The biggest story in the NFL this week has been Carolina Panthers’ owner David Tepper firing head coach Ron Rivera. Tepper had put everyone involved with the franchise on notice just two weeks earlier when he emphatically informed the media that long term mediocrity would not be tolerated under his watch. That came after an embarrassing home loss to a 2 win Atlanta team on November 17. The Panthers put up a strong effort on the road at New Orleans in the following game though eventually losing 34-31. That set the stage for another ugly loss at home last Sunday to the 2-9 Washington Redskins.
There’s a conventional wisdom in the NFL that head coaches should not be fired during the season. This line of thinking suggests that to do so is a sign of profound disrespect. Tepper completely refuted that logic with his firing of Rivera and flipped the script to suggest that it was necessary precisely because he respects his former head coach so much:
“I thought it was time. Why specifically now is I was informed of other teams doing different types of searches out there, and I’m not going to start a search and not tell Ron Rivera I’m starting a search. Too good of a man.”
Tepper may hold Rivera in high regard but that wasn’t the primary motivation for firing him when he did. If Tepper waits until after the season, his firing gets lost in the mix with a half dozen or so others that take place in the NFL. By doing it now, he makes a bigger impact both around the league and within his franchise. The timing prior to a rematch with Atlanta is also calculated as there’s no better way to determine who he does (and doesn’t) want involved with the franchise going forward. He ‘circled’ the game with the ‘mediocrity won’t be tolerated’ rant and emphasized it even more by firing Rivera when he did.
The Falcons are a perfect ‘litmus test’ for Tepper to evaluate the fortitude of his coaches and players as they’re ripe for the picking. Following their two week ‘resurgence’ where they beat New Orleans and Carolina on the road they’re back to their old ways with a listless loss to Tampa Bay at home followed by a 26-18 loss to New Orleans in a game that wasn’t really as close as that score would suggest. Atlanta has become a horrible home team of late with a 9-12 ATS record over the last three seasons and a brutal 1-5 SU/1-4-1 ATS record this year. They’re also on a nasty 3-11 ATS run against opponents with losing records. It doesn’t look like the Falcons really care anymore.
All of a sudden this becomes a ‘must win’ for everyone in the Carolina Panthers organization and there’s no reason they can’t go in an dominate the Falcons. If the Bucs and Jameis Winston can do it you have to think that the Panthers, Kyle Allen and Christian McCaffrey can do it even better.