Rewind six weeks to the midway point of the season. The Eagles were 3-5 and they looked like a team in rebuilding mode, which, in fact, they were. The offense hadn't scored a point in consecutive weeks and the defense, although improving, was still one of the worst in the league. NFL expert Peter King even went as far as to call the Eagles the "disappointment of the season."
The Eagles looked like they would finish with about six wins, which is what most realistic fans expected to happen this season.
Then Nick Foles happened. More importantly, Nick Foles, Billy Davis AND Chip Kelly happened.
Since Week 8, the Eagles have been one of the hottest teams in the NFL. They own a five-game winning streak during which they've averaged 31.6 points on offense, while allowing just 18.0 on defense. Foles set a record for passer rating in a month (152.8 in November) and his seven-touchdown performance against the Oakland Raiders will never be forgotten.
The defense has improved drastically, currently ranking 13th in points allowed and fifth in turnovers. They haven't allowed more than 21 points in eight straight games and they've come up with big stops to win games against both Washington and Arizona.
Right now, the Eagles lead the NFC East by a single game with three to play. They're 8-5, with games remaining against the Minnesota Vikings (without Adrian Peterson), the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys. If the Eagles win all three, they will guarantee an NFC East division title. If they win one of the next two and beat Dallas in the season finale, they also win the division.
The likelihood of the Philadelphia Eagles in the postseason could very well mean NFL Coach of the Year honors for Chip Kelly, which would be an improbable feat for a high-risk, high-reward former college coach with absolutely no experience in the National Football League. After all, the Eagles were 4-12 with a negative 164-point differential in 2012. Kelly has taken a dead-in-the-water team to a potential division title and his sports science program has played a major role in keeping the team virtually injury-free this late in the season.
So what do the Eagles need to do for Kelly to win Coach of the Year?
Well, for starters, let's look at his competition throughout the league.
|Name/Team||2013 Record/Point Differential||2012 Record/Point Differential||Biggest Accomplishment|
|Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles||8-5, +33||4-12, -164||Explosive, big-play offense|
|Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs||10-3, +119||2-14, -214||Dominant defense, improved QB|
|Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals||8-5, +48||5-11, -107||Competitive in dominant division|
|Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers||9-4, +110||7-9, -6||Superman Cam, best defense|
|Bill Belichick, New England Patriots||10-3, +62||12-4, +226||Key injuries, Hernandez scandal|
|Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints||10-3, +100||7-9, +7||Return of Payton, Improved defense|
|Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks||11-2, +152||11-5, +167||> 49ers, No slump for Wilson|
Reid is probably the biggest competition. He's taken a 2-14 team to a 9-0 start (now 10-3) and an easy playoff appearance merely by upgrading at quarterback and hiring the right defensive coordinator. It won't help his voting cause, but it's worth noting that he's succeeded despite virtually no contributions from Eric Fisher, the number one overall draft pick.
Bill Belichick has kept a Patriots team together through lots of turmoil, from the Aaron Hernandez murder charge to Rob Gronkowski drama to injuries to key players to a depleted wide receiver corps. The one constant has been Tom Brady and that's all Belichick has needed.
Other candidates include Arizona's Bruce Arians, who has succeeded with veteran castoff Carson Palmer; Carolina's Ron Rivera, a defensive guru who has helped build the Panthers into the league's top defense; New Orleans' Sean Payton, who missed all of 2012 but has the Saints as a top offensive AND defensive team; and Seattle's Pete Carroll, whose Seahawks are the best team in the NFL despite a very competitive NFC West.
Right now, it's hard to argue for Kelly as the top coach. In fact, I'd put him below Reid, Belichick and Carroll. That's why it's a good thing that three games remain in the season.
If Kelly keeps his Eagles flying high to a division title, he may end up becoming the favorite for Coach of the Year. It would help his case if Kansas City didn't win the division, which they won't, or if New England, Seattle and/or Carolina stumbled down the stretch.
But even if they don't, if Kelly can finish his rookie year in the NFL with an 11-5 record, on the heels of an eight-game winning streak, expect him to become the second rookie head coach in franchise history to win Coach of the Year.