All 32 NFL Coaching Staffs Ranked, and What It Means for Bettors
Getty Images. Pictured: Bill Belichick (left), Sean Payton (center) and Urban Meyer.
The 2021 NFL season is on the horizon. Preseason football means scouring 53-man rosters to find any edge, but we often forget about the names that don’t count toward that 53: the coaching staff.
Coaching has an outsize impact in the NFL — and not just the head coach (HC). All those management decisions carry huge weight at key moments of the game, while the assistants set the team up to succeed. That means paying attention to offensive (OC) and defensive coordinators (DC) and even specialists like those on special teams or the offensive line.
As we head into the new season, it’s helpful to zoom out and check out the coaching landscape.
Let’s rank all 32 coaching staffs from best to worst and consider what implications it might have from a betting standpoint.
Tier I — The Best of the Best
No surprises at the top.
Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all time, but he gets plenty of help from OC Josh McDaniels. Now, he also has the returning Matt Patricia to help on defense. The Patriots roster isn’t great, but this staff may help keep them in contention.
You can make an argument for Kansas City at the top. Andy Reid is no Belichick, but how do the Chiefs still have OC Eric Bienemy and DC Steve Spagnuolo? The Chiefs keep making Super Bowls and that keeps their staff intact while all the coaching vacancies are already filled. And don’t forget about special teams coach Dave Toub, maybe the best specialist in the game. You can’t build a more balanced, dominant staff.
It’s a similar story in Baltimore, with John Harbaugh at the top while OC Greg Roman and DC Don Martindale are the coordinators. Martindale has been great awhile now and Roman has been the perfect leader for Lamar Jackson, so it’s really important that Baltimore continues to keep him around.
Belichick and Harbaugh consistently have their teams near the top in special teams rankings, too. These three teams will find every edge.
When in doubt, ties go to the elite coaching staff.
Tier II — Moving Up to Greatness
It really takes something to crack that top tier, but Tampa Bay could be on its way. Bruce Arians kept the staff together for now, though both OC Byron Leftwich and DC Todd Bowles will be head-coaching candidates soon.
Leftwich did a great job adapting to Tom Brady’s strengths so this offense could explode in Year 2, and Bowles has adopted the aggressive Arians mentality that permeates this team. No risk it, no biscuit!
I’m of the opinion that Buffalo’s staff is what really broke out most last year, even more than Josh Allen. OC Brian Daboll really put Allen in a great spot to succeed, while Sean McDermott and DC Leslie Frazier are two of the better defensive minds in the game.
Buffalo is due for some regression, but an outstanding coaching staff could stop them from sliding too far.
This might be a bit high for Cleveland, but Kevin Stefanski is the reigning Coach of the Year Award winner and Bill Callahan is one of the league’s top assistants. Callahan transformed the Browns offensive line into the league’s best, while Stefanski and OC Alex Van Pelt really seemed to unlock Baker Mayfield the second half of the season.
If Cleveland contends for the Super Bowl, it’ll heavily involve that trio — and maybe a little more from DC Joe Woods.
Tier III — Great Head Coaches Who Lost Key Assistants
7. New Orleans Saints
8. San Francisco 49ers
9. Los Angeles Rams
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
11. Seattle Seahawks
12. Tennessee Titans
You might’ve expected these staffs higher in the rankings, but each team is undergoing some transition. The head coach is still the guy you know and respect, but it’s hard to lose a key assistant.
Sean Payton lost Joe Lombardi but retained OC Pete Carmichael, so the Saints offense should still be in excellent shape as usual. Kyle Shanahan lost a whole bunch of names from the 49ers staff but is a star on his own, and new DC DeMeco Ryans has turned Fred Warner into a star so there might be something there.
Sean McVay continues to bleed assistants to opponents, and his tree is getting bare. Brandon Staley was a breakout star leading the Rams defense last year, so it remains to be seen how new DC Raheem Morris will step into that role and how much he’ll maximize Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.
Mike Tomlin and Pete Carroll have a long positive track record but some questionable game management skills, and both the Steelers and Seahawks have new offensive coordinators. Pittsburgh moves away from Randy Feichtner, which could be good or bad, while Seattle turns to OC Shane Waldron from the Rams passing tree. Will Waldron let Russell Wilson cook? His chef was Jared Goff the last few seasons, so it’s tough to know.
The Titans coaching staff was a huge part of what made them great the last few seasons, but there’s reason for concern this year. Dean Pees left the defense a year ago and Tennessee was terrible on that end. Now, former OC Arthur Smith is gone too after transforming Ryan Tannehill into a great signal caller.
Mike Vrabel has been a gutsy leader and an innovative game manager, but this Titans staff could take a real step backward in 2021. Be careful.
Tier IV — Fine, Thanks for Asking
There’s lots you already know here, so we won’t dally.
Ron Rivera has done it again, this time in Washington, and he’s got the right assistants in DC Jack Del Rio and OC Scott Turner. Turner follows father Norv’s footsteps with an aggressive downfield passing attack that suits Ryan Fitzpatrick. Turner also relies heavily on his tight end as an X-factor, so that could mean an even bigger breakout for Logan Thomas.
Don’t be surprised if Washington overachieves again, and you better believe they’ll be aggressive.
Indianapolis and Minnesota know what to expect from Frank Reich and Mike Zimmer, and it starts with defense. That’s built into the Zimmer plan, and for Indy it’s due to DC Matt Eberflus. Both offenses tend to play a bit more carefully, which could set these teams up with a high floor but a glass ceiling when it comes to a real playoff run.
This might be a bit high for Matt LaFleur and Green Bay, which has some rough game management history under its soon-to-be third-year head coach, but LaFleur & Co. don’t really fit the tiers well. It’s a good thing Aaron Rodgers is as close as it comes to having a coach on the field.
Anyone from this tier could quickly fall below the next tier down — or further.
Tier V — Moving On Up
17. Los Angeles Chargers
18. Atlanta Falcons
19. Miami Dolphins
20. Carolina Panthers
21. New York Giants
These are the five staffs to keep your eye on this season. Don’t be surprised if the Coach of the Year Award winner for 2021 comes from this quintet, and the right leap could put any of these staffs right into that top-10 mix a year from now.
The Chargers are most intriguing.
Brandon Staley did wonders with the Rams defense in 2020, and he’s on a miraculous rise after being a coordinator at Division III John Carroll just five years ago. He and DC Renaldo Hill will coach up that unit on the other side of Los Angeles, while former Saints QB coordinator Joe Lombardi leads the offense.
Lombardi’s presence should be good news for Justin Herbert’s development. He’s also great at maximizing elite receiving backs, so keep an eye on an Alvin Kamara-like role for Austin Ekeler in what could be a breakout year. This is a big upgrade from Anthony Lynn’s poor game management and Gus Bradley’s defense, and the Chargers could be a breakout team with the new staff.
Don’t overlook a new special teams coach either. The Chargers ranked dead last each of the past two seasons with historically bad special teams play. There’s a ton of low-hanging fruit on this team with even competent coaching.
Tennessee’s loss was Atlanta’s gain as Arthur Smith takes control of the Falcons. He could innovate this offense and even rejuvenate Matt Ryan the way he did Tannehill, though this is a team in transition talent-wise. Don’t overlook Pees out of retirement as the DC, having been excellent for many years in Baltimore. Atlanta’s talent will be maximized.
Brian Flores has been one of the coaches to watch as he continues to build Miami, and DC Josh Boyer and the whole defensive staff are back after a huge year on defense last season. But how will this young offense fare without Chan Gailey?
For Carolina, it’s just the opposite. Matt Rhule and OC Joe Brady will do all they can to squeeze anything useful out of Sam Darnold and a ton of offensive talent, but the defense could be a question mark.
With the Giants, DC Patrick Graham might be the next star hire with how he’s transforming this defense, but OC Jason Garrett is an active negative for the offense and may be holding Daniel Jones back, while HC Joe Judge is still a bit of a question mark outside of his special teams prowess.
Tier VI — The Devil You Know
What do we do with the Cowboys?
For all that Mike McCarthy time away, it sure felt like he didn’t learn much. His game management and decision making are still primordial, and OC Kellen Moore has been up and down. But Joe Philbin is one of the league’s best on the offensive line, DC Dan Quinn brings that Legion of Boom touch, and John Fassell is one of the best special teams coaches.
Dallas assistants will do the little things, but McCarthy might still screw up the big ones, like usual.
With Jon Gruden and Vic Fangio … we know. We know Gruden can coach up the Raiders offense, but the rest of the staff leaves plenty to be desired. Fangio is one of the best defensive minds in the game and has a whole lot of Denver talent, but OC Pat Shurmur and QB coach Mike Shula are still running a prehistoric offense.
If only the Raiders and Broncos could somehow combine these two sides into one coin. Separated, the picture is only half complete.
Tier VII — We Just Don’t Know Enough Yet
25. New York Jets
26. Detroit Lions
27. Philadelphia Eagles
28. Houston Texans
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
These five new head coaches bring unproven staffs, and we just don’t know what to expect yet. All we can do for now is guess.
Robert Saleh did wonders with the 49ers defense, especially with all those injuries. He brings a lot of Niners coaches to the Jets, including OC Mike LaFleur and line coach John Benton, who were terrific with San Francisco’s passing and running games, respectively. New DC Jeff Ulbrich turned around Atlanta’s defense last year.
This is a green staff, but there’s a lot of reason for optimism. The AFC East might soon be the best-coached division.
Dan Campbell goes from a decade coaching tight ends to leading the Lions back into the past. Detroit is rebuilding from the inside out, so expect a commitment to the run game and smash-mouth style.
There are quite a few intriguing assistants around, though. Mark Brunell (QBs), Duce Staley (RBs) and Antwaan Randle-El (WRs) are familiar names on offense, while DC Aaron Glenn and passing game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant have had a lot of success with secondaries. Also, Dave Fipp is elite on special teams.
Campbell may be a bit of a meme, but this staff has real promise.
Nick Sirianni did well with the Colts offense last year, and he’s got some real weapons to work with in Philadelphia. It’s a very young offense, and Jalen Hurts will need a lot of help from OC Shane Steichen, who certainly did wonders with Justin Herbert last year. Can Philly mold a modern offense?
Houston and Jacksonville belong at the bottom of this tier. David Culley had to be about the 100th choice for the Texans after coaching over four decades without a single head-coaching job. DC Lovie Smith is back in the NFL after a failed college stint. Pep Hamilton has been a QB guru, so that could help.
The problem is there’s just not much talent in Houston.
The Jaguars have more talent, but this is a confusing staff.
Urban Meyer finally made it to the NFL after two years off and a second retirement, and it feels like he just grabbed any veteran coaches he could get his hands on.
Darrell Bevell and Brian Schottenheimer will have their fingerprints all over this offense, and that’s not great news for Trevor Lawrence’s development considering their lack of creativity. They’re a weird fit with Meyer’s innovation and obsession with speed, and Joe Cullen and Charlie Strong feel mostly like familiar names in defense.
Maybe Urban takes the NFL by storm, but this is a strange mix.
Tier VIII — Lame Duck Status
It feels like all three of these teams already know their current head coach won’t be manning the helm a year from now when the 2022 season begins. Behold, our three lame ducks.
Matt Nagy was Coach of the Year not long ago, but he has really stalled in developing this Bears offense. He’ll get help from OC Bill Lazor and John DeFilippo this year, but will it be enough? It feels like Justin Fields will either save Nagy’s job or be the reason Chicago pulls the plug for a higher calling.
Our bottom two names are remnants of the Sean McVay hiring craze from a few years back. Remember when everyone wanted any piece of McVay, someone he’d even had a cup of coffee with or anyone young and idealistic and innovative? That’s how Zac Taylor and Kliff Kingsbury got their opportunities, and it feels like time is running out.
Kingsbury runs an infuriating Arizona offense, considering he’s got Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins at his disposal. It’s just bubble screens and dump-offs all game, predictable and collegiate, an absolute waste of talent. Kingsbury’s game management is abysmal too.
Only DC Vance Joseph saves this staff from the bottom of the barrel, but don’t be surprised if Joseph ends up the interim coach sometime this season if Kingsbury can’t figure this out.
Taylor and Cincinnati are last. With all three teams at the bottom, the common theme is having too much talent at quarterback to waste on a mediocre play-calling mind. Taylor hasn’t gotten the job done, and OC Brian Callahan may not be the guy for Joe Burrow either. Feels like it could soon be time for a change.
5 Key Takeaways for Bettors
1. Brandon Staley could be a great pick for Coach of the Year.
Only the head coach wins the award, but Staley has the strength of an entire coaching staff around him. He also has a lot of low-hanging fruit as poor as the coaching was last year. Three of the last four Coaches of the Year have been first-year coaches on a new team, and Staley has a talented team and a ton of help from his assistants.
Be careful, though. The Chargers have a tough early-season schedule, so it might be wise to wait and bet at a better price later. Staley is the favorite right now at +1000 on DraftKings.
2. Titans assistant departures could leave the AFC South wide open.
Tennessee added Julio Jones but lost its star play caller to Jones’s old team in Atlanta. Arthur Smith had the perfect offense for this team, maximizing Ryan Tannehill and pounding Derrick Henry, and the defense is already shorthanded with Dean Pees gone. Tennessee could take a step back, but Carson Wentz is hurt for Indianapolis and both Houston and Jacksonville have unknown and potentially worrisome new coaches.
If you have an AFC South sleeper you love, the door may be open. At DraftKings, the Jaguars are +600 while the Texans are +2800.
3. Don’t overlook the Jets and Lions.
New York and Detroit won’t turn things around overnight, but don’t just write off the Jets and Lions this season.
Saleh and Campbell are new at this but come with a talented array of assistants, and both men are setting the tone for a new version of their teams. They’re guys who will fight all the way, and these teams could be tough outs this year. That may mean stealing an unexpected win or two, and it might mean staying away from grabbing what feels like an easy under for a rebuilding team.
That’s six for New York and 4.5 for Detroit.
4. Be careful about going with the Cardinals or Bengals as your sleeper.
There are few worse feelings than going all-in on a sleeper pick and watching furiously all season as they continue to mess up the little things, the two-minute drives and the third-down plays.
That’s the feeling you might end up with if you jump on Arizona or Cincinnati this season.
Kingsbury and Taylor just aren’t getting it done with these offenses, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either or both fired before season’s end.
5. If the Packers do win a Super Bowl, it won’t be because of the coaching.
Go back and look at the top of the coaching list. Notice anything?
It’s basically a list of the top Super Bowl contenders. Of the top-10 contenders using DraftKings odds, all of them rank among the top 11 here — with one exception.
Maybe Rodgers counts as a coach on the field, but Green Bay is the one presumed Super Bowl contender without an elite head coach or coaching staff. Be wary before you decide to go all in on the Pack at +1300.