Brian Flores will win NFL Coach of the Year in 2020

    With 24-1 odds on Brian Flores to win the NFL Coach of the Year in 2020, senior betting analyst Chris Smith explains why there is still tremendous value in that number.

    Last year was truly a tale of two seasons for first-year head coach Brian Flores and the Miami Dolphins. Most predicted a rebuilding season, but after a brutal seven-game losing streak to start the year, there were those in the national media who wondered if the Dolphins were putting their own players at risk by “tanking for Tua.”

    The second half of the season saw a scrappy group of unheralded players, particularly on the defensive side of the football, take on the personality of their hard-nosed leader en route to a 5-4 finish down the stretch.

    The fear in Miami of yet another Bill Belichick protege failing to win away from New England seemed to be quashed in Week 17 when Flores and the Dolphins went into Foxboro and dealt the Patriots a crushing defeat.

    With 24-1 odds on Brian Flores to win the NFL Coach of the Year in 2020, the question becomes just how good will the Dolphins need to be this year for that award to be a realistic expectation?

    Miami will certainly need to improve in the win department, but by how many? Is it possible for Flores to win the award without the Dolphins making the postseason? Let’s take a glimpse at the history of the award and some extenuating circumstances that may potentially play a role in Flores’ candidacy.

    Historical criteria of past Coach of the Year winners

    In order to truly handicap the NFL Coach of the Year betting market, it is crucial to acknowledge that the award itself is essentially a “most improved team” award. Just looking over the past decade’s winners you see a specific trend come into focus immediately. The average win total improvement for teams whose coach eventually won the Coach of the Year award was six.

    Bruce Arians’ 2014 season with the Cardinals was an outlier for the award in that Arizona only improved from 10 to 11 wins from their previous season. That 10 win team in 2013 failed to make the postseason, however, they finished third in the NFC West behind Seattle and San Francisco. The 2014 version of the Cardinals started 9-1 but lost Carson Palmer to injury which may have cost them a deep playoff run. However, that didn’t stop Arians from capturing the coaching award for the second time in three years.

    Seven of the last 10 seasons, the coach who won the award took his team to the postseason after they missed the playoffs the previous year. Of the three returning playoff teams, one featured a Ron Rivera led Panthers team that won the NFC South with a 7-8-1 record in 2014, before winning 15 games in their Super Bowl season in 2015. Regardless of whether or not the team missed the playoffs the previous season, qualifying for the postseason has been a must for coach of the year candidates over the past ten years.

    Possible AFC candidates

    Utilizing the NFL Coach of the Year criteria we discussed above, we can establish who the true competition is for Flores in either conference. Starting in the AFC we can realistically eliminate all the playoff teams, at least I think. John Harbaugh won the award this year and the Kansas City Chiefs would need to go undefeated for Andy Reid to get any consideration.

    Prior to the Cam Newton signing, you might have been able to create an argument for two time award winner Bill Belichick having a shot at the award. The narrative of Belichick building up Jarrett Stidham and winning without Tom Brady might have gained some steam if the Patriots shot past their projected win total of nine games. With Cam in the mix though, New England has swung right back to being AFC East favorites according to Las Vegas odds and Belichick has little perceived value at 12-1 odds for the coaching award.

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    What about teams outside of the AFC East?

    The one returning playoff team, whose coach could garner some attention is Mike Vrabel of the Tennessee Titans. While the Titans are coming off an AFC Championship game appearance, they were only 9-7 in the regular season, meaning a 12-4 year in 2020 might fit the mold of what the Associated Press voters are looking for. Vrabel is currently listed at 20-1 odds to win Coach of the Year.

    Another coach at 20-1 odds worth a look would be Kevin Stefanski. Ben Rolfe wrote about Stefanski’s candidacy here back in May. Sean McVay and Matt Nagy won the award as first-year head coaches in consecutive seasons, so that alone shouldn’t be a hindrance for Stefanski. The bigger hurdle is likely having to compete with Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the tough AFC North. That’s why I believe Flores’ biggest AFC competition comes from two teams with 7-9 seasons in 2019.

    The Denver Broncos had a similarly strong finish to the Dolphins last season, winning four of their last five games after an atrocious start of their own. Denver lost a staggering five one-score games in 2019. They added talent on both offense and defense in the off-season, making Vic Fangio a strong candidate if Drew Lock can get the Broncos back to the postseason. His 24-1 odds are the same price that Flores is currently listed at most books.

    If I were going to suggest one coach for this award other than Brian Flores it would have to be Frank Reich of the Indianapolis Colts. Reich was given the unenviable task of having to replace All-Pro quarterback Andrew Luck just weeks before the season kicked off. The Colts were actually 5-2 last season before Jacoby Brissett was injured and are currently the favorites to win the AFC South. If this is truly a comeback award, there might not be a coach better suited than Reich at 14-1 to overcome the odds.

    Possible NFC candidates

    In my estimation, the NFC doesn’t have nearly as many viable candidates for NFL Coach of the Year in 2020. Kliff Kingsbury will certainly have a shot if Kyler Murray can stay healthy and the Arizona Cardinals sneak into the Wild Card. My worry again is coaches having two perennial playoff teams in their respective divisions, as Arizona does in the NFC West. I suspect Kingsbury and Murray put up video game numbers in some weeks, but inconsistency is to be expected as well.

    The team that might be best suited for an easy turnaround is the Detroit Lions. The Lions were a solid team over the first half of the 2019 season before losing Matthew Stafford. If Stafford returns to form in 2020, there’s no reason the Lions can’t get past their projected win total of six games and perhaps even challenge for the NFC North. From a coaching perspective, Matt Patricia is currently 30-1 odds to win the coach of the year, although you have to wonder if Stafford would get more credit in terms of Comeback Player of the Year than Patricia would for the potential Detroit turnaround.

    Perhaps the most intriguing candidate from the NFC is the one with the shortest odds. Mike McCarthy is a 12-1 favorite to win the award and with good reason. The Dallas Cowboys famously went 8-8 last season and missed out on the playoffs despite outgaining the rest of the league by about 400 yards. The Cowboys Pythagorean win total from 2019 suggests Dallas should have been closer to an 11 win team last year. Due to public perception and expectation heading into this season, McCarthy might need to get the Cowboys to 12-4 and NFC East champs if he has any realistic shot at the 2020 NFL Coach of the Year.

    How the current cultural climate may play a role

    I recognize that there are some who want nothing to do with mixing politics or social issues with their beloved football. As Roger Goodell and the league front office have learned, that’s simply not feasible in 2020. Flores is one of just three black head coaches currently employed by NFL franchises. This was a hot button topic in NFL circles even prior to George Floyd’s death sparking nationwide outrage and protests over social injustice.

    Over the course of the past two months, Flores has emerged as a vocal leader expressing his own anger and frustration with racial inequalities. He has even spoken about the murder of his own friend Chris Beaty at a protest in Indianapolis. Make no mistake about it, Flores is clearly a leader of men both off and on the football field. The current social climate in our country at the moment only serves to further shine the light on the fact that the Miami Dolphins are the rare NFL front office with multiple strong African American leaders within the hierarchy.

    We hear a ton about franchises building a culture of winning from within the organization. If the tail end of the 2019 season and 2020 offseason are any indications, Flores and Chris Grier may indeed be building something special in Miami. As one of few black head coaches, the spotlight will naturally find Flores this season, and if the Dolphins continue to improve on the football field, I don’t think it’s outlandish to assume sportswriters might have race on their conscience during the voting process.

    Brian Flores Coach of the Year value 

    As someone who thinks there is a stronger possibility that the Dolphins qualify for the postseason than most, there is an obvious correlation between playoff teams and coach of the year winners. However, I think Flores is in a unique situation where Miami could improve in the win column, fail to qualify for the postseason and still win the award. If the Dolphins finish 8-8 or 9-7 and just miss out on the playoffs in a season with less postseason turnover than normal in the AFC, Flores may very well emerge as a top candidate for Coach of the Year.

    What better time than now for the first African American winner of the award since Marvin Lewis in 2009? Wouldn’t it be fitting for the head coach of the Miami Dolphins to win Coach of the Year in the same season they could potentially name the award after four-time winner Don Shula? Assuming the Dolphins continue on their upward trend and Tua Tagovailoa makes some strides late in the season, I suspect the +2400 odds on Brian Flores for 2020 NFL Coach of the Year hold tremendous value.

    Brian Flores – NFL Coach of the Year (+2400) – 1 Unit

    You can follow me on Twitter @ChrisSmithPFN for upcoming analysis. Also, make sure to follow us @PFNBets for up to the minute analysis from all of our writers heading into the 2020 season.

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