Today's question: Who is on the hottest seat in the NFC South?
Vaughn McClure, Atlanta Falcons: Falcons general manger Thomas Dimitroff, who survived the fallout from his team's two-year implosion that resulted in the firing of head coach Mike Smith. Team owner Arthur Blank restructured the front office and gave new head coach Dan Quinn final say over the 53-man roster. Since the Falcons have touted the new arrangement as a partnership, folks no doubt will point at Dimitroff if the team fails and will offer praise to Quinn if the team thrives. Regardless, Dimitroff has accepted his diminished role and seems determined to show he can help build a championship-caliber team, like he has done in the past. There is a lot of heat on Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith as well, following last year's 2-14 showing. The Bucs need to show much improvement.
David Newton, Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton. Yes, he's a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback coming off a season in which he won his first playoff game. But Newton's overall record with the Panthers is 30-31-1. He was 5-8-1 as the starter last season. He has been a part of a winning season only once in four years. You can give Newton somewhat of a pass because he hadn't been surrounded by the right pieces to succeed. You could argue the offensive line still isn't to the level it needs to be. But Newton is now surrounded by plenty of playmakers. He has Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen. He has a pair of big receivers in Kelvin Benjamin (6-foot-5) and Devin Funchess (6-4). He has a talented backfield with running back Jonathan Stewart and fullback Mike Tolbert. There are no excuses. For Carolina to take its game to the next level, Newton has to do take his to the next level.
Mike Triplett, New Orleans Saints: Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan; his unit is coming off of a hugely disappointing season in which it fell from fourth in the NFL in yards allowed to 31st. Ryan earned a reprieve from coach Sean Payton -- in part because he was so successful in his debut season -- but now he needs to prove that last year, not 2013, was the fluke. If he doesn't, the Saints might already have a replacement in waiting after Payton brought back former assistant Dennis Allen under the newly created title of senior defensive assistant. Players swear by Ryan and love his dynamic personality and creative playbook. But last year, that playbook might have expanded too far (a popular critique of Ryan in previous stops). The D was done in by sloppy errors, blown assignments and missed tackles, and they put a mandate this year on simplifying the scheme.
Pat Yasinskas, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lovie Smith. He's heading into only his second season as Tampa Bay's head coach, but Smith can't afford another season like his first. The Bucs went 2-14 and were dreadful on offense. Fans expected much more out of Smith, who was a proven winner in Chicago. Ownership believes continuity is needed after going through Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano since 2008. But patience is thin for a franchise that hasn't won a playoff game since winning the Super Bowl more than a decade ago. Smith doesn't need to make the playoffs to keep his job, but he does need to show significant improvement.