By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) A look back at the preseason predictions reveals that many observers had the Seattle Seahawks meeting the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Others had the San Francisco 49ers taking on the Denver Broncos.
Those four teams were consensus favorites, and when great teams meet expectations, that means the head coaches usually don’t get consideration for the NFL’s Coach of the Year Award.
The Seahawks have lived up to expectations to the point where it would be almost shocking if they don’t get to play in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
The Broncos and Patriots are both first-place teams, and it seems quite likely that one of them could represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
If the Seahawks don’t make it, the 49ers would have an excellent chance to make a return trip to the Super Bowl after losing to the Ravens a year ago.
So, no matter how much Pete Carroll, John Fox, Bill Belichick and Jim Harbaugh may deserve it, color them out of the race for coaching honors.
(Actually, Fox’s heart problems that put him on the sidelines will probably gain him some votes. Call it the sympathy factor.)
There are five candidates that have the best shot at the honor. Here are the five top candidates for that award, in reverse order.
5. Bruce Arians, Arizona – This man can coach football. When Chuck Pagano was sidelined last year while battling leukemia, Arians took over the Colts and turned them into a playoff team. Arians’ work was recognized and he won Coach of the Year honors. He was hired by the Cardinals shortly thereafter. While they have two tough games remaining against the Seahawks and 49ers, Arians has done a stellar job in getting the Cardinals to 9-5.
Specifically, Arians has helped turn quarterback Carson Palmer around. Palmer was a turnover machine early in the year, but he has just two picks in his last five games. Arians’ emphasis on fundamentals has helped Palmer and the Cardinals exceed expectations.
4. Joe Philbin, Miami – In a room full of football coaches, Philbin comes across as if he is the group’s accountant. Appearances can be deceiving. Like the Bears’ Marc Trestman, there is nothing old-school about Philbin’s personality. He doesn’t raise his voice and he doesn’t make threats.
The Dolphins looked as if they were going to fall apart at midseason when they lost four consecutive games, and six out of eight. At the same time, the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying scandal/story broke. Philbin looked like the last man who could keep his team together, but that’s just what he did.
They have won three games in a row and the Dolphins can make the playoffs if they win their final two games.
3. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia – Smug, arrogant and conceited. That’s how Kelly came across when the Eagles hired Kelly to install his offense and turn the Eagles into a power.
Kelly’s hubris turned a lot of outsiders off and many expected the former Oregon head coach to get a serious lesson as he tried to install his fast-paced offense with Michael Vick at the controls. The Eagles played in fits and starts until Vick got injured and Nick Foles took over.
The Eagles have been resurgent with Foles under center and have an excellent chance of winning the NFC East, regardless of whether they beat the Bears this week. Kelly deserves credit for taking a team that was dead in the water under Andy Reid last year and giving them credibility.
2. Ron Rivera, Carolina – The axe was fully sharpened at the end of last season and it was a bit of an upset that the Panthers did not fire Rivera.
When the Panthers started the season with three losses in their first four games, it was just a matter of time. However, Rivera’s defense was playing sensational football and the light suddenly went on for quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers reeled off eight straight victories, including back-to-back wins over the 49ers and Patriots that told the NFL that Rivera had a powerhouse of a team.
Rivera appears to have saved his job and his team has the talent to make a significant run in the playoffs.
1. Andy Reid, Kansas City – It appeared that Kansas City was a safe landing spot for Reid. The Chiefs were 2-14 last year, and it seemed quite likely that they had more than enough personnel to make a run at the .500 mark.
Reid did not set his sights on respectability. Instead, he saw a veteran quarterback in Alex Smith and a powerful, sack-oriented defense. Reid has done the best coaching job of his career and the Chiefs have an 11-3 record and are tied for first with the Broncos (although Denver has the tiebreaker based on 2-0 record vs. Kansas City).
The Chiefs reeled off nine straight wins to start the season based on their powerful defense, but their last two wins came as a result of huge offensive showings.
Kansas City is a dangerous team and Reid has been the best coach in the NFL this season.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.