Wednesday, January 19, 2022

NFL insider notebook: Robert Saleh gets an assist to avoid dubious Jets mark, plus Week 17 picks

Robert Saleh avoided the worst record for a first-year head coach in Jets history by … not coaching last week.

Saleh is now officially 4-11 as HC of NYJ, but it was Ron Middleton who was manning the sideline in last week’s win against the Jaguars due to Saleh being in COVID-19 protocols. Because the worst first-year coaching record in Jets history is 3-13, the fourth win of the season helped the Jets avoid a 3-14 record that would produce the worst winning percentage in Year 1 for a head coach.

I checked in with the league office this week to confirm that head coaches who miss games due to COVID (or other illness) still get credit for the wins and losses of their team. And unlike teams who have fired their head coach in-season and roll with an interim for the remainder of the year, those wins and losses do get credited to the permanent head coach.

“The wins and losses are assigned to the person who is the recognized head coach of the team,” a league spokesman wrote in an email. “So in the case of a coach missing a game or games due to illness, it still goes to the individual who has the title of head coach because they are ultimately returning. If a coach is dismissed, the wins and losses are credited to the interim head coach.”

So what Rich Bisaccia does with the Raiders doesn’t impact Jon Gruden’s .511 career winning percentage. But Middleton — and other coaches who have filled in for the boss during COVID — doesn’t officially get the credit for his victory.

This year there have been six games coached by what I’ll call temporary interims, where the head coach has been sidelined due to COVID protocols and an assistant has stepped up for one game only. Interim coaches are 4-2 in those games: Middleton, Dan Quinn (Dallas), Dennis Allen (New Orleans) and Jeff Rodgers/Vance Joseph (Arizona) all won their respective games while Mike Priefer (Cleveland) and Chris Tabor (Chicago) lost theirs.

Though Kevin Stefanski officially gets the “L” that Priefer coached, he also gets the playoff victory Priefer guided the Browns to last season.

The weirdest one? The Lions fired Matt Patricia after 11 games last year and Darrell Bevell took over as interim coach. But Bevell himself missed the Week 16 game against Tampa Bay, with wide receivers coach Robert Prince taking the reins in the 47-7 loss. Bevell is officially credited with the loss despite being an interim because he was what I’ll call the permanent interim.

I’m not sure what the right thing to do here is. I know a one-size-fits-all rule should be applied, and I could see the pros and cons of both sides of this. It is the permanent coach’s team, after all, and he was involved in all the planning throughout the week leading up to the game.

Nevertheless, I’m willing to admit that, as a Tar Heel, the idea of coaches dumping their bad records on interims has long been an interest of mine. Happy retirement tour, Coach K!

Jaguars searching for No. 2

Shortly after NFL Network reported earlier this week the Jaguars will keep Trent Baalke as their general manager, I began hearing the Jags were in search of a No. 2 football exec to pair with Baalke for the latest era of Jaguars football.

Jacksonville doesn’t currently have a director of player personnel or assistant GM, so the assumption is it’d be for a role with one of those titles. Tony Khan is a co-owner and chief football strategy owner. Senior personnel executive Tom Gamble is probably the closest thing to a No. 2 there.

Baalke joined in Feb. 2020 as director of player personnel. He was brought on as the No. 2 to Dave Caldwell after Caldwell took over as a more traditional GM following the firing of Tom Coughlin. Hence, the void in the personnel department.

It’s not going to be easy to fill. The Jaguars aren’t bursting with talent, and Baalke doesn’t have a ton of friends around the league. Media in both San Francisco (where he was once the Niners GM) and Jacksonville have had no issue attacking him in ways you rarely see for active personnel folks.

“They will have to pay highly for that role to account for … lack of stability,” one personnel exec told me. “They won’t be able to pluck anyone who is in a good situation with their current team.”

The rebuild to the rebuild in Jacksonville continues.

Week 17 picks

I could have had a better record last week at 10-6, but it takes my overall mark up to 160-79-1. I’m overall happy with that, and let’s keep it going into the penultimate week of the regular season.

Raiders at Colts

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: Fox | Stream: fuboTV (click here)

I know for a fact that folks within the Raiders’ building were steaming when the protocols changed earlier this week. Carson Wentz will very likely play Sunday, and that will put the Colts over the top.

The pick: Colts

Dolphins at Titans

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: CBS | Stream: Paramount+ (click here)

I think the Dolphins’ defense is pretty good — not elite — and the offense is good enough if Tua doesn’t turn it over. But this win streak hasn’t involved any decent team outside of Baltimore.

The pick: Titans

Browns at Steelers

Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN | Stream: fuboTV (click here)

Everything in me says take the Steelers. But my misplaced faith in the Browns will lead me to picking Cleveland here and probably turning my first 16-0 week into 15-1.

The pick: Browns

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