One of the top coaching matchups of the year will take place in Week 1. In this CBS article outlining the Top 10 coaching battles throughout the 2021 season, Mike Tomlin versus Sean McDermott, Pittsburgh versus Buffalo, comes in at the #8 spot.
Here’s what author John Breech wrote about the matching:
“For the most of the past decade, NFL teams have been hiring offensive-minded head coaches, but that doesn’t mean a defensive-minded coach can’t find success in the NFL and two guys two guys who have bucked the offensive trend are Mike Tomlin and Sean McDermott.
Both defensive-minded coaches have been wildly successful since being hired. For Tomlin, not only does he already have a Super Bowl win under his belt, but he’s never had a losing season during his 14 years in Pittsburgh. On McDermott’s end, he’s led the Bills to the playoffs in three of his four seasons, which is nearly impossible to believe when you consider that they had not made the postseason a single time this century before McDermott’s hiring in 2017.”
As Breech writes, over the last decade teams have gravitated towards hiring offensive-minded gurus, especially young names like the Rams’ Sean McVay, Eagles’ Nick Sirianni, and the Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury. There’s only a handful of defensive-minded coaches in football, and Tomlin and McDermott are near the top of the list.
Tomlin and McDermott have met twice already with the Bills winning both of those contests. Buffalo won 17-10 in Week 15 of the 2019 season, overwhelming QB Devlin Hodges and stifling the Steelers’ offense. Even with Ben Roethlisberger back in 2020, the Bills won again, 26-15, with QB Josh Allen throwing two touchdowns and WR Stefon Diggs chewing up the Steelers’ secondary in the second half. Now, they’ll kick off the 2021 season.
Of course, 2019 wasn’t the first time those two met on a football field. They were teammates at William & Mary, a story that’s been told several times over the years. Tomlin got a big head start on becoming an NFL head coach, 2007, with McDermott waiting until 2017 to get the call. But both have been successful NFL coaches and both have turned around their teams. Tomlin took a 6-10 Steelers team in 2006 and won a Super Bowl a few years later while McDermott has taken the Bills to the playoffs, as the article notes, for the first time this century.
If you’re curious, the top-rated coaching matchup of the season comes in Week 3 when the Patriots’ Bill Belichick and Saints’ Sean Payton square off. Those are the only two head coaches who have been with their teams longer than Tomlin.