After flagging the candidates to get canned in two weeks, it’s only fair to flip it around to look at the coaches who are doing it better than anyone else. And in a season where the MVP is already obvious, the coach of the year is anything but.
Here’s a look at the candidates, in alphabetical order.
Pete Carroll, Seahawks: The Seahawks have overachieved for a second straight year, and they could end up being the No. 1 seed in the NFC. If they are, Carroll deserves recognition for quickly retooling a fading championship team into an emerging championship team.
John Harbaugh, Ravens: Who expected the Ravens to be this good? Harbaugh had the vision for building an offense around Lamar Jackson, and Harbaugh has gotten the most out of a defense that lost plenty of parts and added several new ones. To take the No. 1 seed from the Patriots is no small feat, and the Ravens are on the cusp of pulling it off.
Matt LaFleur, Packers: He walked into a potential cheesecurd buzzsaw, but LaFleur has taken charge of the situation, boosting the Packers to 10 wins in 13 games (maybe 11 in 14, if they win today). To do that with a team that had missed the playoffs in two straight seasons is significant, and LaFleur has earned consideration, especially if the Packers end up with a bye.
Sean McDermott, Bills: Overlooked all season long, the Bills have a shot at ending New England’s hammerlock on the AFC East. If the Bills pull it off, McDermott should pull some votes.
Sean Payton, Saints: Five games without Drew Brees? Five wins. Payton has done some of his best coaching ever, getting the Saints to shake off a pair of heartbreaking playoff exits and to put together another great season. They’ll need to climb back at least to the No. 2 seed for Payton to be a viable candidate.
Kyle Shanahan, 49ers: After last season, questions were swirling about his future in San Francisco. Now, he’s among the elite coaches in the NFL, drawing up plays that confound defenses and currently holding the No. 1 seed in the ultra-competitive NFC. If the 49ers finish in that spot, he deserves serious consideration.
Mike Tomlin, Steelers: Without question, Tomlin has done the best coaching of his career this season. Overmatched in almost every game, Tomlin has willed the Steelers to winning eight of 10 games. If they get to the playoffs after starting 0-3 and with injuries nearly wiping out their offense, Tomlin should be the favorite.
Mike Vrabel, Titans: Down and out at 2-4, the Titans flipped from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill and haven’t looked back. If the Titans get to the playoffs, Vrabel should get some love. If they barely miss it, some will wonder why he didn’t switch to Tannehill sooner.