By Steve Silverman
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The NFL season has sped by at lightning pace once again, and we have hit the home stretch.
NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth has said on several occasions that the real NFL season begins at Thanksgiving, and he is basically right — at least when we’re talking about teams that have given themselves a chance to earn a spot in the postseason.
But the teams that have little or no chance of competing in the playoffs are already thinking about the 2017 season, and some of those teams will have new head coaches by then.
NFL coaches set the tone for their teams and follow the lead of their respective leaders like no other sport. There may be certain occasions when management may look at a coach who has suffered through a losing season and still find a way to believe that the situation can turn around in the future – such as Hue Jackson in Cleveland. But that scenario is a rarity.
The NFL is a win-now business, and teams that have fallen short of expectations give strong consideration to making changes at the head coaching position.
Here’s a look at those on the hot seat as the 2016 season marches toward its inexorable conclusion.
Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars were expected by many to be a contender in the weak AFC South, and that’s because they appeared to have the kind of offense that could challenge any team in the division.
Quarterback Blake Bortles was supposed to be a rising star after throwing for 4,428 yards and a 35-to-18 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year. He had a pair of big-time receivers in Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, and the running back combination of T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory should have been good enough to give Jacksonville a good chance at victory in most weeks.
The bigger questions for Bradley were about his defense, but that part of the team has come through. The Jaguars rank sixth in yards allowed, but the offense has fallen short and ranks 23rd in yards gained.
Worse than that is their 2-9 record, which comes on the heels of a 5-11 mark in 2015. Owner Shahid Khan has been patient with Bradley, who was thought to be one of the best young minds in the business when the Jaguars hired him prior to the 2013 season.
Bradley may still have a bright mind, but he can’t win. Last year’s record was the best of his tenure, and he will likely be sent packing at the end of the season.
Jeff Fisher, Los Angeles Rams
If you watched the “Hard Knocks” series on HBO this past summer and saw the Rams in training camp, you may have gotten the feeling that Fisher is old and set in his ways as the team leader.
The tone in the camp was decidedly sleepy and predictable as the team moved back to Los Angeles. There was very little excitement or electricity surrounding the Rams’ activities during the summer, and the only one of his assistant coaches who was able to get a reaction out of his players was ex-Marine and defensive line coach Mike Waufle. The rest of the staff seemed like it was sleepwalking.
Los Angeles started the season with a strong 3-1 mark in September but has fallen apart since then. Can the Rams and owner Stan Kroenke really afford to stay with the status quo for another year as they get set to open their new stadium in 2019?
That’s still a long time from now, but Fisher has had a losing record in each of his five seasons with the Rams and rookie quarterback Jared Goff has not hit the ground running. The Rams need new blood at the top.
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati
When it comes to regular-season coaching, Lewis has gotten excellent results since being hired in 2003. The Bengals have been to the playoffs seven times, and they have been .500 or better 10 times.
If you check out the Bengals’ history before Lewis’ arrival, it’s clear he has had a positive impact. The Bengals went through 12 straight nonwinning seasons prior to Lewis, and nine of those seasons saw them lose 10 or more games.
But while Lewis has demonstrated he can win in the regular season – this year’s 3-7-1 record notwithstanding – he has yet to win a single playoff game.
Most teams would not abide such a futile mark, but owner Mike Brown has not had a problem with it. The son of NFL legend Paul Brown is known for penurious ways, and Lewis still has one year to go on his contract.
That is the only thing that may save Lewis, whose team has fallen apart this year and shows no signs of improving.
Two other coaches are also in quite a bit of trouble. Chuck Pagano appeared to be on his way to a dismissal after the 2015 season, but he is perhaps the best salesman in the NFL and owner Jim Irsay decided to keep him after an end-of-season meeting between the two last year. If the Colts don’t win the AFC South this year – and they trail the Texans and Titans at this point – Pagano may have to do quite a bit of fast talking again to keep his job.
The woeful Chicago Bears have fallen, and they can’t get up. John Fox was thought to be a savior when he was hired after the 2014 season, but he appears tired and uninspiring. He had a sharp offensive leader in Adam Gase when he took the job, but Gase was plucked by the Dolphins, who are now resurgent.
The Bears have plenty of excuses due to injuries, but Fox’s two-year run of stagnation has demonstrated that he is ready for the rocking chair and does not belong back on the sidelines in 2017.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy