Pro Football Focus, one of football’s foremost analytics sites, unveiled its head-coach rankings for the 2021 NFL season, and fans of the New England Patriots probably won’t be happy with where they slotted Bill Belichick.
The third-winningest coach in NFL history behind only Hall-of-Famers Don Shula and George Halas, Belichick has appeared in nine Super Bowls (that number swells to 11 if you include his previous stint with the Giants, where he served as Bill Parcells’ defensive coordinator), winning six of them. Last year’s 7-9 campaign, played without Tom Brady for the first time in two decades, marked Belichick’s first losing season since 2000 while also ending New England’s record streak of 11 straight AFC East titles.
Despite his phenomenal track record, the minds at PFF (no doubt influenced by recency bias) decided he was only the league’s sixth-best coach, sandwiched between longtime Saint Sean Payton at No. 5 and last year’s NFL Coach of the Year, Kevin Stefanski, at No. 7. The full list is as follows:
1. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
2. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
3. Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers
4. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
5. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
6. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
7. Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns
Based on his analysis, it sounds like Eric Eager, PFF’s VP of research and development, wanted to rank Belichick even lower.
“I’ll admit, there is some legacy built in here,” wrote Eager, who docked Belichick points for his low success rate on fourth down. “That said, last year's team earned just the 21st-most wins above replacement in the NFL but still managed to win seven games in a division where the Bills and the Dolphins reached double-digit victories. It remains to be seen if they can win with Cam Newton or Mac Jones moving forward. But if someone can, it’s likely Belichick.”
Not that the Patriots were anyone’s idea of “good” last season, but they were at least in the neighborhood of average. That’s better than a lot of other coaches would have fared under similar circumstances, weathering countless COVID opt-outs, injuries to stars like Julian Edelman (who has since retired) and overhauling their offensive scheme (in a shortened offseason, no less) to better suit newcomer Cam Newton, who, in many ways, is Tom Brady’s diametric opposite.
To think there are five better coaches in football than Belichick (Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur, who infamously opted for a field goal late in last year’s conference championship loss to Tampa Bay, laughably ranked third on PFF’s list), the most successful coach in NFL postseason history with 31 victories, is admittedly tough to fathom, though perhaps the 69-year-old can use the snub as motivation for his upcoming 22nd season in Foxboro.