When betting Week 1 NFL games, a lot of people overlook the impact of coaching staffs in each contest.
With the added pressure and prep time, like many handicappers, I give coaching matchups more emphasis in Week 1 compared to other points during the regular season. But that doesn’t necessarily mean awarding an edge to the superior head coach. Instead, I consider the offensive and defensive coordinator matchups from a stylistic perspective (think UFC fight), and then see which head coaches have a track record of having their teams ready to play. After all, some head coaches are known for having their squads seemingly in mid-season form, while others are notorious for throwing stink bombs in their openers.
The tiers below rank each head coach based strictly on their track record in Week 1.
TIER 1: THE ELITE TIER
John Harbaugh 11-4 (Baltimore), Andy Reid 16-9 (Kansas City), Pete Carroll 11-6 (Seattle), Mike Tomlin 10-5-1 (Pittsburgh)
It looks like Harbaugh’s intensity during the preseason may set a tone for Week 1 games because he’s beaten 73% of his Week 1 opponents and several were in blowout fashion. Harbaugh earned landslide wins in 2011 (35-7 vs. Steelers), 2012 (44-13 vs. Bengals), 2017 (20-0 vs. Bengals), 2018 (47-3 vs. Bills), 2019 (59-10 vs. Dolphins), 2020 (38-6 vs. Browns), and 2022 (24-9 vs. Jets). Of Harbaugh’s four Week 1 losses, two were vs. Peyton Manning’s AFC Champion Broncos and another was an OT loss vs. the Raiders in 2021, their first game with a full crowd in Allegient Stadium.
Tomlin’s Steelers were +6.5 underdogs in his last two Week 1 games and he found a way to win both outright. Since 2016, Tomlin only has one Week 1 loss and that was vs. Tom Brady’s Patriots in 2019.
Reid’s Chiefs are 9-1 in their last 10 openers. Reid is known for being dominant when he has extra prep time and he’s made opponents look silly in openers. Reid has won 5 of his last 6 Week 1 games by 10+ points.
The Seahawks are 4-0 in their last four Week 1 games under Carroll including last season’s upset over Russell Wilson’s 6.5-point favorite Broncos. Three of Carroll’s 11 Week 1 victories have been by 20+ points and two of his last three have been double-digit victories.
TIER 2: ALMOST ELITE, BUT RECENT STRUGGLES
Bill Belichick 18-10 (New England), Sean McVay 5-1 (L.A. Rams)
Belichick is 15-4 over his last 19 Week 1 contests and an argument could be made that he belongs in the elite tear. However, he’s bumped down a notch because he’s lost his last two openers and is just 3-7 in Week 1 games not started by Tom Brady. That said, the hoodie master has 18 Week 1 wins, leading all active NFL coaches and nobody is excited to see the Pats as their Week 1 opponent.
McVay opened his career with 5-straight Week 1 victories and then got beat up by Buffalo last season. The Rams have dominated some Week 1 games for McVay including a 26-9 win over the Colts in 2017, a 33-13 win vs. the Raiders the following year and a 34-14 win vs. Chicago in 2021.
TIER 3: PROVEN WINNERS
Sean McDermott 4-2 (Buffalo), Doug Pederson 4-2 (Jacksonville), Nick Sirianni 2-0 (Philadelphia), Todd Bowles 3-2 (Buccaneers), Brandon Staley 2-0 (L.A. Chargers), Ron Rivera 6-6 (Commanders)
Sirianni’s Eagles have won two-straight road openers including last season’s 38-35 shootout in Detroit and a 26-point win over Atlanta in 2021. Sirianni is 2-0 SU and 1-1 ATS in Week 1 games.
Sean McDermott is 4-2 in Week 1 games, but three of those wins came vs. Jets teams who didn’t win more than 4 games that season. Nonetheless, Buffalo’s 31-10 beat down of the Rams on the road last season was impressive.
Doug Peterson’s regular season win-loss record is only 51-45, and he’s 4-2 in Week 1. However, it’s important to note that Peterson is also 0-3 ATS on Week 1 in his last three attempts (strangely all vs. Washington). Last year, Peterson lost 28-22 on the road to Washington as a 3-point dog and in 2020 his Eagles lost outright 27-17 as 5-point road favorites. In 2019, his Eagles won 32-27, but they were 9-point home favorites. Note: Peterson didn’t coach in 2021.
Todd Bowles is 34-50 as a head coach, but he’s 2-2 in Week 1 with an awful Jets roster and is now 3-2 SU and 4-1 ATS in openers after beating the Cowboys 19-3 as -2.5 point favorites last season. All three of Bowles’ wins were by double digits.
Staley is 2-0 SU and 2-0 ATS after covering last year as a 3-point favorite on the road in Las Vegas and then won outright as a short dog Week 1 vs. Washington in his first game as head coach.
Surprised to see Rivera in this tier? Yes, he’s only 6-6 in Week 1 games and has only had one winning season in his last six tries. However, Rivera started his career 0-3 in Week 1 contests and has been better recently. In fact, Rivera is 4-2 SU and 4-2 ATS in his last 6 openers with mostly lackluster Carolina and Washington rosters.
TIER 4: SO FAR, SO GOOD
Brian Daboll 1-0 (N.Y. Giants), Kevin Stefanski 1-0 (Cleveland), Matt Eberflus 1-0 (Chicago), Kevin O’Connell 1-0 (Minnesota)
These guys are tough to rank because they only have one game under their belt, but they each started their career 1-0 SU and ATS. Daboll, Stefanski, and Eberflus all won in Week 1 last year despite being underdogs.
TIER 5: UNDERPERFORMING VETERANS
Sean Payton 8-7 (New Orleans), Mike McCarthy 9-7 (Dallas), Kyle Shanahan 2-4 (San Francisco), Mike Vrabel 2-3 (Tennessee), Matt LaFleur 2-2 (Green Bay), Zac Taylor 1-3 (Cincinnati)
Payton has a 152-89 regular season record and will probably be in the Hall of Fame eventually, but he’s just 8-7 in opening games, despite having Drew Brees. Payton is 3-0 SU and ATS in his last three Week 1 games, but don’t forget about his team’s 2018 dumpster fire performance at home vs. Tampa Bay when, as -9.5 favorites vs. backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Saints somehow found themselves down 41-24 after three quarters and lost 48-40.
McCarthy is 0-3 (1-2 ATS) in Week 1 games since joining the Cowboys and 2-2 SU and 1-3 ATS in his last four openers. In 2021, McCarthy’s Cowboys put up a good fight vs. Tom Brady’s Buccaneers and lost on a walk-off FG. Last season Dallas still looked in preseason form and lost 19-3 to a Tampa Bay team we now know wasn’t very good.
Shanahan’s 49ers put up a dud last season in a 19-10 loss to Chicago and some people want to overlook it because the weather was bad and Trey Lance was his starting QB, but his team simply looked unprepared. San Francisco’s 2021 Week 1 effort was that weird game vs. Detroit where they were up 31-10 at halftime and let their foot off the gas, allowing Detroit to cover as +9.5 point dogs, 41-33. That’s two seasons in a row Shanahan’s squad lacked intensity at times in their opener, despite being big favorites.
Vrabel may be the NFL’s best in-game coach and he’s one of the best at squeezing the most out of roster lacking talent, but it hasn’t translated to Week 1 success. Vrabel is just 2-3 in Week 1 games and last season, despite being a -5.5 point home favorite, his Titans lost outright to the Giants and their rookie head coach.
LaFleur is 66-47 and never finished below eight wins, but he’s only 2-2 in opening games and his last two efforts (2021 vs. New Orleans and 2022 vs. Minnesota) were really gross. The Packers’ coach lost those games by an average of 25.5 points and only scored a combined 10 points in those games, despite having Aaron Rodgers for both those games and Davante Adams for one.
Taylor’s 1-3 SU record in Week 1 games looks bad and last season’s outright loss to the Steelers hurts, but Taylor is 2-1-1 ATS in openers. With a bad roster in 2019, Taylor’s Bengals covered the spread and nearly upset Seattle in a 21-20 defeat. In 2021, the Bengals won outright vs. Minnesota despite being 3-point dogs in a tough road stadium.
TIER 6: OFF TO A TOUGH START
Arthur Smith 0-2 (Atlanta), Robert Saleh 0-2 (N.Y. Jets), Dan Campbell 0-2 (Detroit)
This trio of coaches are all 0-2, but the roster cupboards have been bare so the two game sample size isn’t enough to pass judgement. It’s worth noting that Campbell is 2-0 ATS despite being 0-2 SU, while Smith is 1-1 ATS, and Saleh is 0-2 ATS.
TIER 7: WE’LL SEE
DeMeco Ryans 0-0 (Houston), Shane Steichen 0-0 (Indianapolis), Jonathan Gannon 0-0 (Arizona)
These three rookie coaches haven’t led a team down the tunnel in Week 1 yet, but perhaps something can be gleaned from how their prior teams performed while they were coordinators.
Gannon was 2-0 as a Defensive Coordinator for the Eagles, but remember his defense allowed 35 points to the Lions Week 1 last season. Steichen is 4-0 as an Offensive Coordinator for the Chargers and Eagles the last four seasons. Ryans was 1-1 as a Defensive Coordinator for the 49ers and his defense almost let a 31-10 lead slip away vs. the Lions in 2021.
TIER 8: GAS STATION SUSHI: DON’T TRUST THEM
Josh McDaniels 1-2 (Las Vegas), Dennis Allen 1-3 (New Orleans), Frank Reich 0-4-1 (Carolina)
Okay, give McDaniels credit for upsetting the Bengals 12-7 in his first game as head coach, but that was 14 years ago. Since then, he’s gone 0-2 SU and 0-2 ATS including last season’s 24-19 stinker vs. the Chargers. With a 17-28 lifetime record, it’s starting to look like McDaniels isn’t a good coach and he’s not been good in limited Week 1 work either.
The nicest thing I can say about Dennis Allen’s Week 1 performances is he’s not lost any game by double-digits. Allen barely squeezed by the Falcons last season (27-26) despite being a -5.5 point favorite and in 2012 his Raiders were -1 favorites to the Chargers and he lost 22-14. Allen’s specialty is defense, but he’s never held a Week 1 opponent under 19 points.
In five tries with the Colts, Frank Reich never opened the season with a win. Reich’s Week 1 resume includes two double-digit losses (2018 & 2021) and tie vs. the lowly Texans as 7-point favorites last season.