Makinen: Analyzing betting trends for NFL teams with new Head Coaches

286

There are always a bunch of new storylines that develop in each NFL offseason, and you can rest assured that the media that covers all of them until saturation. Free agency, the draft, and off-the-field shenanigans are just part of the typical offseason for fans. As bettors, we need to do our best to keep up with all the changes, especially the more influential ones. In that sense, there may not be a more important transition that occurs than the head coaching changes each year. For 2023, we will have several new faces commanding the sidelines for various clubs, although not as many as we’ve seen in recent years. In fact, there will be five new men put in charge of franchises across the league, three of them rookies, and the other two being veterans that previously served in the same capacity in other locales. With changes like this, there is a good supply of data that we can use to make projections for the upcoming season.

 

Top NFL Resources:

As I begin my annual spring preparations for the upcoming NFL season, I dig deep into the recent data surrounding coaching changes and use it to get a feel for what might happen in 2023 with the current group of new coaches. Without giving away too much early, I can tell you that based on the crunching of different data sets, the early prospects for the teams with first-time head coaches are typically far brighter when compared to the teams that are bringing in new but experienced head coaches.

Here is a look at each of those new head coaches that will be leading franchises in 2023:

Rookie Head Coaches for 2023

Jonathan Gannon, Arizona

Jonathan Gannon takes over the spot vacated when the Cardinals fired Kliff Kingsbury, who had become somewhat of a lightning rod for the franchise as his relationship with quarterback Kyler Murray soured. Gannon has served as an assistant defensive coach for five different teams dating back to ’07, so he is well-familiar with the league’s inner workings. His most recent work with the Eagles as Defensive Coordinator is what boosted his stock as a Head Coach. This will be a very interesting change for Arizona in that it is clearly a mindset shift going from the offensive-oriented Kingsbury to the defensive-minded Gannon. The former finished 28-37 SU and 34-32 ATS in his four seasons but was unable to record a playoff win. As the Defensive Coordinator in Philly last year, Gannon helped lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl berth, but to be fair, the talent on that side of the ball at his former stop trumps that in Arizona. Stabilizing the relationship with Murray and improving a defensive unit that ranked 31st in the league with 26.4 PPG allowed will be top priorities.

DeMeco Ryans, Houston

DeMeco Ryans will be the fifth different head coach of the Texans since the start of the 2020 season, and the franchise hopes this hiring will finally be one that can stand the test of time. Houston is just 11-38 over the last three seasons and desperate for a spark to get back to the success that came in the latter years of the Bill O’Brien era. Obviously, the legal troubles of QB Deshaun Watson have debilitated this team in recent seasons, and finding a legit quarterback that can ignite this offense is job #1. Is that guy in the building currently or on the draft board? That remains to be seen, but with the Texans being outscored by 7.7 PPG last year, there is plenty of room for improvement. Can the former defensive coordinator of the 49ers spark a surge? Ryans is easily the least experienced new NFL coach for 2023, having only served at various defensive levels with San Francisco since 2017. In fact, his playing career ended just two years earlier. With so much work to be done here, the fear is that the only thing on the side of Houston with this hire is youthful exuberance.

Shane Steichen, INDIANAPOLIS

You have to credit Indianapolis with taking some big swings the last few years to try and get over the hump, particularly at quarterback where the Colts have tried Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan, with none of them proving to be the missing ingredient to taking the franchise to the next level. Now it’s time for a fresh approach, which figures to be spearheaded by the combination of a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. There is some decent talent in place, and enough front-office support, to where it could be an ideal situation for a first-time coach like Shane Steichen to come in and succeed. Steichen comes over from Philadelphia, where he helped lead the dynamic Eagles to a Super Bowl as Offensive Coordinator. He gets some due credit for helping Jalen Hurts emerge as an MVP-worthy quarterback. Can he do the same with what figures to be a rookie first-round draft pick? There’s a decent offensive line, an elite running back, and a defense that allowed just 20.3 PPG in the first eight under Frank Reich last year. If any of the rookie coaching situations see a quick turnaround, my bet would be on this one.

New “Re-Tread” Head Coaches for 2023

Sean Payton, Denver

For a second straight offseason, Denver has made some massive personnel moves. Last year it was the addition of QB Russell Wilson and Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett, a combination that was expected to be the boost the offense needed to make the team championship level. Suffice it to say, that experiment ended miserably, with the Broncos scoring a league-worst 16.9 PPG, and Hackett being fired after just one season and five wins. He has since found work with the Jets as their new Offensive Coordinator. Wilson, on the other hand, is still around, and figures to be for several years as his contract leaves the franchise with no other choice. As the Broncos set out to find a new head coach for ’23, I’m not sure they could have found a more ideal candidate than Sean Payton, a coach who has earned a reputation as an offensive guru, and one that helped guide another diminutive quarterback to hall-of-fame numbers and a Super Bowl title. My opinion might not be consensus, however, as there are a lot of folks around the NFL who are skeptical that Payton can turn around Wilson’s play. In fact, it has been suggested that this is a make-or-break year for the veteran quarterback, and the team could move on from him by eating money should he continue to struggle. That said, he did have 10 total TDs in the last four games and showed late signs of getting more comfortable. Payton did not coach last year, instead spending his time as an analyst with NBC, but he did go 8-8 or better in 11 of his 15 years with the Saints. This will be an intriguing coaching situation all year long, and it’s not hard to see it working well.

Frank Reich, Carolina

In his 4-1/2 years with the Colts, Frank Reich enjoyed a pretty good run, although after his first season coincided with the last year in the career of would-be franchise QB Andrew Luck, he had dealt with an unending quarterback carousel. Now, landing in Carolina, he figures to have his franchise QB arriving via the NFL draft, with the Panthers owning the first pick and seemingly leaning toward Alabama star Bryce Young. The Panthers have also struggled with inconsistent play at the game’s most important position, seemingly ever since moving on from Cam Newton after the 2018 season. When you analyze the prospects of this coaching hire however, one of the more promising factors in the potential for Reich to succeed in Carolina, and perhaps as early as 2023, is the unstable situation of the NFC South Division, where there is really no clear favorite and all four teams have major question marks. Also, unlike a lot of other teams that find themselves in the position of drafting the first player off the board, this team won 7 games a year ago, being outscored by just 1.6 PPG. Reich finds himself in a pretty good spot and should command respect from day one.

Rookie Head Coach Recent History

The important question that bettors need to ask themselves as they get ready to handicap these new head coaches heading into the 2023 season is…How do these coaches tend to fare, both early and overall? Unfortunately, there is no set formula for predicting the success level of rookie head coaches in the NFL. We all recall the Urban Meyer debacle in Jacksonville in 2022. That was as bad as things get, as he was fired after 13 games, and as he didn’t complete a full season, he is not on our chart or in the analysis. On the flip side, there have been major success stories, most recently Kevin O’Connell of the Vikings or Brian Daboll of the Giants a year ago, both of whom led their teams to five-win improvements over the prior season.

There are some things that we can look for as potential hints of what to expect. I’ll go through some of those things in a little bit. For now though, here is a chart showing all of the rookie full-season Head Coach results over the last 10 seasons. There have been 43 different coaches that have started their careers over the last decade and lasted at least one full season. For each coach, you’ll find their record that season, the next season, and the franchise’s record in the season prior to that coach taking over.

A few highlights from this chart:

–  For the most part, rookie head coaches have been successful in improving their teams in their first seasons. In fact, over the last 10 years, of the 43 different first-time head coaches that spent a full season with their new teams, 27 have led their teams to improved won-lost marks, six have produced equal records, and only 10 have seen their teams drop. In 2021, two of the rookies’ teams improved, one stayed the same, and two saw a decline.

–  The average win improvement by rookie head coaches over the last decade has been 1.74 wins per season. The greatest improvement seasons have been seven wins by any team, and that happened for five different coaches, most recently Matt LaFleur of Green Bay in 2019.

–  LaFleur has been the most successful rookie coach over the last decade, not only winning 13 games in his rookie season but following that up with that same total the next season and last year as well. That will be the test for O’Connell this year in Minnesota, although his team will face the challenge of overcoming the fact that they were outscored by opponents in the regular season.

–  Brian Daboll of the Giants set a new benchmark for the last decade by going 13-4 ATS in 2022-23, beating the old mark of 12-4 set by Matt Nagy of Chicago in ’18.

–  The worst decline of a team following the hiring of a first-time coach was by Arizona in 2018, as the Cardinals went from 8-8 in 2017 to 3-13 under Steve Wilks. He was let go after that miserable campaign. Three other rookie coaches oversaw four-win drops.

–  Zac Taylor of the Bengals had the worst first-year mark of any rookie coach over the last decade, going 2-14 in 2019. However, his career turned around quickly, so much to the point that he was coaching the team in the Super Bowl in his fourth season and in another AFC title game this past year. The Bears’ Matt Eberflus came close to matching Taylor’s first-year futility this past season, going 3-14. Does his team have a similar turnaround to look forward to in the coming years?

–  Of the 34 coaches to stick around for a second season with a team over the last decade, only 13 have built upon their rookie campaign with an improved win total the next season. Doug Pederson and Nick Sirianni, coincidentally both of Philadelphia, are the shining stars of that bunch, leading their Eagles to the Super Bowl in their second seasons. The difference between the two resumes? Pederson won an NFL title, and Sirianni’s team came up short. Interestingly, Pederson led a six-game turnaround in Jacksonville this past season in his first go-round there.

–  In terms of statistical improvements, Sean McVay’s 2017 Rams team made the biggest jump in scoring under any first-year head coach of the last decade, improving by 15.9 PPG. Defensively, Ben McAdoo’s Giants of 2016 improved their points allowed total by 9.8 PPG under his leadership.

–  The worst offensive decline guided by any first-year head coach over the last decade came last year with David Culley at Houston, who dropped by 7.5 PPG. Marc Trestman’s 2013 Bears fell the worst defensively, going from 17.3 PPG allowed in 2012 to 29.9 PPG allowed in 2013.

As far as the new head coaches for 2023, here are a few rookie coaching systems to keep an eye on:

–  Of the 37 rookie head coaches that inherited teams that finished under .500 the prior season, 27 of them led their teams to better records the next season, and 16 of them finished over .500 in that first year. All three of this current rookie crop of coaches teams (Arizona, Houston, Indianapolis) finished well under .500 in 2022-23, so that would mean that chances are at least two would figure to improve. If the number is three, my guess would be Houston and Indianapolis.

–  Of the 11 rookie head coaches over the last 10 seasons that inherited offenses that scored at least 23.5 PPG the prior season, only one saw his team produce a worse record the next season. The others improved by about 2.3 wins per season. None of the three rookie coaches for ’23 will be fortunate enough to inherit this situation.

–  Obviously, there has been a lot of room to grow when a new head coach takes over a team that scored less than 18 PPG the prior season. There have been immediate results for this lucky group of coaches, as all nine teams that fit this bill over the last decade have improved, by an average of 4.9 wins per season, including Daboll of the Giants last year. For ’23, count Ryans of Houston and Steichen of Indianapolis as coaches whose teams have the greatest room for improvement.

–  Point differential has also proven to be a good indicator of potential improvement as none of the last 11 rookie coaches to inherit teams that were outscored by 8.0 PPG or more saw their teams get worse in that first season. In fact, 10 of them improved their franchise’s win total that first season, by an average of 4.2 wins per. For 2023, we have one candidate— Shane Steichen (Indianapolis).

As far as in-season game-by-game betting opportunities, it should be noted that rookie head coaches have produced a regular season record of 317-382-2 SU and 336-347-18 ATS over the last decade. In other words, they lose more than they win, both on the scoreboard and at the betting window. Here are some other things to consider regarding betting on and against rookie head coaches throughout the NFL season:

–  Rookie head coaches have been far more proficient at covering point spreads on the road over the last decade. Here is the breakdown: Home games – 156-182-10 ATS (46.2%). Road/Neutral games – 180-165-8 ATS (52.2%). It seems as if oddsmakers may be tending to shade lines against these rookie coaches on the road, wrongly assuming the pressure and difficulty of the road environments will impact the execution levels.

–  Rookie head coaches have won as big favorites, but covering point spreads has been a different story. In fact, as favorites of 7 points or more since 2013, rookie head coaches are 40-9 SU, good for 81.6% outright, but have gone just 18-29-2 ATS, a covering rate of just 38.3%.

–   Rookie head coaches have also struggled in the large underdog role, going 31-127 SU (19.6%) & 75-81-2 ATS (48.1%) when catching 7 points or more since 2013.

–  Ironically, it’s in the games where coaching figures to matter most (+6.5 to -6.5 lines) where rookie head coaches enjoy better point spread success rates. Their record in this line window over the last decade is 246-246-2 SU and 243-237-14 ATS (50.6%).

–  In a trend that seems to make sense as far as familiarity is concerned, the more familiar the opponent, the less successful rookie head coaches have been. Take a look at these ATS winning percentages by opponent type since 2013: Divisional games 120-132-7 ATS (47.6%), Conference games 126-129-5 ATS (49.4%), Non-conference games 90-86-6 ATS (51.1%). These are not groundbreaking betting numbers by any means, but they could serve as a foundational concept that the more familiar the opponent, the less successful the rookie coach.

–  Rookie head coaches have shown a tendency to start and finish their first season most successfully when it comes to covering point spreads. Since 2013, in games #1-#4 of their first seasons, they’ve combined to go 84-82-6 ATS, good for 50.6%. In games #5-#12, they’ve gone 157-178-9 ATS (46.9%). To close the season in games #13-#17, the record has been 94-85-3 ATS (52.5%). Think of these trends when you see the schedules of the six rookie head coaches in 2023 released shortly.

–   Among the key challenges new head coaches face is keeping teams grounded after wins and keeping them together after losses. Rookie head coaches have been better at the latter. When coming off of losses, rookie Head Coaches own a record of 199-194-8 ATS (50.6%) since 2013. After wins, they’ve done measurably worse, 135-150-10 ATS (47.4%).

“Retread” Head Coach Recent History

As we dig into the recent history of the coaches I designate as “retread,” here is a clarification of that designation. These are guys that had head coaching jobs previously at another franchise, any experience included. It doesn’t matter the time between jobs either, just that they had prior head coaching responsibility. As I indicated earlier, there are two such coaches for 2023, Frank Reich in Carolina, and Sean Payton in Denver. How do these coaches tend to fare? We’ll dig deeper into that shortly, but overall, you’re going to want to acknowledge right away that the records for the Retread Head Coaches over the last decade in their first regular seasons are a paltry 163-241 SU and 176-213-17 ATS (45.2%). This immediately gives us a lot of fade potential for 2023.

Here is a chart showing all of the retread results over the last 10 seasons. There have been 25 different coaches that have restarted their careers at new teams over the last decade and lasted at least one season. For each coach, you’ll find their record that season, the next season, and the franchise’s record in the season prior to that coach taking over.

A few highlights from this chart:

–  There isn’t a whole lot of predictive improvement/decline expectation from a general perspective, as over the last decade, of the 25 retread head coaches, 12 have helped their teams improve the next season, one maintained their record, and the 12 others managed a decline. However, the 12 that did improve did so by 4.2 wins per season, while those that declined averaged just 2.6 fewer victories.

–  The greatest improvement season from any retread head coach over the past decade belonged to Andy Reid in 2013, who helped the Chiefs go from 2-14 to 11-5.

–  Gary Kubiak has been the most successful retread coach over the last decade in his first season, although his 12-4 mark for the Broncos in 2015 simply maintained the standard set by the franchise a year earlier.

–  The two worst declines of teams following the hiring of retread coaches were by Tennessee in 2014, as the Titans went from 7-9 in 2013 to 2-14 under Ken Whisenhunt, and by Tampa Bay a year ago, as the Bucs were 8-9 under Todd Bowles after going 13-4 the prior season.

–   Hue Jackson of the Browns had the worst first-year mark of any retread coach over the last decade, going 1-15 in 2016. He did one worse a year later, guiding Cleveland to a 0-16 finish.

–  Of the 19 retread coaches to stick around for a second season with a team over the last decade, only nine have built upon their first campaign with an improved win total the next season. The best two seasons from this group came in each of the last two seasons, with Mike McCarthy leading the Cowboys to a 12-5 record in 2021, and Dan Campbell guiding the Lions to a 9-8 finish, both marking six-win improvements.

–  In terms of statistical improvements, Reid’s 2013 Chiefs team made the biggest jump in scoring under any retread head coach of the last decade, improving by 13.7 PPG. Defensively, Anthony Lynn’s Chargers of 2017 improved their points allowed total by 9.4 PPG under his leadership.

–  The worst offensive decline guided by any re-tread head coach over the last decade came last year with Todd Bowles at Tampa Bay, who dropped by 11.7 PPG. Mike McCarthy’s 2020 Cowboys fell the worst defensively, going from 20.1 PPG allowed in 2019 to 29.6 PPG allowed in 2020.

As far as the new retread head coaches for 2023, here are a few coaching systems to keep an eye on:

–  Of the 19 retread head coaches that inherited teams that finished under .500 the prior season, 12 of them led their teams to better records the next season. The average improvement for this team was 4.2 wins per season. Both Carolina and Denver finished below .500 this past year. A four-win improvement would put both teams over .500 in 2023.

–   As indicated earlier in the rookie HC section, there is a lot of room to grow when a new head coach takes over a team that scored less than 18 PPG the prior season. There have also been immediate results for this same group of retread coaches, as seven of the 10 teams that fit this bill over the last decade have improved, by an average of 5.1 wins per season. The coach looking to continue this trend is Payton (Denver).

–   There is a potentially troubling sign for retread coaches that have taken over sound defensive teams, as of those whose teams allowed less than 24 PPG the prior year, six of the nine teams saw their win total the next season decline, by an average of 2.8 per season. Both Carolina and Denver fit this bill for ’23.

As far as in-season game-by-game betting opportunities, I noted earlier that retread coaches have covered the point spread in just 45.2% of their first-season games. Here are some other things to consider regarding betting on and against retread head coaches throughout the NFL season:

–   Like the rookie Head Coaches, retread head coaches have been far more proficient at covering point spreads on the road over the last decade. Here is the breakdown: Home games – 79-115 ATS (40.7%). Road/Neutral games – 102-100 ATS (50.5%). This is a very interesting trend that should be watched closely this season with Payton’s games in Denver and Reich’s games in Carolina.

–   Retread head coaches have been brutal bets as favorites but respectable in the underdog role in their first seasons with a new franchise. As favorites since 2013, they’ve gone 86-63 SU but just 49-89-11 ATS, for 35.5%! As dogs (or pick ’em), 80-183 SU and 132-126-5 ATS (51.2%).

–  Digging deeper into the two trends described just above, as home favorites, retread coaches have gone just 55-38 SU and 29-59-5 ATS (33%) in their first seasons over the last decade. There should be several opportunities in 2023 to fade Payton or Reich as home chalk.

–   The ATS results by game type are almost identical for the Division (46%)/Conference (45.5%)/ Non-conference (45.5%) scenarios for re-tread head coaches in their first seasons with new teams over the last decade.

–   Retread head coaches have shown a tendency to start very slow at their new franchises and finish their first seasons more successfully when it comes to covering point spreads. Since 2013, in weeks #1-#10 of their first seasons, they’ve combined to go 89-133-5 ATS (40.1%), while in weeks #11 & later, they’ve gone 92-82-11 ATS (52.9%). It seems that it takes some time for these coaches to find their footing in their new homes.

–   There seems to be a noteworthy trend of momentum that comes with these retread head coaches. Since ’13, when coming off a win, these coaches have posted a respectable 73-77-10 ATS (48.7%) record in their first seasons. When coming off a loss, the record has been just 94-126-6 ATS (42.7%) in that same time span.

–   Retread coaches have been solid in revenge scenarios over the last decade, going 26-22-3 ATS (54.2%) when having lost an earlier season game against an opponent. When having beaten that team the first time around, these coaches have gone just 9-18-1 ATS (33.3%) in the rematch. Pay attention to the early divisional results of Carolina and Denver this season, and take advantage of these findings the second time around.

Hopefully, this gives you a better feel of what to possibly expect from our five new NFL head coaches for 2023. Over the course of the next six weeks, I will be unveiling some of the other key offseason analyses I conduct every year, including post-draft analysis, and transitional systems based upon the teams’ resumes and stats from last season. At the conclusion, I will be wrapping up my NFL prep work by updating my power ratings and running them against the schedule to produce win projections and schedule strengths. It is then that I will be offering my own best bets for the season win totals just released.