By Don Banks
November 04, 2009

Last year, rookie head coaches in the NFL were all the rage, as three of the four first-time hires took over last-place programs and immediately turned them into playoff teams. The Dolphins, Ravens and Falcons were a combined 10-38 in 2007, but all three went 11-5 and made the postseason last year, thanks in large part to the work of Tony Sparano, John Harbaugh and Mike Smith.

But where are the Sparano-, Harbaugh- and Smith-like turnarounds this year? Nowhere in sight. Of the whopping 11 new head coaches, only two have teams with winning records: Jim Caldwell's Colts are 7-0, and Josh McDaniels' Broncos are 6-1. Nice work, but not exactly a worst-to-first story given that Indianapolis was 12-4 and a playoff team last season and Denver was 8-8, blowing a three-game lead in the AFC West with three weeks to go.

Here's the rest of the new coaches' report card after Week 8, and it's not pretty: Rex Ryan's Jets are 4-4 after going 9-7 last season; Mike Singletary's 49ers 3-4 after a 7-9 finish in 2008; Jim Mora's Seahawks 2-5 after last year's 4-12; Tom Cable's Raiders 2-6 after 5-11 last season; Eric Mangini's Browns 1-7 coming off a 4-12 mark; Todd Haley's Chiefs 1-6 after their 2-14 finish; Steve Spagnuolo's Rams 1-7 after going 2-14 in '08; Jim Schwartz's Lions 1-6 on the heels of their historic 0-16 last year; and Raheem Morris's 0-7 Bucs already have matched their 2008 loss total.

That's a paltry .346 combined winning percentage (28-53) for the 11 new head coaches, and a dismal .224 clip (15-52) for the nine not coaching the Colts and Broncos. No big turnarounds here. Last year, those 11 teams won at a slightly higher .352 rate (62-114), which dropped to .292 (42-102) when you subtracted Indy and Denver (20-12, .625).

Bottom line? Makes you appreciate all the more what Sparano, Harbaugh and Smith accomplished a year ago. On to the rankings... (Send comments to

NFL Power Rankings
1 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 1
Has any position segment in the entire NFL changed what people think of it more so than the Saints' once-beleaguered secondary? For the past two years, it was seen as the reason New Orleans didn't go to the playoffs, thanks to all the big plays it allowed in pass defense. (Where have you gone, Jason David?) But this season, Saints defensive backs Darren Sharper, Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter are big-play machines, with a combined 12 interceptions and five of those returned for touchdowns. All three got a pick Monday night off Atlanta's Matt Ryan, and those plays had as much to do with New Orleans winning as anything.
2 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 2
It's all so crystal clear now, right? Two undefeated teams remaining, and nice and neatly, one from each conference. It's going to be the Colts-Saints in Miami in early February. Thanks for playing, but we have our winners. Please drive home safely. Then I remember that last year at this time, the Super Bowl matchup was equally clear: The 7-0 Titans were destined to play the 6-1 Giants. Case closed. Only thing is, neither one wound up actually winning a playoff game. Year before it was Patriots-Cowboys, and that turned out being only half right. Get my point? Things can change in the league known as (N)ot (F)or (L)ong.
3 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 4
All hail, hail to the ageless Brett Favre, but even he seems to know it's the youthful Percy Harvin -- who was all of 4 when No. 4 made his first NFL start in 1992 ? that makes the Vikings the dangerous team they are. When Minnesota really needs to make something happen, Favre looks in Harvin's direction and lets it fly. That 51-yard Harvin scoring reception Sunday at Lambeau was a back-breaker. The three Packers defenders all ran into each other trying to stop it, and Harvin just watched the carnage as he motored into the end zone.
4 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 3
Wearing orange and looking a bit scary, Kyle Orton finally turned into a pumpkin the day after Halloween, throwing for just 152 yards and moving the Broncos into Ravens territory just three times in the 30-7 loss at Baltimore. Every quarterback gets a mulligan now and again, but my sense is Orton had better return to winning form Monday night at home against the Steelers, because I don't think he's going to ever get a ton of patience from Denver fans. Orton struggled to make adjustments against Baltimore's aggressiveness on defense, and I'm sure Pittsburgh is preparing to play it just as mean and nasty.
5 New England Patriots
Last Week: 5
Wondering what the heck is going on with Adalius Thomas in the New England defense? So are the Patriots, I imagine. The truth is, Thomas just isn't making many plays, and he really never has since arriving as a highly paid free agent in 2007. At this point, his impact seems mostly in the past, and the Patriots aren't going to let him take snaps away from younger, developing players. That's the New England way, and that's how you wind up with Adalius Thomas as a game-day inactive.
6 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 6
This week presents the Bengals with their biggest opportunity yet to establish their legitimacy as a member of the AFC elite. Beat the Ravens for the second time in five games to get to 6-2 at the mid-point, and it'll start getting difficult for Cincy to miss the playoffs with games against Oakland, Cleveland, Detroit and K.C. still to come. But a loss and the Bengals are just 2-3 at home, a mark that will engender doubt about their staying power and ability to deal with prosperity.
7 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 7
The Steelers will know by the time they take the field Monday night in Denver whether they're a half game ahead or a half game behind the Bengals. Besides being a potentially key tiebreaker in terms of AFC playoff seeding, the game against the Broncos will help determine just how much is on the line for the Steelers next week at home in the much-awaited rematch with Cincinnati.
8 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 8
With comfortable wins at Washington and home against the Giants in a six-day span, the Eagles are off to a 2-0 division start and now get to complete the first half of their season with a visit from the revitalized Cowboys. That three-game run will tell us just where Philly stands in the NFC East as it embarks on four road games in the coming five weeks, against four potential playoff teams: San Diego, Chicago, Atlanta and the Giants.
9 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 11
Just when folks were starting to shovel dirt on the idea of Tony Romo ever being one of the NFL's premier quarterbacks (see Week 4 loss at Denver), Mr. Cap on Backwards responded with the first three-game interception-less streak of his career, with eight touchdown passes and passer ratings of 108.1 or higher each week. Now comes the ultimate test; can he keep it going Sunday night in Philly, the scene of where the Cowboys season crashed and burned in Week 17 last year? If he can, watch the hype machine crank right back to life in Dallas next week.
10 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 14
The Ravens rising up and knocking off undefeated Denver will mean little if they don't follow it up with another big statement this week -- a win at Cincinnati. The Bengals already won in Baltimore in Week 5, so the rematch really is worth two games in the standings. That was the old Baltimore defense everyone has come to know and fear last week against the Broncos. Hitting people first, asking questions later. It's always a good sign for the Ravens when safety Ed Reed is the tone-setter. He blew up Knowshon Moreno with that one highlight reel hit, causing a fumble and lighting Baltimore's fire.
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