By: Lucas Kochevar
The wild card weekend featured great game after great game and it was an absolute delight. Outside of the Monday night blowout, it was a thrilling weekend of football and there are many storylines to look forward to this upcoming round. There's a story for every game. There's the new young gun in Jacksonville vs the current generations best talent in Patrick Mahomes. In Buffalo, two of the best quarterbacks in the game go at it just a couple weeks after the horrible Monday Night Football incident. In the NFC, there's a classic NFC East rivalry that's full of hatred and then a game between two of the biggest brands in football. For the record, I have the 49ers and Bengals in the Super Bowl so it's clear where my interests are. Regardless of that, I anticipate this weekend to be wall-to-wall action and I can't wait, but in this version of LK League Notes, I wanted to look at the head coaching vacancies and rank which ones I find the most desirable to least desirable.
1. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers have to be on this list at number one, despite not having a franchise quarterback. They have a roster that isn't that far away from competing for the division with a young defense and promising players on offense. Now, interim head coach Steve Wilks did a fantastic job rallying this team towards the end of the season and actually made them a formidable foe. I think he should get the job, but the fact that he hasn't been announced yet makes me believe that he won't get the opportunity. With the offense, you have an offensive line that was very improved from where they were a year ago and guard Ikem Ekwonu should make great progress over this offseason. The weapons are a mixed bag, but with D.J. Moore and a strong stable of running backs they should be a formidable unit. Their defense is the unit that jumps off the page to me with young studs like Jaycee Horn, Derrick Brown and Brian Burns. The quarterback is the only question mark, but with Sam Darnold and Matt Corral, they should be able to hold it down or be bad enough to pursue a QB next offseason.
2. Denver Broncos
The Broncos find themselves in the same position as last year, looking for a head coach. Their offense had a horrifying year with Russell Wilson's first season in Denver. The defense, however, showed signs of life as they were the unit that kept the Broncos competitive in games. The Broncos job is appealing because they have the defense in place, the only issue is utilizing Wilson in a way that he can thrive in and not play hero ball, like he did so many times last season. As he's starting age, he needs to take a step back and realize that he has to be better with diminished speed and elusiveness. This job feels like it needs a veteran head coach to really get them back on track and I think two names that make sense are Sean Payton and Dan Quinn. I know Payton needs to be traded in order to be the coach, but I think it would be smart for them to pursue him since I think Brees and Wilson share similar traits and Payton can get the most out of him. Quinn has his flaws, but I would be very interested to see how he does with a team that already has a better defensive roster than he ever had in Atlanta.
3. Houston Texans
This feels like a crazy ranking given the fact that the last two coaches to be hired here were fired after one season, but I think this offseason they actually want to try and get the guy. They've had two horrible seasons and they'll likely have another, but with a potential franchise quarterback on the horizon in this year or next years draft, I think it's an appealing job. Derek Stingley had a solid rookie year and Dameon Pierce has some promise on offense. This team reminds me of a ball of clay they hasn't been touched at all and really any coach that wants to try and mold it has the opportunity to. At the end of the year when they fumbled the first overall pick, I think it was clear that the team was moving in the right direction. Finding the quarterback is still the big key and the wide receivers aren't fantastic, but having tackle Laremy Tunsil is a big plus. The defense also has a ways to go, but like I said, they showed some fight at the end of last season that I loved.
4. Indianapolis Colts
I was a person that was fooled by Colts going into the season. I thought they were a stable situation and Matt Ryan would finally have a competent organization, but then the world caught on fire in Indianapolis. The reason I find this job unappealing is simply the behind the scenes stuff. Owner Jim Irsay is a certified character and doesn't seem real at times. General manager Chris Ballard has a lame duck feeling, especially if they start off slow. The roster isn't horrible with top end talent in Quenton Nelson, Jonathan Taylor, and DeForest Buckner. There's also linebacker Darius Leonard, if he can comeback healthy. The offense needs a complete re-tooling and the defense isn't much better. I think this roster reached it's peak under Philip Rivers and they didn't realize it until it was too late. Now, they're stuck in an odd spot, where they have the talent, but they aren't sure what to do with it. They have assets to move up in the draft if they truly want one of the premier quarterbacks in this years draft, but that's only a starting point for one of the weirder situations in the NFL. The Colts are truly a wild card when it comes to being good soon. I just hope they aren't truly considering hiring interim coach Jeff Saturday full-time.
5. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals don't get enough flack for truly being one of the worst franchises in NFL history. They are in the bottom four when it comes to all-time winning percentage and they've played far more games than the three teams below them. They've played just over 1,400 games and have only really had success in the past twenty years. Even saying 'success' feels wrong as they've consistently missed the playoffs and had the first pick as recently as 2019. The ownership has failed in providing competency outside of getting Bruce Arians. This job has to be last and it's crazy because they're the only opening that has a quarterback I would consider a franchise guy, even then he's addicted to video games! I have them last due to the organizational disfunction. The roster itself is oddly built with a defense that has solid players in Budda Baker and Isaiah Simons, but they still need a lot of help. The offense has talent for sure, but with DeAndre Hopkins potentially on the move, they might need help on the outside. Also the offensive line needs help so Kyler Murray isn't running for his life. Honestly, I think this job is for the coach that just wants a payday and isn't locked in to being a head coach for 20 years. The Cardinals need a culture shift and I'm very intrigued by who they hire.
LK's Lock of the Week: Buffalo Bills vs Cincinnati Bengals Over 48.5
Joe Burrow and Josh Allen in the same game is an absolute treat that we're all fortunate in having this upcoming Sunday. Even outside of the quarterbacks, there are so many names on both sides: Ja'Marr Chase, Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Tee Higgins. The scary part about this bet is that both teams are under .500 on the season with hitting the over, but I'm going to chalk that up to Vegas giving these two teams high totals that were over 50 and that's hard to hit for most NFL games. In this game, I anticipate a ton of passing and this should an absolute shootout. I think the world will be disappointed if we get a defensive slugfest out of this game and with how the Bills defense has been playing lately, I can't imagine they can slow down this Bengals team for four quarters. With that being said, I think the Bills can play in a track meet, similarly to how they played the Chiefs in last years divisional. I'm very excited for this weekend and this game is number one on my list to watch. I normally don't give out another pick, but I will say that I love the San Francisco and Dallas over at 46.