Colts’ Manning Casts Long Shadow Over Jaguars and Texans

The Jaguars’ owner, Wayne Weaver, chose to retain Coach Jack Del Rio, although Del Rio will have to relinquish his defensive play-calling responsibilities. For the fourth time in five seasons, Del Rio failed to lead Jacksonville to a winning record.

The are also sticking with their coach, Gary Kubiak, even though Houston hasn’t had a winning record in four of the last five years.

Since the A.F.L- merger in 1970, only four coaches have a.) finished with a .500 or worse record in four out of five seasons with the same team, b.) finished with a .500 or worse record in the fifth season, and c.) been retained to coach for a sixth season: Marvin Lewis of the , of the Atlanta Falcons, Bart Starr of the and John McKay of the expansion .

John Fox just finished his fourth nonwinning season in five years in Carolina and was let go. But Kubiak and Del Rio will be back, despite not having the cachet of Starr, or the pedigrees of McKay and Reeves, and despite the fact that they didn’t inherit the hopeless situations that Lewis and McKay did. What they have, instead, may be the most hopeless situation of all: competing against Peyton Manning.

Manning and the Colts have won the A.F.C. South in seven of the last eight seasons. In Houston and Jacksonville, merely competing with Indianapolis is a sign of progress. The Texans were 1-15 against the Colts entering this season but split the 2010 series. Jacksonville entered the final week of the season with a chance to dethrone the Colts.

Kubiak and Del Rio seem to be uninspiring choices to lead teams in 2011. They will become only the fifth and sixth coaches in the last 40 years to be given such a long leash. But Kubiak and Del Rio have been building teams that are at least capable of challenging the Colts.

As long as Manning is an elite quarterback, however, it’s hard for fans to envision either team passing the Colts. It might be just as hard for the teams’ owners to envision such a future.

Regression Ahead

The , the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the made improvements of at least six wins from 2009 to 2010. The Bucs led the way with a seven-win improvement, while the Missouri teams improved by six wins each.

If history is an indicator, these teams may have more work to do. Between 2002 and 2009, 30 teams experienced increases of at least five wins from one season to the next. But 24 teams won fewer games in the season after their improvement — with 13 of them experiencing a drop-off of at least four victories.

Only two of those teams — the 2003 and the 2006 — managed to improve their win total in the year after the improvement (and reached the ). Four teams — the 2004 Bengals, the 2004 , the 2009 and the 2008 Buccaneers — were able to maintain their win total in the year following the improvement. LUIS DELOUREIRO

Will Let Young Go

Bud Adams, the Tennessee Titans’ owner, said that quarterback Vince Young would not be on the roster next season but that he was still evaluating the coaching staff of Jeff Fisher. The Titans were 6-10, and Young sustained a season-ending injury to his right thumb Nov. 21. General Manager Mike Reinfeldt told Young’s agent, Tom Condon, that Young was not in the team’s plans. League rules keep Young from being released until Feb. 7, and he cannot be traded until the first day of the league year, which has not been set. (AP)

Elway Takes Over

The summoned the Hall of Fame quarterback for one more comeback, as chief football executive. Elway, who led the Broncos to back-to-back championships before retiring in 1999, will begin by interviewing candidates for the vacant coaching job: Mike Mularkey, the Falcons’ offensive coordinator; Perry Fewell, the Giants’ defensive coordinator; and Eric Studesville, who was 1-3 as Denver’s interim coach to cap a 4-12 season, the worst in its 51-year history. (AP)

Around the League

Wade Phillips, who was fired in midseason as coach of the , was hired as Houston’s defensive coordinator, assigned to revamp a unit that dropped to the bottom of the league this season. … Todd Bowles, the ’ assistant head coach, interviewed for the Cowboys’ head coaching position. Jason Garrett, the Cowboys’ interim head coach, and receivers coach Ray Sherman are also candidates. … running back Pierre Thomas will miss the playoffs because of an injured left ankle. … defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will have shoulder surgery and miss the Pro Bowl. (AP)

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