It still feels like we’ll get an unprecedented number of head coach job openings after the season ends, but two teams which could have turned to new leadership have instead stayed the course with their current coaches.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers joined the New York Jets in keeping their head coach. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports the Buccaneers will retain Dirk Koetter despite a disappointing season in which the team will finish with at least 11 losses.
Even though the team’s won-loss record took a step back from the 9-7 showing it posted in 2016, quarterback Jameis Winston has improved on his completion percentage, quarterback rating, passing yards per game, while also trimming his interception percentage. Koetter has played a key role in Winston’s development, so it makes some sense to retain him.
From a Bears perspective, it’s one fewer team to compete with for a coaching candidate when the time comes to part ways with John Fox.
- Fox’s dismissal is a foregone conclusion at this point, but that’s not stopping the coach from pushing forward with his message – even though it won’t be confused with the “win one for the Gipper” speech. “It was all focused on Minnesota, finish strong,” linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski said of Fox’s missive in the team’s final practice, via Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times. “That’s been the message the whole week. And he stuck to that. Nothing really changed.”
- Give Fox credit for being a steadying hand in a time where it could have easily gone off the rails, much like it did in Marc Trestman’s final weeks. It’s that kind of professionalism that made Fox a sensible hire in 2015. In that aspect, Fox has served well as the team’s head coach.
- Unfortunately, Fox’s incoming dismissal will likely lead to the departure of the team’s most important assistant coach. Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune writes that Vic Fangio’s uncertain future raises questions about the Bears’ defense going forward. Fangio’s contract expires at the end of the year and he’ll be one of the hottest free agents on the market once he reaches it. The Bears’ defense has improved immensely under Fangio’s watchful eye and it would be unfortunate to see the group take a step back if he leaves for another job. And if he leaves for the Packers? Eek.
- Bob LeGere of the Daily Heral believes the Bears defense still has a solid foundation for 2018 and beyond, no matter who takes over as head coach. Whether or not Fangio returns, the Bears defense will still feature 11 players with starting experience who have earned average grades or better via Pro Football Focus – including five in the site’s top three grading categories.
- The Bears could bring back two more such players if both cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller are retained for 2018. According to Pro Football Focus’ grading metrics, the Bears have three of the 30 highest graded corners in the league. Fuller leads the way with an 84.1 grade, followed by Bryce Callahan (83.8), and Amukamara (82.7). Even though the Bears didn’t come away with the number of interceptions they wanted, Fuller’s emergence and Amukamara’s strong play has made for an improved secondary.
- If you’re a Bears fan going to the game on Sunday, be early and be prepared:
We are encouraging fans to enter the stadium prior to 11:15 tomorrow to avoid long lines.
Fans will need to open their coats as part of the security process.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 30, 2017
- When the Bears and Vikings last squared off, Harrison Smith thwarted what could have been a game-winning drive at its outset by coming away with a Mitch Trubisky interception. Coming into this contest, Smith is riding the wave of being the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week. Smith was a difference maker in the team’s Week 16 win against the Packers, picking up seven tackles and two interceptions as Minnesota’s defense blanked Green Bay.
- We’ll keep an eye on the Vikings as they go through the NFC playoffs, and there is no better place to start than with Sam Bradford’s pending return to practice next week. Chris Tomasson reports that Bradford is expected to return to practice for the first time since landing on injured reserve in November with a knee injury. If Bradford is activated during the playoffs, Minnesota would have unprecedented depth at the most important position in sports during the biggest games of the year.
- As for this week’s game, center Pat Elfein has been ruled out with a shoulder injury. Elfein, a rookie third-round pick from Ohio State, has played in 14 games and is Pro Football Focus’ 31st ranked center. Right guard Joe Berger is expected to slide over from right guard to start at center, where he started 16 games in 2016. For what it’s worth, Elfein’s listed backup on the Vikings official depth chart is Cornelius Edison, who appeared in six games for the Bears in 2016 as a special teams contributor.
- The Green Bay Packers are getting their ducks in a row. One day after signing wide receiver Davante Adams to an extension to ensure he doesn’t hit free agency, the Packers signed center Corey Linsley to a contract extension. Linsley was in the final year of his rookie contract and has been a steady presence on the interior of the line since his debut.