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The Brandt Report

Ranking top candidates to win 2020 NFL Coach of the Year

Awards for individual achievement in the 2020 NFL season won't be given out for months still -- but now, with playoff races superheating across the league, is when these awards can be decided. The prospective Coach of the Year field is particularly interesting this year; as I see it, the top candidates include one multi-time previous winner, two first-year head coaches and one perennial winning coach who has never landed the top prize.

Below, ranked according to their chances to be named 2020 NFL Coach of the Year, are my top nine candidates.

Washington Football Team
Ron Rivera · 6-7

Working for him: If there were a Comeback Coach of the Year award, Rivera would be the hands-down winner. Rebounding after losing his job in Carolina would be one thing. Rebounding while also receiving cancer treatment was a simply Herculean task -- even more so than quickly restoring Washington to respectability. Thanks to a dominant defensive front and the stability provided by Comeback Player of the Year favorite Alex Smith at quarterback, Washington is riding a four-game winning streak -- the longest active streak in the NFC -- and making a strong push to claim the NFC East. If Rivera, who also won Coach of the Year in 2015 and 2013, captures this honor, he'll join Bill Belichick, Don Shula and Chuck Knox as the only three-time winners in history.  

Working against him: The last coach who received this award without making the playoffs was Dallas' Jimmy Johnson in 1990, which tells you how much importance voters place on winning a postseason berth. And while Washington currently holds a one-game lead in the division, The Football Team faces a tough final portion of the schedule, beginning with the Seahawks in Week 15 and ending with a rejuvenated Eagles squad in Week 17. Between that, the fact that the Giants own the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage and the uncertainty around Smith's calf injury, the danger of missing the playoffs is clear.

Cleveland Browns
Kevin Stefanski · 9-4

Working for him: In his first season as a head coach, Stefanski has secured the Browns' first winning record since 2007 and is steering the team toward the end of the NFL's longest active playoff drought, which dates back to 2002. His offensive prowess can be seen in both the Browns' No. 3-ranked rushing attack and the marked improvement quarterback Baker Mayfield has made in this third pro season. Crucially, Stefanski has also operated free of the dysfunction that swallowed up basically every other Browns head coach since the franchise returned to the NFL in 1999.

Working against him: With three weeks to go in the season, Cleveland isn't guaranteed anything yet. If the Browns were to fade down the stretch, that could impact Stefanski's candidacy. And if Washington manages to make the postseason, Rivera could garner more votes, regardless of Cleveland's fate. However the final tally shakes out, though, it really looks like owner Jimmy Haslam got it right by hiring Stefanski, even if the move maybe came a year later than it should have. 

Miami Dolphins
Brian Flores · 8-5

Working for him: Flores is reaping the reward for the sound building job he did after taking over a franchise in dire straits, pushing the Dolphins to the brink of the playoffs in his second season with the team. A sign of good coaching is player improvement, and we're seeing plenty of that in Miami, with players like pass rusher Emmanuel Ogbah (eight sacks, 20 QB hits, five passes defensed, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery), safety Eric Rowe (73 tackles, 11 passes defensed, two interceptions, two QB hits) and tight end Mike Gesicki (44 catches, 602 receiving yards, six receiving TDs, though he also is now dealing with a shoulder injury) making major strides.

Working against him: Even though they are three games over .500, the Dolphins are not a shoo-in for the playoffs, with games left to play against the Patriots, Raiders and Bills, the last two of which will be on the road. If Miami falls short, Flores will likely be second-guessed for replacing veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick with rookie Tua Tagovailoa during the season, even though that move was made in the interest of fast-tracking the first-rounder's readiness for 2021.  

Green Bay Packers
Matt LaFleur · 10-3

Working for him: Remember all the preseason cries of doom and gloom stemming from the Packers' decision not to add premium skill-position players, either via free agency or the draft, to help Aaron Rodgers? Well, since then, LaFleur has thrived with a situation other coaches might have botched, coaxing improvement from the roster across the board while clinching a second straight NFC North title; Rodgers, meanwhile, is enjoying an MVP-caliber season running LaFleur's offense. The coach has clearly made sure Rodgers feels appreciated, even with the team's selection of QB Jordan Love in the first round signaling the clock is likely ticking on Rodgers' remaining time with the Packers.

Working against him: Quite simply, Rodgers overshadows LaFleur, who received just three Coach of the Year votes last year after Green Bay went 13-3. The coach does not have the same kind of big-name cachet as some of his peers -- but that will change if he continues on his current track. Consider that LaFleur's winning percentage (.793) is higher than Vince Lombardi's (.625) or Curly Lambeau's (.438) during those Hall of Famers' first two seasons with the team.

Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid · 12-1

Working for him: Staying on top the year after winning a Super Bowl is a difficult challenge -- but the Chiefs, who head down the stretch with a strong hold on the No. 1 seed in the AFC, have largely met it.

Working against him: Voters tend to reward new coaches who spark an organizational turnaround (think Sean McVay in 2017 or Matt Nagy in 2018), which can lead them to bypass established names like Reid. This helps explain why Bill Belichick, one of the most successful coaches ever, hasn't won the award since 2010. But don't cry for Reid if he doesn't win; not only has he already won this honor once (in 2002, with the Eagles), but he landed the hardware he really wanted last season: his first Super Bowl ring as a head coach.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Tomlin · 11-2

Working for him: The Steelers' 11-0 run to start the season sparked a lot of conversation about the fact that Tomlin, who has never finished with a losing record while reaching the playoffs in eight of his previous 13 seasons with the team, has yet to win this award.

Working against him: Pittsburgh's rough showing during the team's current two-game losing streak pushed him down the imaginary COY leaderboard for now. The defense is reeling from key injuries, while the offense has been hurting itself with too many dropped passes. On the bright side, the Steelers have a golden opportunity to get back on track against one of the NFL's worst teams (Cincinnati) this week. Tomlin will resurface as a top candidate if the team can win out to finish 14-2.

New Orleans Saints
Sean Payton · 10-3

Working for him: Most teams would fold if asked to compete without the starting quarterback for a multi-game stretch. Not the Saints. Like Teddy Bridgewater did during his stint replacing Drew Brees last season, Taysom Hill has kept the train rolling in New Orleans, going 3-1 while Brees gets ready to return to the field.

Working against him: A Week 14 loss to Philadelphia cooled the Saints, at least temporarily. As with Belichick in New England, Payton has set the bar so high annually -- New Orleans is closing in on an unprecedented fourth straight NFC South title -- that a season like this feels like the norm rather than the exception.

New York Giants
Joe Judge · 5-8

Working for him: The Giants are vying to become the first team in NFL history to rebound from an 0-5 start to still make the playoffs. Accomplishing that would be the cornerstone of Judge's candidacy.

Working against him: The Giants' postseason hopes took a bit of a hit with Sunday's loss to Arizona, and if his team doesn’t reach the playoffs, Judge isn't going to win this award. However, that shouldn't overshadow the fact that Judge is proving to be the right man for this job after his two predecessors (Pat Shurmur and Ben McAdoo) failed to fill the considerable shoes of Tom Coughlin.

Buffalo Bills
Sean McDermott · 10-3

Working for him: At 10-3, the Bills are on the verge of winning their first AFC East title since 1995, which the franchise has been building toward since McDermott became the head coach in 2017. He also deserves credit for overseeing Josh Allen's development into a true franchise QB.

Working against him: Unless the Bills catch the Chiefs or Steelers in the race for the top spot in the AFC, McDermott might have a tough time drawing enough attention from voters in a year that is loaded with deserving names. 

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