The National Football League is now in full swing as training camps across the country have opened for business. If you needed any more clear sign of this then check the injury blotter today. Philadelphia has lost receiver Jeremy Maclin to a torn ACL while Super Bowl Champion Baltimore will have to move forward without tight end Dennis Pitta. It appears Pitta will miss the season following hip surgery.
The injuries will continue to pile up unfortunately but today I’m focusing on some players and coaches that are in ‘must-win’ situations heading into the season.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Quarterback – After four seasons and three as the full-time starter, Freeman has put up some pretty good numbers but has yet to lead the Buccaneers to the playoffs. In his defense, the Bucs did go 10-6 a couple of years ago but didn’t qualify for the postseason.
That’s nice but in this business it’s playoffs or hit the road. Freeman has thrown for 78 touchdowns against 63 interceptions and has passed for over 12,000 yards but the key number that has to improve is completion percentage. Freeman’s career average is 58.8% and that needs to come up a good five to six points.
With the improved Tampa Bay running game, Freeman should be able to capitalize on that with play-action but he can’t afford many misses and in a very competitive division or Freeman could be looking for work elsewhere.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Running Back – The former Fresno State Bulldog enters his fourth year in the NFL and needs to prove that he can be a full-time running back for the Chargers. Mathews has not yet played a full season in the NFL with 14 games being the most in first three seasons.
Injuries have been the reason for those missed games, but they can no longer be an excuse. Mathews has one 1,000 yard rushing campaign in his three seasons but the Bolts need more from him in order to give Philip Rivers more time to throw. San Diego brought in Danny Woodhead from New England and he will challenge Mathews which may be the inspiration he needs.
Rex Ryan, New York Jets Head Coach – The always interesting Ryan enters his fifth season as head coach of the Jets and desperately needs a big year to save his job. At just 34-30 in four years, it’s been the last two that have most people wondering just how much time he has left. After two straight playoff seasons, Ryan’s Jets went 8-8 in 2011 and 6-10 last year.
The Jets have been hit with significant injuries especially to the wide receiving corps but the real issue has been the lack of quality play at the quarterback position. Mark Sanchez led the Jets to the AFC title game in his first two years in the league but has been a complete disaster the last two seasons.
Don’t forget the team brought in Tim Tebow for 2012 and the intended use of Tebow is still a question mark quite honestly but he’s in New England now. Enter rookie Geno Smith who will challenge Sanchez for the job. It’s a job that will determine whether Rex Ryan keeps his in 2014.
Mike Smith, Atlanta Head Coach – No, I’m not crazy. Smith, who has a career win-loss record in five years in Atlanta of 56-24, is on the hot seat. Despite his great regular season winning percentage, he is 1-4 in the playoffs despite two division titles. His only win was a narrow 30-28 win over Seattle last season and his coaching decisions have come into question.
Atlanta will head into this season with a new $100 million QB in Matt Ryan and as one of the favorites in the NFC. Should they fail to get to the Super Bowl, I think his job is shaky. In this business, it’s about winning the big games not just playing in them.