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  • Between Andy Reid, Matt Nagy, Bill O’Brien and Sean Payton—and you can’t forget Sean McVay or Bill Belichick—the most tightly contested NFL awards race might be for coach of the year.
By Conor Orr
November 30, 2018

On Thursday morning, I messaged editor Bette Marston and told her I was going to make today's Morning Huddle about handicapping the NFL’s coach of the year race. Then, I stepped away from the computer for a second and thought, How the hell am I going to do that? There’s a legit case to be made for almost one-third of the NFL’s coaches.

The fine folks at Touchdown Wire beat me to the punch with a post, but after taking in all the factors, I’ll give it a shot anyway. I’ve been criticized in the past for putting Bill Belichick too high on my list (or on my list at all) which is laughable considering the astounding consistency with which he operates. Would you put any money on the Saints, Chiefs or Rams winning 10 games three years from now without knowing what the team will look like? Would you do it with the Patriots?

Anyway, here goes nothing. Given that there’s still a good chunk of the regular season to go, separating them into tiers (with the frontrunners up top) makes a little more sense. Things can—and will—change.

TEIR 1: Andy Reid, Bill O’Brien, Matt Nagy, Sean Payton

• Start by re-reading Jenny Vrentas’s profile of Reid from the future issue. To me, this best illustrates the traits we’re looking for in an NFL coach: Tactical genius, with a dialed-in understanding of people. He’s also gifting the NFL with one of the most high-octane offenses we’ve seen in decades with a quarterback in his first season as an NFL starter. His coaching tree is growing strong roots around the NFL, for the better.

• O’Brien might have my vote right now. The Texans have won eight straight after starting the season 0–3; just two percent of NFL teams who start the season 0–3 since 1980 make the playoffs, or five out of 173, according to the Chronicle. This is such a monumental lift to keep a locker room full of established stars together during an early-season stumble. Now, the Texans are playing smart, efficient football and could wind up as one of the top three seeds in the AFC.

• Nagy is this year’s rags-to-riches candidate; a coach who took a dead-in-the-water franchise from the year before and, with similar parts, molded it into a potential division winner. Khalil Mack helps, but Mitchell Trubisky is growing by leaps and bounds this year. That’s more than a year of maturation, that’s a coach who understands how to put his quarterback in the best spot.

• Payton continually reinvents his teams and, like Reid, should be applauded for the flexibility. Given Drew Brees’s seniority, I would give the edge slightly to Reid in terms of what is most impressive, though the Saints are more complete team. They are dominant in a way that makes it difficult to reason Payton out of the conversation.

TIER 2: Frank Reich, Anthony Lynn, Pete Carroll, Sean McVay

• This is the same offensive line that could not protect Andrew Luck and helped drive him to the brink of early retirement. Now with the addition of Quenton Nelson, he glides through games untouched. The Colts are winning games they shouldn’t. They’re making a star out of Eric Ebron. Reich was a hidden gem on Philly’s Super Bowl staff a year ago, and it’s not hard to see the hole he left behind and the massive boost he’s given the Colts.

• Lynn has the unfortunate distinction of coaching the NFL’s forgotten team, but the Chargers are playing some incredible football right now. This final stretch, which sees them get another crack at the Chiefs and also the first-place Steelers, surging Ravens and Broncos, could elevate his candidacy.

• While I’m hesitant to give Carroll a ton of credit for overcoming a roster overhaul that he himself helped orchestrate, it is impressive to see a coach revert back to a “competition” style roster-building philosophy with holdovers from a very different regime. Creating the Legion of Boom was not easy, and this surprising season is no light lift, either.

• What else can we say about McVay? His offense is spectacular. Les Snead is quick on the trigger when the roster looks soft in one place. The Rams are in an amazing position to win the Super Bowl this year. But … will voters who tend to get bored and follow the next story give him the nod twice in a row?

TEIR 3: Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, Vance Joseph, Whoever wins the NFC East

• Tomlin is doing this in the middle of a personnel crisis that would have destroyed almost any other franchise.

• Belichick is doing this with, yes, a great quarterback, but one who is not 100% healthy. New coordinators (again), Josh Gordon as his most dependable wideout and a roster of parts that seem to be breaking down around Tom Brady.

• The Broncos have a chance to make the playoffs, which would represent an incredible turnaround. Vance Joseph has been getting heat from management all season and finds ways to respond. Their running game is special. If they sneak into the postseason, don’t rule it out.

• If Doug Pederson’s Eagles somehow make a run, I would find his candidacy to have merit. It is incredibly difficult to coach a team that just won the Super Bowl, especially without a ton of roster turnover. The Eagles have been mostly unlucky in 2018, with injuries ravaging an otherwise talented roster.

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NOW ON THE MMQB: Jonathan Jones on the Cowboys’ impressive win over the Saints on Thursday Night Football. ... Trouble in Packerland: Kalyn Kahler from Wisconsin, where everyone seems to be cheesed off. … Albert Breer tries to peg the end of the Patriot dynasty. … Terrell Owens isn’t done talking just yet.

WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: How, exactly, the league, teams and players are working to fix social injustices in their communities. … From mundane to insane, we map out the playoff scenarios after 12 weeks. … Washington’s signing of Reuben Foster sends a sad message.


PRESS COVERAGE

1. Could the Chargers lose their offensive coordinator … to Georgia Tech?

2. If USC is indeed closing in on Kliff Kingsbury as offensive coordinator, it takes a gigantic name off the board for NFL teams.

3. Hey, Richard Sherman is still complaining about the Seahawks and Russell Wilson!

4. Cam Newton is happy with what Cam Newton has produced thus far.

5. Fred Kitchens is cooking up a great relationship with his rookie quarterback.

6. Tax havens are under scrutiny as federal authorities raid Deutsche Bank.

7. Bill O’Brien isn’t taking anything for granted during this impressive run.


THE KICKER

Your definitive ranking of all-time best Christmas songs:

1. “What Christmas Means to Me” by Stevie Wonder

2. “Skating” by The Vince Guaraldi Trio

3. “Wonderful Christmas time” by Paul McCartney

4. “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway

5. “Christmas All Over Again by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

6. “Father Christmas” by The Kinks

7. “Little Drummer Boy” by David Bowie and Bing Crosby

8. “Christmas in Hollis” by Run D.M.C.

9. “Christmas is Coming” by John Denver & The Muppets

10. “Sleigh Ride” by TLC

Honorable mention: “Christmas Rapping” by The Waitresses

Question? Comment? Story idea? Let us know at talkback@themmqb.com.

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