Three weeks into the NFL season can be a strong indicator of a team's performance, specifically for teams that have head coaches with uncertain futures. The Los Angeles Chargers didn't exactly get off to the start they desired, same with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Even though the Dallas Cowboys lost last week (and the spotlight is on Mike McCarthy all season), they are still 2-1 and in better shape than most teams around the league. The same can be said about the Washington Commanders, even with Ron Rivera being under the microscope all season long (they could be much worse than 2-1).
The first batch of the in-season coaching hot seat rankings is significantly different than our preseason list (as expected). Here's how:
- Ron Rivera (Washington Commanders)
- Dennis Allen (New Orleans Saints)
- Brandon Staley (Los Angeles Chargers)
- Todd Bowles (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
- Mike McCarthy (Dallas Cowboys)
- Josh McDaniels (Las Vegas Raiders)
- Kevin Stefanski (Cleveland Browns)
- Robert Saleh (New York Jets)
Some of these coaches didn't qualify for the top five this time, but that could change in the coming weeks:
1. Matt Eberflus (Chicago Bears)
An 0-3 start doesn't help matters, but it's the lack of development of Justin Fields that's concerning. Fields has actually gotten worse as a passer, which isn't good for Eberflus or his coaching staff. Fields has the most QB starts with under 200 passing yards (20), under 150 passing yards (10), and under 100 passing yards (5) since entering the league, all while compiling a 58% completion rate, 526 yards, three touchdowns, and four interceptions this season (67.7 rating).
Fields is 0-for-6 on throws of 25-plus air yards this season, while having fewer designed runs by 15% this year (49% last season to 34% this year). Fields also has a bad offensive line, being sacked 3.5 times per game (the most by any quarterback with 500-plus pass attempts since 1970). The Bears defense also has allowed 25-plus points in 13 straight games, tied for the longest streak in NFL history. Keep in mind Eberflus is a coach with a defensive background.
This feels like the beginning of the end for Eberflus in Chicago.
2. Brandon Staley (Los Angeles Chargers)
Staley needs to (at least) win a playoff game to keep his job, but the Chargers' slow start has the makings of an in-season firing. The Chargers have one of the NFL's best offenses (second in total offense and third in pass offense), but have one of the league's worst defenses. They are 32nd in the NFL in passing defense this season (337.0 yards per game allowed) and rank 31st in total defense this season (450.7 yards per game allowed). Staley is also a coach with a defensive background.
The biggest concern is Staley's overaggressiveness. Trying to give his team a victory (and avoid an 0-3 start), Staley went for it on fourth-and-1 on the Chargers' own 24-yard line, holding a 28-24 lead with 1:51 left. Joshua Kelley was stopped, and the Vikings had the ball with 1:47 left at the Chargers' 24 -- in prime position to win.
The Chargers defense bailed Staley out by picking off Kirk Cousins in the red zone and getting to 1-2, but Staley significantly put his team at risk by failing to convert on fourth down. Staley is going to coach aggressive and listen to the analytics, no matter the result.
No matter what the numbers say, the decisions aren't benefitting Staley. The Chargers are too talented to be this bad -- especially on defense -- through three games.
3. Josh McDaniels (Las Vegas Raiders)
Still impressive how McDaniels landed a second head coaching job in the first place. The Raiders have been bad through three games, as they are the only team in the NFL to not score 20-plus points in a game this season (McDaniels has an offensive background by the way). Jimmy Garoppolo has already thrown more interceptions this season (six) than he did all of last season in 11 games (four) and Vegas is 32nd in rush yards per game (61.7) with zero rushing touchdowns scored this season. The Raiders also have Josh Jacobs -- who led the league in rushing -- at running back.
Then there's the whole off-field stuff. From Chandler Jones and his saga to Davante Adams being frustrated with the organization, the Raiders are reeling. Let's not forget McDaniels' decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-4 from the Steelers' 8-yard line down eight points with 2:25 left this past week, especially when he went for it on fourth-and-5 at the Steelers' 22-yard line with 13:18 left earlier in the quarter (the attempt was unsuccessful).
An inconsistent decision-maker and a bad coach is not a good combination. The only reason he's still around is because the Raiders would owe him a boatload of money if they fired him.
4. Sean Payton (Denver Broncos)
Three games into Payton's tenure and the Broncos are a disaster. Not only is Denver 0-3, but the defense gave up 70 points and 726 yards to the Dolphins in embarrassing fashion. The Broncos have allowed the second-most points (122) through three games since 1970 and the third-most points (105) in a two-game span since 1970. Poor defense has been a track record under Payton. He's allowed the most team points per game (27.5) by a head coach in NFL history (minimum 50 games).
The offense -- and Russell Wilson -- have been better. Denver is averaging 23 points through three games (averaged 16.9 last year), while Wilson has completed 65.4% of his passes for 791 yards with six touchdowns to two interceptions (99.5 rating). The defense -- backed off a questionable hire of Vance Joseph -- has just been atrocious (this was a top-10 unit in yards allowed last year).
Payton isn't getting fired after Year 1, not after what the Broncos had to surrender in trade compensation to acquire him -- and then pay him. If the Broncos lose to the Bears on Sunday, Denver fans might be thinking significantly different about their future with Payton.
5. Ron Rivera (Washington Commanders)
Rivera is under pressure to perform this season, and has handled it well, getting the Commanders off to a 2-1 start. However, Sunday's blowout loss to the Bills raises some red flags concerning this team, especially on the offensive line.
The Commanders have allowed 19 sacks this year, the most by a team in the first three games since the 2006 Raiders. Sam Howell is on pace to be sacked 107 times, which would be a league record. Howell's hot start significantly cooled off, as he became the first quarterback since Warren Moon in 1985 to be sacked nine-plus times and throw four-plus interceptions in a game. Howell has completed 65.7% of his passes for 671 yards with three touchdowns to five interceptions and a 74.5 passer rating in his three starts.
Right now, the Commanders are fine. A bounce-back performance from Howell and the offense will certainly help, but the 27th-ranked defense in points per game allowed needs to be addressed too.
Rivera's seat is still warm, but he can cool it off with a few more wins over the next several weeks.