Tony Sparano Has Worked Magic, but Bill Belichick Should Win Coach of the Year

Matt SchaeferCorrespondent IDecember 26, 2008

The NFL season this year has been like no other. The Football Gods are really messing with our minds.

A team that won just one game last season is all of a sudden in place to win the AFC East.

A team that saw its franchise quarterback sent to jail for dog fighting, and watched its former head coach bail ship before last season was even over, are somehow a wild card team in the NFC just a year later.

A team that went 5-11 last year, is somehow in the playoff race for the AFC wild card just one season later.

You know what the craziest things about these three teams are? They are all led by first year head coaches, who could all make their case for Coach of the Year.

Head coach Tony Sparano of the Miami Dolphins has done the unthinkable with his squad, turning them around from the laughing stock of the league to possible AFC East champions (if the Dolphins take care of business against the New York Jets this weekend, they get the AFC East crown, and head off to the playoffs).

A lot of that turnaround came from the office of Bill Parcells and off of the arm of Chad Pennington.

Parcells turned this roster around, with players who wanted to win games. He was the one who picked up Chad Pennington, who has easily returned the favor for taking the chance on him.

Pennington should win the MVP for what he has done this season.

A rushing attack of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams doesn’t hurt either.

The defense of Miami is still very average but they do two things very well, get after the opposing quarterback and force turnovers. Much of this can be pointed towards the great play of linebacker Joey Porter, who has finally come to life in Miami after a down year last season. Porter has 18 sacks himself and as a whole, the Dolphins have 40 sacks in total.

They also have a turnover ratio of plus-14! A great stat like that comes from the play of Pennington, who barley turns the ball over, and the play of the defense.

I give the most credit to the front office and the players for playing on the top of their games in this one. Sparano is a good coach, but he is just not my coach of the year.

Then we head on over to Atlanta, who has also come out of nowhere this season. A lot of their success though has come from the front office and the scouting department as they picked up quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner to turn this team around.

Ryan, Turner and star wide receiver Roddy White have turned this offense around. In doing so with their play on the field, the team’s record has turned towards the good.

The defense however is very average, and they rely on their offense way too much to win ball games.

Mike Smith deserves a lot of credit, but if these three players on the offense don’t step up this year, this team isn’t even pushing .500.

Then we have Baltimore. Let’s be honest here, the team that head coach John Harbaugh got was not very bad.

They had a great defense in place and all they needed was a quarterback who could come through for them.

Enter Joe Flacco, who has played extremely well, and viola, you got yourself a playoff team.

The Ravens fighting for a playoff spot here shouldn’t really surprise anyone (except for all those so called “experts” who made the sexy pick and said that the Cleveland Browns would make the playoffs).

So then you might look around the league and wonder who it might be that should win the Coach of the Year award for this season. Well don’t look too hard, just look at a guy who has won it before, Bill Belichick.

Taking a look at the standing, the Patriots are not anything special sitting at 10-5.  You might remember though how the Patriots lost their starting quarterback and reining MVP, Tom Brady.

We all know what Brady in the lineup means for the Pats.

Wins and big numbers for everyone in that offense (well except for the running back).  Some people have even said that Belichick isn’t even that great of a coach, that they could win with the team he has every year.  That is not the case and we saw it this season.

Even after a shaky start without their star, Belichick kept this team in stride.  He took Matt Cassel, who hasn’t started a game since high school, and turned him into a rising star that will command a huge paycheck in the offseason

You might say, “Well what about the entire team? They are a great unit as a whole”.
Really, the rest of the Patriots team (except the wide receivers) are very overrated.
I hate to break it to everyone, but even with all of the veterans, the Patriots defense is very average and right in line with the most of the teams in the NFL.

The Pats rank 12th in points allowed (20.6 pts per game), 10th in total yards (311.2 yards per game), 15th in passing defense (207.1 yards per game) and 12th in rush defense (104.1 yards per game).

They also let teams stay on the field way too much, with teams converting on 3rd downs 43.6% of the time.  Compared to everyone else in the league, that is the 7th highest conversion percent in the entire NFL for a defense to allow (only the Colts, Cardinals, Browns, Raiders, Chiefs and Lions have allowed more). 

So with a defense right in the middle of the pack, and a NFL star, and your leader out for the season, most teams might just give in.

Not this team.

The Patriots at 10-5 find themselves right in the middle of the playoff hunt, with no Tom Brady. Even with starting the year with a 3-2 record, the Pats have gone on a tear, going 7-3 down the stretch.

The majority of teams in the NFL that lose their starting quarterback would be looking at a high draft pick next season (my only exceptions to this are the Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers based on their defenses and/or running game). 

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Colts this season. I compare these two teams because just like Brady, Peyton Manning is one of the elite players in the game and both teams are pretty similar.

The Colts started off the year slow with Manning not being himself, coming off of offseason knee surgery. The Colts started off the year 3-4 and looked like a team that was about to fall off the radar.

However, Manning found his stride and just like that the Colts started winning ball games. Going from 3-4 to 11-4 and in the playoffs.

If you take away Manning, the Colts are a sub .500 team that doesn’t even come close to making the playoffs this season. Both teams are similar too with the Colts having a slightly weaker defense (they can’t stop the run) but are very close with everything else compared to New England on the defensive side of the ball. The only other real difference is that Indy cannot run the football if their life depended on it.

Where are the Chargers without the great play of Philip Rivers this season? How many wins would the Saints have if Drew Brees wasn’t in uniform? Do the Broncos even have a record above .500 without Jay Cutler?

Tom Brady gets lost in the first game of the season, and yet the Patriots are still towards the top of the AFC.

Only one coach in the entire league could have accomplished this feat, Bill Belichick, who should win the NFL Coach of the Year.


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