Two best bets for NFL Coach of the Year
The Action Network's Nick Hennion breaks down his two best bets for NFL Coach of the Year
Take a bad team and make it good. Take a good team and make it great. Encounter a level of adversity most would expect will lead to failure and overcome it.
According to my colleague Steve Petrella of The Action Network, those are the ways to become NFL Coach of the Year. Last season, Mike Vrabel of the Titans took the latter route while five of the last seven coaches to win this award have opted for the “take a bad team and make it good” strategy.
This season, Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell (+1200) is the favorite to take home the award and is followed on the odds board by Giants coach Brian Daboll, Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell and Chargers coach Brandon Staley (all +1400). Rounding out the top-six on the odds board are Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett and Jaguars coach Doug Pederson (+1600).
But which coaches are worth bets this year for the award? Here are my two best bets for the market. Odds are reflective at time of writing.
Best Bet #1 - Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers (+1400)
The Chargers narrowly missed out on the playoffs last year, but have made enough improvements that I can see them becoming one of the best teams in the AFC.
Combine the addition of cornerback J.C. Jackson in free agency with the acquisition of linebacker Khalil Mack from the Chicago Bears and I expect bettors will see marked improvement from the Chargers defensively. Last season, the Bolts ranked 26th in total defensive DVOA, per footballoutsiders.com. That severely lacked behind the quality of a Chargers offense that ranked fourth in the league in offensive DVOA.
Assuming the Chargers improve in that category — and rack up a significant number of wins in a difficult schedule — a lot of the credit will fall at the feet of Staley.
Although the price is (justifiably) low on the former defensive coordinator, the path for Staley winning this award is clear. Simply making the playoffs — in his second season at the helm — makes him the favorite for the award in my estimation. Also helping Staley’s case is the fact the Chargers play in one of the toughest divisions in football, whereas other names at the top of the board can’t make the same claim.
While the mountain is a tough one to climb, I give the Chargers a solid chance at not only making the playoffs, but winning this division. Should that transpire, this award is almost certainly Staley’s to lose.
Best Bet #2 - Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers (+3000)
Everyone and their mother is assuming the Steelers are going to fall off a cliff this year.
What if they don’t?
Granted, it certainly looks like the Steelers are going to regress from last season and miss out on the playoffs. They play the fourth-hardest schedule in the NFL and will be without future Hall of-Fame QB Ben Roethlisberger. However, they return a defense that has finished in the top half of defensive DVOA the last three seasons, as well as a team that was 13-3-1 at home across the previous three seasons.
Given there were a number of injuries last season on the defensive front, I expect they’ll improve from 26th in rushing DVOA last season. Plus, their home schedule (Patriots, Jets, Bucs, Saints, Bengals, Ravens, Raiders, Browns) certainly features a few winnable games.
If Pittsburgh’s offense operates in cruise control and the defense continues to perform at an elite level, Tomlin could become a serious candidate for coach of the year.
Although it’s my belief the Steelers face an Everest-like climb into the playoffs, a 9-8 or 10-7 season after losing their best player definitely gives Tomlin more of a shot than his implied probability would indicate. Bottom-line: give me Tomlin at better odds than some of his brethren at shorter prices.
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