Handicapping the NFL coach of the year race

When it comes to the NFL's coach of the year odds, a lot of "ifs" are in play.

If the Miami Dolphins finish 2-0 and make the playoffs, Joe Philbin will deserve a ton of consideration for getting them there despite all of the tumult caused by the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin fiasco. 

If the Philadelphia Eagles finish 2-0 and make the playoffs, Chip Kelly will deserve a ton of consideration for getting them there despite a mid-season change at quarterback. Throw in that Kelly is in his first year and that a similar-looking Eagles team won just four games under Andy Reid last year and you have yourself one hell of a candidate.

And speaking of Reid, if the Dolphins and Eagles both fail to finish off magical runs and miss the playoffs, he's gotta be the top coach of the year candidate. After all, he's taken a Kansas City Chiefs team that won just two games last season and placed them in a tie for the AFC West lead with just two games to go. The Chiefs might go from 2-14 to 13-3, which is unprecedented.

However, if the Carolina Panthers beat the New Orleans Saints this week and are able to hang on for the NFC South crown, Ron Rivera will deserve a lot of love for what he's done with a team that had only one win in mid-October. Remember: Rivera was considered to be as good as gone when the Panthers lost three of their first four games.

But what if the Panthers don't win that game and the Saints hang on to win the division, one year after laying eggs throughout 2012 with Sean Payton suspended? Payton has turned the Saints right back into Super Bowl contenders, which goes to show just how valuable he is. 

Those circumstances are all amazing, which is why guys like John Fox, Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll kind of get screwed. They've led Super Bowl contenders through and through. Fox had to deal with a bad defense early and the absence of Von Miller (for six weeks) and Elvis Dumervil (for the whole year). Belichick's offense has been ravaged by injuries, and don't forget about the Aaron Hernandez mess, which was supposed to be a distraction. Carroll has put together what is arguably the best team in football and has held them on the track despite a slew of injuries and even some suspensions. They're the current Super Bowl favorites and they might finish with the best record in football. 

It wouldn't be a crime if any of those eight coaches received the honor, which is promising. But I think the Panthers and Eagles are good football teams regardless of their coaches, and that this rise in Philly is more of an indictment on the end of the Reid era. I also think Kansas City was a lot better than 2-14 in 2012 — I mean, the team still had six Pro Bowlers — and that Reid benefited from a weak first-half schedule. Fox, Belichick and Carroll rarely win awards like these with such strong teams. 

So in my mind, it should probably come down to Philbin or Payton, both of whom have revived badly-bruised franchises. This'll be easy if Miami gets a playoff spot and the Saints blow the division lead, and just as simple if the Dolphins fall short. But if both come through during the final two weeks, it'll be a toss-up. 

In fact, if that happens, we'll be ready to cop out and declare Philbin and Payton our co-NFL coaches of the year.

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com (covering Super Bowls XLIV, XLV and XLVI), a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Bloguin, but his day gig has him covering all things NFC East for Bleacher Report.