Most of the time when looking at the NFL Playoffs, it’s all about the players on the field. Tom Brady being a seven-time Super Bowl champion. Inexperienced quarterbacks starting in important January and February games.
But the history of these playoffs also include those calling the shots from the sidelines. There might be no Tom Brady without Bill Belichick. San Francisco 49ers legend Joe Montana would not have morphed into an all-time great without Hall of Famer Bill Walsh.
In looking at the 2023 NFL Playoffs, there’s a perfect mix of young and experienced head coaches set to lead their teams. Now that we’re heading into the divisional round, that’s magnified further.
Below, we rank these eight head coaches remaining from the bottom to the top in preparation for the divisional round.
8. Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys
- Mike McCarthy coaching record: 155-97-2, .614 winning percentage
Some will question why we have McCarthy so low in our rankings of remaining head coaches in the NFL Playoffs. After all, he’s led Dallas to consecutive 12-win seasons. This is the first time the Cowboys have accomplished such a feat since their dynastic run in the 1990s.
With that said, McCarthy’s lack of playoff success since leading the Green Bay Packers to the Super Bowl title following the 2010 season has to be seen as alarming. He’s 6-7 in 13 postseason games since then.
With Dallas coming off a blowout win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during NFL Wild Card Weekend, he’s looking to lead his team to its first conference champinship game since the end of the 2015 season. Standing in the Cowboys’ way is a rival 49ers team that has won 11 consecutive games.
7. Brian Daboll, New York Giants
- Brian Daboll coaching record: 9-7-1, .559 winning percentage
The third rookie head coach in the NFL playoffs, Daboll put up the best performance of the trio. It’s not necessarily that close. Dealing with a limited quarterback in Daniel Jones, no game-changing wide receivers and an inexperienced defense, Daboll was able to lead New York to its first playoff appearance since 2016.
Daboll did this while acting as a player-friendly head coach and helping Jones improve by leaps and bounds in 2022. He then led the Giants to their first playoff win since all the way back in 2011 with an upset victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Jones put up a career-best performance in the win. Next up is a heavily-favored Eagles squad Saturday night. A win here would already make Daboll a legend in Jersey. That’s for sure.
6. Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia Eagles
- Nick Sirianni coaching record: 23-11, .676 winning percentage
Sirianni wasn’t necessarily a popular hire of the Eagles ahead of the 2021 season as Doug Pederson’s replacement. He had led two top-10 scoring offenses in three seasons as the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive coordinator heading in. But there were other candidates with better resumes.
About that? Philadelphia is coming off a regular season in which it finished tied for the best record in the NFL at 14-3. It ranked No. 3 in the NFL in scoring and yielded the eighth-fewest points. Jalen Hurts turned into an MVP candidate under his watch. But can this be duplicated in the NFL playoffs? We’ll find out against the Giants Saturday evening in Philly.
Related: Ranking offenses in the NFL Playoffs
5. Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals
- Zac Taylor coaching record: 28-36-1, .438 winning percentage
Much like Sirianni, Taylor wasn’t a popular hire in 2019. His only previous experience as a play-caller came with the Miami Dolphins in 2015. That didn’t end swimmingly as Miami’s offense finishing 26th in total yards and 27th in points.
In his first season with Cincinnati, Taylor led a team that went 2-14 and finished 30th in scoring. At that point, it seemed to be a mistake.
Even after struggling in 2020, things seemed to turn around for Taylor and his Bengals. That led to a shocking Super Bowl appearance the following season. Cincinnati now heads into the NFL Divisional Playoffs having won nine consecutive games and are seen as a top-end Super Bowl contender. Can Taylor cement his status as a top head coach with an upset road win over the Buffalo Bills Sunday afternoon?
4. Doug Pederson, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Doug Pederson coaching record: 51-45-1, .531 winning percentage
Despite a Super Bowl title in Philadelphia, Pederson was unceremoniously ousted by the Eagles following the 2020 season in which the Eagles went 4-11-1. He led the team to three winning seasons in five years and a shocking win over the then-Tom Brady led New England Patriots following the 2017 campaign.
After acting as an advisor for the Indianapolis Colts in 2021, Pederson opted to try and fix a sunken ship in Duval. It was just last season that Jacksonville fired Urban Meyer after 14 drama-filled weeks. The team won just three games.
Things did not start out too swimmingly for Pederson with the Jags. They opened the season with a 3-7 record. Things seemed to be much of the same. That’s until Pederson helped young quarterback Trevor Lawrence turn it around big time.
The Jags won six of their final seven games to take the AFC South title. Jacksonville then came back from a 27-0 deficit to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL Wild Card round. He’ll need to pull another rabbit out of his hat against the heavily-favored Kansas City Chiefs on the road Saturday afternoon. If that does happen, the legend or Mr. Peterson will grow even more in Duval.
3. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
- Sean McDermott coaching record: 62-35 record, .639 winning percentage
To put McDermott’s success with the Bills into perspective, he’s led the team to five playoff appearances in six seasons since coming over from Carolina following the 2016 season. Prior to his arrival, Buffalo had a 17-year playoff drought. That’s just insane for a once-proud franchise.
We’re now looking at a team that is a complete juggernaut. Josh Allen is one of the top quarterbacks in the league. He has an elite skill-position group headed by wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Defense was McDermott’s calling card as an assistant earlier in his career, and the Bills’ defense has finished in the top two in scoring each of the past two seasons.
The one question heading into Sunday’s divisional round matchup against Cincinnati is a lackluster performance Buffalo put up last week in defeating the injury-plagued Miami Dolphins. Facing third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson, Buffalo won by only three points. Allen turned the ball over three times.
A repeat performance this weekend will lead to a premature exit from the playoffs and lead to questions about McDermott’s status as one of thse head coaches who can’t win the big game.
2. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
- Kyle Shanahan coaching record: 52-46 record, .531 winning percentage
Shanahan’s record in San Francisco doesn’t seem too great. But it really is all about his body of work since taking over a sinking ship in 2017. Since the start of the 2019 season, he’s led the 49ers to two NFC Championship Game appearances and a Super Bowl. They have three winning seasons during that span after accomplishing this feat just three times over the previous 16 seasons.
San Francisco is now aiming for its third NFC Championship Game appearance in four seasons. Shanahan has this squad looking like a complete juggernaut following a blowout win over the Seattle Seahawks to open the playoffs. It has won 11 consecutive games by an average of north of 16 points.
If Shanahan can lead his 49ers to a sixth Lombardi Trophy with rookie seventh-round pick Brock Purdy at quarterback, he’ll become a franchise legend in the same vein as the late-great Bill Walsh. This road continues against the longtime rival Dallas Cowboys at home Sunday afternoon.
1. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
- Andy Reid coaching record: 247-138-1
With four more regular-season wins, Reid will pass the great Tom Landry for the fourth-most in the history of the league. While that will have to wait until next season, he’s leading a legit contender in hopes of winning a second career Super Bowl title.
How good has Reid been over the years? Dating back to his days with the Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2012), he’s earned a whopping 18 playoff appearances. This span has seen Reid-led team win 12 games or more nine times.
If that weren’t enough, the Andy Reid coaching tree consists of the likes of Todd Bowles, John Harbaugh and Doug Pederson — all three of whom led their teams to the playoffs this season. Reid can further cement his status as one of the greatest NFL head coaches of all-time with another Super Bowl title.