Published On: Tue, May 29th, 2018

Which new head coach will win the most games in 2018?

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The NFL’s coaching carousel is a never-ending ride as front offices around the league constantly search for ways to reenergize their respective teams.

This offseason, seven new head coaching gigs were handed out, meaning almost a quarter of the league is under new stewardship. So, out of the five rookie head coaches, Pat Shurmur (did you forget his time with the Cleveland Browns?), and the $100-million man in Oakland, who will win the most games in 2018?

Jon Gruden – Oakland Raiders

Raiders’ 2017 record: 6-10 (3rd in division)

Raiders owner Mark Davis essentially handed Gruden the keys to the franchise by giving him $100 million over 10 years. As a result, he’s probably now the most powerful head coach in the NFL not named Bill Belichick.

So, for better or worse, this is Gruden’s team. His first offseason back in the NFL has been met with widespread criticism, though, namely for how the Raiders’ additions have skewed toward the older side (Jordy Nelson, Derrick Johnson, Leon Hall, Doug Martin etc.) and for reaching for offensive tackle Kolton Miller in the first round of the draft instead of taking a defensive game-changer like Derwin James.

On offense, there’s only one way for the stagnant and unimaginative unit to go after 2017, and Gruden still possesses an enviable offensive mind. But whether it will be enough to get Derek Carr back on track as a franchise-level quarterback remains to be seen. With the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos looking stronger, and the Kansas City Chiefs unlikely to drop off barring a Patrick Mahomes meltdown, it’s hard to see the Raiders improving their record unless Gruden can morph Carr into a star overnight.

2018 record prediction: 5-11

Frank Reich – Indianapolis Colts

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

Colts’ 2017 record: 4-12 (3rd in division)

Reich, the ex-Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator, has his work cut out after the Colts quickly pivoted to him after being jilted by Josh McDaniels.

General manager Chris Ballard has done an admirable job overhauling Indy’s talent, but this is still one of the league’s worst rosters – especially on defense, which has unproven players at every level. Moreover, Reich won’t have the benefit of a weak AFC South, like Chuck Pagano did for the majority of his time in charge.

The Colts, as always, won’t get far without Luck, who, despite looking like a linebacker, has yet to resume throwing. Assuming the star quarterback plays the majority of the season and at close to his previous level in Reich’s Super Bowl-winning system, the head coach should sniff .500 in his first year, as Luck has never finished with a record worse than 8-8 when he’s started 15-plus games.

2018 record prediction: 7-9

Mike Vrabel – Tennessee Titans

Titans’ 2017 record: 9-7 (2nd in division, wild-card berth)

Just seven years ago, Vrabel was a month away from accepting the linebackers coach job at Ohio State. The former NFL veteran has had a rapid rise up the coaching ranks, and the Titans clearly saw enough to believe he was the man to break Tennessee out from the rigidity and stagnation of the Mike Mularkey era.

Houston finished last in total defense during Vrabel’s one season as the Texans‘ defensive coordinator – though injuries played a major part in that – so how much he can improve the Titans’ unit is the team’s second-biggest question. The first is the development of Marcus Mariota.

Mariota should thrive in an up-tempo spread offense, but it’s no guarantee after years of struggling in an ill-fitting system, developing bad habits. The Titans will field a much more enjoyable – and likely productive – team in 2018, but won’t have the benefit of a weak AFC wild-card race to help propel them above .500 and into the playoffs.

2018 record prediction: 8-8

Pat Shurmur – New York Giants

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

Giants’ 2017 record: 3-13 (4th in division)

New York has every piece it needs to succeed on offense, and Shurmur showed how well he can pull a unit together after losing his starting quarterback and running back while the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings in 2017. But, Eli Manning is the key cog in the Giants machine, and Shurmur needs to squeeze one or two more solid years out of the two-time Super Bowl winner if the substantial investments at running back and offensive line are to pay off.

The NFC East could be formidable next season, too. The Eagles are the clear class of the division, but the Giants, Dallas Cowboys, and Washington Redskins could all conceivably morph into wild-card contenders, which means they could hold back one another from double-digit wins.

If Manning can just get the ball into the hands of Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr., few teams should be able to keep up, and Shurmur should earn the first winning record of his head coaching career.

2018 record prediction: 10-6 (wild-card berth)

Matt Patricia – Detroit Lions

Lions’ 2017 record: 9-7 (2nd in division)

Patricia inherits a team that had a winning record in 2017, yet won only one game out of seven against opponents who finished the year above .500. The Lions’ offense will always put up points with Matthew Stafford under center, but the team needs Patricia to inject whatever magic they have bottled up in New England if it’s to consistently win big games moving forward.

Part of the issue is the 27th-ranked defense. Patricia has led top defenses before, but with an underwhelming talent level in 2017, the Patriots were 29th in total defense. It’s fair to wonder what he can do to boost the unit, which still has only two real difference-makers in Ezekiel Ansah and Darius Slay.

While the Lions made moves to jump-start their consistently awful ground game, we need to see the improvements to believe it. Detroit is an average team, but Patricia will get a taste of the losing life as his squad is crushed under the weight of the NFC North’s powerhouses – the Green Bay Packers and Vikings.

2018 record prediction: 6-10

Matt Nagy – Chicago Bears

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

Bears’ 2017 record: 5-11 (4th in division)

The Bears, clearly inspired by the champion Eagles’ blueprint, went after an offensive-minded head coach to pair with their young quarterback, and then proceeded to use their ample cap space to give Nagy all the weapons he needs to mold Mitch Trubisky into a star.

Consequently, Chicago will enter 2018 as one of the hyped non-playoff teams who could make the leap into the postseason. However, while the talented squad could make significant noise, it’s still a rebuilding team led by an inexperienced head coach and quarterback. The 2017 Los Angeles Rams are the exception, not the rule.

Still, don’t overlook the 10th-ranked defense, which should be even more stout thanks to rookie linebacker Roquan Smith. If the defense can carry the team while the offense gels early in the year, the Bears could blaze through the second half of the season despite playing in maybe the toughest division in football.

2018 record prediction: 9-7

Steve Wilks – Arizona Cardinals

Cardinals’ 2017 record: 8-8 (3rd in division)

The Titans and Lions are the only two teams on this list who finished last season with a better record than the Cardinals, but Arizona is facing arguably the biggest transition of all after losing Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer to retirement. Wilks, with just one season as an NFL coordinator, is facing a tough task to fill the void.

Either Sam Bradford or rookie Josh Rosen be Wilks’ Day 1 starter. But it’s fair to question how effective Bradford can be after his umpteenth knee injury. Rosen could be a future star, but his gunslinging style should lead to plenty of interceptions, and consequently, losses if he’s forced to start.

The returning David Johnson could carry the offense, but the unit lacks depth and could be derailed with even one or two injuries to key personnel. The defense-focused Wilks has a lot of young talent to work with on that side of the ball, and he made a name for himself by developing such players. Still, progress is unlikely to be made rapidly enough for the head coach to avoid the NFC West’s basement in Year 1.

2018 record prediction: 5-11

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