NFL Power Rankings: Who Has the Best In-Game Coach?
The talent level on every NFL team is no doubt high and games come down to the ability of coaching decisions late in games.
We have seen just that this year, from Mike Smith of the Falcons going for it on fourth down in his own territory and setting up a easy FG win for John Kasay and the Saints.
Then we have Jim Harbaugh, who took the 49ers from zeroes to heroes and currently sits at 9-2 with a big lead in the NFC West, primed for a deep run in the playoffs.
So what is the difference between the two? It's the fact that they can make split-second in-game decisions that not only mean getting a win, but putting their players in a better position than those across from them.
This list will rank all 32 NFL teams and their head coach's in-game ability.
N/A: Jacksonville Jaguars Interim Coach Mel Tucker
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Jack, you didn't really know jack. Jack Del Rio has been fired by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Mel Tucker has been elevated to interim head coach. Tucker is the defensive coordinator currently and needs to step up his game on the offensive side of the ball.
The Jaguars have been one of the worst scoring offenses this year despite having Maurice Jones-Drew highlighting their backfield. He needs to call plays and create adjustments at halftime that benefit his rookie QB and allow him to succeed with high-percentage throws.
Mike Tucker has a good chance to hop the rankings higher than Del Rio, but will have to use in-game adjustments to increase the scoring capacity of the offense.
31. Indianapolis Colts: Jim Caldwell
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This season has shown us that Jim Caldwell and potentially even Tony Dungy weren't even the head coaches in Indianapolis.
The team rallies and listens to Peyton Manning. Manning is undoubtedly more football-smart than Caldwell and players probably have more faith in their injured quarterback than their coach.
Caldwell has had opportunities to get the Colts ready for a tough second half in which they could have won the game, but has failed to do so. They have lost to the bottom tier of the league's teams by varying amounts of points, but generally it's close but Caldwell has made no adjustments on offense and the defense easily wins that battle.
Caldwell is the worst in-game coach in the NFL.
30. St. Louis Rams: Steve Spagnuolo
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The Rams looked very promising coming out of the NFC West this year, but now sit at the bottom with a measly two wins. Although Sam Bradford has been hurt, Steve Spagnuolo hasn't put his team in the best position to win either.
He has a top-level running back in Stephen Jackson, but has failed to utilize it and play to his teams strength. Bradford is definitely having the sophomore slump, and part of the blame falls on the in-game tendencies of Spagnuolo. He hasn't set up his QB to be in positions to throw the ball well and sometimes the play-calling is a little too predictable.
Spagnuolo hasn't been able to round up his punt unit, they have allowed two returns this season to Patrick Peterson alone for touchdowns—one of them a game-winner in overtime. That's something that really needs to be handled before Spagnuolo can move up from this bottom tier of coaches.
He was brilliant with the Giants and has the ability to become that way again, but for now he finds himself as the No. 30 in-game coach.
29. Minnesota Vikings: Leslie Frazier
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Leslie Frazier is known for his work in the secondary, but his team currently ranks 29th in opponent passing yards. This tells us that Frazier is not making enough in-game adjustments to his game plan to keep teams at bay late in games, which allows them to rip up the Minnesota Viking defense.
Although moving towards Christian Ponder was a good decision by Frazier, they had a shot at beating the undefeated Packers late in the fourth quarter, but couldn't muster it up. They had plenty of time and could have put the ball in Adrian Peterson's hands, but allowed a rookie QB mistake to end the game for them.
His potential is as high as Ponder's, but right now he sits at No. 30.
28. Seattle Seahawks: Pete Carroll
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NCAA and NFL football are completely different things and sometimes coaching talent doesn't translate between the two. Pete Carroll is a great example of that. Carroll currently has the Seattle Seahawks at a 4-7 record with practically no chance at making the playoffs.
He decided he wanted to change the face of his team by letting go of some of the key players that were the face of the franchise, namely Matt Hasselbeck. He's now stuck with Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst, who are serviceable at best for a season.
He ranks near the bottom of in-game coaches because this team isn't bad and does have the ability to win big games. Two of their four wins have come against good teams in the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants.
If Pete Carroll can figure out how to win the big one consistently, he can raise where he is in this poll.
27. Arizona Cardinals: Ken Whisenhunt
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After making the trip to the Super Bowl in his first season, Ken Whisenhunt hasn't lived up to expectations. The Cardinals are getting better and Whisenhunt has made some good in-game decisions this year.
His best decision has been allowing Patrick Peterson to return whatever kick he wants.
But he calls his offense as if he still had Kurt Warner at the helm. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton aren't Pro Bowl-caliber players and his offense should be called more safely. The beginning of the season was especially troubling for his coaching ability after Beanie Wells received less than 20 rushing attempts.
One of the biggest keys for Arizona is to allow Beanie Wells to run the ball a lot every game. Whisenhunt didn't do that early in the season and their record shows it.
He currently sits at No. 27 for in-game coaches.
26. Cleveland Browns: Pat Shurmur
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The Cleveland Browns have largely underperformed this season and injuries can't be the full blame.
Part of it goes to Pat Shurmur. The first-year coach has had trouble keeping his star player and Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis in check. Hillis reportedly missed a game with a sore throat but failed to provide a doctor's excuse when asked.
Shurmur has allowed Colt McCoy to play averagely this year with little talk of switching quarterbacks. Perhaps if he created a quarterback battle then Shurmur would get a little better production out of his quarterback.
Then just this week we look at the decision to give Hillis the majority of the carries off the heels of a Chris Ogbonnaya performance that we hadn't seen from any Browns running back. Hillis ran for a little over a three-yard average while Obgannaya clocked in just over five yards per carry.
His in-game decision to run Hillis more often and less effectively could have very well cost them the game versus the Bengals.
This is why Shurmur ranks towards the bottom of in-game coaches.
25. Miami Dolphins: Tony Sparano
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Although the Dolphins have had a pretty bad season, Sparano could be higher on this list if they had won a few of the closer games they had.
The Dolphins are 3-1 in their last few games due to brilliant play-calling by Sparano. They have utilized Matt Moore in an efficient manner; his stock is definitely rising.
His stock may be rising, but the Dolphins are still 3-8 and that is due to coaching decisions. The Dolphins have a talented enough team to be at at least five or six wins right now but coaching has left them in the dust.
If the Dolphins can continue to play at this level and keep that into next season. Sparano could find himself in the top half of coaches but currently is ranked No. 25.
24. Washington Redskins: Mike Shanahan
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Mike Shanahan has a very talented backfield but has continued to let John Beck and Rex Grossman ruin his team's chance at victory.
The Denver Broncos have done a good job of running the ball. Tebow only attempted to pass eight times one game, who's to say that couldn't work for the Redskins, who have three capable running backs (four if you include injured Tim Hightower)?
Shanahan's team year in and year out underperforms after starting decently strong. This year they started out looking like contenders in the NFC East, but in reality were pretenders and sit at 4-7 currently.
The Redskins need a new coach because the strategy and decisions of Shanahan have changed since he won his Super Bowls with the Broncos.
23. Carolina Panthers: Ron Rivera
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The jury is still out on Ron Rivera as he hasn't gotten much time to develop a defense that he inherited. He has formulated an offensive strategy that works for Cam Newton, and that is why he is one of the highest lower-tier coaches on the list.
Rivera will no doubt be higher on this list in a few years when he uses his defensive expertise to turn around a struggling defense. Once he can create turnovers and Cam Newton eliminates his turnovers, the Panthers will be a force to be reckoned with.
Rivera isn't a bad coach, but his team hasn't performed well enough in games to advocate him being any higher on this list.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Raheem Morris
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Last season Raheem Morris was the hot young coach everyone thought would be taking his team somewhere. Now he has no in-game control of his team as they are heavily penalized and lack discipline. Josh Freeman has suffered through a slump this year, along with injuries to other major parts of his team.
Morris has had trouble calling plays to get Freeman out of this slump and sometimes LeGarrette Blount gets half the carries he should for this team to win. Morris needs to take control of this team right now before things get out of hand.
Raheem can climb in the ratings if he turns his team around, but right now he is struggling with his game decisions and his ability to right the ship.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Todd Haley
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Todd Haley has had a team devastated by injury this year and deserves a break from everyone out for his head.
Don't worry, the Kansas City Chiefs will be back next year in full force if Jamaal Charles and Matt Cassel can get back to full form.
Haley has had the in-game issue of what quarterback to play. After backup Tyler Palko had three turnovers in three offensive snaps, it was time to give Ricky Stanzi a chance to show what he's made of. The Chiefs defensive effort that game was unbelievable and the quarterback switch could have given them the edge they needed.
Stanzi was their draft pick this year and they need to show some faith in him instead of undrafted Tyler Palko, who I'm not sure should be an NFL QB after this showing in Kansas City. No doubt Kyle Orton will be the starter now, but I do believe getting Stanzi some game experience would be a good option for Haley if Cassel proves to be an oft-injured player.
Haley needs to improve personnel decisions before he can rise on this list.
20. San Diego Chargers: Norv Turner
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Norv Turner is skating on very thin ice that seems to be melting very quickly out in sunny San Diego. Turner has had one of the most talented teams the previous two years but will potentially fail to make the playoffs in both of those years.
Turner needs to figure out how to use Philip Rivers more effectively instead of ignoring his turnover problem with some of the best targets in the league.
Something has to give in San Diego and sadly it is the in-game coaching of Norv Turner.
19. Buffalo Bills: Chan Gailey
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After starting off the season as one of the hottest teams in football, the Bills have put star running back Fred Jackson on injured reserve and are sinking fast.
The coaching ability of Chan Gailey has shown. A coach is not known by his ability until things start to get bad. A good coach can right a sinking team before it gets too bad.
Gailey has failed to do so and it looks like Buffalo will once again miss the playoffs. They still do have a chance, but to do so they must win out.
Next season, Gailey must figure out how to avoid this big losing streak and the Bills could make a deep run, they just need the confidence that comes from a good coach. If Chan Gailey can change his antics to avoid this losing streak he and the Buffalo Bills can rank higher.
18. Philadelphia Eagles: Andy Reid
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From being the "Dream Team" to the make-believe team, Andy Reid has mismanaged one of the most talented teams in the NFL. This talent hasn't translated to on-the-field success.
There isn't much else to say besides the fact that a team with so much potential has turned out so foul.
Reid needs to find a way to fix this problem quickly if the Eagles want to end on a strong note and bring the momentum into the next season. Andy Reid has been a good coach in the past but his decision to move an offensive line coach to defensive coordinator was one of the worst decisions of his career.
Hopefully he makes an effort to switch some things up.
Even as the Eagles have failed using their original game plan, Reid made very few in-game adjustments and that has allowed teams to take advantage of the Eagles throughout the season.
Reid could be much higher on this list and many expected him to be, but the Eagles and Reid have underperformed during games this year.
17. Tennessee Titans: Mike Munchak
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Mike Munchak rounds out the bottom half of coaches coming in at No. 16. The Titans have performed well under new QB Matt Hasselbeck and now star RB Chris Johnson is finally coming into form.
They sit only two games behind the Texans, who are now down to their third-string QB and could make a run at the division if Munchak keeps coaching well with a team that has decent talent and has lost its No. 1 wideout to injury.
Munchak makes good decisions and allows the running game to establish itself, and with Johnson finally piling on the yards, Munchak is in a much more comfortable coaching position. He understands the value of his better players and utilizes that and the Titans have a legitimate postseason shot because of the coaching of Mike Munchak.
16. New York Jets: Rex Ryan
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After two straight trips to the AFC Championship game, Rex Ryan and the Jets got a little too arrogant and have paid the consequences. After chirping that the Jets would win the East, they lost both divisional games to the Patriots, who have solid control of the division.
Ryan is a very aggressive coach and that often comes back to hurt him late in games. He sometimes seems to forget the limits of his quarterback and puts the defense in bad positions because of his aggressive passing game with a limited quarterback.
Mark Sanchez is Ryan's guy in New York, but Ryan still hasn't found out how to utilize him in the most efficient way. The Jets will probably be on the outside looking in during the playoffs due to the coaching of Rex Ryan.
They have a chance, but Ryan must learn to make better in-game decisions.
15. Denver Broncos: John Fox
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John Fox has taken this Denver defense to new heights with their schemes. Fox isn't afraid to do what his team does best: run the ball.
Most coaches would be afraid to pass the ball a measly eight times in one game, but Fox did it and the in-game strategy has worked for the Broncos and with Tim Tebow they are 5-1.
Fox will continue to climb if his defense-first, run-heavy team continues to succeed and make the playoffs.
Although the Raiders are hot now, they still have a chance to win the division and Fox and Tebow will silence the non-believers and show them that with a good in-game strategy and decision-making you can make the playoffs.
14. New York Giants: Tom Coughlin
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Tom Coughlin is great with a few things: getting his team to have great chemistry, and having a defensive line that is one of the best at pass-rushing. Not to mention he is one of the best all-time with the red flag.
He does have some struggles and those have put the nail in the coffin in the past for them. Coughlin has a rough time dealing with punters and the second half of the season. The Giants were demolished by the Saints this week and are on the verge of another late season collapse.
If Coughlin doesn't fix it this season he may be on his way out in New York.
Coughlin needs to learn to take control of his punters and force them to do things, but it needs to be 100 percent clear what he wants. The second thing is that he needs to motivate his team for the second half of the season.
If he does those things, he can move up in the rankings, but until then he will continue to fall as will the Giants.
13. Detroit Lions: Jim Schwartz
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Another coach in the category of a falling team, Jim Schwartz and the Lions need to prove themselves as a stable team and not what we've seen the last few weeks. He needs to get some discipline over his team as well.
Against the Packers we saw some major flaws in the Lions. One of them being the ability to stay calm even in times of urgency. The Lions freaked out too early; they became too emotional and were unable to dig themselves out from that hole.
Jim Schwartz has taken these Lions from winless a few years ago to where they are today, and that is why he is in the top half of coaches. There is something to be said about a man that has believed in his team as much as Jim Schwartz. The players are behind him and that is something that should be said.
Despite their lack of discipline, the players still believe in him.
The Lions can go places if they just get rid of the kinks and are able to stay calm in tough situations and avoid playing too emotional.
12. Cincinnati Bengals: Marvin Lewis
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One of the surprises of the year and no doubt a candidate for Coach of the Year, Marvin Lewis has taken a Bengals team that was regarded by many to be pretty bad. He has coached rookies Andy Dalton and AJ Green to a very successful season and a chance at the playoffs.
Lewis will no doubt be higher on this list in a few years if the success of Dalton and Green increases. He made the decision to scrap the playbook and create a new system in which Dalton as well as others would have to learn.
By making this decision, he made Dalton comfortable in his offense instead of forcing it on others.
This offense has the same principles as before in Cincinnati, but it has had a marvelous effect on their win and loss column. Overall, as B/R's Matt Miller mentions in his Power Rankings, I'm also a sucker for a good story and Marvin Lewis has created one.
He has helped the Bengals from bottom tier to top half of the league.
11. Houston Texans: Gary Kubiak
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Gary Kubiak and the Texans just edge outside of the top 10, but he has done a great job coaching this team to potentially their first divisional title and playoff appearance since coming into the NFL.
He has put together a great staff but his in-game coaching is what has made Kubiak a great coach. He knows how to take risks and has been granted with players like Arian Foster and Andre Johnson. He knows how to get his stars involved and allow them to do the rest.
The Texans are down to their third-string quarterback but Kubiak seems confident that the Texans will continue their run. Especially since the Texans have a great second back in Ben Tate, with both of those Kubiak will no-doubt run the ball 45-plus times in the upcoming weeks and allow the rushing game to win for them and only throw when necessary.
Kubiak is on the verge of being a top-10 coach, but until he wins a playoff game he and the Texans will stay outside of the top 10.
10. Oakland Raiders: Hue Jackson
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Hue Jackson has been one of the best in-game offensive coaches over the last few years and this year especially. After losing their starting quarterback, they went out and got Carson Palmer, who Jackson had coached in Cincinnati and has chosen offensive plays that have allowed them to succeed.
Now that Palmer is now part of this Raiders offense completely and Darren McFadden will be back soon, Jackson will have both McFadden and Michael Bush at his running disposal, which will wreak havoc for teams come playoff time.
He is an offensive mastermind and is the No. 10 coach because of his dynamic offense and ability to get out of a jam when he needs to.
9. Chicago Bears: Lovie Smith
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Lovie Smith is one of the best defensive coaches in the league and this season is no different. He is great at making halftime adjustments on defense and is not easily fooled. His defense is consistent game in and game out, which is a sign of great coaching.
One of his downfalls is that the offense relies on lucky big plays to function at a high level. In close games, your play-calling can't always rely on the deep ball, which the Bears seem to throw a lot.
Another downfall is the reliance on the return game of Devin Hester. He puts them in great field position very often and the offense seems to stall on long drives. That is something that coaching can fix and if Smith improves that, he can move to an elite coach instead of a great coach.
The Bears and Lovie Smith end up at No. 9 in this power ranking.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Mike Smith
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Mike Smith is a solid coach and the last two years in Atlanta have been golden on offense and very good on defense. Matt Ryan is a very good quarterback and Smith has taken advantage of that and his two Pro Bowl-level receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones. The high-flying offense of the Falcons is credit due to Smith.
He is a very good play-caller and knows the opportune moment to strike big like the Falcons usually do for long touchdowns. If they continue this they can make another run to the playoffs.
Smith does drop to No. 8 from potentially edging into the top five because of his errant decision in overtime to go for it on fourth down and subsequently give the Saints the ball in field-goal range.
If he can use his brain instead of emotions in those situations, the Falcons would have had a shot at the division, but for now the Saints have taken over and continue to roll.
7. Dallas Cowboys: Jason Garrett
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The Cowboys are one of the hottest teams in the NFL currently and no doubt that is due to a lot of in-game adjustments made by Jason Garrett. The final drive against Miami was planned perfectly and the Cowboys made a good decision to stick with Garrett as their head coach.
Usually the hottest team going into the playoffs makes the deepest run and wins the Super Bowl, so don't count the Cowboys out due to their streaking play right now and the game-calling of Jason Garrett.
He has found a way to have Tony Romo at least play a little better and that is what the Cowboys need, especially with such talented receivers.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Tomlin
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After switching coaches just a few years ago, the Steelers haven't missed a beat with Mike Tomlin. He has kept the Steelers defense as one of the best in the league and has a very good playbook suited to his team's strengths.
The Steelers change on a weekly basis, and that is due to how dynamic of a play-caller Mike Tomlin can be. One week they'll air it out for Big Ben, and the next they'll be pounding the ball the majority of the time. This dynamic offense calling has led to the Steelers being one of the greater teams of the last few years and annual contenders for the Super Bowl.
Mike Tomlin is one of the best coaches in the league, but the Steelers do have their faults and will need to figure out their offensive line over the next few weeks and get them solid. Postseason games are won in the trenches.
5. Baltimore Ravens: John Harbaugh
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The first of the Harbaugh brothers makes it in the top five with a stellar team that has performed very well, especially with the sometimes lackluster play of their quarterback. This is also a team that has played very well even without their defensive star.
Harbaugh is a great coach with a great team that definitely relies on his ability to come up with defensive schemes that keep teams guessing all game. If he can continue to coach and the Ravens play at this level then they will be poised for a postseason run.
4. San Francisco 49ers: Jim Harbaugh
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First year NFL head coach Jim Harbaugh edges his brother by one spot and for good reason. He has taken a team everyone thought would be as bad as usual and made them one of the best in the league. Although he lost to his brother, he edges him because of his overall body of work this year.
He has created a system in which Alex Smith is comfortable and even a good quarterback. That by itself is a wonder after the performances we've seen in previous years.
This defense is crazy and hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown all season—that's 11 games of no rushing touchdowns allowed for the 49ers defense.
Harbaugh will continue to rise up these rankings with the magic he can bring to this team. If they go deep into the playoffs, expect the 49ers to be at a championship level within a year or two.
3. New Orleans Saints: Sean Payton
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Sean Payton is tough as nails. He broke his leg on the sideline after taking a hit but was in the press box that week and on the sidelines just two weeks later. He started as a quarterback coach and has been the offensive mastermind behind Drew Brees.
The Saints spread the ball very well and run an efficient screen game due to Payton knowing when and where the vulnerabilities will appear. Payton has a clear knowledge of the game.
The Saints have been a good team the past few years due to their explosive offense and that is due to the work Payton does and the adjustments he can make to tweak the offense to perfection every game.
Payton comes in at No. 3 because he's the offensive mastermind behind the most explosive team in football.
2. New England Patriots: Bill Belichick
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Probably one of the most eccentric coaches, but the man is a genius. He created a dynasty in the early 2000s and still coaches one of the best teams with the least amount of talent. Belichick is known for taking players nobody wanted and making them into productive role players, especially on defense.
He can adjust his play-calling to whatever the circumstances need due to how dynamic Tom Brady is. Belichick isn't afraid to use all 53 men on his roster—something that other coaches may hesitate to do.
Belichick doesn't care who you are or what you've done, it's how you've played this season and that game that will determine your playing time.
He's a great coach and has definitely played a part in their postseason success. If the Patriots make a deep run it will be because of some game-changing decisions by their head coach.
1. Green Bay Packers: Mike McCarthy
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Mike McCarthy has helped this Packers team stay undefeated and that is why he is ranked No. 1. The offensive firepower of Green Bay has been unbelievable and his play-calling makes everyone on the offense look one step ahead of the defense.
With the potential to stay undefeated the rest of the season, McCarthy will keep his team on track and keep doing what they have been doing. He started as a quarterbacks coach and has risen Aaron Rodgers to stardom through his play selection.
If he continues to keep up this level of coaching, there will be no stopping the Packers once it comes time for the postseason. He is No. 1 on this ranking because the Packers are undefeated and it's hard to point to many bad decisions by McCarthy this season.