by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

It’s playoff time in the NFL, but it’s also speculation time as well....especially involving the league’s head coaches and quarterbacks. As usual, subsequent to the end of the NFL regular season came the dreaded “Black Monday” for under-fire head coaches, seven being dismissed within a few hours of one another on the first day. Might more changes be in store? And what about the QB merry-go-round, and which of those sorts might be on the move in the offseason?

We’ll speculate upon both of those subjects before updating NFL Division Round history and notes in just a moment.

First, a quick look at the league’s quarterback situation...and specifically those likely to be on the move as we ponder several possible QB changes for 2013.

Michael Vick, Eagles...Vick’s status was pretty obvious by the time the 2012 campaign reached midseason, as he had already regressed alarmingly from the QB who tossed 20 TDP and just six picks in 2010 and was rewarded with that 6-year, $100 million contract thereafter. But the Birds were not on the hook beyond 2012 (unless Vick was physically unable to perform in 2013, in which it would cost Philly $3 million), and Vick’s star began to fade noticeably a year ago. He certainly won’t be back at the Linc, especially with a new coaching staff replacing Andy Reid’s deposed regime. Some team almost certainly takes a chance on Vick, but considering his turnover and injury issues, he’s hardly considered a quick-fix option at this stage of his career.

Tim Tebow, Jets...What an absolute waste of time and public relations boondoggle the acquisition of Tebow turned out to be for the Jets. Not only was “Tim Terrific” underused by o.c. Tony Sparano, his mere presence seemed to undermine the confidence of holdover QB Mark Sanchez, whose future at MetLife Stadium is also up in the air. Tebow’s eventual departure was all but confirmed in the last two weeks of the regular season when Ryan opted to start Greg McElroy, then the confidence-shaken Sanchez again after McElroy was hurt in the penultimate game vs. San Diego. Tebow will be traded or released, with rampant speculation that he ends up in Jacksonville, which would have an interest in the hometown kid for p.r. reasons. But it’s beginning to look as if the CFL might be the only destination where Tebow could perhaps revive his career at QB.

Mark Sanchez, Jets...Complicated by salary cap considerations and the roughly $8 million due Sanchez in 2013 that will count against the Jets’ cap if they can’t find any takers and release Sanchez instead. But the market figures to be pretty thin for a confidence-shaken QB who leads the NFL in giveaways the past two seasons. A new GM (after Mike Tannenbaum’s dismissal) won’t be partial to Sanchez, either. We’re assuming part of Rex Ryan’s deal to remain as coach was that changes would have to be made at QB, however, so we suspect Sanchez is more likely to be dumped (even with the resultant salary cap hit) than allowed to hang around the roster as an expensive backup. As for Sanchez remaining the starter? Check out Ryan’s commentary over the last few weeks (and, if you can lip read, what he was saying to himself after the mid-December Monday loss at Tennessee).

Carson Palmer, Raiders...Oakland paid a heavy price (a first-round pick in 2012 and second-round choice this coming April) to Cincy for Palmer. But after the Raiders won roughly one-third of their games with the former Heisman winner at the controls, Palmer is obviously not the franchise redeemer. We’ll see in which direction HC Dennis Allen (who barely survived a brutal 4-12 rookie campaign) looks to go as he is faced with a win-or-else mandate in 2013. The Raiders could look elsewhere for QB help perhaps turn to former Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor, who has some tantalizing upside that was briefly on display when starting the finale at San Diego.

Matt Leinart, Raiders...Not a real good NFL season for former Southern Cal QBs, Leinart is likely to be released by the Raiders after confirming he was no long-term answer when flopping after getting his chance in relief of Palmer in a late-season game at Carolina. Interesting in retrospect how Leinart’s previous flame-out in Arizona apparently set the Big Red back several years; might the career of this former Heisman winner be finished?

Matt Cassel/Brady Quinn, Chiefs...Neither is apparently the answer in Kansas City, although we wonder if one might be given a chance by new HC Andy Reid. But maybe not after the Chiefs collapsed to 2-14 in 2012 with an offense that was posting more zeros than the new pitching ace of the across-the-parking-lot MLB Royals, James Shields. We expect it’s clean-the-house time at Arrowhead with paranoid GM Scott Pioli recently following HC Romeo Crennel out the door prior to Reid’s hiring.

Kevin Kolb, Cardinals...There was a reason former Cards HC Ken Whisenhunt courted Peyton Manning so aggressively last offseason, as the 2011 addition of Kolb (in trade from Philly) has failed to live up to expectations. Kolb, however, has had an injury excuse the past two seasons (with resulting questions about his durability), and might be the best of the remaining options at QB for a new coach at Arizona after the Cards started four different signal-callers in 2012.

John Skelton, Cardinals...With a new regime about to be hired in the Valley of the Sun and Skelton (a favorite of former HC Ken Whisenhunt) having flopped so badly when given the chance in 2012, we expect his days as a member of the Big Red might be over. Although, in truth, Arizona’s problems ran deeper than those at QB this season (a very leaky OL will likely be one fo the first position groups addressed by the new head coach).

Alex Smith, 49ers...Smith led the 49ers to within a muffed punt of the Super Bowl last January, but has since been replaced in the lineup by Colin Kaepernick and his seemingly unlimited upside. Smith was signed to a 3-year deal in San Francisco after last season, but with provisions for either side to get out of the deal after each year, a proviso that we expect to be triggered soon. Could be one of the most in-demand QBs this offseason, as any number of teams would likely be willing to take a tough and acknowledged team leader with the capacity to rally teammates.

Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars...Since we’re still not sure which direction the Jags are headed, Gabbert’s immediate future remains cloudy as well. Prior to his season-ending elbow injury in November, Gabbert’s progress was slow in his second season despite the addition of HC Mike Mularkey, a respected QB tutor. More and more, however, it appears as if Gabbert is not the answer in Jacksonville, especially with the rumors that the Jags (and owner Shad Khan, eager to sell tickets) are serious about adding Tim Tebow.

Brandon Weeden, Browns...Weeden’s age (he was a 29-year-old rookie) and the coaching change in Cleveland could work against the former Oklahoma State Cowboy, who played to mixed reviews at best in his just-completed rookie season. Weeden has toughness and a strong arm, but he won’t have been brought in by the new coaching regime, which might not have as much loyalty as recently-dismissed HC Pat Shurmur.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills...Too much up-and-down play since being rewarded with that hard-to-believe seven-year, $62 million contract in the middle of the 2011 campaign. With a new coaching regime of Doug Marrone soon to arrive, Buffalo might be willing to eat some guaranteed money in order to move in a new direction.

Tony Romo, Cowboys...He’s entering the final year of his contract in 2013, but one has to wonder how much rope owner Jerry Jones is willing to give Romo, who missed the playoffs again in 2012 and has just one postseason victory in seven years as a starter in Big D. Expect Jones to scour the market for alternatives, but don’t be surprised if ol' Jer decides Romo might once again be the best of his available options. Although a younger and more trigger-happy Jones would have probably already dumped Romo and HC Jason Garrett, who sources say is likely to get one more chance as Jones’ true hand-picked choice to lead the Cowboys back to prominence. Insiders believe Jones has more invested emotionally with Garrett (and Romo at QB for that matter) than with his previous coaches.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs have been the first to fill their head-coaching vacancy by quickly serving as a soft landing for Andy Reid after his dismissal in Philadelphia. Expect several hires to be consummated within the next week, but at the end of the weekend, here’s how it was looking elsewhere on the coaching carousel...

Arizona...Looking for a completely new regime with HC Ken Whisenhunt and GM Rod Graves both dismissed. Fixing a sickly offense (referenced previously) will be one of the first priorities of the new regime. Current d.c Ray Horton, rated as an up-and-comer in the ranks, is reportedly being given strong consideration, as is former o.c. Todd Haley, most recently in the same position with the Steelers and also a former HC at Kansas City (where things did not end well). Haley’s edge might be that he seems to be preferred by the Bidwills, who fondly recall the 2008 Super Bowl run when Haley was on staff. Desert sources say the Big Red have also lined up Broncos o.c. Mike McCoy and Bengals o.c. Jay Gruden for interviews. Early pursuit of Andy Reid went nowhere; sources say Reid soured on the Cards because he couldn’t be assured of desired personnel control with a new GM also set to be hired. Ex-Bears HC Lovie Smith is also said to have thrown his hat in the ring for the Cardinals job. Meanwhile, the favorite to emerge for the GM opening is Redskins Director of Player Personnel Morocco Brown.

Buffalo...Sources were reporting on Sunday that the Bills had offered their job to Syracuse HC Doug Marrone, who has NFL experience (on the Saints staff before taking the job with the Orange) and was endorsed by Sean Payton and Bill Parcells, among others. Buffalo had also interviewed former Cards HC Ken Whisenhunt and his d.c. Ray Horton, ex-Bears HC Lovie Smith, Broncos o.c. Mike McCoy, and Oregon Ducks HC Chip Kelly. Note that GM Buddy Nix remains in place after surviving the purge that claimed HC Chan Gailey after the regular season.

Chicago...The Bears are reportedly looking hard at some high-profile NFL assistants to take the place of Lovie Smith. Reportedly, former Notre Dame QB and Packers o.c. Tom Clements, once coveted by Lovie for the same post in Chicago (but denied an interview at the time by the Packers due to lateral move specifics) and long preferred by his college HC Ara Parseghian for several openings with the Fighting Irish in recent years, is a top candidate. Broncos o.c. Mike McCoy, Colts o.c. Bruce Arians, and perhaps Saints o.c. Pete Carmichael (already interviewed by GM Phil Emery) are also reportedly on the Windy City radar.

Cleveland...New owner Jimmy Haslam surprised few by making a clean sweep of the Browns front office and coaching staff following the regular season, canning GM Tom Heckert and second-year HC Pat Shurmur. After an early interview with Penn State HC Bill O’Brien (who subsequently announced intentions to stay with the Nittany Lions), focus centered upon Oregon’s Chip Kelly, although the latest word on Sunday was that Kelly had dropped out of the Browns’ plans and will be staying in Eugene. There are rumors that the Browns might still have Alabama HC Nick Saban on their radar and could make a huge bid for the Tide HC after Bama’s BCS title game vs. Notre Dame. Colts o.c. Bruce Arians, Falcons o.c. Dirk Koetter, 49ers o.c. Greg Roman (with Cleveland-area ties), Bengals o.c. Jay Gruden, and Bengals d.c. Mike Zimmer could also still be in the mix. Among candidates for the GM opening are Vikings Asst. GM George Paton, 49ers Director of Personnel Tom Gamble, Chiefs Director of Personnel Ray Farmer, and perhaps former NFL Exec Michael Lombardi.

Philadelphia...Focus was centered around Oregon HC Chip Kelly as the top candidate to succeed Andy Reid until Kelly apparently took hismelf out of the runnign on Sunday. Birds brass flew to Arizona last week meet with Kelly (in Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl), although sources say Broncos o.c. Mike McCoy, Colts o.c. Bruce Arians, and Bengals o.c. Jay Gruden remain in the frame.

San Diego...The Bolts are hiring both a new GM and HC after the concurrent dismissals of A.J. Smith and Norv Turner. On the coaching side, the new hot name to surface is that of former Falcons and Seahawks HC Jim Mora, who just completed a successful first season at UCLA. Mora would apparently bring o.c. Noel Mazzone along with him to San Diego as the Chargers look to rehab QB Philip Rivers’ flagging career. Broncos o.c. Mike McCoy, Colts o.c. Bruce Arians, and ex-Bears HC Lovie Smith are also reportedly in the mix. On the GM side, Colts exec Tom Telesco is reportedly the favorite, although the Giants’ Marc Ross and in-house existing personnel exec Jimmy Raye are also reportedly on the radar.

Finally, don’t shut the door on the coaching situations with the New York Jets and Jacksonville. Both are looking to hire new GMs, and word is there could still be movement on the coaching front in both locales if the new GMs want to bring along their own coaches. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, while Division Round games have historically been the territory of home teams and favorites (almost always one and the same), their dominance has waned in recent years. In fact, since the 2004 postseason, road dogs stand 21-14 against the number in these playoff games.

Remember some dynamics worth mentioning that are unique to this round. Since 1990, when the playoffs expanded from 10 teams to 12, all Division Round hosts are off a “bye” and a week of rest. And almost all of the “powerhouse” NFL teams in recent memory are from that first-round “bye” group, including 53 of the last 68 Super Bowl participants since ’78 (when the first-round “bye” was introduced). But at least one top conference seed has met defeat in six of the past seven seasons, including Green Bay in the NFC a year ago.

Also worth noting is how lopsided results continue to recur in Division Round games, as more than half since 1975 have been decided by double-digit margins. Favored teams laying a TD or more (usually representing the cream of the NFL crop) have covered at a 56% in the Division Round since ‘75. “Totals” trends have swayed “over” 7-1 the past two years.

Following are the pointspread results in various spread categories of NFL Division Round playoff games since 1975. Our “charting” begins with the ’75 season because, prior to then, playoff home teams were predetermined in a divisional rotation, as opposed to the better won-loss record. A “margin of victory” chart for the games since 1975 is included as well.

Favorites vs. line... 74-70-3 (1 pick)
Favorites straight up... 101-46
Favored by 0-3 points... 8-14-1
Favored by 3½-6½ points... 26-23-1
Favored by 7-9½ points... 26-21
Favored by 10-13½ points... 12-8
Favored by 14 points or more... 3-3-1
Home teams straight up... 104-44
Home teams vs. spread... 77-68-3
Home favorites vs. spread... 72-66-3
Home underdogs vs. spread... 4-2
Home picks vs. spread... 1-0
Over/under (since 1986)... 56-48

1-3 points 34
4-6 points 12
7-10 points 26
11-13 points 11
14 points or more 65

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