Scattergunning the NFL, while wondering if the name Mike Smith means anything to anybody:
-- Their quarterback is among the most consistent in the league, their running back is in a select handful, and their receiving corps may be the best.
But you haven't seen them on Monday night, on Sunday night, or in a late, featured national TV game on a Sunday afternoon.
The Atlanta Falcons don't make news, don't make headlines, and don't make waves. They just win games, eight straight after Sunday's 34-18 decision at Seattle that lifted them to 12-2.
Mike Smith? He was their no-name hire as head coach after the 2007 season and he's still a no-name despite a third straight winning season -- a franchise first -- and his 32-14 record.
You know the white-haired head bobbing on the bus in that NFL public-service commercial? That's Mike Smith.
He and the Falcons -- including quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner, and premier pass-catcher Roddy White -- finally get some exposure next Monday night in a prime-time game against visiting New Orleans that could clinch for the Falcons the NFC's top playoff seed.
-- There are plenty of coaches better known than Smith, and a bunch of them are headed for the unemployment line.
John Fox is as good as gone from Carolina, Gary Kubiak should be toast in Houston, Jeff Fisher may have stayed too long in Tennessee, Mike Singletary seems over his head in San Francisco (5-9 in the league's most dreadful division), Tony Sparano may be looking over his shoulder in Miami after dropping to 1-6 at home by losing to Buffalo, and Marvin Lewis might actually welcome the axe in Cincinnati.
What about Eric Mangini of the Browns? As the final seconds ticked off the clock in a 19-17 loss at Cincinnati yesterday Mangini looked like a man who knows his goose is cooked ... and well done.
It appeared the Browns had turned the corner six weeks ago with back-to-back wins over New Orleans and New England, but consecutive losses to Buffalo and Cincy, which hadn't won since September, say otherwise. The Browns are 5-9 and seven of the losses have come by seven points or less, but Mike Holmgren can't send the message to a loyal and extremely frustrated fan base that close is good enough.
-- It is just same-old, same-old lip service for an epically bad team to insist it is better. The only way to prove it is with wins, and the Detroit Lions may finally be over that hump. A 7-3 decision a week ago over Green Bay snapped a 19-game losing streak against NFC North opponents and Sunday's 23-20 victory at Tampa Bay ended the longest road skid, 26 games, in NFL history.
Back-to-back wins; and the Lions did it with their third-string quarterback and a backup kicker who tied it on the last play of regulation and won it from 34 yards in overtime. Don't look now, but the next two -- at Miami and vs. Minnesota -- are winnable too.