It took 13 weeks before an NFL coach got fired. It certainly could have come sooner, but the Houston Texans, losers of 11 straight games, finally decided to send Gary Kubiak packing. Now that the first domino has fallen, we could definitely see more. The advantage of cutting ties now is that a team can start pursuing the guys who are out of jobs and researching those who aren't. You can expect Lovie Smith's name to be tossed around quite a bit. He's from Texas, and Houston might be a good fit. There isn't anyone else you could say has to go right away, but keep an eye on Washington, Minnesota, Tennessee and Oakland. Losses this week could result in ownership getting antsy and deciding they need to get out in front of the coaching sweepstakes. The one thing working in the owners' favor is that so many teams have changed coaching staffs the last two years that there shouldn't be too many firings this year.
Starting Sunday, the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers will begin a three-game stretch in which they'll play each other home and away. It's an odd bit of scheduling and for the second time it has featured first- and second-place teams. Denver and Kansas City completed a two-in-three swing last week with the Broncos winning both games. Carolina, which has the longest winning streak in the NFL at eight games, heads to New Orleans Sunday in a game that was flexed to the 7:30 p.m. slot, bouncing the Green Bay-Atlanta game. Two things are significant about this scheduling oddity. First, the Panthers would have been much worse off were New Orleans on their schedule through the first five weeks of the season when they lost three of four. Second, the Saints were forced to stay overnight in Seattle after the Seahawks kicked their butts and spent much of Tuesday in the air. Not ideal when you're facing a team that played an early game at home on Sunday.
The Lions have had 10 days to rest up from their Thanksgiving Day whipping of the Packers. And for all the plays they ran and yards they gained, their offense definitely needed the time off. Now we get to find out if this is the new Lions. The old Lions would promptly drop the ball after winning such a meaningful game the week before. Standing in their way are the Philadelphia Eagles, who have won four straight and broke a 10-game home losing streak last week. If the Lions win this one, it will make life a lot easier heading into a three-game stretch against Baltimore and the New York Giants at home and Minnesota on the road. Still in the hunt are the Bears, who will be without starting QB Jay Cutler again. Their defense is a mess and could be in for a long day against Dallas. But at 6-6, they're in better position than the Packers. The Vikings have been playing good football lately and they'll try to keep it going with Matt Cassel, who replaces injured Christian Ponder (concussion). The Vikings head to Baltimore looking to win their first road game this season.
GAME OF THE WEEK
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-1) at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (8-4)
When: 4:25 p.m. EST on Sunday.
Key injuries: Seahawks -- CB Brandon Browner (groin) and WR Percy Harvin (hip) are out. 49ers -- WR Jon Baldwin (calf), CB Tarell Brown (ribs), G Mike Iupati (knee), WR Mario Manningham (knee), TE Vance McDonald (ankle), LB Dan Skuta (foot) and T Joe Staley (knee) are questionable.
Player to watch: If you like action, keep an eye on Seahawks CB Richard Sherman, who is likely to be matched up with WR Anquan Boldin much of the game. Sherman might be the only guy in the NFL who can actually slug it out with Boldin and live to tell about it.
Recent history: The Seahawks have won the past two meetings -- both at Seattle -- by a combined score of 71-16. The 49ers, however, have won the last four at Candlestick Park, including a 13-6 hog tussle in 2012.
Key statistic: San Francisco is 10-0 when QB Colin Kaepernick has a pass rating of at least 100.
Bottom line: The Seahawks disposed of the Saints easily Monday night and can solidify their standing as the best team in the NFC. The games between these two teams are so physical, both coaches have to be careful they don't lose key players for the stretch run. The 49ers aren't going to catch the Seahawks, so coach Jim Harbaugh might save a couple of wrinkles for a postseason meeting. At 8-4, the 49ers aren't guaranteed a wild-card spot, but they're in good position. Dallas, Philadelphia and Arizona are on their tail at 7-5. Kaepernick has not been the same player now that teams know a little bit more about how to play him. The 49ers do have WR Michael Crabtree back and after getting in 42 snaps in his first game back last week, he'll have a lot of the rust off.
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