The Thursday night game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars might have been a snoozer, but no game illustrates the state of the NFL better. The Colts have Andrew Luck, and the Jaguars don't. The scary part is how the teams that don't get quarterbacks like Luck handle things, and that's a big problem. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and the scramble for quarterbacks has become a coach killer. Owners have to understand that franchises turning over quarterbacks are usually turning over coaches at a faster level.
Look at the Jaguars. They had David Garrard last year. Then they cut him before the season, hoping to get Blaine Gabbert on the field faster. Despite having a rifle for an arm, Gabbert looks like Ichiro Suzuki slapping around singles. His passes are short, and defenders are jumping on him. The Jags are 1-8, and it looks as though everyone in Jacksonville -- including Gabbert -- is in trouble.
Could that mean three head coaches in three years? As ridiculous as it sounds, yes. Firing Mike Mularkey after one season would be stupid, but that's the way of the NFL. You can't fire the team, so you fire the coach.
There is already talk that seven to 10 coaches could be let go at the end of the season. Andy Reid seems to be destined for replacement. Norv Turner needs to make the playoffs to keep his job. A general manager change could jeopardize Ron Rivera's future in Carolina. Bud Adams is blaming everyone -- including Mike Munchak -- for the problems with the 3-6 Tennessee Titans.
Pat Shurmur could be victimized by the ownership change in Cleveland. Romeo Crennel is on the hot seat in Kansas City, making you wonder whether Kansas City fired Todd Haley too early. Haley and Matt Cassel did make a one-year playoff run. Now, Crennel is destined for the waiver wire, and the Chiefs are back to square one at quarterback.
Jerry Jones will take plenty of criticism for keeping Jason Garrett, but the weird part is that the Cowboys do have a good quarterback, Tony Romo. Jones just isn't getting the most out of this team's talents.
The Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow mess and Sanchez's decline could affect Rex Ryan, but Ryan should be absolved and return. He was good enough to put together a two-year run at the AFC title. If Sanchez declined because of the talent around him, then the Jets should get better talent around him. Ryan is the same coach who produced a championship-level team.
This year's draft may have produced four or five quarterbacks good enough to slow the firing of coaches, but that's the way owners react. Often, that pulls franchises backward instead of forward. We watched some of that with Jacksonville on Thursday night.
From the inbox
Q: There's been a lot of scrutiny with the Philadelphia Eagles and their players not playing with 100% effort. These athletes are paid millions of dollars, and it seems like players on any team just don't put the effort in on the field because either way, they are getting paid. Can there ever be an instance where these contracts are minimally guaranteed, and then the big money is incentive driven, such as $200,000 per touchdown, $10,000 per catch, etc.? I'm just sick of seeing athletes across all sports not put forth the effort that most people would die for the opportunity to get.
Sean in Buffalo, N.Y.
A: Even though it would seem fair for the teams, it wouldn't be fair for the players. Coaches control playing time. Even though they may not know what incentives are in players' contracts, imagine the dissension that would exist if coaches didn't get players on the field to hit those marks. Take the 49ers, for example. Jim Harbaugh preaches team and shows it in the way he uses players. Other than Michael Crabtree, Harbaugh will rotate receivers so much that most receivers won't be on the field more than 30 or 35 plays. Players would be stabbing one another in the back to get chances to hit those marks. I don't see it working.
Q: I am by no means an expert on the salary cap, but is it safe to say that the 49ers will not be able to keep NaVorro Bowman on the team with his contract ending soon and the free agents they have coming out? Should the Niners start thinking about a trade for a rather high draft pick for him?
James in Walnut Creek, Calif.
A: I wouldn't say it's a lock that they would let him go. Bowman will be a free agent after 2013. If necessary, they could franchise him. They also could elect to give him a contract extension next year and let Dashon Goldson go. Justin Smith is 33, so you wonder whether Bowman might eventually take his salary slot. What it comes down to is where the team ranks Bowman among its best players. If the two inside linebackers are among the 49ers' best three or four players, the 49ers might figure out a way to keep him.
Q: I'm curious about bye weeks and how the league determines who is on a bye each week. I'm a Lions fan, and I've noticed over the years the Lions have tended to have really early bye weeks year in and year out. I looked at the bye weeks from 2000 through 2012, and here are the numbers I get: The Packers have an average bye week of 7.7, Patriots are 7.7, Bills are 7.0, and the Steelers are the same as the Lions at 5.7. I understand that the bye weeks have changed in the span of the past 13 years and some of the numbers are skewed a little bit (Pats' Week 16 bye in 2001, most notably). I just can't wrap my head around such a big discrepancy between the bye week placements for teams.
Brian in Audubon
A: Great research and great question. There is no known formula to the way the NFL hands out the bye weeks. Until 2011, the Lions weren't among the playoff contenders, so it would be easy for them to get an early bye. They weren't going to be a factor in the playoffs, so if they got the bye in the first six weeks, they wouldn't be missing anything if they had to finish with a long stretch of games. The NFL does like to schedule more bye weeks around the time of the baseball playoffs. It figures there might be a little drop in viewership because of the time conflicts, and giving the most popular teams byes then might prevent a bigger drop in the overall ratings. If the Lions stay a contender, it will be interesting to see if they start getting later byes.
Q: I have noticed lately that teams that won have had the ball less. Their time of possession showed about three minutes' difference. Is this a new trend of hurry-up offense?
Tony in Portland, Ore.
A: No-huddle offensive plays are up significantly. If you remember the Colts when Peyton Manning was the quarterback, they usually had less time of possession than their opponents. There will be more no-huddle in the future. It makes sense. No-huddle limits defensive substitution and takes the gas out of defensive players. You are on to the trend of the league this year and last.
Q: I hear a lot of writers argue that the Mario Williams signing was the worst off-season move, but I don't see it. He is dealing with a nagging injury, adjusting to a new team, and the Bills, like any struggling team, are going to have to overpay for a big-time FA. The guy is going to get healthy and start making plays. The worst off-season move has to be the Chiefs not re-signing Kyle Orton, who is the Rodney Dangerfield of QBs. Why are the Chiefs not getting more grief for this?
Scott in New York
A: You may be right on the inability to re-sign Orton. But it's also possible he wanted to take a break from starting and accept a nice backup job. I think the Chiefs are getting plenty of grief. The fans are livid. People are calling for a new coach and a new general manager. At 1-7, the Chiefs have been an embarrassment. I thought they would start slowly, but I never thought they would be flat-lining this late in the season.
Q: I (unfortunately) know the reality, so it's hard to make this "comparison," but Eli Manning versus Mark Sanchez, let's compare their first four seasons. (55 games thus far for Sanchez and 57 for Manning.) They're remarkably similar. Look at Manning's 55th game; it's actually worse than Sanchez's. I remember 2007, Manning was not good until the playoffs. He had a combined 29 turnovers that year. He barely averaged 200 yards a game. He had the fewest TDs since he became a starter. I've seen Sanchez this year. He does like he's regressed, but at the same time, so did Manning. Knowing what we know about Manning, how does a team decide that one is not a franchise quarterback and one will turn it around? To me, at the same point in each of their careers, there's very little difference.
Ding in Atlanta
A: There was a big difference. Manning entered the NFL with much more potential and lived up to it. If you want scary stats, Sanchez's completion percentage of 52.9 after eight weeks is the lowest in the league since 2005 for quarterbacks who threw a minimum of 250 passes. It used to be you couldn't judge quarterbacks until they'd been around five years. No one has patience like that anymore. A coach with a quarterback who isn't advancing is going to lose his job after a couple of years. Sanchez may pick up his game, but I don't know whether anyone envisioned him as an elite quarterback. Eli Manning is elite.
Q: I have been a huge Redskins fan for years. I am excited for the future of the franchise after, finally, drafting a franchise quarterback. Yet, I have seen how over the years Dan Snyder has hired and fired so many coaches. So my concern is, will Mike Shanahan be on the hot seat if the Redskins finish with a losing record again in his third season? Or did the drafting of a rookie quarterback buy another year or two? I really like how the coaching staff has handled and developed RG3, so I hope that Shanahan will be around a while longer to maintain stability.
Aaron in Tampa, Fla.
A: If Shanahan didn't have RG3, I still think Dan Snyder would give him until the fifth year to produce a winner. The fact that Shanahan has done so well developing RG3 keeps him off the hot seat. It's one thing to get a young quarterback, but you have to use the right schemes and plays to show his skills. Mike and Kyle Shanahan have done that. He'll be back.