You know a team is having a great year when two weeks before it’s over the prevailing controversy is which of three quarterbacks you should be playing. The Cowboys entered this season with low-to-moderate expectations that only worsened when Tony Romo got broken again.
Everybody knew that the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott would be formidable, but fourth-round pick Dak Prescott coming in and immediately being a guy who limited mistakes, made plays with his legs, and kept the offense out of 3rd-and-long’s was not preordained; a lot of it is attributable to coaching.
The Cowboys may not win the Super Bowl, but they have clearly been the best team in the league this season.Their two losses, to the Giants, came by a total of four points. Jason Garrett deserves a lion’s share of the credit for keeping everything humming from start to finish.
Okay, so that’s settled. But who should get Garrett’s table scraps in the voting? The candidates:
1. Andy Reid
The Chiefs are 11-4. Alex Smith is a limited quarterback compared to the upper echelon of the league, but also has the good sense to limit liability. Everyone knows Tyreek Hill’s past at this point, but Reid has established himself as a haven for character risks to perform on the field.
Reid doesn’t get a lot of credit for his sustained success in the league. He’s never won a Super Bowl, and nobody would confuse him for Bill Belichick. He’s always liable to make a dire clock error or have his offense run like molasses when you need urgency. But, year in and year out his teams are in the conversation — they’ve made the playoffs 12 times in 18 years. He’s by all accounts a great guy. It would be awesome to see him hoist the Lombardi at some point in his life.
2. Adam Gase
Gase acquired a Dolphins team that went 6-10 last year, which fired Joe Philbin after a month and was mostly coached by the excitable Dan Campbell. Ryan Tannehill was a lemon, and remained relatively limited — in two starts, journeyman Matt Moore did not really seem like a drop-off. Nobody circled this team as a playoff contender headed into this year. And then they started 1-4.
Since then, the Dolphins are 9-1. While the Steelers are the only playoff team the Dolphins beat in that stretch, it’s impressive nonetheless. Jay Ajayi’s emergence was a major catalyst. Gase is a year ahead of any hopeful schedule with this team, and they are gonna be a sexy pick headed into next year.
3. Jack Del Rio
The Raiders made a Leap this year, from 7-9 to 12-3, with a chance to score a first round bye. While their Super Bowl chances would seem to be greatly diminished with David Carr going down, Del Rio has done a hell of a job to guide them to this point.
4. Bill Belichick
Belichick is like Michael Jordan in the 1990’s. He has a prevailing case for Coach of the Year every single season, and there’s fatigue with that so you have to identify other candidates. But it bears mentioning that the Pats went 3-1 when Tom Brady was in Deflategate timeout, and there’s never ever ever ever a question about whether they’ll lock up the AFC East and a first round bye. You can basically write them into the AFC championship, in pen, before the season starts.
It’s not profound to say this and everyone knows it but: Despite all his grumpiness and his accentuated amorality, Belichick is a unique talent and will be held up as a standard for excellence for decades to come.
5. Dan Quinn
The Falcons bounced back from a mediocre 2015 campaign. Their offense has been under-heralded, and Matt Ryan should be getting more run in MVP discussions. With this franchise, there is always a lingering sense that it will all go to shit at some point, but up until now the Falcons have out-performed expectations.
My pick: Adam Gase. Nobody saw this coming in his first year with the team; this is why the Rex Ryan’s of the world get fired after two years where it could have gone much worse. In the NFL there is always the specter that a young talent can come in and revitalize an organization.
Belichick would probably be second on the merits of the criteria, but he’s such a boring pick at this point that I’ve gotta go with Gase.