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With so many close games through seven weeks, NFL coaches are under a bigger microscope than ever

With so many close games through seven weeks, NFL coaches are under a bigger microscope than ever
Mike Vrabel and the Tennessee Titans lost a close one to the Chargers in London. (Naomi Baker / Getty Images)

NFL coaches are always under the magnifying glass. But, as we approach the midway point of the season, the implement is now an electron microscope.

This is when the launch sequence begins for teams contemplating a coaching change, and patience around the league has worn thin. What’s more, the gap between the haves and have-nots has narrowed this season, nudging make-or-break decisions by coaches to center stage.

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In each of the seven weeks, at least one game has gone to overtime. That had not happened since the overtime rule was put in place in 1974.

Sixty games have been decided by one score (eight points or fewer) through Sunday of Week 7, tied for the second-most in league history.

Is it getting warm in here? Because coaches are unbuttoning at the neck and nervously adjusting their collars.

Again, coaching decisions are always going to be debated and scrutinized. So the talk will swirl about Jason Garrett’s conservative decision on a missed field goal at the end of Dallas’ 20-17 loss at Washington; or Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel making an ill-fated decision to go for two in a 20-19 loss to the Chargers in London — and how the Titans did it, opting to pass instead of run; or Dirk Koetter nailing it for Tampa Bay by letting Chandler Catanzaro kick a 59-yard field goal in overtime to beat Cleveland 26-23. The Browns have gone to overtime four times in seven games.

Some coordinators already have been shown the door, whether it’s offensive coordinator Mike McCoy in Arizona or defensive coordinator Mike Smith in Tampa Bay. Quarterbacks have been benched — Blake Bortles in Jacksonville, Nathan Peterman in Buffalo, Sam Bradford in Arizona — and FitzMagic feels like it happened five years ago.

This week’s games features Cleveland at Pittsburgh, a rematch of teams that played to a tie in Week 1. It’s New Orleans at Minnesota, a rematch of last season’s divisional playoff game that ended with Case Keenum’s miraculous touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs. And London is getting a Philadelphia-Jacksonville game that once looked spectacular — the Eagles won the Super Bowl; the Jaguars almost made it that far — but now is just a couple of 3-4 teams still searching for an identity. (There has yet to be a London game featuring teams with winning records.)

Dog days

Green Bay is playing at the Rams on Sunday, and the Packers are 8 1/2-point underdogs. According to reports, that’s tied for the biggest point spread they’ve ever faced with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The only other time was September 2014, when Seattle was favored by 8 1/2 points over the Packers and wound up winning 36-16.

Equal but not

All blowouts are not created equal.

Kansas City opened the week Monday as a 10-point favorite over the visiting Denver Broncos. What makes that notable is both teams are coming off 45-10 victories.

Denver defeated Arizona by that score Thursday night, and the Chiefs matched that Sunday night against Cincinnati.

Purple power

Minnesota receiver Adam Thielen had nine catches for 110 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings’ 37-17 victory at the New York Jets.

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Thielen, who went undrafted in 2013, has rolled up at least 100 yards in each of his team’s first seven games. He tied Charley Hennigan (1961), who is the only other player in NFL history to achieve that in each of the first seven games to start a season.

Diggs had the Minnesota Miracle against New Orleans in the playoffs, but Thielen is surely the brightest blip on the Saints’ radar screen this week.

Clipped wings

With Cleveland playing Pittsburgh and Kansas City in the next two weeks, it’s a mini-reunion tour for Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley. He was formerly offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh and head coach in Kansas City.

After Sunday’s loss, the team’s third in four weeks, Cleveland coach Hue Jackson said he needs to get more involved in the offense and didn’t rule out taking back the play-calling duties from Haley.

Jackson denied Monday that he plans to take it that far, telling reporters: “I never said I would take over the play-calling. I said I needed to help. I have to be careful not to get too frustrated, too.”

That kind of stuff doesn’t sit well with experienced offensive coaches such as Haley. Stay tuned.

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