We know the schedule and, after last week's 2013 NFL Draft, we now know the personnel. The pieces largely are in place for the eight new head coaches* in the NFL. In the past two seasons, we've seen three teams reach the playoffs in their inaugural campaign with a new coach: the San Francisco 49ers (Jim Harbaugh, 2011), Denver Broncos (John Fox, 2011) and Indianapolis Colts (Chuck Pagano/Bruce Arians, 2012). Of the following eight coaches, who stands the best chance at achieving that feat this season?
» Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
» Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars
» Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland Browns
» Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles
» Doug Marrone, Buffalo Bills
» Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers
» Andy Reid*, Kansas City Chiefs
» Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears
* Obviously, Reid isn't new to head coaching in the NFL, but this will be his first season at the helm in Kansas City.
I actually think several teams with new coaches are in prime position to make the playoffs. In fact, I could see three or four of them making such a quick turnaround. But the team with the best chance is Chicago.
The Bears won 10 games last year and should've cruised into the playoffs. They return a quarterback in Jay Cutler who is only going to get better. Everyone I talk to about Marc Trestman says the coach simply won't stop until he has stellar quarterback play, and his play-calling helps. Free agency made the offensive line better -- and so did the draft, with the addition of Kyle Long. And the defense is probably more athletic, with highly respected coordinator Mel Tucker taking the reins. Tough to see this team doing anything but improving.
My pick is Andy Reid in his first season with the Chiefs. Denver is the favorite in the AFC West, but K.C. will challenge for a wild-card spot.
Reid is a proven head coach who knows what a winner should look like. And with the roster he inherited, Reid can implement his plan quickly. He has an experienced and talented defense that has improved since last season with the additions of Sean Smith, Dunta Robinson and Mike DeVito. On offense -- Reid's area of expertise -- he has a competent quarterback in Alex Smith who proved he could lead a team to the playoffs over his final two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. With the additions of offensive tackle Eric Fisher and tight end Travis Kelce in the draft, the Chiefs improved an offense that already had running back Jamaal Charles and receiver Dwayne Bowe. After a two-win campaign in 2012, Reid's Chiefs will feel they have something to prove this season.
A famous man once said, "Look to the cookie." In the NFL, you should always look to the quarterback.
The new coach with the best QB on this list is undoubtedly Bears boss Marc Trestman, who inherited Jay Cutler. Trestman's also the coach on this list who took over the team with the best 2012 record (10-6). The Bears improved their offensive line, not only through key personnel acquisitions, but also in a coaching sense, with Aaron Kromer coming from New Orleans. Chicago is set up to contend.
In the movie "The Commitments," about a group of working-class people who try to make it big in a band, one of the characters utters the line, "It's a start. And I believe in starts." When I look at the Eagles' schedule, I can envision an entirely plausible scenario that sees Chip Kelly's offense run roughshod over the competition like a runaway train that keeps picking up speed as it goes. The Eagles open like this: @WAS, SD, KC. None of those teams are world beaters by any stretch of the imagination. No one has any idea what Kelly's offense is going to look like when he has all his starters going full bore for 60 minutes. Opposing defenses could be back on their heels as the league tries to figure out just how to stop an attack that leaves you breathless. Philadelphia could be 3-0 and the talk of the NFL heading into a high-profile showdown at Denver. Momentum is a strong ally.
Also in the Eagles' favor: They play in what is, outside the AFC West, the most flawed division in the game. All of the other teams have huge question marks about being good enough to win 10-11 games, and have issues when it comes to keeping star players healthy (Robert Griffin III, DeMarco Murray, Hakeem Nicks). Not that the Eagles are completely immune to the latter phenomenon (see: Michael Vick), but I digress. A big start by Philadelphia could be a springboard to winning the NFC East. And now I want to go watch "The Commitments" again.
Should we disqualify the obvious Andy Reid selection, because the Chiefs are going to the playoffs? I mean, look at the talent on that team, based on last season's Pro Bowl selections -- and don't forget about the addition of Alex Smith. If the Chiefs don't win the AFC West, they will at least make the playoffs.
Bruce Arians would have a great shot at making the playoffs, if he weren't stuck in the toughest division in football. Mike McCoy, meanwhile, could turn around the Chargers pretty quickly, but the Chiefs and Broncos are imposing road blocks to the postseason. However, I wouldn't count out either team.