While the players are the faces of each NFL team (we all know names like Ray Lewis, Chad Ochocinco, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, and Brett Favre), the coaches are responsible for creating the excitement and drama that we all love with great new plays each game.
Here are the six head coaches that I think are going to elevate their teams to the next level this 2010 NFL season – and it’s going to be especially exciting for the NFC:
• Coach: Mike Singletary. NFL Team: San Francisco 49ers. Division: NFC West. According to the 49ers website, Singletary took over the struggling team as head coach in the middle of the 2008 season, leading his team to win five out of the remaining seven games of the season. Known for his passion and for vocalizing it (both during his tenure as middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears and during his years as a coach), Singletary has made it clear that his mission is to win Superbowls.
The 49ers finished second in the NFC West for the 2009 NFL season at 8-8. They need to pull themselves together for their road games (their home record was 6-2, but their record on the road was 2-6), and I believe they’ll achieve that this year. Look for them in the NFC playoffs.
• Coach: Mark McCarthy. NFL Team: Green Bay Packers. Division: NFC North. There isn’t an NFL team with whom I have a deeper love-hate (usually hate) relationship than I do with the Green Bay Packers. Since that’s the case, it irks me quite a bit to have to include Mark McCarthy on this list, but I think the Packers are going to be quite good this year.
According to the Packers’ website, Aaron Rodgers has thrown for over 4,000 yards his first two seasons as starting quarterback, and he has an army out there to catch that, including wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. McCarthy isn’t afraid of change, either: he cleaned house after a disappointing 2008 season, and the result was shockingly positive; the Packers went 11-5 (only one game shy of the division-wining Vikings) and clinched the wild card spot in the NFC North. It’s going to be a showdown in the NFC North this 2010 season.
• Coach: Brad Childress. NFL Team: Minnesota Vikings. Division: NFC North. Speaking of the Vikings, let’s move on to Brad Childress (aka Woodstock – he really looks like that little guy from the Peanuts cartoons; if you don’t believe me, check it out at one of the links in the “Resources” section below right).
Now, I’ve been pretty tough on Childress over the years, but I am coming around just a little bit. We had an amazing season in 2009, and if he can keep it up this year without blowing it (like he did in the 2009 NFC Championship game – I hate the number twelve, as in twelve men in the huddle), then I might just become a fan. All his hot air about being a psych major aside, he always gives us an excellent NFL draft, and his record has been improving each and every year with the Vikings. Since it wasn’t last year (although we almost made it!), I think 2010 will be the season that the Vikings go all the way and win the Superbowl. And it’s our last shot for awhile, so we’d better make it happen.
• Coach: Rex Ryan. NFL Team: New York Jets. Division: AFC East. The Cinderella story of the 2009 NFL season was that of the New York Jets. Nobody thought much of first-time head coach Rex Ryan (despite his illustrious track record as a defensive coordinator for the Ravens) and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, but the duo teamed up to lead the Jets to a number two finish in the AFC East, clinching the wild card spot just one game behind the formidable New England Patriots.
If the Jets can maintain some consistency (they were actually better on the road than they were at home in 2009), they could reach out and take down the Patriots. After surprising NFL fans everywhere with their defeat of the San Diego Chargers in the 2009 playoffs, they lost the AFC Championship game to Indianapolis, but could surprise us again in the 2010 NFL season.
• Coach: John Harbaugh. NFL Team: Baltimore Ravens. Division: AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens have had it tough the last couple of years. They lost the 2008 AFC Championship in a heartbreaker of a game only surpassed in horror by the Minnesota Vikings’ loss to the New Orleans Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship game.
That said, Harbaugh took over the team in 2008. It was quite a feat to take a team below .500 in the standings in 2007 and bring them to the AFC Championship game the next year – especially from a guy who had, according to the Ravens’ website, never been a head coach, assistant head coach, offensive coordinator, or defensive coordinator. In my happiest dreams, it would be a Ravens-Vikings Superbowl in 2010.
• Coach: Mike Shanahan. NFL Team: Washington Redskins. Division: NFC East. The leprechaun is back! Mike Shanahan is one of the greatest NFL coaches of all time, with two back-to-back Superbowl wins and the largest number of wins of all active coaches, save Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots (according to Shanahan’s bio on the Redskins’ website). He’ll need all that talent and expertise to turn the Redskins around; in 2009, they were one of the saddest teams in the NFL, with a record of 4-12.
I believe that if anyone can fix the Redskins organization, it’s Shanahan. He’s already acquired Donovan McNabb (who is admittedly overrated, but anyone remember a fading quarterback by the name of John Elway and what Shanahan did for him?). I’m not sure if Shanahan can do it in one year, but Harbaugh did – and with a lot less experience. So, the stakes are high, and I’m not looking forward to their meeting with the Vikings.