Predicting NFL Week 12 upsets, plus weekly buzz, notes

The AFC West, occupied by Josh McDaniels and Nathaniel Hackett, could lead the league in postseason coaching changes. Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

While a high number of teams' 2022 NFL playoff hopes remain intact, a handful -- and that number is destined to grow in the coming days and weeks -- are already looking ahead to next season. Several teams in that group will be seeking the way forward with a new head coach patrolling the sideline. Which jobs are most likely to change hands? Who are the most popular names we'll be hearing amid the next coaching carousel? Which under-the-radar names deserve a shot?

ESPN's Insiders Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler considered all those questions and more, looking ahead to coaching change season while also diving in on their weekly complement of Week 12 NFL upset picks, fantasy advice, and all the news and notes they have their eyes on from around the league on this Thanksgiving week.

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Hot seat chatter | Top coaching candidates

Underrated coaching names | Coach of the Year
Upsets | Fantasy start/sit | Weekly buzz

Let's talk head coaches on the hot seat: What's the latest you're hearing on jobs that could become available?

Graziano: Geez, just get right to it, why don't you, you jackals? There's almost half a season left and we're talking about who's getting fired? The landscape could still shift, multiple times, between now and January. So please keep that in mind as you read through this. That said ... Indy and Carolina are already open, and people are watching Denver closely as a potential opening. Arizona is on the watch list if the Cardinals don't turn things around. Brandon Staley could be on the hot seat with the Chargers if they don't make the playoffs. I don't think anybody ever knows what Houston is going to do. And both Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick are at the age where people are going to keep one eye on those spots for potential openings when and if those guys decide to walk away (not that I've been given any indication that either is likely to do so right now). How about it, Jeremy? I miss anything obvious?

Fowler: Life comes for the coaching whistle fast, Dan. Last year, many around the league expected a modest hiring cycle until 10 -- TEN! -- jobs opened. So, this year will inevitably provide a few layups and a few surprises. Those are definitely names to consider. Hackett's status feels tenuous at best. I haven't talked to many people who believe he will get a second season. Hackett's status reminds us that four head coaches in Year 1 -- Hackett, Las Vegas' Josh McDaniels, Houston's Lovie Smith and New Orleans' Dennis Allen -- have three wins or less. Houston, as you said, feels uncertain. Would be surprised if New Orleans' Dennis Allen doesn't get another year based on the setup there (GM Mickey Loomis, who is embedded, had heavy influence over Allen's hiring).

Ron Rivera has the Commanders humming, which puts him on solid ground, but finishing strong to avoid a third consecutive losing season would only improve his status. You and I both know that Dallas is always a few losses away from the next fan/media hyperventilation sessions. Mike McCarthy is on good footing, but that's still a tough market, and playoff success would go a long way. Is it too early to mention Kevin Stefanski in Cleveland? The Browns are 4-10 dating back to late last season. How he coalesces with Deshaun Watson over the final six weeks will be big. And ... what about Sean McVay? His interest in broadcasting is sort of the league's worst-kept secret, no?


Who's more to blame for Broncos' struggles: Russ or Hackett?

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Graziano: The McVay flirtation with the broadcast booth last offseason was real, and what I was told at the time was that he might have made the move if the quarterback situation in L.A. wasn't as settled as it appeared to be. But coming off a year like this, would he reconsider? Matthew Stafford's contract likely keeps the QB in L.A. a little longer, and it's also possible McVay could decide he doesn't want to go out like this. That also could depend on what's available in terms of the big, big broadcasting jobs. But I think you bringing up Rivera is really interesting, because that just makes the point about how much can change between now and the end of the season. If we'd done this exercise three or four weeks ago, I think we'd have been talking seriously about Washington as a potential opening. No longer. What about McDaniels of the ultra-disappointing Raiders -- you figure he's safe, or could he be one-and done?

Fowler: People I talk to around the league believe McDaniels will get another year, thinking the Raiders brought McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler as a package deal and wouldn't be keen on paying massive buyout money to both of them. After asking around, I don't get the sense he has lost the locker room, which sort of showed up in Sunday's win over Denver. Are there some whispers of a "Patriots Way" style of coaching with long hours for players? Yes. But that's also fairly common. The NFL is demanding. The players believe he has a good plan for them; the wins just aren't coming in droves.

Graziano: I agree that McDaniels probably gets another year. I'm curious to see whether he gets to pick his own QB and if they move on from Derek Carr. And to circle back on your Stefanski point, I'd be surprised if the Browns fired a coach who didn't have his $46 million-per-year QB for the first 11 games of the season. Feels like the Watson situation buys Stefanski some time. But we shall see. If we could predict the whims of billionaires, maybe we could be billionaires ourselves.

Who are the top candidates most likely to get interviews in this cycle?

Fowler: Let's start with the former head coaches, Dan. Sean Payton seems to be lurking in a big way, and speaking of worst-kept secrets, Payton circling around the Chargers is probably one. Some around the league believe he would wait that one out (if the Saints would trade his rights, of course). Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn figures to be heavily in the mix once again. Dallas' opportunistic defense is humming for the second consecutive year. After asking around, Payton and Quinn seem to have the most momentum among former head coaches. Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier also has his defense producing, and he has a Super Bowl ring as an assistant in Indianapolis, which could have an opening (unless Jeff Saturday snags the job on a full-time basis, which, at this point, feels possible).

And two former head coaches-turned-NFC West defensive coordinators -- Vance Joseph (Cardinals) and Raheem Morris (Rams) -- got close last year and are still qualified candidates despite their teams' losing records. I believe the Rams will push hard for Morris to get a head job.

As far as ascending talents, Philly might be a good place to start. The Eagles' offense has only improved under coordinator Shane Steichen's watch. And defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon impressed in the interview cycle last year (including with Houston, which we mentioned above), and his defense sits at No. 2 in yardage allowed, right under the 49ers and coordinator Demeco Ryans, who will definitely be a hot name. When I talk to teams, they mention Philadelphia as a place that should get many interview request slips for their coordinators.

Graziano: I'd like to stop here for a second and talk about Payton, because I think just about every team with an opening will want to talk to him. Carolina, for example, would probably love a chance to throw a pile of money at Payton. But my sense is that he'll be picky and will look for a spot where the QB situation is solid, first and foremost. That's why I think a lot of people are connecting him with a potential Chargers opening. People would line up to coach Justin Herbert if that job came open. If not there, I've been told to watch Arizona as a potential Payton destination (again, assuming there's an opening there). And your point is well taken about the fact that an interested team would actually have to give the Saints some compensation in return for Payton, since he's still under contract with New Orleans. Makes me think it's even less likely that NFC South rival Carolina would have a chance.

As for "retreads," don't rule out the recently fired Frank Reich as a coach teams will want to talk to. Whether Reich wants to jump back in is a fair question, but I'd be surprised if, say, Carolina didn't at least want to have a chat.

On the assistants front, Denver defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero is a candidate of interest to multiple teams -- including, potentially, Denver, if it moves on from Hackett and doesn't turn to someone like Dan Quinn. Offensive coordinators Ben Johnson in Detroit, Ken Dorsey in Buffalo and Brian Callahan in Cincinnati are also on teams' lists.

Fowler: For sure, teams are always intrigued by young offensive minds with leadership qualities, and from what I've heard all three of those OCs would fit that mold. I believe the Panthers will interview many of the hot offensive names, looking for someone who can cure that side of the ball. From first-year OCs with upside such as Johnson and Dorsey, to seasoned playcallers such as Reich, the Panthers will do their research. Dallas' Kellen Moore should be a fixture yet again, and teams could look into Seattle OC Shane Waldron and Miami OC Frank Smith for the work they've done with Geno Smith and Tua Tagovailoa. Giants OC Mike Kafka ... not many have done more with less. He has earned himself a place on the circuit. Minnesota OC Wes Phillips has pedigree (Wade's son) and has helped the Vikings to an 8-2 start. Scott Turner has done a nice job getting Washington back on track with Taylor Heinicke at QB. And even though the Jets' offense is struggling, New York OC Mike LaFleur could gain traction eventually (after all, the other Kyle Shanahan disciples -- Mike McDaniel, Robert Saleh -- have had great success as head coaches).

As you mentioned with defensive guys, Dan, I also hear positive things about Evero's candidacy -- he should have interest -- though the Broncos sitting at 3-7 with little signs of life could hurt his case. That's not his fault - the defense has been lights out, ranking third in scoring defense at 17.1 points allowed per game -- but teams typically gravitate toward winning teams. At the very least, though, he should get interviews. And Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo is part of another big defensive year in New England.

And, of course, Eric Bieniemy is among the most qualified. He has interviewed with more than half the league. Where does he stand?

Graziano: Well, that's the million-dollar question at this point, isn't it? Bieniemy has interviewed and been passed over for so many jobs the past few cycles that it's fair to wonder if he has missed his window. He even had an issue last offseason with Kansas City when it came time to renew his contract and he was being talked about for coordinator jobs with other teams. So while it's obviously a shame -- and, more than that, a symbol of the league's minority hiring problem -- that Bieniemy can't get a look, I have begun to think there's a chance it just might never happen for him. I wonder what his future is in Kansas City and in the league if he doesn't get a head coach job this offseason. I also wonder why Frazier doesn't get more serious consideration. He has been a head coach, and the Bills' defense has been a complete monster under his guidance. Maybe this is the offseason where someone gives him a second shot at the big job. I've heard Vance Joseph's name more in my reporting the past few weeks than I've heard Frazier's or Bieniemy's.

Fowler: Interesting. Names to watch, for sure. And a couple of sleepers to consider, too: Rams assistant coach/tight ends Thomas Brown and Ravens special teams coordinator Chris Horton. They have worked under Sean McVay and John Harbaugh and impressed in their spots.

Give us one underrated name who might not get attention in this cycle, but should

Graziano: How about Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Shane Bowen? He would certainly not be the first Mike Vrabel coordinator to land a head coaching job, and the way the Titans' defense has performed the past couple of years as Vrabel has ceded more and more control to Bowen on that side of the ball speaks to his abilities. Tennessee under Vrabel has been a consistent winner and is regarded as one of the best-coached teams in the league. Another division title looks likely, and the defense is the major reason. I won't be surprised if teams want to talk to Bowen.

Fowler: That's a good one, Dan. The Titans' defense has been impressive of late. I'll stick with defense and go with Mike Macdonald, the Ravens' new defensive coordinator. He has shown versatility, coordinating Michigan's second-ranked scoring defense in 2021, leading Baltimore to a 10th-ranked scoring defense in the NFL this year (doing so with a different Harbaugh each time). I'm expecting teams to look into the 35-year-old. Gannon became a hot candidate after one year as a coordinator and perhaps Macdonald follows a similar path. Cincinnati's Lou Anarumo also comes to mind. The Bengals' defense has given up three points or less in the third quarter of eight games, a sign of good halftime adjustments.

Graziano: Anarumo proved himself the king of the halftime adjustment twice against Kansas City last year, and another deep playoff run certainly could improve the stock of the two Bengals coordinators, who both got interviews last offseason thanks to the season they had. That's a reminder to keep an eye on the teams that do the most winning, as teams with coaching vacancies often want to try to grab a piece of someone else's success. These things can be fleeting.

Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has been a candidate on teams' lists for a little while, but the performance of the Detroit defense this year might hurt his chances of getting interviews this time around. Raheem Morris is well regarded around the league, but the Rams haven't played good enough defense or won enough games to help his cause. You mention Mike LaFleur, who certainly has the training and the background, but if the Jets can't get Zach Wilson figured out, it's going to be a tough sell. Which doesn't mean things can't turn around for all of those guys next year or even in the final month or so of this year. Just a reminder of how fickle this whole process is.

What does your current ballot for Coach of the Year look like?

Fowler: 1. Brian Daboll. 2. Nick Sirianni. 3. Mike Vrabel 4. Mike McDaniel 5. Kevin O'Connell/Robert Saleh. This is incredibly close for me. There's a serious argument for McDaniel at No. 1 based on what he has done with Tua Tagovailoa, but the other guys are just as deserving. There's a soft spot for coaches who win with teams that weren't supposed to be good, and Daboll in New York fits that charge. Coaching matters. The Giants are disciplined and know how to win in the fourth. Sirianni's offensive system is among the friendliest for dual-threat QBs, and he has come a long way as a game manager. Vrabel isn't just a top-three choice for Coach of the Year -- he might be in the top three overall. O'Connell has successfully shifted the culture in Minnesota, and Saleh has done perhaps the most impressive job of all.

Graziano: 1. Mike Vrabel 2. Brian Daboll 3. Nick Sirianni 4. Kevin O'Connell 5. Mike McDaniel. Yeah I guess Saleh probably belongs on here, but I don't know who to bump off. (Neither do you, since you put him and O'Connell in a tie for fifth!) Fortunately, Saleh has other stuff on his mind this week and probably isn't paying attention to our ballots. I went into this figuring I'd put Daboll in the top spot, since I don't understand how he has that Giants team 7-3. But Vrabel has established a situation in Tennessee where the team so clearly, obviously and consistently reflects its coach that I just had to put him No. 1. It's a great race this year, but give me Vrabel right now to repeat as winner of this award. Which is tough to do!

What's your top upset pick for Week 12?

Graziano: Falcons (+4) over Commanders. I don't have a great reason, just like I don't have any real idea how the Falcons have five wins (or how the Commanders have six!). This is a battle of teams that have been playing over their heads, and I just feel it's more likely the Falcons win their second game in a row (for only the second time this year) than it is that the Commanders win their sixth out of their past seven.

Fowler: Packers (+7) over Eagles. I'm reaching the denial stage with thinking Green Bay can actually be good this year. But this is its absolute last chance to get it going and sneak into the playoffs, and since Aaron Rodgers has been one of the best players in the league the previous two years, that pedigree should prevail in at least one more big game. I was also counting on Green Bay's talented defense to remain stout throughout the season, and that assessment proved to be way off. Follow the Commanders' blueprint and commit to the run with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon with a few timely Rodgers throws mixed in.

What's your fantasy football call of the week?

Fowler: Latavius Murray, Broncos RB. My past few sleepers produced modestly so here's a surer bet. Murray has averaged 14.8 touches per game since joining Denver in early October, including 72 yards and a touchdown on 21 touches last week vs. the Raiders. Melvin Gordon III's presence clouded the tailback picture in Denver, but his release coupled with Chase Edmonds' high-ankle sprain clears the path for Murray to throw it back to 2015, when he last made a Pro Bowl.

Graziano: Start Buccaneers RB Rachaad White. The Browns are vulnerable against the run (only Houston allows more fantasy points per game to running backs), and White's role is one that's only continuing to grow in the Bucs' offense. Even if Leonard Fournette comes out of the bye healthy, I expect White to continue to get more and more work as the Bucs continue to look to spark their offense.


Dak: OBJ knows how much I want him here

Dak Prescott discusses the possibility of the Cowboys signing Odell Beckham Jr.

Let's empty your notebooks. What else are you hearing this week?


  • I don't know that Robert Saleh has made a final decision yet, but the sense I get from talking to people around the Jets' quarterback situation is that they give Zach Wilson at least one more start. There's some sense there of wanting to see how Wilson handles all of the heat he's taking early in the week, and whether he comes in Wednesday with a different attitude about his own role in the team's offensive struggles. It's not out of the question that, if Wilson does start and he struggles again, they switch to Joe Flacco or Mike White midgame. But if I had to bet one way right now, I'd say Wilson gets one more shot before they make a move.

  • On the Odell Beckham Jr. situation, I think it's important to remember the difference between what Beckham expects to happen and what the teams think. Yes, Cowboys ownership has been vocal about its interest in Odell. And yes, the Cowboys need someone at WR. But no one has seen him run, no one knows how healthy he is, no one knows what kind of contract he's looking for ... there's a lot still to work out before he lands with a team. Dallas' interest could cool really quickly if its physical turns up something alarming, or if Beckham is asking for a million bucks a week. As for the Giants, yeah, they obviously could use him, but they're also being realistic about their roster and where they stand. If they get crushed by Dallas on Thursday to drop to 7-4, is he going to want to go there? I believe there are a handful of teams potentially interested (Buffalo, San Francisco, Kansas City, etc.), but they all want to see him healthy before moving forward. I have believed for more than a month now that this was a December proposition, and I think it's fair to think something heats up here in the next week or so. I'm just not 100% sure it ends up with him signing somewhere and making an impact in 2022.


  • On Wilson, I'm hearing the same, Dan, though a few things I was told this week make me wonder if Saleh will let this play out over a day or two, thus increasing the heat on Wilson. Saleh is very firm on basing decisions off on-field performance, I'm told, not the whims of players' feelings or emotions. So, in other words, he's not looking to placate the locker room one way or the other. He wants the quarterback who will perform the best and help the Jets win. The feeling going into Monday was that Wilson would keep his job, before Saleh decided late Monday afternoon to reevaluate things. Execs from other teams believe New York will give Wilson another chance, hoping the applied pressure on him this week will heighten his urgency. Wilson does work hard in the building, I'm told, despite the discussion this week about his accountability and dedication. White is the No. 2, but Flacco could be part of the discussion based on his play in the first three games, throwing for 901 yards and five touchdowns to three interceptions.

  • Jimmy Garoppolo's reworked marriage with San Francisco has played out beautifully for the veteran quarterback. He makes $7 million in salary this year plus millions more in playing time incentives. He's quarterbacking a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. And he's playing some of the best football of his career, with 13 touchdowns (one rushing) in his past six games. The 49ers can't franchise-tag Garoppolo -- his new contract guarantees that he's a free agent in 2023 barring an extension with San Francisco -- and with Lamar Jackson, Daniel Jones and Geno Smith candidates to stay with their respective teams, Garoppolo could be the top free agent quarterback available (depending on Tom Brady's future). No one is suddenly elevating Garoppolo to top-10 QB status anytime soon. But he's trending upward at the right time. "His lack of a trade market in the offseason showed some teams weren't sold on the player, but you have to give him credit, he's played well this year and will have helped himself," an AFC exec said.

  • From now until Week 18, a few ascending players will earn contract extensions with teams that are trying to get ahead of free agency. Why bid with other teams in March when you can lock up a core player on terms that make sense for both parties? These aren't always marquee names but good players who deserve recognition and will be paid. A few names I've heard on this front: Cardinals defensive lineman Zach Allen and Giants safety Julian Love. Allen has produced 14 QB hits, six pass deflections and 3.5 sacks for Arizona's front. He's a player the current regime would like to keep. The Giants have had discussions with Love's reps on a potential new deal, but nothing is imminent. Love has posted a solid 68.3 Pro Football Focus grade as a steady starter alongside the Giants' secondary. There will be others, but those are a few names I've heard.