After 18 weeks of regular-season games, the NFL playoffs are finally here. We're getting this tournament started a bit later than usual, and there were certainly some twists and turns and Omicron variants along the way, but we're here. 

Throughout this week, it's likely that you'll read a whole lot about these matchups. The players, the tactics, the injuries, the history, and more. We're here today to talk about the coaches. But not just the head coaches -- the coordinators as well. Because players don't just run out onto the field and play. There are people who design a game plan and a strategy and call plays in an attempt to put them in position to succeed. 

With that in mind, we're ranking all 14 playoff coaching staffs -- head coach, and offensive and defensive coordinator (or play-caller, or top assistant). As with last year's rankings, there are a few things worth noting before we dive in: 

  • I came up with my own rankings to start things off, then ran them by the staff over the past several days and heavily weighed their input. That process is how we came up with rankings that are both tiered and numbered.
  • The tiers themselves should be considered rigid, while the rankings within them are fluid. That means if you wanted to slot one Tier 2 team ahead of another, there would be very little argument, as we are basically splitting hairs. But if you tried to move a Tier 4 team ahead of one of the teams in Tier 1 or 2, that would draw more forceful pushback. 
  • What you see below is my analysis of why the teams ended up in the tiers they did, and the strengths and weaknesses of the coaches that factored into them.

Tier 4: Not enough information

Within this group, we have an interim head coach, a first-year head coach, and two third-year head coaches making their playoff debuts. The interim head coach (Bisaccia) has veteran coordinators we know fairly well. The three remaining coaches (Kingsbury, Sirianni, and Taylor) are also offensive play-callers, which somewhat depresses the influence of their respective offensive coordinators; and two of them (Sirianni and Taylor) have first-year defensive coordinators. 

Bisaccia has been a head coach for only 12 games. It is therefore difficult to know very much about his coaching philosophy. That's especially true because he had previously been a special teams coordinator, so it's tough to say what a Bisaccia-led offense or defense would even look like. Olson is only calling offensive plays because Jon Gruden resigned, but his offenses in previous stops left much to be desired. Bradley has shown the ability to generate pressure with a strong defensive front, but his static, Cover 3-heavy defense can be exploited. 

Kingsbury is a tough nut to crack. He does a wonderful job generating space for his offensive playmakers, but the way he structures his offense also reveals some of his limitations. (DeAndre Hopkins essentially only plays on the left side of the field, and when he left the lineup the team simply went to a backup left wide receiver rather than getting more snaps for, say, Christian Kirk or Rondale Moore.) He's also extremely conservative when it comes to fourth-down decisions. Joseph did an excellent job with this defense through the first half of this season, but as the team started seeing cornerbacks get injured, the back end was relatively easy to exploit. 

The Eagles might win a Most Improved Coaching Staff Within A Season award, if such a thing existed. They began the year with an extreme pass-heavy lean, which just did not fit their personnel at all. But Sirianni and Steichen pivoted to a run-oriented approach that relied on their excellent offensive line and Jalen Hurts, and it worked like gangbusters. Gannon's defense ranked middle of the pack in yards (10th) and points (18th) allowed, but worse in efficiency, as determined by Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA (25th, and 26th in weighted DVOA). 

Taylor was seemingly on the hot seat entering this season, and midway through the year, the idea of moving on from him at the end of the season did not seem far off. But the Bengals' second-half sprint -- spurred by their transitioning from a run-heavy offense to one more oriented around Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins -- likely ensured that he'll be around for a while. It also moved Callahan into the "potential head coach" conversation, as evidenced by his inclusion on the Denver Broncos' interview list. I didn't know much about Anarumo before this season, but thought he did a terrific job with a defense that doesn't have a lot of big-name players but played very well at times this year. His work with the secondary, in particular, stands out. (That makes sense, being that he is a former defensive backs coach.)

Tier 3: What do we do with these guys?

Tomlin is one of the best leaders and people-managers in the NFL, and he has an enormous track record of winning. He leaves something to be desired as a game-day manager and tactician, but that's not the only job a coach has. He has enormous influence on the team's culture and he's shown he can get more out of a limited roster than most other coaches. His coordinators, though, drag him down here. Canada's offense has been uninspired, and his use of motion and misdirection has been both not as frequent as advertised and largely ineffective. Much of that can be laid at the feet of ben Roethlisberger, but part of a coordinator's job is selling the players on the offense. Butler does great work generating one-on-ones for his dominant players up front, but if I see him cover a slot receiver with an inside linebacker one more time, I might have to claw my eyes out. 

Tier 2: Good, but with reservations

This is the largest tier, and the one where there is likely to be the most disagreement. (Unless I am underestimating the wrath of Steelers fans, which is admittedly possible.) All of these teams have head coaches who are good, but maybe not great. They all come with questions about game management in one way or another, for example. The coordinators are universally respected and many of them are potential head coach candidates, either this offseason or sometime in the near future. They just don't quite have the track record of the two coaching staffs in our top tier, which is composed entirely of two of the best coaches in league history and their respective assistants. 

I almost separated these teams into mini-tier, but couldn't decide whether the Titans' coaching staff should be grouped with the teams above or below them, or whether they should be moved up three spots or down three spots. Vrabel seems to have a knack for getting the best out of his players, and he clearly has an eye for offensive play-callers, being that his first two coordinators (LaFleur and Arthur Smith) have quickly moved on to head coaching opportunities. Bowen also got more out of an under-talented defense this season than even Dean Pees did before him, which makes me think he's got something going on there. It's tough to know how much of the style of play is attributable to either coordinator, though, since it's been the same since Vrabel got there and largely revolves around Derrick Henry being an outlier human being and football player. The team's ability to sustain winning in the second half of the season without Henry on the field kept me from moving the Titans down any further on the list. 

Regarding the teams behind the Titans in this tier, I found it very difficult to differentiate between them. 

All three head coaches have been to at least one Super Bowl, and McCarthy won one in Green Bay. That was obviously with a different staff, and his offense in many ways grew stale during the latter portion of his tenure with the Packers. That's a big part of the reason that Moore, not McCarthy, calls the plays in Dallas. Shanahan and McVay, meanwhile, are two of the best play-callers in the NFL. They are running the same system in slightly different ways, but it is remarkably effective. Their respective offensive coordinators are simply the next guys in the line of succession, and it's difficult to differentiate them from the guys that came before. What makes O'Connell or McDaniel different than Matt or Mike LaFleur or Taylor before them is not something that we can necessarily see on the field, due to the influence the head coaches have on the product in the first place. Moore is likely to be extremely sought-after this offseason, and is already on the interview list for several teams with coaching vacancies. He's creative in his use of formations and personnel, knows how to get players the ball in open space, and clearly has an excellent rapport with his quarterback. If only he could curb his strange addiction to second-and-long running plays. 

Among the three teams' defensive coordinators, I feel the best about Quinn at the moment. He might very well win Assistant Coach of the Year, and he'd deserve if it he did. He took a defense many expected to be among the small handful of worst in the NFL, and turned it into one of the best by completely remaking himself as a coach. That willingness to adapt is so important, and if he had a track record of longer than one year of doing it, the Cowboys might be higher on the list. Ryans and Morris, meanwhile, largely built on the work of their predecessors, who went on to head coaching opportunities elsewhere. (Robert Saleh in New York and Brandon Staley with the Chargers.) They definitely changed some things, particularly with Ryans' use of different coverages and Morris' utilization of Jalen Ramsey in the slot, but it's tough to parse where their work starts and Saleh and Staley's work ends. 

All three head coaches in that group have, at times, extreme game-management issues. Shanahan and McVay, for as forward-thinking as they are with their schemes, are among the most conservative coaches in the league when it comes to fourth-down decisions -- especially in and around the red zone. McCarthy is actually one of the most aggressive in the league ... as long as it isn't a huge spot late in the game, where he seems to turtle up. (See the field goal he kicked in the season opener against the Bucs, for example.) He also seemingly has one or two clock-management issues every week, which makes him tough to trust in a big spot. 

Arians and Co. won the Super Bowl last year. Both Leftwich and Bowles are likely to be sought-after candidates this offseason, and they largely do a very good job putting their players in position to succeed on both sides of the ball. Arians is so conservative in his decision-making, though, that it at times holds the team back. On fourth-and-3 or less in neutral situations (scoring differential within 14 points in either direction), the Bucs have gone for it at the league's seventh-lowest rate over the last two years, despite employing an elite offensive line and TOM FREAKING BRADY. (And it's sixth-lowest if we limit the sample to only fourth-down opportunities outside the team's own 40-yard line.) Press your advantages, Bruce! 

I came the closest to bumping the Bills and Packers staffs up into Tier 1, but ultimately decided not to go there. Both McDermott and LaFleur have had a lot of success since arriving, and have done a very good job of identifying the right coordinators to implement the style of play they want to use on both sides of the ball. Daboll was a head coaching candidate last offseason and will be again this year, while Hackett is a personal favorite of Aaron Rodgers and likely to end up on many interview lists as well. Frazier has head coaching experience and could be a candidate again based on his work with the Buffalo defense, and Barry's transformation of Green Bay's unit -- and especially his ability to get it to perform at a high level without its two best players -- will presumably garner him some looks as well. I can't find many flaws in either of those staffs (beyond LaFleur's still-puzzling decision to kick a field goal in the NFC title game last year), but also can't elevate them into this next group until we see them do it for a lot longer than a few years. 

Tier 1: (Mostly) beyond reproach 

The best defensive and offensive coaches in recent NFL history, and two of the best of all time, period. We have Kansas City ahead of New England largely due to Reid's creativity on offense and willingness to exert his team's talent advantage with aggressive decision-making, where Belichick now lags behind despite pushing the envelope in that area earlier in his career. Belichick has put so many assistants into the head coaching ranks, including McDaniels, who could eventually either get another shot or take over for Belichick himself. Mayo has gotten buzz as well. Reid's assistants are littered throughout the league, and it seems only a matter of time before Bieniemy gets an opportunity. Spagnuolo, meanwhile, might just be one of those coaches (like Wade Phillips) who is better as a coordinator than a head man.