Alright readers and gamblers, I am continuing this series of deep dives. This time, it’s coach of the year. Before I get into the data itself, I want to mention that these awards are given out by the Associated Press, which is very biased. The media does play favorites, and they get the sheep mentality very easily.
This leads to the big point: these AP awards end up being what team (and coach) gives the media the best story. We know the media loves some coaches, like Mike Tomlin, and dislikes some others, like 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 that the teams/coaches who end up overachieving at end of the year are the 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. Seventeen of 25 winners had a season win total between six and nine wins. We have had just five winners below that number. Those teams were the 2012 Colts (5.5), the 2008 Atlanta Falcons (4.5), the 2004 Chargers (4.5), the 1999 Rams (5.5), and the 1996 Panthers (5.5). The other three teams that were projected to do well and had a season win total of 9.5+ wins consisted of the 2010 Patriots (9.5), the 2007 Patriots (11.5), and the 2002 Eagles (10).
The next takeaway is that all of 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 the division using the prior year, then 18 times a coach has won it. Only eight 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 three times has the same coach won in back-to-back years with the last instance being Joe Gibbs in 1982 and 1983.
Next to point out? 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 their division. Only four times though has a team come 2nd in its 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 around a 6-win or 7-win team the previous season.
Lastly to note: these teams go over their season win total by 4.82 games on average. These teams/coaches are doing much more than simply performing "above expectations."
To review what I wrote and make a little cheat sheet with rules to make it easier to follow or remember, remember these facts. The bold info is what I put the highest consideration on.
- Seventeen of the 25 past winners had a season win total between six and nine wins. Only three times has a team had a win total of above nine.
- Teams who will exceed their season win total by about 4 or 5 games.
- Have to make the playoffs. Eighteen times a team was 3rd or worse in its division the prior year.
- Win your division: 21 of the 25 winners have won their division.
- Teams who win double digits.
This was by far the most difficult part of the entire article. First was weeding out the teams who I don’t give much credit/chance 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 for it).
Some of you will probably disagree with the list.
This was the biggest "iffy one." The Cleveland 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 by a real coach, then he will have the media behind him in terms of the story. The Browns have had nothing but incompetence as head coaches for their last two tenures.
This is the only team on the entire list that hits nearly all of the qualifications. They went 3rd in their division last year, have a season win total of 8.5 or 9 wins depending on when you bet them, are fully capable of going 10-6 and winning the division, plus Reich is a familiar name from back in the day as a player, so the media doesn’t hate him and has some familiarity with him. They are also a long shot to go 11-5. Most of the media love the Titans this year, but the Titans are the biggest frauds coming into the year. I don’t buy them at all.
I can’t count the Patriots out. If they do well with Newton, this is Belichick’s award. I don’t think the Pats go 10-6 and win the division. They would need 11-5 or 12-4, and the media generally hates Belichick. The media does loves Cam Newton though, and it is very easy to picture the media being all over Cam if he does well this year.
This is another team who has a lot of qualifications. The media loves Tomlin, and he has never won it. The Steelers went 8-8 with that atrocious offense last year. If Big Ben is even just 80% coming off his injury and the Steelers find themselves at 10-6 or 11-5 with a win over the Ravens, Tomlin will have a real shot. The Steelers are set up for a bounce back year and Big Ben also probably wins comeback player of the year if they do bounce back. I don’t think they win the division, but I do think they are competitive this year.
Mike McCarthy has the 3rd best chance of winning this award at 13/1. The Cowboys underachieved last year going 8-8 and Dak looked awful in that game in Philadelphia 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.
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 small plays 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 two coaches are that 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 Kliff Kingsbury off the list. Why? Because the Cardinals almost have no chance of winning that division. Arizona's defense isn’t good again and the offensive line is weak.
Update as of July 28
I still like Tomlin and Reich (preference for Tomlin) to win this award. Both teams will be much more improved than last year. You can still find both on DraftKings at the price I listed above. A name that will be common this year is Mike Vrabel, because the media is in love with the Titans this year. They will have high expectations this year, meaning it’s much more difficult to meet/exceed these expectations.
If you have a betonline account, you can find Tomlin at 28/1 while Reich has worse odds at 16/1. I personally had a tough time finding the bets at the local books I use here in the state of Indiana.