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Sizing Up Vrabel's Coach of the Year Competition

The man in charge of the Tennessee Titans has a strong case but hardly is a lock to take home the trophy.

NASHVILLE – More than once in recent days Mike Vrabel has referred to the possibility that he could be named NFL Coach of the Year as “interesting but not important.”

It also would be groundbreaking. No one who has led the Tennessee Titans has won that award, and that includes the franchise’s nearly four decades as the Houston Oilers.

The case for Vrabel this season is clear – and compelling. Tennessee is the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs with a 12-5 record that includes five straight wins against 2020 playoff teams and eight victories over teams that finished this season with a winning record. The latter was an NFL first. And Vrabel and his staff did all of that while they worked with a constantly changing roster, one that ultimately included a league-record 91 players. The Titans even played more than half the season without running back Derrick Henry, who was a Most Valuable Player candidate before he got hurt.

Vrabel is the betting favorite to claim the award, but he is far from the only candidate. Just look at the MMQB Awards votes, where he got the nod, albeit by a slim margin. The results were much different in NFL.com’s recent survey of front office personnel across the league.

Here is a look at who could spoil Vrabel’s bid for Coach of the Year and why.

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Zac Taylor, Cincinnati: Voting tends to favor those who take a team from bad to good. Last year, for example, Kevin Stefanski won after he directed Cleveland from six wins to 11 and into the playoffs. In his third season, Taylor took the Bengals to a division title after last place finishes in the three previous years (2018-10) and five straight losing seasons. Cincinnati’s 10 wins are more than it had in the previous two combined (six). The offense finished seventh in scoring, a climb of 22 spots from 2020, and the defense finished in the top 20 in yards allowed for the first time in four years.

Matt LaFleur, Green Bay: Another third-year head coach, LeFleur presents a stark contrast to Taylor. His team won 13 games for the third consecutive season and won a third straight division title. He kept the Packers on track despite some serious offseason drama that involved quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who some speculated had played his last game for the franchise. Similar to the Titans, Green Bay is its conference’s No. 1 seed despite some serious injury issues along the way and defeated three 10-win teams along the way.

Bill Belichick, New England: Typically, he is an afterthought for this award because he is so consistently good that he rarely attracts notice. This time, though, Belichick jettisoned Cam Newton in favor of rookie Mac Jones at quarterback and got the Patriots back in the playoffs after a one-year absence. His offense finished sixth in points scored, and his defense finished second in points allowed. His decision to run it 46 times and throw it three in challenging conditions at Buffalo (the Patriots won 14-10) likely was the year’s boldest coaching move.

Rich Bisaccia, Las Vegas: He does not have a full season upon which to be judged but he did good work, nonetheless. He took over after four games when Jon Gruden resigned amid an email scandal. Bisaccia never had been a head coach, but he directed his team to victories in two of his first three games immediately following the unexpected transition. More importantly, the Raiders won their final four, all of which effectively were elimination games. He should also get credit for his decision to kick a game-winning overtime field goal in the regular season finale when he could have just let the time run out and settled for a tie, which would have gotten the Raiders in the playoffs.

Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia: A first-time head coach, he and his staff settled into a run-heavy offense that had five games with more than 200 rushing yards and that led the league with an average of 159.7 rushing yards per game. The Eagles went from bad to good during the season as they overcame a 3-6 start with victories in six of their next seven, three of them against division foes. At 9-8, Philadelphia more than doubled its win total from 2020 (four) and its leading passer, rusher and receiver were all different from the previous season.