I know how crazy it sounds to suggest that Taylor—a coach who has won only six games in his two seasons with the Bengals—could be a valuable bet to win NFL Coach of the Year. Though Taylor should not be considered a favorite to win the award, there are several factors working in his favor.
As an initial matter, Coach of the Year does not mean the best coach in the NFL. For some fans, giving the best coach the COTY award every year would be more accurate, but simply put, the media has not used that parameter in assigning the COTY award. Bill Belichick, arguably the greatest coach in NFL history, has only won COTY twice, and no COTY in the last decade has gone on to win the Super Bowl.
For Taylor to win COTY, then, he doesn’t have to be the best coach in the league, nor do the Bengals have to win a Super Bowl this season (not to say they won’t!). What Taylor needs to do, instead, is outperform expectations.
The expectations for the Bengals, and Taylor especially, could not be much lower. Despite the occasional analyst having the “hot take” that the Bengals will make the playoffs, most major media outlets rank the Bengals in the bottom 5-10 teams in the NFL heading into the season.
To be fair, these are not unfair expectations for the 2021 Bengals, as this team has not shown the ability to win yet. However, Taylor is currently listed with +4000 odds to win COTY, per WynnBet; only Jon Gruden and David Culley have worse odds than Taylor with +5000, and Eagles rookie head coach Nick Sirianni has the same odds to win COTY as Taylor does.
With the basement-level expectations surrounding Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, it would not be stunning to see him greatly overachieve this season.
Broadly, if the Bengals make the playoffs this year, the national media will see that as a big surprise, similar to the Bears and Browns making the playoffs in recent seasons (and having coaches win COTY). Especially in the AFC North, one of the toughest divisions in the league, the Bengals emerging relatively unscathed would blow people away.
Consider then that the Bengals are listed at just 4-1 to make the playoffs. 4-1, comparatively, are steep odds for making the playoffs, but that is just a fraction of Taylor’s odds to win COTY.
Because of the chasm between the Bengals’ preseason expectations and in-season success—if they make the playoffs—any season that ends in a playoff berth for the Bengals makes Taylor an instant contender for the award. Simply put, I believe Taylor would win COTY more than one in every eight times the Bengals make the playoffs, so 40-1 is a steal given the Bengals’ playoff odds.
However, Taylor’s odds are even closer to those 4-1 odds than the raw numbers suggest. If the Bengals succeed this year, it will be because of the offense, which is Taylor’s specialty. The Bengals poached Taylor from the Rams in an effort to replicate the modern style of offense Sean McVay deployed in Los Angeles.
The Bengals have that explosive potential on offense, as a fully healthy Joe Burrow will be flanked by a bounty of talented pass catchers. A more steady offensive line should also protect Burrow well enough to generate big plays, as well as open up running lanes for Joe Mixon.
If all the pieces can come together this season, under Taylor’s watch, then the team could certainly make a playoff push. With that offensive explosion, Taylor would likely receive a portion of the credit (and in that scenario, likely justified credit).
Yet another factor favoring Taylor in this potential playoff run is the narrative around his support in the locker room.
Despite the Bengals’ failure to win games, there has been virtually no bad-mouthing of Taylor by the players. Notably, Burrow has thrown his support behind Taylor, and other Bengals like Mike Daniels have come out with staunch public support of Taylor. Considering how other locker rooms often sour on their coaches when the team starts losing games, it is impressive that Taylor has retained the support of his players.
Thus, it stands to reason that the support of the Bengals’ players would only get stronger if the team massively overachieves this season. Of course, this is pure speculation, but it is not hard to imagine Taylor garnering a lot of respect and credit from the players if the team begins clicking during the season. Getting that constant attention in press conferences from his players would significantly aid a COTY run from Taylor.
I want to be extremely clear: I do not expect Taylor to win COTY. In fact, I would say it is more likely that Taylor gets fired than wins COTY.
However, a Bengals playoff run would elicit the perfect storm of factors to get Taylor serious COTY consideration, and given that such a playoff run is much more likely than Taylor’s weak COTY odds, I find a great deal of value in that number.
Given how the media assigns COTY, any Bengals success will make Taylor an appealing candidate, surprising as that may be.
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