The 2021 NFL training camp is right around the corner and fans everywhere are excited. The looming season brings optimism across the country. Sundays just haven't been the same without football.
Some teams will disappoint after a busy offseason, though. Injuries and heartbreaking losses can quickly cause a lost year. Owners have become less patient even when a staff can justifiably point to external factors.
Our friends at BetOnline have early odds on which NFL coach will be fired first. Some are more obvious than others, but we're looking for the best value plays. Which team will start off slowly and put their coach at risk of getting the ax?
We have you covered with the three most likely candidates.
Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals (+750)
Tied for the third-best odds of being fired first, Kliff Kingsbury is the coach most under the microscope entering the season in my eyes. He's a great betting value for this unfortunate distinction. The Arizona Cardinals have said as much in the personnel decisions this offseason.
Acquiring J.J. Watt for a premium price then signing washed veterans Malcolm Butler and A.J. Green to join Robert Alford shows this franchise is out of touch. None of those players are likely to produce at a high-level given their injury history and recent dip in performance. The quartet will only cost about $13 million total in 2021 but Watt is the only one with real upside.
Growth must come from within. Kyler Murray must show an improved ability to play within the pocket. The running game must be leaps and bounds better. Both the scheme and individual talent has been underperforming.
Kingsbury will take the brunt of the blame for poor roster construction, missed draft picks and stagnant development, if each issue continues. The biggest reason why Kingsbury edges out his peers as the best value is a difficult start to the season.
Road trips to the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns fill the schedule in the first six weeks. The other two games are home affairs against the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers.
A two-win start is more likely than not, and dropping a game against the upstart Vikings or Jaguars wouldn't be surprising. With so much divisional competition, Kingsbury could be axed before the Cardinals' bye week.
Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals (+900)
The other strong candidate to be fired first is the Cincinnati Bengalss 38-year-old head coach. Unsurprisingly, the youngest head coach and offensive coordinator combination in the league has been out of their depth through two years. With Joe Burrow returning from a brutal knee injury, this regime needs to show more competence quickly to save their jobs.
Burrow's injury is partially due to the Bengals' roster negligence. The offensive line was historically horrible and the offense relied on the rookie far too much. Things must change on the field after the offense added more talent.
No team can boast the young playmaking corps this team has except for the Denver Broncos. Joe Mixon, Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd represent an elite situation. Burrow was as advertised as a rookie and can continue to ascend into a franchise star.
Taylor must be more than a Sean McVay rip-off, though. They lack consistency and an identity. With Joe Brady looming as a head coach candidate in 2022, pairing Burrow with his former offensive coordinator at LSU has to be attractive instead of spinning the wheels with Taylor.
He'll have to fight through a challenging first nine weeks before the bye. Cincinnati faces tough defenses in the Vikings, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and Browns. Any letdown against fellow young foes like the Jags, Detroit Lions, and the New York Jets could be the nail in Taylor's coffin.
Things don't get easier after the bye, either. It's possible they won't be favored once after the bye. We could see another disastrous defense if the roster doesn't play with more cohesiveness.
Vic Fangio, Denver Broncos (+500)
I'm somewhat surprised Vic Fangio is the betting favorite to be fired first. He's a good coach who dealt with a ton of injuries and bad quarterback play in 2020. His front office may still pull off a franchise-altering trade at quarterback but has thus far been unable to.
Acquiring Teddy Bridgewater should allow Fangio to keep his job throughout this season. He's a steady presence who is surrounded by a fantastic group of playmakers. More importantly, the Broncos have a potentially elite defense.
Adding Kyle Fuller and Patrick Surtain to a defense with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb back from injury with Fangio scheming plays is a scary unit. They're a solid passer away from competing for a Super Bowl. Bridgewater may not be good enough in the playoffs but the team will be competitive.
Still, there's not a coach facing similar heat. Denver has a beefy schedule from Week 4 through Week 13. Things can snowball quickly if Drew Lock has to start and doesn't ascend from terrible to relatively average.
Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy is the only other competitor for third place. But the biggest argument for him being fired first is the Cowboys seeing if Kellen Moore is ready for the promotion. That's not good enough for me to bet against Dak Prescott simply carrying the team to enough wins to get McCarthy through the regular season.
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