We know Philadelphia has the best record in the NFL at 8-1. And based on our Talk of Fame Network poll of last week, we know that Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has been the NFL’s best player through the first half of the season. But does all that make Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson the mid-season Coach of the Year? Or should Rams coach Sean McVay get the nod? Or Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer? There are a lot of great candidates and we offer them up to you this week in our Talk of Fame Network poll — who is the NFL’s mid-season Coach of the Year? Here are your choices:
Todd Bowles, NY Jets. His Jets are a game under .500 at 4-5. But let’s put this in perspective. After the roster purge this offseason, the Jets were perceived as Team Tank, a franchise willing to sacrifice the 2017 season for the chance to get that very high draft pick and a franchise quarterback in 2018. So the Jets shed 10 veteran starters, including their leading scorer (K Nick Folk), passer (Ryan Fitzpatrick), receiver (Brandon Marshall), tackler (MLB David Harris) and interceptor (Marcus Gilchrist) plus veteran Pro Bowlers CB Darrelle Revis, DT Sheldon Richardson and C Nick Mangold. The Jets plugged in journeyman Josh McCown at quarterback and the result? The Jets are now the best team in New York City with just one fewer victory than they managed last year with that star-studded and expensive cast. Give Bowles credit for holding the operation together in what was expected to be a non-building season.
Doug Marrone, Jacksonville. The Jaguars are one of only four NFL franchises that has never been to a Super Bowl. The Jaguars have not won a division title since 1999 and they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2007. So optimism is never rampant in north Florida. But Marrone, in his first season as head coach, has the Jacksonville faithful believing. The Jaguars are playing old-fashioned football – run the ball and play defense. They drafted a running game with the selection of LSU All-America Leonard Fournette with the fourth overall pick of the 2017 draft, and they bought a defense in free agency. The Jaguars spent $153 million on three defensive starters – end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church. The Jaguars lead the NFL in rushing and rank third in defense, giving Jacksonville a share of first place in the AFC South at 5-3 at the season’s midway point.
Sean McDermott, Buffalo. The Bills hadn’t won a division title since 1995 and hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1999. This once-proud franchise had forgotten how to win. But McDermott is reminding the Bills how it’s done this season, frankly, with mirrors. The Bills had a top-shelf pass defense, finishing sixth in the NFL last season, with Pro Bowl CB Stephon Gilmore and Ron Darby. But Gilmore left in free agency the Bills traded Darby to the Eagles. With an overhauled secondary, featuring free-agent safety Micah Hye and first round CB Tre’Davious White, the Bills have intercepted 11 passes and forced 18 turnovers. Both rank second in the NFL. The legs of LeSean McCoy allow the Bills to run the ball and control the clock and QB Tyrod Taylor has played mistake-free football for the bulk of the season to keep Buffalo in pursuit of the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots in the AFC East with a 5-3 record.
Sean McVay, LA Rams. Who saw this coming? The Rams haven’t won a division title since 2003 and haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004. That was four head coaches and one city ago. More recently the Rams had suffered 10 consecutive losing seasons and were reeling from a 4-12 finish in 2016 when they hired McVay, the youngest head coach in the NFL at 31. Goff played like the rookie quarterback that he was in 2016. But McVay, a quarterback whisperer, has him playing like a Pro Bowl quarterback this season. McVay also has energized the career of running back Todd Gurley and given Los Angeles an NFL franchise the fans can actually get excited about. The Rams sit atop the NFC West at 6-2 with the NFL’s third-ranked offense and one of its stingiest defenses, having allowed the seventh fewest points in the NFL (155). Again, who saw this coming?
Mike Mularkey, Tennessee. Jacksonville isn’t the only team in the AFC South playing old-fashioned football. The Titans under Mularkey share first place with the Jaguars at 5-3 thanks to a Top 10 rushing attack and an opportunistic defense. The Titans bludgeon defenses with the two-pronged rushing attack of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. And they have a ballhawking defense that has already intercepted nine passes this season, including five by safety Kevin Byard. Tennessee hasn’t won a division title since 2002 and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2008.
Sean Payton, New Orleans. Payton has one of the best offensive minds in the NFL and, as a result, one of the best offenses. With Drew Brees at quarterback, offensive yardage and points have never been a problem for Payton and the Saints. The problem has been on the defensive side of the ball. After finishing 31st or worse in each of the last three seasons – and finishing with losing records all three of those seasons – Payton committed to a defensive fix in 2017. The Saints used five of their seven draft picks on defense, including a first-rounder on CB Marshon Lattimore, and signed free agents LBs Manti T’eo (San Diego) and A.J. Klein (Carolina) plus pass rusher Alex Okafor (Arizona). The Saints now rank 15th in the NFL in defense and have vaulted into first place in the NFC South with a 6-2 record. And Payton’s thumbprints are still all over the offense. The Saints rank second in the NFL on that side of the ball.
Doug Pederson, Philadelphia. Pederson inherited the wreckage of the Chip Kelly era. The Eagles started digging out by trading up to select QB Carson Wentz with the second overall pick of the 2016 draft, then went on a spending spree this offseason to give Wentz some weapons. Philadelphia added veteran running backs LaGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi and receivers Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith. Voila – Wentz has emerged as the best quarterback in the NFL and the Eagles, at 8-1, are now the best team. The Eagles are the only NFC unbeaten at home at 5-0. They rank third in the NFL in rushing and fifth in run defense. This is a balanced, deep football team and Pederson has played all of his cards masterfully this season.
Mike Zimmer, Minnesota. The Vikings lost their starting quarterback (Sam Bradford) in the season opener and their starting running back (Dalvin Cook) in the fourth week. But when you hire Zimmer as your coach, you’re making a commitment to defense – and defense has carried the Vikings to the top of the NFC North with a 6-2 record. The Vikings rank third in the NFL in run defense, seventh in pass defense and fourth overall. The Vikings also rank fifth in the NFL in sacks and have allowed the third fewest points. Yes, you can still win in the NFL with defense and Zimmer is proving it.