Coach of the First Half
1. Sean Payton, Saints: Motivational gambits are overrated. Getting receivers wide open isn’t. Four years into his New Orleans tenure, Payton is clearly the dominant offensive mind in the game.
The team’s roster continuity is one of its greatest strengths. The players all know the system, and even stars such as Marques Colston are ultimately replaceable if necessary. Their fourth wide receiver — 2008 first-round pick Robert Meachem — contributes. Reggie Bush is essentially the team’s third running back, and that’s just fine.
That Payton gave up part of his salary to help hire defensive coordinator Gregg Williams puts him over the top. Consider this a vote for the entire Saints coaching staff. This is the best Saints team in franchise history.
2. Josh McDaniels, Broncos: Denver’s disappointing loss in Baltimore doesn’t change what McDaniels has accomplished. The offense remains a work in progress, but they have been excellent at situational football and the team doesn’t beat itself. That’s coaching.
3. Jim Caldwell, Colts: Caldwell is getting very little credit for beating expectations. Or don’t you remember this Colts team was supposed to fall off without Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison? Please.
The Colts defense is better without Tony Dungy, and it is getting healthier every day. The Colts offense is better without Marvin Harrison. You can say it’s all Peyton Manning, Tom Moore, but you could always say that. Caldwell has taken over for one of the most well-liked coaches in football, and the team is better. What more do you want?
4. Marvin Lewis, Bengals: With plenty of luck sprinkled in, Lewis has helped instill a team-first culture for the misfit sons of Hard Knocks. A team that used to expect the worse or not care now expects to win close games. A few bounces have gone the Bengals' way, and one memorably didn’t. The emergence of Carson Palmer back to his old form against the Bears makes the Bengals dangerous.
5. Bill Belichick, Patriots: Tom Brady hasn’t played particularly well. The defense often lines up seven different starters from last season. Yet the Patriots are 5-2, have allowed the third fewest points in the league, and are in position for another playoff run.
Minnesota’s Jared Allen is a no-brainer, but who else earned awards from Evan Silva?
The Year of the defensive coordinator
Our buddies at Football Outsiders pointed it out first, and we can’t agree more. This will go down as the year of the difference-making defensive coordinator. Williams has transformed the Saints with essentially the same front seven they had last year. Mike Nolan is making chicken salad out of players no one wanted in Denver. Bill Davis has turned Arizona’s defense into a weapon. Rex Ryan has delivered on his promise to bring Baltimore’s defense to the Jets. (Unfortunately, Joe Flacco remains in Baltimore, too.) Mike Zimmer has scared his Bengals defense straight.
It’s difficult to produce a dominant defense year after year. But the turnarounds above prove how valuable a change of approach can be.
Best team under .500
The Dolphins had the right game plans to beat Indianapolis and New Orleans, yet gave up late leads to both undefeated teams. They’ve survived a quarterback change and have a 3-0 record in the AFC East, meaning they aren’t out of the division race just yet. They will need a win in Foxborough this week to stay alive in the AFC East, but the schedule after that gives the Dolphins a chance to claw their way back into the wild card race.
Player who surprisingly can’t get off the bench
Anderson’s numbers are worse than JaMarcus Russell. Despite all this, Brady Quinn can’t get on the field.
This was supposed to be the year we found out if Quinn was Cleveland’s quarterback of the future. All we’ve found out is that Eric Mangini has absolutely no use for him.
CSN: Brian Urlacher, who played 13 seasons for the Bears, announced his retirement from football Wenesday on his personal twitter account.
Week 17 action
Take a look at shots from the NFL's 17th week of play in 2009.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
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