ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In the National Football League, the team matchups are set for the playoffs that begin this weekend. For the teams that didn't make it to the post-season, this is a time of reflection and a time for cleaning house; a number of NFL teams fired head coaches and general managers today.
And to help us make sense of it, NPR's Mike Pesca is here. Hi, Mike.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.
SIEGEL: Let's start with the teams that are still playing. What teams are the strongest in the post-season?
PESCA: Well, Denver in the AFC is most people's odds-on favorite. They are quality on both sides of the ball and on the offensive side, it's Peyton Manning. As a 36-year-old, he shows no signs of slowing down. The New England Patriots also seem good in the AFC. In the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons have the top seed. I hear almost no experts actually say they're going to use that top seat to propel themselves to a championship.
People just aren't buying the Falcons. People are buying the San Francisco 49ers, who have a good offense and defense, especially with Colin Kaepernick as their quarterback.
SIEGEL: What do you think of the big surprise teams this year?
PESCA: Well, I think we can count Seattle. The Seattle Seahawks is a surprise team because they are on the road in their opening game, even though they have a better record than their opponents, the Washington Redskins. And this kid, Russell Wilson, you know, we've been talking about some great young quarterbacks all year, RG3, Robert Griffin III from the Redskins, Andrew Luck from the Colts, they're both in the playoffs.
But so is Russell Wilson. And right now, he actually might be playing better than either of the other two more heralded picks, except for last week when they won by a touchdown, the Seahawks have just been blowing out opponents. So, in the last couple of Super Bowls, Giants and Packers have used road wins and having to win the maximum number of games to win Super Bowls, we can see the same thing out of the Seahawks this year.
SIEGEL: Well, now onto those coaches who will be looking for new jobs. Two have taken past teams to the Super Bowl, Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles. Both now are, of course, ex-coaches of those teams and some others.
PESCA: Well, Ken Whisenhunt also is in that group. He was fired by the Arizona Cardinals. In fact, there are no Super Bowl losing coaches that are still with the teams they lost Super Bowls with, except for Mike Tomlin and Bill Belichick of the Steelers and Patriots, who also won Super Bowls with their team. So yeah, the NFL is just merciless. Andy Reid was a career 18 games over 500, just a really accomplished coach.
But Philadelphia thought it was the end of the line with him and Lovie Smith had a 10 and 6 year. He's coming - he didn't even have that talented a team. He's coming off a 10 and 6 year. They still fired him. And one of the reasons that all this firing happens, there's a snowball effect. Teams get worried that, well, if four teams fire their coaches, if five teams or six teams, who are the good coaches left?
So anyone who's kind of on the fence, well, should we fire our guy? They're saying, let's do it now or else we're never going to get a quality replacement.
SIEGEL: And were these coaches fired for lots of different reasons or is it always the same?
PESCA: Well, it's not always the same because we're talking about coaches of winning teams like the Bears, so it's not just record. But what I did, I looked up their quarterbacks. ESPN has this statistic. They call it the quarterback rating. It's not perfect, but it gives you a pretty good sense of who the good quarterbacks were and who the bad ones were. Let's read up from the bottom. Mark Sanchez, Jets, just fired their GM.
Weedon, Cleveland, fired coach and GM. Henne(ph), Jacksonville, Jacksonville fired the GM. Castle, Kansas City, fired the coach. Rivers, San Diego, fired the coach. Then you have the quarterbacks from Buffalo and Philadelphia, fired coach, fired coach. And we didn't even mention the quarterbacks from Arizona because not one of them qualified in this metric.
If they had, they'd be at the bottom. What I'm saying is having a terrible quarterback, which is a little bit on the coach for sure, or maybe a lot, but that's an excellent way to get fired.
SIEGEL: Okay. Mike, happy New Year to you. Thanks.
PESCA: You're welcome. Happy New Year to you.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mike Pesca talking with us about the latest news from the National Football League.
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