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Ranking NFL head coaches by their chances at success in 2017

Perhaps the most efficient way to rank the head coaches is by looking at their supporting casts.

NFL: Preseason-Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

After penning a lament for Jason Garrett deserving a much higher rank than others want to give him, it warranted another column explaining the methods. In the middle of the offseason, we seem to have a lot of ranking pieces that come out, and the head coaching ranks always draw attention. So, where does every coach belong going into 2017? More importantly, how should a head coach’s rank be determined in the first place?

As mentioned previously, it’s not as simple as some sites make it out to be by ranking these coaches by tenure. Some coaches have had success earlier in their careers and have fallen off the pedestal a bit. Others have struggled with their first opportunities and have become late bloomers.

The best method in how to rank these coaches is by looking at the staff they have built plus the current talent on the roster. To be clear, this is not a ranking of these coaches based solely on their career achievements, this is a ranking of where they are going into this season. Without further ado, here’s how these coaches stack up for the 2017 season:

Rank Head Coach
1 Bill Belichick- Patriots
2 Pete Carroll- Seahawks
3 Mike McCarthy- Packers
4 Dan Quinn- Falcons
5 Jason Garrett- Cowboys
6 Jack Del Rio- Raiders
7 Mike Tomlin- Steelers
8 Andy Reid- Chiefs
9 Bruce Arians- Cardinals
10 Ron Rivera-Panthers
11 Chuck Pagano- Colts
12 Marvin Lewis- Bengals
13 Ben McAdoo- Giants
14 John Harbaugh- Ravens
15 Jay Gruden- Redskins
16 Dirk Koetter- Buccaneers
17 Jim Caldwell- Lions
18 Bill O’Brien- Texans
19 Sean Payton- Saints
20 Mike Zimmer- Vikings
21 Mike Mularkey- Titans
22 Doug Pederson- Eagles
23 Adam Gase- Dolphins
24 Todd Bowles- Jets
25 Doug Marrone- Jaguars
26 Vance Joseph- Broncos
27 Sean McDermott- Chargers
28 Hue Jackson- Browns
29 John Fox- Bears
30 Sean McVay- Rams
31 Anthony Lynn- Bills
32 Kyle Shanahan- 49ers

Addressing the elephant in the room, Jason Garrett cracks the Top 5 coaches for 2017. Sure, he’s the reigning Coach of the Year but it’s more than that. Garrett has two of the league’s top coordinators and more importantly, he’s got continuity throughout his staff with only one second-year assistant. The talent around him is abundant with seven All Pro’s and 10 Pro Bowlers on the roster.

He’s 29-19 over the past three years, winning double-digit games in two of those three seasons and winning the NFC East twice. When it comes to expectations, the Cowboys and Patriots have the best odds to meet each other in the Super Bowl at 7-1. They’re very inexperienced on defense and that is the heavy caveat. However, there are no other coaches besides the four above Garrett that have a better chance at a championship in 2017.

Now, let's focus on some other coaches that may be having you scratching your heads reacting to their place on this chart.

29th John Fox - Sure, Fox has put two different teams in the Super Bowl in his career but look at what he’s dealing with right now. The Bears are one of the worst teams in the NFL and they gave up draft picks to take a one-year starter at quarterback in Mitch Trubisky. They also threw $45 million to Mike Glennon, the former backup in Tampa Bay that was passed over rightfully for Jameis Winston.

Their offense was 28th in points per game (17.4) and gave up the ninth-most points on defense (24.9). They have a solid rushing attack but Kevin White is an underachiever at receiver and adding Victor Cruz is not exactly exciting.

19th Sean Payton- He was brilliant in bringing a struggling organization to the ultimate pinnacle, while grooming a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees, into a record-setting passer. However, the Saints have finished 7-9 in the past three seasons. The past two times they have made the playoffs, they were ousted by the Seahawks, including a 41-36 wildcard loss in 2010-2011 to the Seahawks, who entered the playoffs at 7-9.

The biggest issue has been finishing 31st, 31st, and 27th in total defense over the past three seasons. They added the best cornerback in the draft in Marshon Lattimore and added a third-round safety in Marcus Williams. The Saints also signed Adrian Peterson and Nick Fairley but Fairley has been added to NFI with a lingering heart condition. It just doesn’t look as though they will improve as quickly as that window with Brees is closing.

18th Bill O’Brien- The Texans had the number one defense in 2016 despite missing J.J. Watt as they won their second-consecutive division title. Houston also managed to knock off the Derek Carr-less Raiders in the wildcard game. They have some talented receivers on offense and they quite possibly may have nailed some solid draft picks. Zach Cunningham and D’Onta Foreman should be great additions to both sides of the ball.

What’s worrisome is what they’re going to roll out with at quarterback. They have veterans Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden on the roster and they traded up to draft Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson at 12th overall. Though Watson may be the best quarterback in his class, it’s not saying much as there wasn’t exactly a bevy of can’t-miss talents. O’Brien is betting that Watson will be this year’s Dak Prescott but the situation is a little different. With their current quarterback stable, O’Brien cannot afford to pull a Jeff Fisher and wait with Watson.

14th John Harbaugh- Since the Ravens Super Bowl win in 2012, they have only made the playoffs once. Over the past two years, Joe Flacco has dealt with injuries, decreases in touchdown passes, passer rating and an increase in interceptions. You can always count on a solid draft class from the Ravens. Baltimore accomplished upgrading an aging defense both in the draft and free agency. Tim Williams will have an uphill battle getting past his personal issues but the talent is there.

The free agent acquisitions of Tony Jefferson, Brandon Carr, and Brandon Williams will help. Is it enough to compete with the Steelers? The offense is not nearly as explosive as it once was and the offensive line has struggled to protect Flacco.

10th Ron Rivera- He’s on his way back up with some upgrades made in free agency including signing Matt Kalil, Captain Munnerlyn, and Julius Peppers. However, their real work was done in the draft where they gave Cam Newton the deadly combination of Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel. The Panthers trajectory is pointing in the right direction for 2017.

9th Bruce Arians- He’s still a Top-10 coach and the moves the Cardinals made to combat a few losses were excellent. However, Carson Palmer’s inability to hold up is concerning and so is the health of those paid to protect him. They have a deadly rushing attack but they heavily rely on Palmer who’s going to be 38-years old in December. Arians has to contend with the consistent presence of the Seahawks and he’ll need a drastic improvement from the 8-7-1 the Cardinals were in 2016 to make the playoffs.

7th Mike Tomlin- The Steelers have a great team with an incredible offense and a slightly improved defense. Pittsburgh was 11-5 last year and they may have one of the better draft classes this year. Tomlin always has his team at the top of the AFC picture but there were criticisms of him last season within his locker room. Most notably from his star receiver, though they fixed it.

Tomlin has a Super Bowl victory but like Arians, he’s dealing with a quarterback who’s missed games and even wasn’t sure if he would retire this offseason. The AFC North is getting even more competitive and the conference is owned and operated by the Patriots.

Those are just a few names that may cause some pause with this overall ranking of these coaches. The ultimate goal in the NFL is to win the Super Bowl and this ranking is reflective of those teams that have the best chance at accomplishing that goal.

Ranking these coaches All-Time would obviously look a bit different. There are 23 head coaches with less than a decade of experience. That includes five rookie head coaches making their debut this season. The parity in this league makes it way more efficient to look at these coaches on a yearly basis based on their supporting cast. It’s the NFL, where every year is subject to change.

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