Picking the NFL's coach of the year might not be so easy — even with Mike McCarthy on the verge of guiding the Green Bay Packers to a perfect season.
History says McCarthy wins if the Packers don't lose. Don Shula of the 1972 Dolphins and Bill Belichick of the 2007 Patriots won the award following unbeaten regular seasons.
But with three games to go, and many playoff berths still up for grabs, we can only be certain that Jack Del Rio, Todd Haley and Tony Sparano are out of the running after being fired.
Taking it a step further, we can also eliminate Jim Caldwell of the winless Colts, Steve Spagnuolo of the Rams, Leslie Frazier of the Vikings and Raheem Morris of the Buccaneers, among others.
Speaking of others, Andy Reid of the Eagles won't make this Pick Six of top contenders — even though his team still has a chance to win the NFC East, believe it or not.
Mike McCarthy, Packers: It might be too tough to overlook McCarthy if the Packers sweep the Chiefs, Bears and Lions and finish 16-0. Even with a defense that ranks 31st in yards allowed and a bunch of injuries, Aaron Rodgers and Co. have been able to produce enough points to win 'em all. And after all, as one former Packers coach said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."
Gary Kubiak, Texans: Think you could motivate your team to keep winning as all your best players (Andre Johnson, Mario Williams, Matt Schaub to name a few) are going down for the count? Three cheers for Kubiak for trusting third-stringer T.J. Yates to lead Houston to its first playoff berth and first division title. And by the way, just hiring Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator should be enough to earn Kubiak votes. Of course, now Phillips is sidelined for a while after kidney surgery.
Jim Harbaugh, 49ers: He's already earned rookie coach of the year in our book (is there such an award?), but this slap-happy first-year NFL coach has been wildly successful. He convinced his players that Alex Smith was indeed a quarterback capable of leading them to the playoffs. So what happens? The Niners roll to the NFC West title with a fierce defense and good enough offense and are in the postseason for the first time since 2002.
John Harbaugh, Ravens: Just beating the Steelers twice makes him coach of the year material. Plus, he came out on top in the Thanksgiving brother vs. brother matchup and also managed to guide his team to four straight wins without defensive monster Ray Lewis in the lineup. Having the versatile, dependable Ray Rice in the backfield helps, too. So does having quarterback chaser Terrell Suggs.
John Fox, Broncos: If he wins, surely he'll be accepting on behalf of Tim Tebow. After all, hasn't Tebow — not Fox — guided Denver to the top of the AFC West after taking over at QB for Kyle Orton? Neither Fox nor Broncos football chief John Elway are huge fans of Tebow's unorthodox ways. But who can argue with seven wins in the last eight games? Certainly not Fox, who seems as amused as all of us while he watches — and smiles — from the sideline. Great job, coach.
Ron Rivera, Panthers: The coach of a losing team has virtually no shot, but Rivera deserves big-time credit. He's taken a rookie QB — we know, it's virtual Offensive Rookie of the Year lock Cam Newton — and created a winning spirit that falls a tad short. Six of Carolina's nine losses have been by seven points or less, and the Panthers were either tied or in the lead in the fourth quarter of six losses.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.