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NFL Coach of the Year: Best Bets

Don Shula won the COY Award 4 times, most in NFL History
Don Shula won the Coach of the Year Award 4 times, which is the most in NFL history.

By Dan Rivera


Alright readers and gamblers, I continue this series of deep dives. This time, it’s coach of the year. Before I get into the data itself, these awards are given out by the AP who are very biased. The media does play favorites and they get the sheep mentality very easily. This leads to the big point of these AP awards being what team (and coach) gives the media the best story and who wins. We know the media loves some coaches, Mike Tomlin, and dislikes some others, Matt Patricia (sorry Lion fans). When you go to bet these types of props, you need to ask yourself who do you think will win versus who the media thinks will win. You need to think like the media to increase your chances of winning.

You can click here to the Google spreadsheet to see all the data for yourself. Unfortunately, I collected a lot of data and it doesn’t fit the page so you will have to look at the spreadsheet separate from this article. I pulled the info from pro football reference and sports odd history. Data only goes back to 1995, I use 1995 as a relative cutoff date for these projects because we know football changes very quickly. Using data from the time period before isn’t very helpful to us in 2020. Even 1995 is pushing it for me but I want to build a large enough sample size.

Coach of the Year History

Looking at the data, the biggest takeaway is teams/coaches who end up overachieving at end of the year are teams who are coming into the season with low expectations. Since 1995, the average season win total for these teams and coaches are 7.34 wins. 17 of 25 winners had a season win total between 6 and 9 wins. We have had 5 winners below that number. Those teams were 2012 Colts (5.5), 2008 Atlanta Falcons (4.5), 2004 Chargers (4.5), 1999 Rams (5.5), and 1996 Panthers (5.5). The other 3 teams were projected to do well had a season win total of 9.5+ wins consisted of 2010 Patriots (9.5), 2007 Patriots (11.5), and 2002 Eagles (10).

The next takeaway is all these teams made the playoffs. Not a single one missed them. If you don’t think a team is capable of making the playoffs, don’t even bother betting the coach.

This is what makes picking a winner very difficult. If you pick the 3rd team (or worse) in division using the prior year, 18 times a coach has won it. Only 8 times has a coach won it in his first year with the team going back to 1995. Rookie head coaches don’t win this award. Only 3 times has the same coach won back-to-back years with the last one being Joe Gibbs in 1982 and 1983.

Next, these teams end up with 12.2 wins and 3.8 losses. You want teams who are capable of double-digit wins. Not a single team in this data set had less than 10 wins. They all also either took 1st or 2nd in division. Only 4 times though has a team come 2nd in division. These teams increase their wins by 5.92 wins on average and decrease their losses by 5.88. They had a prior year of 6.24 wins and 9.68 losses. We want teams who are a 6 to 7-win team.

Lastly, these teams go over their season win total by 4.82 games on average. These teams/coaches are going much more above expectation.

To review what I wrote and make a little cheat sheet with rules to make it easier to follow or remember, remember these. The info is bold is what I put the highest consideration on.

  1. 17 of 25 past winners had a season win total between 6 and 9 wins. Only 3 times has a team had a win total of above 9.

  2. Have to make the playoffs. 18 times a team was 3rd or worse in division the prior year wins it.

  3. Teams who win double digits.

  4. Teams who will exceed their season win total by about 4 or 5 games.

  5. 21 of the 25 winners have won the division.

The Choices

This was by far the most difficult part of the entire article. Weeding out the teams who I don’t give much credit getting to double digit wins (that was best way to weed most teams out) along with a real chance of winning the division (or at least competing). Some of you will probably disagree with the list.

Cleveland Browns

This was the biggest iffy one. Browns could go 10-6 but they aren’t winning the division. Rookie head coaches don’t traditionally win this award but if Kevin Stefanski can make the Browns look like they actually have been coached, he will have the media behind him in terms of the story. Browns have had nothing but incompetence as head coaches for the last 2 coaches.

Indianapolis Colts

This is the only team on the entire list that hits a lot of the qualifications. They went 3rd in division last year, a season win total of 8.5 or 9 wins depending on when you bet them, fully capable of going 10-6 and winning the division, Reich is familiar name from back in the day as a player so the media doesn’t hate him and has some familiarity, and they are a long shot to go 11-5. Most of the media love the Titans this year and as I have stated before, Titans are the biggest frauds coming into the year. I don’t buy them at all.

New England Patriots

I can’t count the Patriots out. If they do well with Newton, this is Belichick’s award. I don’t think Pats go 10-6 and win the division. They would need 11-5 or 12-4 and the media generally hates Belichick. Media loves Newton though and it is very easy to picture the media being all over Cam is he does well this year.

Pittsburgh Steelers

This is another team who has a lot of qualifications. The media loves Tomlin and he has never won it. Steelers went 8-8 with that atrocious offense last year. If Big Ben is 80% off his injury and Steelers find themselves at 10-6 or 11-5 with a win over the Ravens, Tomlin will have a real shot. Steelers set up for a bounce back year and Big Ben probably wins comeback player of the year also if they do bounce back. I don’t think they win the division but I do think they are competitive this year.

Dallas Cowboys

Mike McCarthy has the 3rd best chance of winning this award at 13/1. Cowboys underachieved last year going 8-8 and Dak looked awful in that game @ Eagles at the end of the year. That Cowboys defense isn’t very good, the offensive line is getting older, Tyron Smith can’t stay healthy, Travis Frederick retired, and if you ask Packer fans, McCarthy was awful as a coach toward the end of his tenure. I think you are asking a lot from a team who probably goes 9-7 or 10-6. The only thing I can see from this is if the Cowboys put up a lot of offense this year then the story would be how McCarthy turned the Cowboys into a fantastic offense.

Final Conclusions

These awards are still a tough long-shot when betting to find edges. A lot of randomness goes into these teams’ turnarounds. We generally see teams who are perceived to be not very good coming into the year just completely turn it around and this coach ends up winning it. Yes, we have had a few teams who just win a lot of games and the media will give it to them but it hasn’t happened enough to place money on those teams.

I will be making a small play on Frank Reich and Mike Tomlin this year. Reich is currently 20/1 on DraftKings and Tomlin is 25/1. Yes, I am a Colts fan but Reich is the only coach that lines up with the qualifications to overachieve this year. I am not sure if he will win but it is very difficult to pick a 4th place team to go from first to worst this year. It also is difficult to pick a 3rd place team to do very well. The positives for these 2 coaches are a lot of the team didn’t have much turnover. Players are familiar with the system and the coaches are all pretty much the same from the prior year. Covid will just affect the practice time. You might be wondering why I left Kingsburry off the list, Cardinals almost have no chance of winning that division. Defense isn’t good again and offensive line is weak. Cardinals don’t have enough wins that I can make a bet on them.

You guys can find me on twitter @danrivera228 to tell me how much you like or dislike these plays and article. BOL to everyone! Get smarter!



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