For an NFL team to thrive, it needs continuity between the quarterback and head coach. If you’ve got a great coach but no good QB, it’s possible to have some success, but it’s much harder, and we’ve seen lots of good-to-great quarterbacks come through this league and win bupkis.
The teams that sustain success in the NFL have a head coach/QB combo that works. They have a guy in a visor looking at his laminated play sheet who knows exactly what kinds of plays will work for his dynamic signal-caller, a system in place that accentuates what the franchise QB does best, and a cadre of talent around that quarterback to give him the tools to succeed.
The Eagles have one of the best duos is football in Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz. No doubt about that. I mean, remember 2017? Man, that was quite an offense the Eagles were rolling out there every week, right up until Wentz blew out his knee against the Rams in Los Angeles. That was Wentz/Pederson at its zenith, and with a better roster and another fully healthy season from Wentz, 2020 could be even better. But where do they rank in the NFL?
Read on for my rankings of head coach/quarterback combos in the NFL heading into 2020. Also check out the latest BGN Radio podcast where Brandon Lee Gowton and I go through a snake draft of the top combos (click here or stream below):
1. Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes
Obvious. Mahomes is far and away the best quarterback in the league, Big Red finally won his long-deserved title, and the two of them have a chemistry that is off the charts. It’s hard to see how any duo tops these two anytime soon.
2. John Harbaugh/Lamar Jackson
If there is a combo that could do it, it’s the future Hall of Famer Harbaugh and the incredible Jackson. Harbaugh’s ability to create an entirely new offense around the multi-talented Jackson is remarkable, and last year’s divisional-round playoff loss should be a huge motivator for both of these men this year.
3. Sean Payton/Drew Brees
This is one of the few head coach/QB duos that have won a Super Bowl together, and as long as they’re joined at the hip, they’ll be contenders to win it all every year. Payton’s ability to keep his offense fresh has helped Brees put together a Hall of Fame career, and they’re the NFC Super Bowl favorites coming into 2020.
4. Pete Carroll/Russell Wilson
I initially had this duo a bit lower because Carroll is more of a defensive-minded coach, and Seattle’s offense has always been run-heavy at the expense of Wilson’s incredible talent. However, there’s no denying the success these two have had together, winning a Super Bowl and almost winning another, and Wilson is a perennial MVP candidate, so it’s hard to have them any lower than this.
5. Doug Pederson/Carson Wentz
This is more a reflection of Pederson than Wentz, although Wentz has certainly proven he can play at an elite level when healthy. His final month last year, with no wide receivers to throw to, was stunning, and Pederson’s ability to massage his gameplans to meet whatever deficiencies the team has had at the skill positions has been remarkable. Hopefully some additional speed at wide receiver will allow these two to take things to the next level.
6. Bruce Arians/Tom Brady
Arians extracted remarkable production from Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and prior to that, as Indianapolis Colts’ offensive coordinator under Chuck Pagano, helped Andrew Luck to his best seasons as a pro. Now, he has Tom Brady in Tampa. If Tom has anything left in the tank, Arians will find it and get the Bucs back to the postseason.
7. Mike McCarthy/Dak Prescott
McCarthy had some glory years in Green Bay, where he won a title with Aaron Rodgers, but their relationship soured and McCarthy finally found himself on the outs after one disappointing season after another. Now in Dallas, the Cowboys are hoping he can get more out of their franchise quarterback, Dak Prescott, which he should. After all, what did Jason Garret actually do? McCarthy will have perhaps the best offense in the NFC and, if all breaks right, Prescott could be an MVP candidate in 2020.
8. Kyle Shanahan/Jimmy Garoppolo
Aside from a disastrous 4th quarter in the Super Bowl, Garoppolo and Shanahan found a rhythm together that created a magical season. Shanahan is not a pass-heavy offensive mind, but his unique play designs creates holes in the running game that take advantage of Garoppolo’s skills and mitigates his flaws. Can they take a step forward together this year, given the history of Super Bowl losing teams the season after they fall one step short of a title?
9. Matt LeFleur/Aaron Rodgers
This pairing is hard to figure out. Rodgers and the Packers went 13-3 last year, swept their division and made it to the NFC Championship Game before they fell to Shanahan, Garoppolo and the 49ers. Rodgers had a solid season, throwing for more than 4,000 yards and just 4 interceptions, and LeFleur’s rookie season as coach couldn’t have gone better, although their 233.3 passing yards per game was just 17th- most in football last year. Still some room to grow.
10. Mike Vrabel/Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill became a top-10 quarterback last year playing for the former New England linebacker-turned-Titans head coach. In 10 starts he completed 70.3% of his passes, led the league in yards per attempt (9.6), air yards per attempt (10.2), yards per catch (13.6) and threw 22 TDs with just 6 INTs. After years of being wasted in Miami, Vrabel’s offense (and the presence of Derrick Henry), helped Tannehill make his first Pro Bowl and earned him a four-year contract extension. The arrow is pointing up for both of these men.
11. Dan Quinn/Matt Ryan
These two should have a Super Bowl ring together, but a disastrous fourth quarter in Super Bowl 51 tarnished both their reputations. Kyle Shanahan gets much of the credit for Atlanta’s run to the Super Bowl that year (as well he should), but Quinn and Ryan have been a solid duo. Last year, despite a 1-7 start to the season, they finished with the 3rd-most passing yards per game.
12. Sean McVay/Jared Goff
Boy, these guys were much higher on the list last year, huh? After an absolute dud of a performance against New England in Super Bowl 53, McVay and Goff struggled last year and missed the postseason altogether. His 22/16 TD/INT ratio was not at all good, and his passer rating fell from 101.1 to a pedestrian 86.5. It’s fair to wonder if both McVay and Goff were overrated going into 2019 or if they simply suffered from the dreaded Super Bowl losers hangover that I envision happening to San Francisco this year.
13. Mike Tomlin/Ben Roethlisberger
Mike Tomlin can field a competitive team with virtually anyone at quarterback. When Roethlisberger was lost for the season in Week 2, Tomlin somehow went 8-8 with a collection of QBs named Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges and Jaylen Samuels. Big Ben might be cooked at this point, so let’s see what he has left in the tank before moving him up.
14. Kliff Kingsbury/Kyler Murray
Murray was sacked a league-leading 48 times last season and the Arizona passing game wasn’t a monster in the former No. 1 pick’s rookie season, but both Kingsbury and Murray showed signs that they could be a duo on the rise. New running back Kenyan Drake calls Kingsbury a “mad scientist,” and sometimes a coach and rookie QB blossom in their second year together. They’re an exciting pair and could climb up these rankings significantly this season.
15. Frank Reich/Philip Rivers
Reich was dealt a cruel blow last year when, just before the start of the season, his franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, retired. While Luck was certainly within his rights to retire whenever he felt like it, it did catch the organization by surprise, and Reich’s offense struggled with Jacoby Brissett at the helm. Now, Philip Rivers enters the picture and, while we talk about Tom Brady’s incredible longevity, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Rivers is coming off an age-38 season in which he threw for 4,615 yards, 3rd-most in his career. He did have a poor 23/20 TD/INT ratio, so one wonders if the party is over, but Reich is as talented an offensive mind as they come, and this duo could propel the Colts back into the playoff picture again this season.
16. Matt Nagy/Nick Foles
We forget that heading into last year, Chicago head coach Matt Nagy was considered one of the bright young minds of the game, an innovative offensive mind who was about to become one of the best coaches in football. We all forgot he had Mitch Trubisky, who is truly one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. Now, Nagy gets Nick Foles, the Super Bowl hero who is capable of being a championship quarterback if he’s in the right system. Can Nagy channel his inner-Doug Pederson and get Foles cooking for another ride to the postseason?
17. Mike Zimmer/Kirk Cousins
Boring and boring, but most of the time, the offense does the job. Justin Jefferson won’t totally replace Stephon Diggs right away, but the passing game should be solid most of the time.
18. Bill O’Brien/DeShaun Watson
Don’t get me wrong, I love DeShaun Watson. I think he’s a top-10 quarterback in this league, but he’s unfortunately saddled with a head coach that doesn’t understand how to win in the NFL. He traded away Watson’s best receiver, DeAndre Hopkins and, while he brought in Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb and still has Kenny Stills and Will Fuller, you want a coach who isn’t changing his franchise QB’s primary targets around willy-nilly. Watson wins in spite of his coach, and that’s not going to last in the NFL.
19. Jon Gruden/Derek Carr
Hey, Derek Carr was actually really good last year under Gruden. The former three-time Pro Bowler threw for 4,054 yards, put up a QB rating of 100.8, and finished with a career-high air yards per attempt of 8.0. The Raiders have something brewing in Vegas and Gruden may turn out to have been the guy to right the ship.
20. Matt Patricia/Matthew Stafford
Stafford is also a very good quarterback who is held back by a defensive-minded coach and an offense that isn’t very good. Patricia is 9-22-1 in two seasons as head coach in Detroit and, if they can’t figure something out here in 2020, it’s highly likely he’ll be gone. Stafford can do a lot of great things when healthy, but there are enough question marks about this duo to warrant being in the bottom half of the league.
21. Zac Taylor/Joe Burrow
Taylor’s first season in Cincinnati was bad enough to land them the No. 1 overall pick, which they used on LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow is expected to start right away, so I’ll give them both the benefit of the doubt and argue that the upside potential warrants their inclusion in the top-20. I could be very wrong about this.
22. Sean McDermott/Josh Allen
McDermott doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done in Buffalo. He’s somehow taken the Bills to the postseason in two out of the last three seasons, although he is still looking for his first postseason win. Allen has had flashes of competence, but the jury is still out on whether he can turn into a Pro Bowl caliber QB or not.
23. Kevin Stefansky/Baker Mayfield
Remember all those “Browns to the Super Bowl” posts from last year? Yeah, that predictably didn’t happen, and Freddie Kitchens was unceremoniously dumped after another horrible season in Cleveland. We’ll see if Stefansky can find some chemistry with Mayfield, who is talented but hasn’t come close to putting it all together yet.
24. Matt Rhule/Teddy Bridgewater
After a spectacular college coaching career, Rhule gets his chance at the pro level with the Carolina Panthers. The league is expecting big things from him, and in Bridgewater, he has an unspectacular but steady presence under center to help him navigate the waters of his rookie season.
25. Vic Fangio/Drew Lock
Lock got off to a decent start in his rookie season last year. He went 4-1 in his five starts, threw 7 TDs and just 3 INTs, and averaged 204 yards passing per game. Fangio went 7-9 in his first season as head coach in Denver, not a bad start as he tries to revitalize one of the great franchises in the league. There’s a lot of upside here.
26. Brian Flores/Ryan Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrick may not start, as Miami drafted Tua Tagovailoa with their first round pick and could hand him the keys to the car right away. Flores is still a bit of a question mark as a coach, but he actually has himself a decent QB situation whatever he decides to do.
27. Joe Judge/Daniel Jones
I’m high on Daniel Jones. He showed exactly the kind of progress you want to see from a rookie quarterback last season, but now he has a new head coach and no OTAs to learn a new offense. Question marks abound here.
28. Bill Belichick/Jarrett Stidham
How unproven does Jarrett Stidham have to be for Bill Belichick to be ranked this low?
29. Ron Rivera/Dwayne Haskins
Dwayne Haskins may not even be the team’s starting QB in Week 1. Or in Week 8. Or at some point. Rivera didn’t draft Haskins and signed his former back-up QB in Carolina, Kyle Allen, just in case Haskins can’t cut it. This is not a duo that his holding hands and skipping down the lane together.
30. Anthony Lynn/Tyrod Taylor
Lynn appears to be a very good head coach with a very good team who had a bad year last year and is saddled with a very mediocre QB. Taylor is a transitional arm until they can find their next franchise guy.
31. Doug Marrone/Gardner Minshew
Boy, those 20 minutes Gardner Minshew was awesome was some fun, huh?
32. Adam Gase/Sam Darnold
Darnold actually has a decent chance of turning into a really good quarterback. Gase does not have a decent chance of turning into a really good head coach.