The NFL Coach of the Year race might be the best among all the postseason awards.
Never mind that the award is kind of silly. It rarely goes to the best coach, which is counterintuitive. If it did, Bill Belichick might win every year. Usually it goes the coach whose team finishes furthest ahead of its preseason expectations.
Sunday night has a couple coaches who fit that category. San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is having a breakout season. Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur has settled in nicely in his first season as head coach. The 49ers and Packers play each other in a pivotal NFC game on Sunday night, which can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app.
Perhaps the winning coach will end up with a trophy at the end of the year. Maybe for coach of the year, and maybe a Lombardi Trophy too.
Who will win NFL coach of the year?
About a quarter of the league’s coaches have a decent argument as coach of the year.
Sean Payton led the New Orleans Saints to a 5-0 record without quarterback Drew Brees. Jon Gruden has the Oakland Raiders in playoff contention. John Harbaugh has the Baltimore Ravens playing an offense the NFL hasn’t seen before and they have an argument as the league’s best team.
Mike Tomlin deserves credit for keeping the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoff race. Frank Reich would have a case if the Indianapolis Colts make the playoffs after Andrew Luck’s retirement. And, of course, Belichick always has a case.
The two coaches in Sunday night’s game are among the frontrunners, and they have been impressive in different ways this season.
Packers, 49ers battle for playoff positioning
Shanahan had to produce some wins. His first two 49ers seasons ended with a 10-22 record. There were good excuses for that, but a third straight losing season wouldn’t have been great.
The 49ers reinvented themselves. They’re a run-first team, with a stellar defense and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo playing a game manager role most weeks. The 49ers started the season 8-0 and come into this week 9-1, the best record in the NFC. And still, the 49ers are getting pressure from the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West race.
The Packers still have hopes to grab the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and probably need a win on Sunday night to keep that alive. Like the 49ers with the Seahawks, the Packers have yet to shake the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North.
In the offseason, an 8-2 start wasn’t what Packers fans were talking about. There was a never-ending discussion about LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers. There was speculation about how they’d get along, and how Rodgers would adapt to LaFleur’s scheme. Although the offense has had some ups and downs, it’s going just fine. LaFleur could follow the Sean McVay/Matt Nagy path as a young, offensive head coach who wins Coach of the Year in his rookie season.
To win Coach of the Year, LaFleur might need to beat Shanahan on Sunday night. But he’s probably not worried about that award, and neither is Shanahan. Both teams need a win in a wild NFC playoff race.
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