The NFL Coach of the Year race might be the best of all the post-season awards.
Never mind that the price is a bit silly. He rarely goes to the best coach, which is counterintuitive. If so, Bill Belichick could win every year. Usually it’s the coach whose team finishes farthest ahead of their pre-season expectations.
Sunday evening, a few coaches fit this category. San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is having a stellar season. Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur has settled in well in his first season as head coach. The 49ers and Packers face off in a pivotal NFC game on Sunday night, which can be streamed live on the Yahoo Sports app.
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Maybe the winning coach will win a trophy at the end of the year. Maybe for the coach of the year, and maybe also for the Lombardi Trophy.
Who will win NFL Coach of the Year?
About a quarter of coaches in the league 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 has never seen before and they’re arguing as the best team in the league.
Mike Tomlin deserves credit for keeping the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoff hunt. Frank Reich would have a case if the Indianapolis Colts made the playoffs after Andrew Luck retired. And, of course, Belichick still has a case.
Both coaches from Sunday night’s game are among the favorites, and they’ve been impressive in different ways this season.
Packers and 49ers battle for playoff positioning
Shanahan must have produced a few wins. His first two 49ers seasons ended with a 10-22 record. There were good excuses for that, but a losing third straight season wouldn’t have been great.
The 49ers have reinvented themselves. They’re a top-notch team, with a stellar defense and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo playing a game director role most weeks. The 49ers started the season 8-0 and enter this week 9-1, the NFC’s best record. And yet, the 49ers are under pressure from the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West race.
The Packers still have hopes of capturing the NFC’s No. 1 seed and likely need a win on Sunday night to keep that alive. Like the 49ers with the Seahawks, the Packers have yet to shake up the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North.
During the offseason, an 8-2 start was not what Packers fans were talking about. There was endless discussion about LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers. There was speculation about how they would get along and how Rodgers would fit into LaFleur’s plan. Although the attack has had its ups and downs, it’s going very well. 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 may have to beat Shanahan on Sunday night. But he’s probably not worried about that price, and neither is Shanahan. Both teams need a win in a wild NFC playoff race.
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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have any advice? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab