Marc's Mailbag - Week 10

Marc Sessler is a writer for NFL.com's Around the League blog and each Friday he will answer your NFL questions, right up until the Super Bowl.

Rex Ryan was named the most "overrated" coach in a recent poll. Do you agree? - Jamie in London

Not really. That Sporting News poll surveyed more than 100 players around the league, but respondents couldn't vote for their own coach. I'd be more concerned if Ryan's Jets were making this argument, but he remains popular in-house.

The results are mostly tied to Ryan's persona. He's brash, irreverent and annoyingly optimistic about the Jets. He plays to the media. He issues guarantees -- entertaining, yes -- but too many haven't panned out.

Still, he's taken the Jets to a pair of AFC championships, which speaks for itself. He's the polar opposite of, say, Bill Belichick, who runs a Patriots team that says little, speaks in code, and continues to dominate the division minus the drama.

And here's why none of this matters: Belichick, in that poll, came in second.

I heard Sean Payton's deal with the New Orleans Saints has been voided. Does this have something to do with the bounty scandal? Will Payton be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys next year? - Connor from Birmingham

Sean Payton's contract extension was voided by Commissioner Roger Goodell because of concerns about language in the deal. There was a written clause in the contract allowing Payton to leave the Saints if general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended, fired or departed the franchise. The NFL felt that set a poor precedent and pulled the plug on the deal before Loomis was suspended eight games by the league. So, it wasn't punishment for the bounty scandal, at least not directly.

Here's where it gets iffy for the Saints: Payton wanted guarantees that Loomis would stay with the team and act as a "buffer" between the coach and owner/executive vice president Rita Benson LeBlanc, the granddaughter and presumed successor to owner Tom Benson. NFL Network's Albert Breer reported Payton holds "serious reservations" about what's next for the Saints if Tom Benson steps down.

Payton recently said he wanted to remain in New Orleans, but speculation about a return to the Cowboys isn't going away. It makes sense because of the relationship between Payton and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and, on a more personal level, because Payton's children live in Dallas -- and so does he. Let's not forget that Payton -- when he worked under former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells -- was responsible for bringing quarterback Tony Romo to Dallas. The stars are aligned on this one, but the Saints are going to push hard to keep Payton in the fold.

I'm a new football fan, and I have a question about the game. What constitutes an illegal hit on a "defenseless" receiver? - Marian in Surrey

A receiver becomes a "defenseless player" as one who is "attempting to catch a pass; or who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner. If the receiver/runner is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player," per the rule book.

Also from the zebra manual: Along with receivers, the "defenseless player" tag applies to a player in the act of or just after throwing a pass; a runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped; a kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air; a player on the ground at the end of a play; a kicker/punter during the kick or during the return; a quarterback at any time after a change of possession, and a player who receives a “blindside” block when the blocker is moving toward his own endline and approaches the opponent from behind or from the side.

Still with us? Let's move on, shall we?

What -- in your opinion -- is the biggest surprise of the season so far? – Liam in Dublin

I'm surprised by the Colts. My editor at NFL.com, Gregg Rosenthal, called this before the season -- saying Indy would be .500 or better -- but nobody saw them racing out to 6-3 . Andrew Luck has delivered at quarterback, and the mix of veteran leaders has helped interim coach Bruce Arians keep the team even-keeled in Chuck Pagano's absence.

Then there's Peyton Manning, the quarterback the Colts let walk. I suppose nothing he does should surprise anyone, but he's playing better than ever before. After watching Manning struggle some in the preseason, I wasn't expecting him to get here in just eight games. Manning's play is turning the Broncos into the most dangerous team in the AFC.

It's not too early to start rooting for a Luck-Manning showdown come January.

A couple of disappointing teams have coaches on the hot seat right now, including the 1-7 Kansas City Chiefs. Are there any advantages to firing a coach in the middle of a season, or should owners wait until the end to make changes? - Kathy, London UK

Less than a year ago, the Chiefs fired Todd Haley with three games to go and named Romeo Crennel the interim coach. Crennel guided the Chiefs to a 2-1 record -- including a win over the undefeated Packers -- and emerged as the organization's top choice to take the reins. One year later, Crennel needs a miracle to save his job.

In-season firings often have to do with organizational health. There's tremendous tension and stress heaped on a losing coaching staff -- especially one that knows it's soon to hit the breadline. Sometimes pulling the plug on a drained head coach can help reboot the machine and help a team to look forward.

The timing here also comes down to how an organization wants to proceed with its coaching search. There's anywhere from three to seven coaching vacancies each January, and only a limited pool of talent to choose from. Most coaches are dismissed hours or days after the final game of the year. Owners and general managers are scrambling to interview candidates and lure their top choice to town.

The franchise that knows what it wants and how to obtain it is going to wind up with a top-tier coach instead of picking from the scraps.

Enjoy the games.

You can reach Marc Sessler on Twitter at @MarcSesslerNFL.