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Sean McDermott’s Coach of the Year case cemented after dramatic turnaround

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It’s time to take this notion seriously.

Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott should be a front-runner for the NFL’s Coach of the Year award, and NFL executives seem to agree. In a poll, NFL Network writer Tom Pelissero found that McDermott was the leading candidate among 24 executives, with seven preferring him for the award.

This year’s NFL, amidst a generational change of quarterbacks, is ripe with deserving candidates. Sean Payton coached his team to a 5-0 record while Drew Brees was sidelined with injury, and now has the New Orleans Saints poised for the top seed in the NFC. Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers turned a 4-12 outfit into an 11-3 squad with a top-5 offense and a top-5 defense. The Baltimore Ravens’ John Harbaugh embraced analytics and unorthodox systems to build Lamar Jackson into an MVP candidate. Bill Belichick is still a coach. Matt LaFleur, in his first season with the Green Bay Packers, already has five more wins than his predecessor.

But McDermott steadily built up the Bills into a narrative-busting organization that can beat anyone in the league this year. Not only did the Bills handle their weak early-season schedule, but when the spotlight landed on the team that the nation never expected to have such success, they stepped up their game. Buffalo conquered the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving with ease. They took on the best team in the league, shut down their offense, and were one play away from tying the score at the end of the game. Then they bounced back in a road win on Sunday Night Football, to steal the Pittsburgh Steelers’ souls and lock up Buffalo’s second playoff appearance in three years. With the suddenly vulnerable New England Patriots and 5-9 New York Jets remaining, the Bills still have a shot at a 12-win season.

How they landed here is just as impressive as the results. The Bills have one of the best defenses in the league, ranking second in points and third in yards. They’re sixth in sacks, 12th in turnovers, and second in tackles for loss. Meanwhile, one of the worst offenses of 2018 took a major step forward in all aspects this year. The Bills have the fifth-most rushing yards in the league, powered by rookie Devin Singletary, Frank Gore, and Josh Allen’s legs. The passing offense is still inconsistent, but Allen looks light years ahead of his rookie year. He has 18 touchdowns against nine interceptions, has taken sacks at a lower rate, and is much more accurate.

McDermott built a winning culture in a very short time with the team. He’s fixed up his questionable game-day decision making, using analytics to help his fourth-down choices. He has a team of brilliant play callers in Leslie Frazier and Brian Daboll. The Bills—the Buffalo Freaking Bills, the Playoff Drought Bills—have earned national respect at last, and they’re poised for a strong run at the playoffs. That’s Coach of the Year material, by any stretch of the imagination.