Evaluate Coaches When Betting in the Playoffs

It should come as no surprise that the best coaches tend to win more games in the playoffs.

Only four coaches have ever won more than two Super Bowls, Hall of Famers Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, and Joe Gibbs, plus the already legendary Bill Belichick. It is impossible to bet on strictly top notch coaches, and sometimes even the best don’t have the horses to win big. That being said, there is a reason the teams in this year’s playoffs are seeded where they are.

The quartet of coaches who have teams resting this week are Belichick, John Fox, Pete Carroll, and Mike McCarthy.

Belichick is the best of his generation as evidenced by his 175-65 record with New England and five Super Bowl appearances. Fox took the Panthers to the Super Bowl with Jake Delhomme at QB, got to the playoffs with Tim Tebow at the helm, and has gone 46-18 since moving to Denver. Carroll is one of only three coaches to win an NCAA Title and Super Bowl championship; and McCarthy has just one losing season in nine years with Green Bay, won the Super Bowl in 2010, and boasts a 94-49-1 career record.

Who does that leave us with for this weekend?

The marque coaching game of this weekend is Pittsburgh hosting Baltimore. John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin have both won around 64% of their games, career, and each has a Super Bowl title. There is no major advantage, coaching-wise, when these two rivals meet.

Similarly, there is little coaching advantage in the Lions/Cowboys game, either, but for completely different reasons: neither Jim Caldwell nor Jason Garrett inspire confidence.

Caldwell was a bad college coach at Wake Forest, somehow went just 26-22 with the Colts despite having Peyton Manning for two years, and is 2-2 in playoff games. Garrett, meanwhile, is 41-31 with Dallas and will be coaching his first ever playoff game this year. If he hadn’t made the playoffs this season, he likely would have been out of a job. So, as with the Pittsburgh/Baltimore game, the coaching matchup doesn’t give us a strong reason to bet on either Detroit or Dallas.

The other two games are more interesting.

Ron Rivera is 32-31-1 with the Panthers. In his only playoff appearance, Carolina faced San Francisco at home after a bye last year. Following a competitive first half, San Francisco dominated the Panthers in the second, posting a 30-minute shutout and taking a 23-10 win. Carolina beat just one playoff team this year (Detroit in week 2) and Rivera is 11-16-1 in games decided by one score or less.

Meanwhile, Bruce Arians was thrust into the head job in Indianapolis at the last minute when Chuck Pagano had medical problems in 2012. In the face of adversity, he led the Colts to an 11-5 campaign and won NFL Coach of the Year. He has kept up the success in Arizona. In two years with the Cardinals, Arians has gone 21-11. Add in the fact that he worked with the Steelers from 2004 to 2011 – a period of relative prosperity for the organization – and there is little reason to believe he won’t succeed. That said, this will be his first playoff game as a head coach, so approach with caution.

The Bengals and Colts are a bit of a tough read. The certainties are that Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis is 0-5 in playoff games and 100-90-2 overall. Lewis is good enough to keep his job but doesn’t inspire confidence when betting.

Pagano is a bigger mystery. Indy has won 11 games in each of his three seasons (though Arians should get credit for 2012). He’s 1-2 in the playoffs but 1-0 at home. Before coming to Indy, he worked on Harbaugh’s successful staff in Baltimore. Betting against Lewis doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world, and Pagano’s resume leads us to believe he is probably above average if not special.

(Photo credit: Mike Morris (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)