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Ranking the NFL’s best and worst head coach openings in 2018

Which head coaching job should be the most appealing this offseason?

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With the end of the NFL regular season comes the start of the coaching carousel. Right now, six head coaching jobs are open, and there could be more on the way depending on circumstances. For those teams, the main focus is on narrowing down candidates and setting up interviews.

Of course, not every job is going to get filled right away. Some of the hottest coaching candidates are coordinators for playoff teams, and they only have a limited window to interview during the week before preparing for their games. Other candidates aren’t in the postseason but will likely take time to explore their options. For the most part, teams will want a new head coach in place by the end of January before free agency and the draft-scouting process really heats up.

But first, let’s examine the head coaching jobs available and rank which ones are the most appealing. This list largely factors in current talent level, potential for growth, and how well equipped the team is to win in 2018 and beyond.

1. New York Giants

Why it’s available: Ben McAdoo didn’t even get a full season’s afterglow after leading New York to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth in 2016. Poor performances on the field and reports of instability off it left the second-year head coach twisting in the wind with a team that had no interest in playing under him. The result? The franchise’s worst record since 1974 and a midseason firing that left Steve Spagnuolo to pick up the pieces as interim head coach.

Pros to the Giants job:

  • Well, anyone is going to look like an upgrade over McAdoo.
  • Ownership is famously patient -- McAdoo notwithstanding — ensuring that the next coach will have the time he needs to change the culture.
  • The Giants still have theoretical upside with a defense that was one of the league’s best in 2016 and Odell Beckham Jr. coming back from injury.
  • New GM Dave Gettleman is a respected talent evaluator and should have little problem buying the right groceries for his coach.
  • Whoever takes the job will have every chance to bring the Giants back to respectability.

Cons to the Giants job:

  • Eli Manning is the 37-year-old elephant in the room. It’s clear that the Giants need to find their quarterback of the future, but how much longer will they stick with Eli? McAdoo sparked outrage by benching him for Geno Smith, but at some point, New York needs a serious succession plan (which probably doesn’t involve Davis Webb).
  • Add in a toxic locker room and the glaring fish bowl that is the New York media, and this job probably isn’t as appealing as it looks at first glance.

2. Detroit Lions

Why it’s available: Jim Caldwell wasn’t a good coach in Indianapolis, so it wasn’t entirely surprising he had little to offer a historically snake-bitten Detroit team. He carried on a rich tradition of postseason emptiness over a four-year span, making the Lions just good enough to be disappointing and ensuring Matthew Stafford wouldn’t get his proper due despite his track record of game-winning drives.

He was let go despite a respectable 36-28 record thanks in part to his inability to coax his team to big wins. Caldwell was 0-2 in the playoffs and 2-4 against Aaron Rodgers while failing to rewrite his franchise’s narrative.

Pros to the Lions job:

  • They have a franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford, which is half the battle in building an NFL contender.
  • Stafford is complemented by a solid receiver trio in Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay.
  • The defense has a little star power with Ezekiel Ansah, Darius Slay, and Glover Quin.
  • The franchise as a whole found a level of stability after the infamous Matt Millen years.

Cons to the Lions job:

  • This team has multiple holes to fill — the running game has been terrible for years, and the pass rush takes a big hit if Ansah leaves in free agency.
  • Stafford turns 30 in February, leaving a somewhat limited window to win in his prime.
  • The new coach will have to decide whether he keeps Jim Bob Cooter and Teryl Austin -- both respected coordinators — or jettisons them to bring in his own guys.
  • While the franchise is stable, it’s been treading water for a while, and there are real questions about upward mobility in a competitive NFC North.
  • The Lions’ last playoff win came in 1991.

3. Indianapolis Colts

Why it’s available: The Colts fired general manager Ryan Grigson last offseason, correctly surmising his awful personnel moves were to blame for the franchise’s struggles. This season, they moved on to Grigson’s head coach, canning Chuck Pagano after his first losing season with the club. Pagano was at the helm as the team made three straight playoff appearances and even ran all the way to the AFC Championship in 2014, but diminishing returns from an injured Andrew Luck ultimately prevented the cancer survivor from building off that momentum.

Pros to the Colts job:

  • Andrew Luck will be back (maybe)! If Luck is fine, maybe the Colts will be fine.
  • T.Y. Hilton is still good.
  • GM Chris Ballard did a lot right in his first year.

Cons to the Colts job:

  • What if Luck isn’t fine? His health can’t be taken for granted after a lost 2017.
  • Even if he’s back, there are holes all over this roster, and the AFC South isn’t the pushover it once was during Luck’s heyday.
  • The Colts ranked 30th in the league in both points and yardage allowed this fall.
  • It’s a potential multi-year project for any incoming coach, which might limit their options for candidates looking to win now.
  • Don’t forget about the notoriously mercurial owner, Jim Irsay, always lurking in the background.

4. Arizona Cardinals

Why it’s available: The league lost one of its most quoteworthy coaches when Bruce Arians announced his retirement. Injuries and a thin, aging roster ultimately doomed his playoff hopes — the Cardinals lost eight games in each of his last two seasons at the helm. Being forced to play Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert at quarterback will do that.

Pros to the Cardinals job:

  • The defense has plenty of stars still in their prime years — Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones, and Tyrann Mathieu — along with up-and-comers like Budda Baker and Haason Reddick.
  • David Johnson will be back to full health after a wrist injury ended his season in Week 1.

Cons to the Cardinals job:

  • Just two seasons after they reached the NFC Championship, the Cardinals’ window might already be closed. Larry Fitzgerald and Adrian Peterson could follow Bruce Arians in retirement and Carson Palmer already has.
  • There aren’t many avenues to competing right now in an NFC West that’s suddenly become loaded from top to bottom.
  • The Cardinals could be looking at a full-blown rebuild, so unless the older veterans decide to come back, 2018 is already shaping up as a writeoff year.

Jobs that are filled

Oakland Raiders

Update: Jon Gruden will officially be the Raiders’ head coach again.

Why it’s available: The Raiders couldn’t follow up on Derek Carr’s breakout 2016 season, falling to a familiar 6-10 record that elicits memories of the Tom Cable era. A one-dimensional defense gave up more than 350 yards per game, wasting a 2-0 start before limping to the finish line. That led to Jack Del Rio’s ousting, just one year after ending the team’s 13-season playoff drought.

Pros to the Raiders job:

  • They’re only one year removed from a 12-4 season with Derek Carr putting up MVP-caliber numbers.
  • The nucleus of a great offense is still there between Carr, Amari Cooper, and a talented offensive line.
  • Marshawn Lynch still has something left in the tank if he decides to come back.
  • The defense boasts Khalil Mack, one of the best all-around players in the game.
  • If a new coach brings in fresh ideas and rejuvenates the locker room, it shouldn’t take much to get back into contention.

Cons to the Raiders job:

Chicago Bears

Update: The Bears hired former Chiefs OC Matt Nagy.

  • Why it’s available: John Fox’s magic ran out in the Midwest, as the coach behind successful — but not too successful — Panthers and Broncos teams failed to achieve a winning season out of three with the Bears. Fox went 14-34 with Chicago, finishing last in the NFC North each season while closing the door on the Jay Cutler era and welcoming in the short-lived Mike Glennon one.
  • Fox’s 2017 season was his weirdest. The 5-11 Bears failed to win a single game in their own division but somehow went 4-0 against AFC North competition — including a major upset over the Steelers.
  • Pros to the Bears job:
  • Mitchell Trubisky remains something of a blank slate, but he showed enough flashes in his rookie season that he could be molded into something good.
  • Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen have the look of a top running back duo.
  • The defense is feisty and kept the Bears in games they otherwise had no business winning.
  • Fans will be happy with any signs of progress after four straight seasons with double-digit losses.
  • A new extension for general manager Ryan Pace ensures continuity in the front office.
  • Cons to the Bears job:
  • If Trubisky is a dud, then the new head coach is stuck with a bad investment he didn’t make.
  • That’s a risk some candidates might not be willing to take, especially with a lack of weapons at receiver.
  • The defense will undoubtedly regress if defensive coordinator Vic Fangio leaves.

NFL assistant coaches who could be head coaches