have happened without him.

2. Cleveland Browns

Pros: I almost put the Browns #1 on this list. Getting to coach a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers is a rarity, but, given the trajectory of their careers, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Baker Mayfield was better than Rodgers 2-3 years down the road and the Browns’ job comes with less pressure to win immediately. Despite that lack of pressure to win immediately, the Browns easily could. They went 5-3 in games after letting go of Hue Jackson mid-season, with their 3 losses coming to teams that qualified for the post-season, and, with one of the youngest rosters in the league, they should keep getting better into 2019. While whoever gets the Packers job may be blamed for a decline that would have happened without him, whoever gets the Browns job may be credited with a breakout that would have happened without him.

Cons: The one obvious con in Cleveland is ownership, as Jimmy Haslam is known as one of the worst owners to work for in the NFL. He’s already fired 4 head coaches since buying the team in 2012 and, while these aren’t the same old Browns, it’s possible Haslam will have sky high expectations for the next coach and grow impatient with him too quickly.

3. Cincinnati Bengals

Pros: There’s a big drop-off after the first two jobs, but there’s a lot to like about the opening in Cincinnati. The Bengals started 4-1 before their season was ruined by injuries and, for all of the drawbacks that come with owner Mike Brown, he’s also a fiercely loyal person who is unlikely to fire his head coach at the first sign of trouble, after keeping Marvin Lewis for 16 seasons. The Bengals have a solid quarterback and, with better injury luck, could easily be back in playoff contention in 2019.

Cons: As nice as it would be to work for an owner that gives his coaches as many second chances as Mike Brown does, there’s also little indication that Brown is concerned with winning a Super Bowl, preferring to run a team that’s good enough to compete without being overly expensive. The Bengals are never serious players in free agency and often let their own homegrown talent walk if they won’t accept less than market value. If job security is your concern, it’s hard to do better than Cincinnati, but if you actually want a shot at winning a Super Bowl, this might not be the place for you.

4. New York Jets

Pros: Where the Jets rank as a head coaching opportunity is dependent on what you think of Sam Darnold. If you believe Darnold can be a franchise quarterback long-term, then the Jets are a team on the rise with a young franchise quarterback, some solid surrounding parts, and all the cap room in the world to go out and get upgrades. If you don’t believe Darnold can be a franchise quarterback, well then this isn’t the job for you, as any new head coach will be tied to the long-term success of Darnold and will be let go if he doesn’t develop as expected. Most head coaching candidates prefer to go somewhere where they can pick their own guy at quarterback, but Darnold was the 3rd pick in the draft in 2018 and certainly flashed upside as a rookie, especially down the stretch, so he should have many fans among head coaching candidates.

Cons: I basically already said this, but if you don’t want to be tied to Sam Darnold for the next 2-3 years, this isn’t the job for you because the Jets are committed to Darnold. If you’d prefer a job where you have some say in who the quarterback is going to be, the Broncos, Dolphins, or even Buccaneers are more appealing. This is also still an overall thin roster and it’s not a great off-season to have a ton of cap space.

5. Denver Broncos

Pros: Not only does this job give you the opportunity to potentially pick the next quarterback, but they also have a talented veteran roster that has largely underachieved under Vance Joseph over the past two seasons. If this team can solve the quarterback situation, they should find themselves right back in the post-season.

Cons: The reason this isn’t higher is because, even though the Broncos may be looking for a new quarterback, it’s unclear where they’re going to find an immediate upgrade over incumbent starter Case Keenum. Keenum isn’t great or anything, but 7 million of his 2019 salary is already guaranteed and this is a terrible draft for quarterbacks, especially picking where the Broncos are at 9th overall, behind quarterback needy teams in the Giants (6th) and Jaguars (7th). Veteran options will likely include Nick Foles, Teddy Bridgewater, and Joe Flacco, but none of those quarterbacks are exciting enough to justify paying both them and Keenum for 2019. It might not be until 2020 that the Broncos’ new coach actually gets to pick a quarterback.

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pros: The Miami job offers more of an opportunity to pick the quarterback, but that job also has other issues with it, which I’ll get into later. Whoever coaches the Buccaneers will likely be tied to Jameis Winston for at least one more season, for lack of a better option, but Winston is on a very short leash and, unlike other jobs working with young quarterbacks, the new head coach would likely not be blamed for Winston failing to develop, as he’s already failed to develop in 4 years in the league. On the other hand, if Winston does finally have a breakout year in his 5th season in the league, this is a team that could be competitive right away, assuming they are able to add a couple pieces on defense.

Cons: That defense is a big con, as the Buccaneers ranked 30th in first down rate allowed in 2018 and led the league with 53 offensive touchdowns allowed. They have some nice pieces on defense and could improve significantly with better health and coaching, but, even if the Buccaneers solve the quarterback situation, it’s hard to get into the post-season with a defense that ranks among the worst in the league.

7. Miami Dolphins

Pros: The only real benefit that comes with this job is the opportunity to help pick a quarterback, with Ryan Tannehill seemingly on the outs. That’s not a huge benefit this year though, with the Dolphins picking 13th in a weak quarterback class. The Dolphins will likely have to settle for a veteran like Nick Foles or Joe Flacco if they want to move on from Tannehill.

Cons: Though the Dolphins were in playoff contention late in the season, their dominance in one score games (7-0) is unsustainable and is highly unlikely to continue without Adam Gase, who remarkably was 20-5 in one score games in 3 seasons with the Dolphins. Despite that, Gase was still fired for some reason, the 3rd coach owner Stephen Ross has fired since 2011. Add in the fact that they have one of the worst rosters in the league and little cap space to use to improve it and this is definitely an unattractive opening.

8. Arizona Cardinals

Pros: Having the #1 pick is nice, but there isn’t a franchise quarterback worth taking #1 this year and the Cardinals aren’t in the market for a quarterback anyway, after taking Josh Rosen in the first round last year. Even without an elite quarterback prospect in the draft class, the Cardinals may be able to trade down for more picks, which they need to fill out a shallow roster, but they need more than just some good draft picks and have very little cap space to play with. The top end talent is there (David Johnson, Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones), but they have needs at close to every position.

Cons: If you’re looking for a job where you’re going to be tied for 2-3 years to a quarterback that is coming off a horrendous rookie season in which he got worse as the season went on, with arguably the league’s worst roster around him, then this is the job for you. If not, then any of the other 7 openings are more attractive. But then again, beggars can’t be choosers and a great coach can make it work even in a tough situation. The Cardinals now are in a similar spot to where the Rams were in 2016 when Sean McVay took over, only they didn’t even have a first round pick. Things can change quickly in the NFL with the right coaching.

2018 Week 17 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

CLE +6 @ BAL

High Confidence Picks

BUF -5.5 vs. MIA

ATL +1.5 @ TB

Medium Confidence Picks

TEN +3.5 vs. IND

SEA -13 vs. ARZ

Low Confidence Picks

HOU -6.5 vs. JAX

NE -13 vs. NYJ

SF +10.5 @ LAR

LAC -6 @ DEN

GB -7.5 vs. DET

No Confidence Picks

OAK +14 @ KC

CIN +15 @ PIT

NO -7 vs. CAR

CHI +5 @ MIN

DAL +6 @ NYG

PHI -7 @ WAS

Upset Picks

ATL +105 @ TB

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) at Washington Redskins (7-8)

This was the toughest game of the week for me, as I have this line calculated at the exact same line (Philadelphia -7) as the oddsmakers. The Eagles still need help to get into the post-season, but they seem to be energized having their backs up against the wall and playing with a backup quarterback, knocking off of a pair of playoff teams in the Rams and Texans over the past two weeks. They’ve also gotten a boost on defense with the return of linebacker Jordan Hicks from injury and their secondary has kind of sorted itself out despite injuries, with young cornerbacks Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, and Cre’von LeBlanc all exceeding expectations.

The Redskins will be fully motivated for this game though, with an opportunity to get revenge on the team that basically eliminated them from the post-season a few weeks back. Starting quarterback Josh Johnson has his issues for sure, signed off the street a few weeks ago, but he’s an upgrade over fellow street free agent Mark Sanchez. They also have a solid defense and running game and have played much harder since getting embarrassed at home by the Giants a few weeks ago. I’m taking the Eagles and hoping that Josh Johnson screws up late again like he did last week, but a push might be the most likely outcome.

Philadelphia Eagles 20 Washington Redskins 13

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -7

Confidence: None

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1)

After narrowly escaping in Jacksonville week 11, the Steelers improved to 7-2-1 and looked to be in control of the AFC North, but they’ve lost 4 of 5 games since then and now need help to get into the post-season. Part of that is the schedule, as they’ve had to face the Chargers, Patriots, and Saints over that 5-game stretch, but they’ve also lost to the Broncos and Raiders and also nearly lost that game to the Jaguars, beating them by just 4 points on a last minute touchdown after being down double digits in the 4th quarter. On the season, the Steelers have just two wins that would cover this 15-point spread and they have just four such wins since week 5 of last season, with two of them coming at home on Thursday night against an unprepared opponent. They’ve frequently played down to the level of their competition.

The Steelers should be completely focused this week though, in a game they need to win to have a shot at the playoffs, and the Bengals are one of the worst teams in the league right now due to all of their injuries. That being said, I still think this line is a little high at 15. The Steelers have some key injuries as well, with Antonio Brown at less than 100% with a knee injury he suffered mid-week and with starting middle linebacker Vince Williams expected to be out. There’s not nearly enough here to be confident in Cincinnati, but they have a good shot at keeping it within two touchdowns.

Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +15

Confidence: None

Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (4-11) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)

The Chiefs just need to win this game to clinch homefield advantage throughout the AFC, but they’re limping into the post-season a little bit, losing 3 of their past 5 games after a 10-1 starts. Those losses have come against the Rams, Chargers, and Seahawks and all 3 losses came by a touchdown or less in games the Chiefs could have easily won, but those are the kinds of teams they’re going to have to beat if they’re going to make a deep playoff run.

Their offense has still been dominant, but the losses have piled up, with right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and wide receiver Sammy Watkins still injured and Kareem Hunt no longer on the team because of off-the-field issues, and their defense has continued to struggle, even with safety Eric Berry returning from injury. Berry has not nearly been 100% and may not even play in this game after sitting out practice on Friday. They’re expected to get top cornerback Kendall Fuller back from a one week absence this week, but he might not be 100% either. The Raiders have played better football of late, so this line is a little high at 14.

That being said, I wouldn’t take the Raiders with any confidence this week. This is a big game for them, playing spoiler against a tough division rival, but they still might not bring their best effort after winning an emotional game at home against the Broncos last week, in likely their final home game in Oakland. The Chiefs’ defense is terrible and the Raiders could easily get a backdoor cover late even if the Chiefs otherwise dominate the game, but we’re not getting enough line value for this to be anything higher than a no confidence pick.

Kansas City Chiefs 33 Oakland Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: Oakland +14

Confidence: None

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (4-11) at Los Angeles Rams (12-3)

The 49ers are just 4-11, but they’ve been much better since turning to Nick Mullens under center. They have moved the chains at a 36.87% rate in Mullen’s 7 starts, as opposed to 35.17% in CJ Beathard’s 5 starts. More important, Mullens has committed just 7 turnovers in 7 games, while Beathard committed 10 in 5 games, and the 49ers are 3-4 in his 7 starts, as opposed to 0-5 in Beathard’s 5 starts.

Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis anyway and the 49ers have been killed by the turnover margin all season, ranking dead last in the NFL at -21. Beathard’s turnovers weren’t the only problem, as a capable defense that ranks 17th in first down rate allowed on the season somehow didn’t force a single takeaway for 6 games until forcing 2 last week against the Bears, who ironically rank 2nd in the NFL in turnover margin (yet another example of turnover margins being unpredictable).

Unfortunately, it seems like the public is catching on with the 49ers, as they are just 10.5 point underdogs in Los Angeles against the Rams. I know injuries have started to pile up for the Rams, with wide receiver Cooper Kupp, running back Todd Gurley, and safety LaMarcus Joyner all sidelined, but I still think this line would have been at least two touchdowns a couple weeks ago. I’m still taking the 49ers, but I wouldn’t recommend betting any money on them.

Not only are we not getting enough line value with the 49ers anymore, but they also haven’t played on the road in about a month and have been at home for 5 of Mullen’s 7 starts. In his only two road starts, the 49ers got blown out by the Seahawks and Buccaneers. Home/road disparities tend to be inconsistent in the long run, but I am concerned taking an inexperienced quarterback with no history of success on the road against a Rams team that still has a ton of talent.

Los Angeles Rams 26 San Francisco 49ers 17

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +10.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (11-4) at Denver Broncos (6-9)

The Broncos have had a tough year. They started the season with the toughest schedule in the league through 11 games, going 5-6, with close losses to the Texans, Rams, and Chiefs (twice) and wins over the Chargers, Steelers, and Seahawks. The schedule has gotten easier recently, but they’re not the same team as they were earlier in the season, with key players like right guard Ron Leary, center Matt Paradis, cornerback Chris Harris, and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on injured reserve and fellow wide receiver Demaryius Thomas traded to the Texans. As a result, they’ve lost 3 of 4, most recently losing in Oakland to the last place Raiders.

Now the Broncos end the season with another hard game, with the Chargers coming to town. The Broncos did beat the Chargers earlier this season in Los Angeles, but they had both Sanders and Harris healthy in that game, and the Chargers still won the first down rate battle by 2.35%, despite not playing their best game. The Chargers also have basically no homefield advantage in Los Angeles and played that game in front of primarily Broncos fans, so the Broncos pulling off the road upset is not as impressive as that suggests.

While the Chargers have had issues at home this season, they’ve been great away from Los Angeles, going 7-0 (6-1 ATS) with an average margin of victory of 8.86 points per game, including upset wins over the Steelers, Chiefs, and Seahawks. That is a trend that dates back to their final few years in San Diego, when they frequently had large visiting crowds, as they are 35-19-3 ATS away from home since 2012. We’ve lost line value with the Chargers since last week, with this line shifting from 4.5 on the early line to 6 this week, as a result of the Broncos’ loss in Oakland, but the Chargers should still be the right side for pick ‘em purposes, as I have this line calculated at Chargers -7.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -6

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) at Houston Texans (10-5)

A year after finishing a surprising 10-6 and making the AFC Championship, the Jaguars have had a very disappointing year and sit at 5-10 in the cellar of a suddenly competitive AFC South. Their defense has still played at a high level, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed at 33.04%, but they’ve done poorly in close games (2-6 in games decided by a touchdown or less) and, most importantly, their offense has been horrendous, ranking 29th in first down rate at 30.58%, after a decent season in 2017.

Injuries have been the primary culprit, as the Jaguars are down their #1 wide receiver, 4 of 5 week 1 starting offensive linemen, and their top-3 tight ends, while feature back Leonard Fournette has been in and out of the lineup with injuries all season. They also made matters worse when they benched Blake Bortles, an erratic quarterback with a capable arm, for Cody Kessler, a borderline backup caliber talent that lacks the requisite arm strength to make many NFL throws.

With Bortles as the starter for the first 11 games, the Jaguars had a 31.28% first down rate, but in Kessler’s 4 starts, they’ve had a 25.86% first down rate and have scored just two offensive touchdowns in 4 games. That’s partially due to the fact that their injury situation has gotten worse, but Kessler was an obvious downgrade from Bortles and that’s saying something. They’ve still gone 2-2 in those 4 games, but one was a shutout by their defense and in the other their defense allowed just 1 touchdown and brought back a score of their one.

When I saw the Jaguars were going back to Bortles this week, I assumed I’d be on them, but we’re getting no line value with them as 6.5 point road underdogs in Houston. In fact, I’m actually going with the Texans, since the Jaguars are ruling out anyone with any sort of injury and don’t seem to be treating this as a real game. Fournette and cornerback AJ Bouye have already been ruled out, both big losses, and they could also be without running back Carlos Hyde and cornerback DJ Hayden. This is a much more meaningful game for the Texans, who not only have a shot at a first round bye still, but also need to win to ensure they clinch the division. The Jaguars’ defense is strong enough to keep this close when healthy, but they’re shorthanded on both sides of the ball, so this line is too low.

Houston Texans 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 12

Pick against the spread: Houston -6.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (5-10) at Green Bay Packers (6-8-1)

The rule of thumb with the Lions in the Matt Stafford era is to take them against easier opponents and bet against them against harder opponents. They are just 20-41-2 against teams with a winning record since Stafford’s first full season in 2011 and, more recently, they went 1-11 against eventual playoff teams from 2016-2017, as opposed to 17-4 against non-playoff teams. This season, they are 1-7 against teams currently still in the playoff race and 4-3 in their other 7 games.

The Packers are not in the playoff race and the Lions beat them earlier this season, but they could have easily won that game if not for a career worst performance from kicker Mason Crosby. They’re also better than than record suggests, ranking 16th in first down rate differential at +0.60% and ranking even higher in my roster rankings, even with top defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels out and top cornerback Jaire Alexander likely joining him after not practice all week. They’ve underachieved offensively and lost some close games due to special teams screw ups (including the first Detroit game), but they’ve been better offensive since firing head coach Mike McCarthy and they could easily be in the playoff mix if they had won a couple of their close losses.

The Lions are also worse than they’ve been in recent years, thanks to a significant amount of personnel losses. Just in recent weeks, the Lions have lost right guard TJ Lang, running back Kerryon Johnson, wide receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, and defensive tackles Da’Shawn Hand and A’Shawn Robinson, among others. Given the talent gap between these two teams and the Packers history of dominance at home (38-19 ATS in games Aaron Rodgers has started and finished since 2011), I have this line calculated at Green Bay -10, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Packers, but not enough to bet money on them confidently, given how banged up their defense is.

Green Bay Packers 30 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -7.5

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (9-6) at Tennessee Titans (9-6)

The Colts got off to a 1-5 start, but have won 8 of their last 9 games, including 4 wins by at least 14 points. Injuries were an issue for them early in the season, but they’ve been one of the better teams in the entire league over the second half of the year. They rank 6th in first down rate differential at +4.21% and 9th in point differential at +73 on the season, but since week 9 they rank 2nd in first down rate differential at +8.26%.

The Titans have been close to just as good over that time period though, ranking 3rd in first down rate differential at +6.58% since week 9. Going into their week 8 bye, the Titans had one of the worst offenses in the league, ranking 29th in first down rate differential at 30.17%, but they’ve been much better in the second half of the season, with quarterback Marcus Mariota playing at a much higher level and the running game producing much more with Derrick Henry as the lead back rather than Dion Lewis. Their defense, meanwhile, has remained dominant and ranks 2nd in the NFL on the season at 32.29%.

The Titans have had the easiest schedule in the league for the past 4 weeks, beating the Jets, Jaguars, Giants, and Redskins, but they’ve also beaten the Cowboys and Patriots convincingly in the second half of the season and the Colts haven’t had the toughest schedule either. The Titans lost convincingly against the Colts in Indianapolis a few weeks back, but they also beat the Jaguars and Giants with ease, while the Colts lost to the Jaguars and nearly lost to the Giants.

Unfortunately for the Titans, they are going into this huge win or go home game with injury uncertainty at quarterback, as Marcus Mariota was once again knocked out of the game with a stinger in last week’s win over the Redskins. Mariota is expected to start this pivotal game and has looked fine throwing the ball at practice this week, but he’s already been knocked out of the game with a stringer twice in the past few weeks, so he’s no guarantee to make it through this game.

Despite that, I think we’re getting enough line value with the Titans as 3.5-point home underdogs for them to be worth a small bet. Assuming Mariota makes it through the game and plays reasonably well, I have this line calculated at Tennessee -1.5, so even with uncertainty priced in, Tennessee +3.5 is a good line to get with them. The Titans are also going to be without stud defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, but the Colts aren’t at 100% either with talented center Ryan Kelly once again on the sidelines with an injury. This isn’t a huge play because of Mariota’s uncertainty, but the Titans have a good chance to pull the upset if he plays the whole game and I like getting more than a field goal of protection.

Sunday Update: Despite practicing all week, Marcus Mariota is reportedly not going to play this week because of fears that he could make his injury worse long-term. That hasn’t been confirmed and we won’t know for sure until later tonight, but I can’t recommend betting the Titans without Mariota, even though the line has jumped to 5. I unfortunately locked this in at +3.5, but that was with the expectation that Mariota would play in a must win game after practicing all week.

Indianapolis Colts 20 Tennessee Titans 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: Medium