It shouldn’t be surprising that the eight remaining teams in the 2015 NFL playoffs all are well-coached.
In most cases, a head coach who advances to the divisional round is pretty good at what he does.
There will be some good coaches on the sideline this weekend, and at least one who’s bound for the Hall of Fame. Here’s a bottom-to-top ranking of the guys who will be trying to lead their teams into the conference championship.
No. 8: Gary Kubiak
There’s no shame in being last on a list full of accomplished coaches, but someone has to be last, and as a coach who was fired two years ago Kubiak is the one to bring up the rear.
Kubiak deserves credit for pushing the right buttons and replacing Brock Osweiler with Peyton Manning in the Broncos’ Week 17 win over the Chargers.
However, Kubiak was 61-64 in eight years as the Texans coach with a 2-2 playoff record. He was fired in 2013 when the Texans went 2-11 in their first 13 games. After a year as offensive coordinator in Baltimore, Kubiak was hired as Broncos coach this season and Denver (12-4) is the top seed in the AFC.
No. 7: Pete Carroll
No one needs to be reminded of Pete Carroll’s brain cramp in Super Bowl XLIX. What few remember is the timeout the Seahawks wasted with 1:06 left. After Jermaine Kearse’s ball-juggling 33-yard reception that gave the Seahawks a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line, the play clock ran down and the Seahawks had to use their second timeout when the clock was already stopped.
Marshawn Lynch’s four-yard run made it second-and-goal from the 1. If they had two timeouts left, the Seahawks would have been able to give Lynch three shots at ramming the ball into the end zone. With just one timeout, however, they would have had to throw the ball at some point if Lynch was stopped on second down.
We know how it turned out.
The Seahawks also had to burn timeouts in Sunday’s NFC wild-card win over the Vikings because they didn’t seem to be on the same page. They also were charged with a delay of game penalty.
According to NFLPenalties.com, the Seahawks were the sixth-most penalized team this season with 123 infractions and the most penalized team that made the playoffs. The Seahawks’ 48 pre-snap penalties also are the most among the NFL’s 2015 playoff teams.
Not only is Carroll’s team sometimes inefficient on the field, but he has a career pattern of diminishing returns. In 1997 he led the Patriots to a 10-6 record and the divisional round of the playoffs, where they lost 7-6 at Pittsburgh. In 1998 the Patriots went 9-7 and lost in the wild-card round, although they were without Drew Bledsoe in the playoff game.
Then in 1999 the Patriots dropped to 8-8 and Carroll was fired.
With Tom Coughlin out, Pete Carroll (64) is now the oldest NFL coach, followed by Bill Belichick, Bruce Arians and Jim Caldwell.
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) January 4, 2016
Carroll’s not in any danger of being fired in Seattle, but the Seahawks went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl two years ago, dipped to 12-4 and lost the Super Bowl last year and stumbled to 10-6 this year and have to win two road games to get back to the Super Bowl starting with Sunday’s game at top-seeded Carolina.
No. 6: Mike McCarthy
Like Carroll, McCarthy’s stock took a hit in the 2014 postseason.
The Packers blew a 16-0 third-quarter lead and lost to the Seahawks 28-22 in overtime in the NFC championship game. They could have put the Seahawks away earlier in the game, but McCarthy twice decided to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal at the 1 early in the game. What could have been a 14-0 lead was a 6-0 lead.
Also staining McCarthy’s resumé is the fact that the 2011 Packers were the only 15-1 team that’s fallen short of the conference championship. That team lost to the Giants in the divisional round.
McCarthy did a good job snapping the Packers out of their doldrums on Sunday, and on Saturday night they’ll get a shot at making amends for their humiliating 38-8 loss at Arizona in Week 16.
No. 5: Ron Rivera
The leading candidate for Coach of the Year this season, Rivera has led the Panthers to a league-best 15-1 record.
It’s easy to forget that Kelvin Benjamin, who led Panthers wide receivers with 73 catches last year, tore his ACL before the season. So it’s not like the Panthers haven’t had to overcome adversity this season.
Since he became the Panthers head coach in 2011, Riverboat Ron has the franchise on an upward trend. He improved a 2-14 team to 6-10 in 2011 and 7-9 in 2012. The Panthers then won 11 of their last 12 games and reached the divisional round of the playoffs in 2013.
While some might hold their nose at a 7-8-1 team that makes the playoffs, the 2014 Panthers lost six in a row and fell to 3-8-1, then did a 180-degree turn, finished the season with a four-game winning streak and won a playoff game.
The Panthers won 18 straight regular-season games before losing this season. That takes leadership.
Following 2nd season in Carolina, Ron Rivera was widely expected to be fired after rough start to his tenure. Good thing Panthers kept him.
— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) January 7, 2016
No. 4: Mike Tomlin
Even though Mike Tomlin won a Super Bowl in 2008 and got to the Super Bowl in 2010, the knock on him has been that he did it with Bill Cowher’s players even though he inherited a team that went 8-8 in 2006 and made the playoffs in four of his first five seasons.
Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin have each guided the #Steelers to 6 playoff berths in their first 9 years as the team’s head coach.
— Dom Rinelli (@drinelli) January 7, 2016
When the championship core started going gray, the Steelers missed the playoffs in 2012 and 2013. It was the first time since 1999 and 2000 that the Steelers missed the playoffs in two straight seasons.
Tomlin also has his clock-management problems. But his teams finish the season strong. The Steelers have gone 6-2 in the second half of the regular season six times since Tomlin took over in 2007. That includes this season, and it took some coaching chops to get this team to the playoffs.
The Steelers lost Maurkice Pouncey and Shaun Suisham in the preseason. They were without Le’Veon Bell for the first two games, and they’ve been without him again since Week 8. They were without Martavis Bryant for the first five games. They were without Ben Roethlisberger for four games. They’ve been without left tackle Kelvin Beachum for 10 games.
Despite all that, the Steelers made the playoffs and Saturday night’s 18-16 wild-card win at Cincinnati ranks right up there in the Steelers’ history of improbable playoff wins.
Sure, Jeremy Hill fumbled with less than two minutes left when all the Bengals needed was a first down to win the game, and the Bengals handed the Steelers the game-winning points on a silver platter with back-to-back personal-foul penalties. But Hill wouldn’t have fumbled if Ryan Shazier didn’t aggressively try to pry the ball loose. It’s a reflection on Tomlin that the Steelers didn’t give up when the game seemed lost.
Then Tomlin thought that as long as Ben Roethlisberger’s arm was still attached to his body, he had a better chance of saving the Steelers’ season than Landry Jones.
It was the right call, and the Steelers (10-6) are going to Denver Sunday.
No. 3: Andy Reid
Andy Reid deserves strong consideration as Coach of the Year for the Chiefs’ 10-game winning streak after their 1-5 start.
The Chiefs became just the second team to start 1-5 or worse and make the playoffs, and it’s a safe assumption they were adequately prepared for Saturday’s wild-card game at Houston, which they won 30-0.
Reid is 161-110 in his 17-year coaching career. The Eagles made the playoffs in nine of Reid’s first 12 seasons in Philadelphia, reaching the Super Bowl in 2004, and the Chiefs have made the postseason twice in the three years since Reid was hired in 2013.
Eagles asking to interview Andy Reid is like asking your ex-gf if she’ll go on a date with you, after she got married. — Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) January 10, 2016
The Chiefs went 2-14 in 2012 and made a trade with the 49ers to get Alex Smith when Reid took over. That deal is looking pretty good at this point.
Now all Reid has to do Saturday is out-maneuver the coach who beat him in Super Bowl XXXIX.
No. 2: Bruce Arians
Your coaching skills must be pretty good if you’re named Coach of the Year as an interim coach.
That’s what Bruce Arians did in 2012. Hired as offensive coordinator after he was basically forced to leave that post in Pittsburgh, Arians took over as head coach when Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. With rookie Andrew Luck at quarterback, the Colts went 9-3 with Arians serving as head coach and made the playoffs.
Arians has the Cardinals heading in the right direction. They missed the playoffs despite going 10-6 in 2013. Last season, the Cardinals went 11-5 and made the playoffs even though they lost Carson Palmer for the last 10 games.
The Cardinals won four of their last five games this season after running back Chris Johnson was injured and finished 13-3. Arians will go for his first playoff win when the second-seeded Cardinals host the fifth-seeded Packers Saturday night.
No. 1: Bill Belichick
This is one of those lists in which No. 1 is a foregone conclusion.
Bill Belichick has won four Super Bowls. Chuck Noll is the only other coach to do that. No one else on this list has won more than one.
Belichick has been to six Super Bowls. Don Shula is the only other coach to do that. No one else on this list has been to more than two Super Bowls.
Belichick is fifth all-time with 223 coaching wins.
The Patriots have won at least 10 games every year since 2003 and the only year they’ve missed the playoffs during that stretch is when Tom Brady played only one quarter of the 2008 season.
Critics will point to Belichick’s 36-44 record in Cleveland and say that he wouldn’t be as successful in New England if it weren’t for his Hall of Fame quarterback. Who knows how history would have unfolded if Mo Lewis didn’t level Drew Bledsoe in 2001. But Belichick stuck with Brady as the starter even after Bledsoe was healthy enough to return, and it’s turned out pretty well over the last 14 years.
On Saturday, Belichick will match wits with Reid when the second-seeded Patriots host the red-hot Chiefs. Belichick is 4-1 in his career against Reid, but 0-1 since Reid came to Kansas City.