The 2020 NFL season has ended. Awards for individual achievements, including the NFL Coach of the Year, won’t be handed out until Feb.6 at the 10th annual NFL Honors awards show. The awards show will be conducted virtually due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic made an already arduous job as an NFL head coach even more challenging. Finding a way to guide their respective teams in unprecedented situations, there are five coaches who stood out and garner the most consideration for the 2020 Coach of the Year (COY) recognition.
Before ranking the top-5 candidates for COY, let’s mention two guys who did not make this list but deserve brief praise. Ron Rivera helped the Washington Football Team win the NFC East—albeit with a mediocre 7-9 record—while Mike Tomlin brought the Pittsburgh Steelers another division title. Tomlin has won the AFC North in seven of his 14 seasons as Pittsburgh’s head coach.
5. Andy Reid, Chiefs
Andy Reid’s ranking is an indication of him being a victim of his own success. Unlike other awards, COY voting is impacted by last year’s results and preseason expectations. The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) were fully expected to dominate the AFC this year—and they did just that.
The Chiefs clinched the conference’s top seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs in Week 16, allowing them to rest most starters for the regular-season finale. Reid, an offensive mastermind, helped guide the Chiefs to the NFL’s top-ranked offense.
There’s an argument to be made that Reid, who won Coach of the Year in 2002 with the Philadelphia Eagles, would have needed to finish 16-0 this season to take home the 2020 COY crown. He won’t be winning COY, but he has a great chance of attaining his second Super Bowl ring come February.
4. Brian Flores, Dolphins
Brian Flores entered Week 17 as the betting favorite to win Coach of the Year, according to SportsBetting.com. However, the Miami Dolphins collapsed in their regular-season finale, getting walloped 56-26 by the Buffalo Bills in a must-win game. The loss denied the Dolphins from reaching the postseason.
Despite missing the playoffs, the Dolphins had a successful season. They won 10 games and established a top-tier defense (up until Week 17, that is).
Flores lost his first seven games in 2019. Since then, the Dolphins have posted a 15-10 record. The future looks bright in Miami, so long as quarterback Tua Tagovailoa can develop into a better passer.
3. Matt LaFleur, Packers
In his first year as head man of the Green Bay Packers in 2019, Matt Lafleur won 13 games and finished third in COY voting. However, the defensive unit was arguably more responsible for the success of the ’19 Packers, not LaFleur’s offense. That’s not to say the former offensive coordinator did not deserve credit for his tremendous first season in Green Bay, but rather that the outlook for the franchise looked even brighter if the offense could reach its potential.
With the Packers leading the NFL in scoring this season, it’s safe to say the Packers’ offense is playing to the standards the front office envisioned when they hired LaFleur two years ago. Aaron Rodgers had arguably the best season of his career. The future Hall of Fame quarterback is a near-lock to win MVP honors. Rodgers threw a franchise-record 48 touchdowns and produced eight 4-TD games.
Aaron Rodgers this season:
70.7 COMP% (1st)
48 TD (1st)
5 INT (1st, min 300 att)
121.5 RTG (1st)
— StatMuse (@statmuse) January 4, 2021
Davante Adams, meanwhile, cemented his status as the NFL’s top receiver. Adams led the league in receiving yards per contest (98.1). He corralled 115 catches, including 18 TD receptions, in 14 games played.
Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams set multiple Packers franchise records this season: pic.twitter.com/rOpKgCmH76
— Joe Kipp (day 1 christian watson fan) (@joepkipp) January 4, 2021
Adams and Rodgers were among five Green Bay offensive players to earn Pro Bowl nods. Tackle David Bakhtiar, guard Elgton Jenkins, and running back Aaron Jones also made the NFC’s All-Star squad. Among the five, Jones was the only player not named a starter for the Pro Bowl, which will take place virtually using Madden 21.
LaFleur’s team had seven Pro Bowlers total, tied for the most among all NFL clubs.
In addition to winning 13 games for the second consecutive season, LaFleur led the Packers to the NFC’s top seed and a first-round bye. It’s the first time the Packers held the No. 1 seed in the NFC since 2011.
2. Sean McDermott, Bills
Sean McDermott has guided the Buffalo Bills to playoff appearances in three of the past four seasons. This year was particularly noteworthy because the Bills won their first division crown since 1995. The Bills (13-3) supplanted the dynastic New England Patriots as kings of the AFC East.
McDermott has overseen Josh Allen’s development into a star quarterback the team can build around for years. A first-time Pro Bowler in 2020, Allen set franchise records for passing yards (4,544), passing touchdowns (37), and completions (396) in a single season. He rushed for eight touchdowns on the year.
Accounting for 45 total touchdowns, Allen will likely finish top-3 in MVP voting.
Josh Allen should be in the MVP conversation.
– 4,544 passing yards
– 45 total touchdowns
– 69.2 completion pct
– Set franchise record for pass yards
– Set franchise record for pass TD
– Led team to 13-3 record
– Won AFC East for the 1st time since 1995 pic.twitter.com/DNPXvBkiQp
— StatMuse (@statmuse) January 3, 2021
McDermott deserves a lot of credit for helping Allen blossom into a star. The head coach is also responsible for establishing the Bills as an AFC juggernaut.
1. Top NFL Coach of the Year candidate: Kevin Stefanski, Browns
In his first season as head coach, Kevin Stefanski ended the Cleveland Browns’ 18-year playoff drought, which alone warrants consideration for the NFL Coach of the Year honors. The odds were stacked against Stefanski, who took the helm of a franchise that had not produced a winning season since 2007. However, the Browns won 11 games for the first time since 1994.
Stefanski instituted a run-first approach that worked wonders. The Browns ranked third in rushing yards and fifth in rushing TDs. Among halfbacks, third-year star Nick Chubb ranked second in yards per carry. Despite missing five contests due to an MCL sprain, Chubb found the end zone 12 times.
NICK CHUBB UNLEASHED 😤
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 3, 2021
In addition to their dominant rushing attack, the Browns have had success through the air by making quarterback Baker Mayfield more comfortable in the pocket. Stefanski and Cleveland’s front office recognized that Mayfield’s success as a passer is heavily contingent upon having time in the pocket to throw. He has struggled as a passer under pressure. When given time to operate, Mayfield has flashed stardom.
Mayfield flourished under the new-and-improved Brown’s offensive line. Free-agent addition Jack Conklin was ranked by Pro Football Focus among the top run-blocking tackles, while rookie tackle Jedrick Willis locked down the starting left tackle job in Cleveland. Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio had another strong season and Pro Bowl snub Wyatt Teller, Cleveland’s right guard, emerged into a star in his second pro season.
Playing for one of the league’s most sturdy offensive lines, Mayfield threw for 26 TDs against eight interceptions this season. This comes off the heels of a 22-touchdown, 21-interception campaign in 2019. Mayfield is at his best in Stefanski’s offense.
Stefanski transformed the long-suffering franchise into winners during his first season with the club, making him the best choice for the 2020 NFL Coach of the Year.