I was glancing over my social media the other day, and was shown a video of Dan Campbell after the Lions beat the Giants. He was very energetic and giving his team a post-game speech surrounded by the players in the locker room, and he seemed genuine, emotional, but well composed and thoughtful. I thought it was great. It reminded me of the post-game beers that Arthur Smith got with his o-line after a win earlier this year. I have always mentally compared these two coaches because they were hired in the same year and there was a lot of buzz around these hires. Ultimately I thought nothing of it, and kept going down my timeline.
I soon landed on the clip of the most recent media kerfuffle surrounding the post-game comments by the NY Jets starting QB, Zach Wilson. I'm not getting into it, but it did seem slightly taken out of context. Now, the comment isn't what struck me, it was realizing that the NY Jets have a winning record this year. I had not paid attention at all. They are 6-4. In the AFC East it is a close race. Kind of the opposite of the current NFC South. All four teams are either 7-3 or 6-4. Once I realized the Jets are doing so well, I also realized that their head coach Robert Saleh was also a hire from the head coaching carousel of 2021. It got me thinking. How good are all three of these teams as opposed to what they all walked into, and the answer surprised me.
Dan Campbell walked into the perennial loser in Detroit with a head full of steam. The team itself was coming off of back to back to back losing seasons, with the final two of those being years where they finished with five or fewer wins. The year before Campbell took over the team finished with the 32nd defense and 20th offense. They were just really really bad. How good is Dan Campbell? This year, just two years later, they are ranked 8th in offensive yards and 9th in points scored. The defense is still quite the work in progress and still bottom of the league, but what he has done with the offense is just short of a miracle. Now, that bad defense and shockingly effective offense has led them to three straight wins, with two of those wins against quality opponents. The Lions are beginning to show signs of life, and the team that he is coaching up in Detroit is starting to take shape as a high-powered team that can score at will on opponents, and have a defense good enough to get the job done. The sky is the limit for Detroit at this point and the weary fans of the Lions might have something to look forward to next year.
Robert Saleh turns out to be another very interesting story. The NY Jets might be the epitome of the basement of the NFL since 2016. Since that year (sound familiar Falcons fans?), the Jets have not seen a season with more than 7 wins. In that span, they have had four seasons, out of only seven seasons total, with five wins or less. This has caused them to rotate coaches multiple times, but end up in a nearly identical situation through every iteration...until Saleh came to town. The Jets finished the 2020 season as the 32nd ranked offense, and the 24th ranked defense. This season, once again just two seasons later, they have the 9th best defense in points and 6th in yards allowed. Their offense is still struggling, but he has taken them from 32nd in almost all categories in 2020 to mid 20's in those same categories. This new defensive juggernaut has now beaten the likes of the Bills, Dolphins, Browns, and Eagles, all of whom sit atop their respective divisions and NFL in general. They have turned the corner from laughing stock to dangerous team in quick succession.
Finally, comes Mr. Arthur Smith. The Falcons are the outlier on this list financially, so there has been an impact with who is available for Smith to utilize on both sides of the ball. With that said, the Falcons recent history is the best out of the three teams on this list. We have had three seasons with seven or more wins since 2018, and had a few remnants of the Super Bowl team of 2016 still on the team. With that in mind the season before Smith took over the team was 18th in total offensive yards and 16th in points scored on offense. On defense they were 29th in yards allowed and 19th in points allowed. So, all in all, a team that could get beat on either side of the ball, and staring down the barrel of a financial disaster. Today with $70 million in dead cap, we are 32nd in yards allowed and 29th in points allowed, which seems awful. There is a brighter side though. They are also 20th in offensive yards but an amazing 5th in points scored. The high scoring offense is largely in part to the Falcons going from 31st in rushing yards in 2021 to 2nd in 2022, and 26th in points scored to 5th in the same timeframe. An absolutely amazing turn around.
All three of these coaches have had two seasons to show that they are very capable of using their coaching ability to turn around a franchise in a short time. This article might be jumping the gun a bit when it comes to claiming greatness, but a lot of signs are there to support it. If all three of these coaches can continue to build on the foundation for the team they have crafted, it could completely flip the narrative for the NFL, with the Lions, Jets, and Falcons going from perennial basement dwellers to model organizations.
Going all the way back to 2000 and trying to find a single season where three coaches were hired that turned around all three of their franchises in the same timeframe will show the real feat that I'm pointing too though. You could say the 2003 offseason where the Bengals hired Marvin Lewis and Cowboys brought in "The Big Tuna" Bill Parcells was a good year. 2008 was the season John Harbough and our own Mike Smith was hired. That was a solid duo of head coach hires, or 2010 with the hires of Pete Carroll and Jason Garrett. The current best offseason for head coach hires was the 2017 season with the trio of Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, and Sean McDermott all finding teams and subsequent success. While McVay is the outlier, who had immediate success as a head coach, Shanahan and McDermott didn't really start to have sustained success until the third year. So, if history is any sign of what is to come, the Lions, Jets, and Falcons are set up to see a big jump in ability if they follow the trajectory of the coaches before them. Plus, if the Lions, Jets, and Falcons have the opportunity to become the next Rams, 49ers, and Bills the fans of all six teams will be thrilled. The future of the NFL seems bright in any case.