Peyton Manning has been the runaway favorite for this year’s NFL MVP award since the first day of the regular season, and entering Week 16, that still hasn’t changed. While Manning’s MVP is all but wrapped up and tucked away under the Christmas tree, some other end-of-year awards are still very much up for grabs.
In recent years, the NFL’s coach of the year has been well decided by the time Week 15 rolled around. Bruce Arians‘ impressive run in place of Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis last season, Jim Harbaugh‘s immediate impact with the 49ers in 2011 and Bill Belichick‘s 14-2 season with the Patriots in 2010 were all easy choices for the award. This year, though, might make for the most difficult decision in over a decade.
With plenty of impressive turnarounds throughout the NFL this season and more than enough teams overcoming adversity, the coaching cupboard is stocked with worthy candidates. Some of the usual suspects like Bill Belichick and Sean Payton are in the discussion once again, but they are far from alone in the race.
Denver’s John Fox and Seattle’s Pete Carroll lead their respective conferences and have their teams in line as Super Bowl favorites at this point, but, because their success was expected before the season, they don’t exactly fit the usual COY mold. That doesn’t mean they don’t qualify or won’t win the award, they’re just almost too obvious of choices.
Typically, the award is given to the coach who overcame the most adversity or led his team to the biggest turnaround. So, when considering the five favorites for the award through 15 weeks, those aspects factored in heavily. Here’s where things stand entering Week 16.
1. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Eight months ago, the Chiefs were the first team on the clock for the NFL draft. Now, they’re tied for first in the AFC. The primary reason behind the turnaround? Coaching.
Last season, the Chiefs boasted one of the best defensive units in the NFL, but their quarterback contingent was so putrid that the defense suffered. Reid’s first big move upon taking over in Kansas City was to go out and get an efficient and intelligent passer in Alex Smith. The introduction of Smith and increased use of Jamaal Charles has turned the Chiefs’ offense into a thing of beauty, and allowed the defense to dominate.
Reid has brought an entirely different atmosphere to that locker room and has legitimately challenged the Broncos in the AFC West. From two wins to at least 11 is a noteworthy turnaround and one seemingly worthy of his second coach of the year honor.
2. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Belichick already has three of these awards hiding down in his basement somewhere, which puts him at a disadvantage among Reid and a bunch of first-timers, but it doesn’t disqualify him from contention. Even with 11 playoff appearances, five Super Bowl appearances and five championships already to his name, Belichick may have put together his finest performance this season.
The Patriots entered the year with an entirely revamped offense. They had to overcome one of their best players being charged with murder. And a rash of injuries cost them some of their biggest playmakers for the season. Even through all that adversity, Belichick has still managed to keep his team focused and turn in another 10-win season. The Patriots haven’t yet clinched their playoff spot — although a win in Baltimore would do the trick this week — and might not land a first-round bye like they’ve had in recent years, but Belichick still has them in contention for not only the postseason but the Super Bowl, and, given all the road blocks along the way, is actually quite the feat.
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
Unlike either of the first two on this list, Rivera has never won a COY award, or any award for that matter. In fact, before the Panthers’ recent eight-game winning streak, Rivera was considered a sitting duck just waiting for the proverbial ax to be dropped. But, just as his fate seemed sealed, Rivera took on an entirely new persona and “Riverboat Ron” hit it big.
Rivera has the Panthers looking like an entirely different team from the one that began the season 1-3. Cam Newton has developed into a more effective quarterback and a leader. Steve Smith, even at age 34, has been rejuvenated. And the defense is arguably the best the NFL has to offer. Heck, Carolina even has a shot at winning the NFC South with a win against the Saints this weekend. Times have changed in Charlotte, and Rivera is responsible. If the Panthers do win the division and secure a first-round bye, it would be hard to choose anyone but the riverboat gambler.
Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles
In just his first NFL stint, Kelly has made a huge splash in Philadelphia. He’s not only implemented his alternative offensive philosophy to overwhelming success, but Kelly also has the Eagles in a place many would have never even considered in August.
The Eagles were projected by many to finish dead-last in the NFC East, and even the entire NFC by some, but Kelly has turned those thoughts on their heads. Philly rode the LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles express to a five-game winning streak ahead of Week 15, and, at 8-6 on the year, is actually atop the NFC East. A win and Cowboys loss on Sunday would clinch the division for the Eagles and give Kelly all the clout he needs to justify his candidacy.
Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
Some people just can’t be satisfied. Arians won this award last season with the Colts. He relocated to Arizona in the offseason, though, and finally removed that interim tag from his title. A change of scenery didn’t alter the results, though. Arians has improved the Cardinals on both sides of the ball, and has them in the thick of the playoff conversation.
Unfortunately for the Cards, they’re in the NFC West and, even at 9-5, are at a severe disadvantage in their pursuit of the postseason. Even if Arizona wins out, they’ll still need some help from the 49ers, Panthers or Saints in order to sneak their way into the final mix. It’s unlikely Arians will be given the award for a second straight year, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be in the conversation.