In Carolina, Rivera is coaching like a guy who expects to return. He's playing younger guys and preparing them for the future whether he's part of it or not.
The Panthers fired GM Marty Hurney after a 1-5 start. At that time, Rivera said he was told by owner Jerry Richardson the team needs to be "trending upward" the rest of the season. The Panthers are 3-4 since, including the impressive win over the Falcons.
Richardson hasn't talked about his plans. He does have to hire a new GM, who likely would want to bring in his own coach.
"The disappointing thing is that's what we can be," Rivera said after the win over the Falcons. "We know that. Based on what we did, how we did it and who we did it with, that's the disappointing thing. ... We've found balance, we have. Unfortunately, we didn't do it sooner."
Shurmur could make the best argument to keep his job. The Browns are 5-3 after an 0-5 start and they have a roster filled with young players. Cleveland's rookies have combined to make 72 starts — a league high.
"That's good for the future because we're finally starting to find how to win football games with these young players," Shurmur said.
Whether that future includes Shurmur remains to be seen.
New owner Jimmy Haslam and new CEO Joe Banner may want to hand-pick their own coach to run the franchise. But if the Browns win out and finish the season on a six-game winning streak, firing Shurmur would be hard to justify.
Other coaches who could be looking for employment include Tennessee's Mike Munchak. The Titans (4-9) have lost five of their last six, and owner Bud Adams put the entire franchise on notice following a 51-20 loss to Chicago on Nov. 4.
Munchak, who has a year left on his contract, fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer two weeks ago and may have to make other staff changes to keep his own job when this season ends.
In Buffalo, Chan Gailey appears safe despite the Bills (5-8) being headed toward their 13th straight season out of the playoffs. Gailey is just 15-30 with the Bills, but general manager Buddy Nix has insisted he has no intention of firing him.
Reid, Turner, Rivera, Shurmur and Munchak haven't received similar votes of confidence.
AP Sports Writers Tom Withers, Steve Reed, Teresa Walker, John Wawrow and Bernie Wilson contributed to this report.
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