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Bill Belichick, Mike McCarthy among favorites for coach of year

Updated November 18, 2021 - 7:58 pm

Mike McCarthy never will be confused with Bill Belichick, especially when it comes to motivational tactics.

Last year, in McCarthy’s first season as Cowboys coach, he smashed a watermelon in the locker room before Dallas rallied for a win over Minnesota. Last week, McCarthy gave his players Monkey Butt, an anti-chafing powder, before the Cowboys crushed the Falcons.

The notoriously dour Belichick is all business, an approach that has produced six Super Bowl titles in New England.

Both leadership styles have proved successful this season, as McCarthy and Belichick are in a pack of six coaches with odds of 10-1 or less at Circa Sports to win the NFL Coach of the Year award.

McCarthy, the 6-1 third choice, and Belichick, the +850 fourth pick, are the two biggest liabilities at Circa, which lists Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel as the +295 favorite and Arizona’s Kliff Kingsbury as the +425 second selection.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley, who opened the season as the favorite, is tied with Belichick at +850. Bengals coach Zac Taylor is 10-1.

“Historically, it’s gone to a coach with the team that exceeds its regular season win total by the largest margin,” Circa Sports oddsmaker Chris Bennett said. “But that did not happen last year. You’ve got to consider what other variables will be valued more highly than that metric.”

Best narrative

Buffalo’s Sean McDermott and Miami’s Brian Flores were the favorites to win the award entering last year’s regular-season finale, in which the Bills beat the Dolphins. But the award went to Cleveland’s Kevin Stefanski, who closed at 12-1 and won based partly on the narrative that he finally turned around the Browns, who improved from 6-10 to 11-5 and clinched their first playoff berth in 18 years.

“I thought McDermott deserved it, but the voters took Stefanski,” Bennett said. “The Patriots could fall into that category the Browns did last year. They weren’t very good last year and are probably going to exceed their season wins number from last year by a wide margin.”

New England went 7-9 last season with Cam Newton at quarterback after Tom Brady bolted for Tampa Bay. After a 2-4 start, the Patriots have won five straight following Thursday’s victory at Atlanta. But the books projected New England to be improved with a season win total of 9½.

“As far as Las Vegas expectations, there were high expectations for the Patriots,” Westgate SuperBook vice president of risk Ed Salmons said.

Still, Belichick gets high marks from Salmons for starting the season with rookie QB Mac Jones, and he might win the award if the Patriots reclaim the AFC East crown from the Bills.

“He made the call before the year started to get rid of Newton and play the rookie,” Salmons said. “Almost every other coach would’ve started with the veteran and let the rookie earn his way in. But Belichick said screw that. Play him.”

McCarthy has guided the NFC East-leading Cowboys to a 7-2 record after a 6-10 season without QB Dak Prescott.

“I don’t even think he’s a good coach,” Bennett said. “But that’s the tricky part. He may get rewarded for the team’s performance when the players and coordinators might be the ones that really deserve it.”

Vrabel has directed the AFC-leading Titans to an 8-2 record and six straight wins, the past two without star running back Derrick Henry.

“Vrabel is such a great coach, then he had the injury to Henry,” Salmons said. “Maybe that gets him some sympathy.”

Tennessee figures to finish with a stellar record with two games left against the lowly Texans and one each against the Jaguars and Dolphins.

“If the Titans finish with 12 or 13 wins, it seems to me Vrabel should get rewarded for that,” Bennett said.

Exceeding expectations

At 8-2, the NFC West-leading Cardinals are a win from eclipsing their win total of 8½.

“I don’t really think Kliff Kingsbury is one of the best coaches in the league,” Bennett said. “But if this team goes 12-5 and wins the NFC West, he’s got to be in the conversation for Coach of the Year.”

The Bengals (5-4) have eclipsed last season’s 4-11-1 record and have one of the league’s lowest win totals at 6½.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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