The 2013 AFC North Champion Cincinnati Bengals, ladies and gentlemen. For the third straight season, Marvin Lewis has guided his men to a playoff berth; a feat that has never been seen in the history of this franchise. As the end-of-the-season awards loom, a few names are being kicked around as the Coach of the Year. Strangely enough, Lewis' name is seldom mentioned for the honor, even though his team will be hosting a postseason game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Should he be, though?
For starters, a ten-win season and division crown is never anything to sneeze at. It should strike an even louder chord because the team has to play in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. Though the Steelers and Ravens both have questions surrounding their playoff chances this year, the fact that 25 percent of the Bengals' schedule is comprised of these two powerhouses should be considered. And, if the Bengals end up feeling as if they should be playing for something next week, they have a chance of splitting with each of the three AFC North teams.
There is also the rundown of teams that Lewis' team beat in 2013. Three Super Bowl Champion quarterbacks fell to the Bengals in Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady--all at home. Cincinnati also beat the AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts and a handful of other squads that were in the playoff race until late in the season (Detroit, San Diego, New York Jets). Seven of their ten wins could be considered against quality opponents.
Let's also not forget a 7-0 record at home this season. A major part of the formula to creating a playoff team is taking care of one's business on the home turf. The Bengals have certainly done this, as evidenced by their dominance at home. Though they finished under .500 at home (3-5), though they still beat the Lions, Chargers and Bills all on the road.
Part of being a nominee for this award has to do with what you've gone through as a coach of the team. Last year's winner, Bruce Arians, had to endure his head coach battling Leukemia while he stepped up to being the interim coach. When Lewis won the award back in 2009, the difficulties he faced was turning around a team that had just four wins the year prior, as well as gaining a playoff berth in the wake of the untimely death of Chris Henry. This year, it has to be the accumulated injuries.
Four starting players have landed on Injured Reserve, including one of the league's best players in Geno Atkins and their top corner in Leon Hall. Three other major role players are also on IR (Emmanuel Lamur, Taylor Mays, and Robert Geathers), and many other important players have missed significant time with bumps and bruises. Rey Maualuga, Devon Still, Kevin Zeitler and Terence Newman highlight that latter list.
The Other Candidates:
There are a few other coaches out there that could be listed ahead of Lewis for the award. Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers comes to mind after his team cemented their playoff ticket on Sunday against New Orleans. Speaking of the Saints, Sean Payton could be another candidate because of the turnaround of the Saints in 2013 after his one-year suspension in 2012.
The two current No.1 seeds also are popular choices for award nominees and both John Fox of the Broncos and Pete Carroll of the Seahawks are two deserving guys as well. A dark horse candidate could be Arians for the second consecutive season because of his bringing the Cardinals back into relevancy this season.