- We’re only halfway there. A look ahead to the fates of two coaches on the hot seat, how the first-half darlings will fare, and teams that could be the stories of the final two months
Earlier this week, we warned you about the dangers of looking too far ahead in the NFL. That being said, nine weeks of football can lay out a pretty solid roadmap for what lies ahead, and we’re here to explore the major on-field storylines (Albert Breer gets you caught up on the off-field main event) that might be waiting for us …
1. How will the Ben McAdoo situation end in New Jersey?
Over the last 24 hours, McAdoo has endured an ESPN report citing a pair of unhappy, anonymous players complaining about his leadership style, as well as the continued erosion of his relationship with the New York-area press. For those who might be suggesting we’re wringing this McAdoo story dry, consider this: If a coaching change were to be made, it automatically becomes the most coveted job in the NFL. Organizational reputation, and a long line of satisfied former employees will all sing the praises of team ownership—a normally pragmatic group who pride themselves on letting coaches figure out their problems. If McAdoo is not invited back for a third year, it will represent a massive departure from standard operating procedure and immediately challenge other teams with vacancies for the top assistants on the market.
2. Does Chuck Pagano remain the Colts’ head coach into December?
Perhaps the only seat warmer than McAdoo’s at the moment is that of Chuck Pagano. It’s not fun to discuss a coaching change this early in the season, but it’s a painful reality of the business. Dismissing a head coach involves moving dozens of families from one city to the next—from a personal standpoint, it’s heartbreaking. And yet, sometimes a swap can make all the difference in the world for a young, talented group of football players. Pagano was an inspiration to the city of Indianapolis during his battle with acute promyelocytic leukemia. He won a thrilling, gutsy playoff game against the Chiefs. He logged 33 victories over his first three seasons. Unfortunately, a change in general managers and a 19-22 record over the last two-and-a-half seasons can change perceptions. If Andrew Luck is healthy and able to play in 2018, there will be a long list of interested candidates.
3. How do the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles finish the season?
Arguably the two best teams in the NFL over the first half of the season were a pair no one quite expected. This happens every year, whether it be a new scheme opposing coaches haven’t caught onto yet, or a young foundation that has finally developed. The trick now is maintaining that early success. We’ve seen starlit first halves crumble almost every year, especially once the pressure and expectations mount.
4. Will the Steelers offense kick into gear?
I think it’s incredible that the Steelers are 6-2 without a single, signature game from Ben Roethlisberger. One of his two 300-yard passing games this year was also accompanied by five interceptions. He’s on pace to throw his most picks sine 2006, when he was 24 years old and the Steelers went 7-8-1. Pittsburgh deserves mention here because if Roethlisberger finds himself, they are the one team talented enough to throw a sledgehammer to the AFC pecking order. This is a Super Bowl-caliber roster and perhaps, along with Kansas City, an AFC team with a legitimate chance of derailing New England. The combination of Le’Veon Bell, Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown should create some beautiful moments offensively. Imagine if they were saving all of them for the second half?
5. Which team is lurking in the shadows, ready to emerge in November and December?
Oakland, Baltimore, Washington, Detroit and Atlanta are all .500 or below, and all are still within striking distance of their respective divisions. One of these teams is going to cause significant issues for teams currently in the playoff picture. My bet? The Lions have Cleveland, two games against Chicago, a game against the Buccaneers and a season-finale against the likely-Aaron Rodgers-less Packers to go. This is about as generous a second-half slate as a team can get. Sitting at 4-4, two games behind the first-place Vikings, it may end up being best quarterback wins in the NFC North this year.
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