In general, it's pretty hard to be a new head coach in the NFL.
Usually, a coach coming into a new situation is replacing someone who failed for one reason or another -- and that reason is often a lack of player talent. So it can be tough for a coach to win even a handful of games in his first year with a team, let alone make the playoffs. However, over the past three years, we've had at least one new coach clear that seemingly impossible hurdle.
As training camps kick off across the league, I thought I'd take a look at this season's crop of new head coaches to see which of them has the best chance of making the postseason. Below you'll find all eight coaches entering their first season with a team, ranked according to the likelihood that they'll reach the playoffs in 2013.
Of course, a coach's overall ability is only one factor when it comes to determining playoff chances; things like the level of talent on the roster also play a significant role. So this is not -- I repeat, NOT -- necessarily how I would rank these guys according to pure ability.
CONDITIONS ARE FAVORABLE
1) Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears
Can Trestman succeed where Mike Martz and Mike Tice failed with quarterback Jay Cutler? I think he can. Yes, Trestman is coming over from the Canadian Football League, but he won two championships there over five seasons. He also spent 17 years as an NFL coordinator and assistant; don't forget that he coached Rich Gannon to a career season with the Oakland Raiders in 2002, when the team went to the Super Bowl.
They are, however, facing questions on defense. Can free-agent additions James Anderson and D.J. Williams shore up the linebacker corps? Will the mainstays of this older unit, including cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, hold up? Ultimately, I think the Bears have what it takes to make the playoffs.
2) Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Reid is a darn good football coach. You don't win as many games as he won with the Philadelphia Eagles (130 regular-season contests) by accident. In three of the past five years under Reid, the Eagles scored more than 400 points. This Chiefs team doesn't have to be nearly as productive to experience a significant improvement over last season. Reid also is excellent with quarterbacks; Alex Smith will reap the benefits.
General manager John Dorsey, Reid and Smith form a trio of new arrivals who are great at what they do. Smith is a top-notch player; he's very smart, a quality individual who is in the prime of his life as a quarterback. The Chiefs return six Pro Bowl players to their roster -- including two (linebacker Justin Houston and running back Jamaal Charles) who are among the best at their respective positions -- and they're adding first overall draft pick Eric Fisher to the mix. They also made two free-agent pickups in cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson that will help them when they face the Denver Broncos. (It's always to your benefit to try and match up against the folks you know you're going to have to beat.)
Assuming they can score more than they did last season -- they went five games without a touchdown -- and cut down on sacks, I think the Chiefs have a shot at a wild-card spot.
LET'S NOT GO CRAZY
3) Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
I think one of the smartest moves he made was bringing in Tom Moore, who will know the offense like the back of his hand, as his assistant head coach. That means Arians won't have to worry about coaching the offense as a whole, freeing him to spend time with, say, the offensive line specifically or the defense.
This is a fascinating team, and I'm really interested to see it up close. The Cardinals have some talented players, including Palmer and elite cornerback Patrick Peterson, who leads a top-five pass defense. And they also have a receiver who is about as good as any in football -- as long as someone can get the ball to him -- in Larry Fitzgerald.
There are issues, of course. Who will play offensive tackle a year after Arizona gave up a league-worst 58 sacks? Who's going to run the ball a year after the Cardinals averaged a league-low 3.4 yards per carry? Can defensive coordinator Todd Bowles be as effective as former coordinator Ray Horton? I see Arizona finishing with six wins or so.
4) Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers
Having spent the past four years on the Denver Broncos' coaching staff, McCoy knows the AFC West well, and I think that'll be a big help for San Diego. McCoy has had success everywhere he's been, including Carolina, where he was part of a coaching staff that took the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII. He also helped the Broncos win 13 games last season -- the second-best total in team history -- behind the fourth-best offense in the league.
Speaking of the line, can San Diego cut down on sacks after allowing 49 in 2012? Who will play cornerback? The Chargers also have to play four games in the Eastern time zone this season -- always tough for West Coast teams. I see San Diego winning about six games.
5) Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland Browns
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Two of the biggest assets Chudzinski has are offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who is a great quarterbacks coach and one of the best play-callers in the NFL, and defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who will be a head coach in the near future. The Browns also have a nice offensive line anchored by left tackle Joe Thomas, who is among the best in the league at his position. Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi will be a plus for the front office, and I think they drafted a pass rusher who will make a difference in Barkevious Mingo.
The big question marks are, obviously, represented by second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon caught 50 passes last year, but will miss the first two games of the season due to a suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Also, can new kicker Shayne Graham fill the shoes of Phil Dawson? Dawson -- who had been with the team since 1999 -- made 29 of 31 field goal attempts last season, which is phenomenal when you play eight games on the shores of Lake Erie.
6) Doug Marrone, Buffalo Bills
Buffalo hasn't been in the playoffs for 14 years. In situations like that, the players sometimes take it as a given that they're not going to win. However, I think they got the right man for the job in Marrone; he really turned the program around at Syracuse, and he can do the same thing in Buffalo, providing some direction for a squad that has lacked it in the past.
New offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is a big plus for this team. He's a really smart guy, and I think he'll help rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. Buffalo also has a top-notch pair of running backs in C.J. Spiller, who is one of the best in the league, and Fred Jackson. Buffalo also drafted two promising young receivers in Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, who will give the Bills something they were missing last year. Mario Williams is another significant asset; if he wasn't a former No. 1 overall pick who had just signed a monster free-agent deal, folks would have applauded him for notching 10.5 sacks last season.
One of the biggest questions, of course, has to do with Manuel, who is at the center of a swirling cloud of mixed opinions. (Myself, I think he'll be good.) The Bills need more production out of Marcell Dareus and must figure out what to do with safety Jairus Byrd, who has yet to sign his franchise-tag tender. I think this is another six-win team.
BETTER LUCK NEXT YEAR
7) Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles
Kelly is a very good head coach, but history tells us that it can be tough for college coaches to transition to the NFL. Consider guys like Bud Wilkinson and Steve Spurrier; even Jimmy Johnson went 1-15 in his first season with the Dallas Cowboys. I think this Eagles team is very difficult to pin down; it's hard to guess how it'll turn out. They're an enigma to me, and I don't know if anyone really has a feel for this squad.
The Eagles have some young talent. Rookie Lane Johnson will come in and play for a long time on an offensive line that gets back a key piece in Jason Peters, who missed the entire 2012 campaign due to injury. Defensive end Fletcher Cox, receiver Jeremy Maclin and rookie tight end Zach Ertz also stand out. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, meanwhile, didn't set the world on fire during his time as the head coach in Cleveland, but he excels as an offensive coordinator.
I'm interested to see what Kelly ends up doing on offense. I don't know if the scheme he ran at Oregon, which relied on opposing defenses being caught off guard, would work in the NFL, where players are generally savvier than their collegiate counterparts. Then again, it's never really been tried. To reiterate, it's tough to predict what this Eagles team will do, but I peg Philadelphia for five wins.
8) Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars
Hiring offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch was a smart move. The young quarterback guru is a future head-coaching candidate who will do a good job with Jacksonville's signal-callers. Speaking of Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, their combined play last season wasn't actually as bad as it might have seemed; between Henne (11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions) and Gabbert (nine scores and six picks), the Jaguars recorded more touchdown passes than interceptions. Denard Robinson is going to be a special player; as someone who can run the option at quarterback, line up at receiver, take the ball as a running back or return kicks, he'll be tough to match up against.
The Jaguars are undergoing an overhaul in the secondary; rookie John Cyprien should help there, but that group will be very young. Jacksonville is also facing an early stretch in the schedule that includes road games against some tough teams in Seattle, St. Louis and Denver. A stretch like that can demoralize a team in a hurry. Ultimately, I think Jacksonville will surprise a team or two -- like, perhaps, the Chiefs in their season-opener -- and wind up with four wins.