Conventional wisdom says that about a half-dozen head-coaching changes are made each year in the NFL.
The league already is a third of the way there, with the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars deciding there was no point in waiting until the end of the season to dump Jeff Fisher and Gus Bradley.
Reports here and nationally continue to maintain the Buffalo Bills are likely to part ways with Rex Ryan after the season. Assuming that’s the case, that would potentially leave roughly three teams with moves to make between now and Jan. 2, the day after the end of the regular season – a.k.a. “Black Monday.”
With that in mind, here’s a closer look at the teams, listed alphabetically, that have made coaching changes or could be inclined to do so by the end of the season:
Arizona Cardinals: Bruce Arians is going to have his first losing season since becoming their head coach in 2013. That, alone, wouldn’t figure to be a reason to let him go, of course, but there could be other factors.
For one thing, the Cardinals were supposed to be poised to not only reach the Super Bowl, but also win it. Their talent was considered elite, and if that was true, it’s fair to say Arians’ coaching was the primary cause of a major letdown. For another, Arians has had some recent health issues and it just might be easy for him to mutually agree to walk away, especially with huge questions about futures of two veteran mainstays on the roster: Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer.
Finding a quality replacement could be a challenge. If the Cardinals have to start over with a new quarterback, this might not be a very attractive job.
Buffalo Bills: Rex Ryan’s departure after the Bills’ New Year’s Day finale against the New York Jets could be a foregone conclusion. Reports range from Ryan being aware of his fate as he coaches out the string to team owners Terry and Kim Pegula settling on Tom Coughlin as his replacement.
The Pegulas weren’t happy about Ryan not delivering on his playoff promise last year and he might have been safe had his defense not evaporated in back-to-back December losses against Oakland and Pittsburgh. The unseemly part of the whole situation is the Bills appearing to leave Ryan to twist in the wind as speculation about his future intensifies. If he’s safe, ownership should say so, even with a brief statement similar to the one Terry Pegula issued late last season. The silence only makes Ryan’s ouster look imminent.
The same goes with General Manager Doug Whaley, whose only media availability of late have been the appearances he's contractually obligated to make on the Bills’ flagship radio station. Saying "none of us knows our future" during his Friday appearance wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement.
Maybe the Pegulas are attaching Ryan’s fate to the outcomes of the final two regular-season games and seeing if the Bills can get to 9-7 and perhaps sneak into the playoffs before revealing their intentions.
Cincinnati Bengals: This could be where the annual surprise move is made.
Marvin Lewis has survived despite losing a wild-card playoff game in each of the last five years. But the Bengals won't even get that far this season, which raises the question of whether the incredibly patient Mike Brown might finally pull the plug on Lewis.
Cleveland Browns: Could Hue Jackson be one-and-done? Team owner Jimmy Haslam has given strong signals that he'll stick with his head coach, as well as with the new management team put in place to oversee an analytics-driven approach to acquiring players.
But it would be fair to say that a 0-14 record and the likelihood of a 0-16 finish could cause Haslam to reconsider or at least take a closer look at how things are being done, particularly from a coaching standpoint. By design, the roster is loaded with rookies. Are Jackson and his assistant coaches doing everything necessary to maximize their production? Jackson’s expertise is in quarterback development. Has he failed in that area or are the players the Browns have at the position simply so bad that no amount of tutelage will help?
For the record, of the three coaches Haslam already has fired since buying the team in 2012, Rob Chudzinski only had a one-year stand.
Indianapolis Colts: Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson narrowly survived a housecleaning after last season, when their internal squabbling became a major problem. They might not be so lucky this time.
Some league observers are speculating the final two games could go a long way toward determining whether team owner Jim Irsay, who was looking for big things this year, decides once and for all he has had enough.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Doug Marrone, who walked away from the Bills’ head-coaching job after the 2014 season, was promoted from assistant head coach-offense/offensive line to interim head coach to replace Bradley for the final two games.
He’ll be a candidate to take over full-time, and would figure to have a decent shot if Jaguars ownership is looking to minimize disruption. But a name frequently mentioned as an early front-runner is Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who is the former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
Another possibility is Coughlin, who previously coached the Jaguars and owns a home in Jacksonville. Guess whose name has also been mentioned for this job? Yes, Rex Ryan, who is on record as saying the Bills would be his last NFL employer.
Los Angeles Rams: This could prove to be the most intriguing of all of the NFL coaching jobs that need to be filled. Team owner Stan Kroenke knows that it’s imperative the Rams waste no time in making the splash they fell well short of making during their first season back in L.A.
That had plenty to do with the firing of Fisher, who not only failed to make the team competitive, but also was criticized for having an offense so dull and predictable that even Rams running back Todd Gurley recently compared with that of a “middle school” team.
Kroenke is building a spectacular new stadium, and needs a winning and entertaining team if he has any hope of drawing fans in the market where there are so many attractive options on a Sunday. That’s why there was some chatter about trying to lure Jon Gruden out of the "Monday Night Football" and back to coaching before Gruden reiterated his stance that he has no interest in returning to the sidelines. That's also why Kroenke will pay whatever it takes to land one of the two likely top head-coaching candidates from the assistant ranks: New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Atlanta Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan.
Meanwhile, John Fassel, promoted from special-teams coordinator to interim head coach, has the unenviable task of filling the role of substitute teacher for a classroom that has almost no desire to pay attention to him.
New York Jets: The laughingly pathetic, uninspired showings on the field and lack of discipline off of it don't reflect well on Todd Bowles. By some accounts, he has lost control of the team.
Whether club owner Woody Johnson is capable of recognizing as much is uncertain.
San Diego Chargers: When Mike McCoy led them to the playoffs with a 9-7 record as a first-year head coach in 2013, the expectation was the best was yet to come. Instead, the response has been more like, “Is that all there is?”
Although they again went 9-7 in 2014, they failed to reach the postseason and have won only nine games since. There were questions about whether McCoy was the best choice for the job in the first place, and perhaps warning signals that he had reached his ceiling were sounding when the Chargers went 4-12 in 2015.
But they were ignored, largely because nine of the losses were by single digits and the thinking of ownership was McCoy would coach the team to become better finishers. It has yet to happen, with the Chargers losing eight of nine this year also by signal digits.
San Francisco 49ers: Their 13-game losing streak should be enough to put Chip Kelly’s job in jeopardy after only one season. So should the realization that his quick-paced, everyone-look-to-the-sidelines-for-the-call offensive system, which was successful at Oregon, simply doesn’t work in the NFL.
The Philadelphia Eagles needed only three seasons to figure that out. How much sense does it make for the 49ers to stick with Kelly for another year? Probably not much. None of the Niner quarterbacks is able to grasp it. No one else on the offense is comfortable running it, either. And defenses have little problem stopping it.
The 49ers’ only win came in the season-opener against the Rams, who they face Saturday. A second victory, or even a third, shouldn’t be enough to allow Kelly to survive.
General manager Trent Baalke is also expected to be on his way out.