Few awards in the sports world mean less than Coach of the Year, and it does not matter which league, and whether it’s pro or college.
The best coach rarely wins. The coach who overachieves the most relative to media expectations usually does.
It’s easy to forget that the Titans’ Mike Vrabel was voted the NFL’s top coach in 2021. It’s easy to forget because Tennessee was knocked out of the playoffs early, and the truth is no coach stood head and shoulders above the rest last year.
Vrabel did a fine job. He directed the Titans to a 12-5 regular-season record and the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Maybe he deserved the award, maybe not. But if he was that good then, is he really this bad now?
Tennessee is 0-2 and off a 41-7 loss to Buffalo heading into Week 3. The Titans’ outlook is suddenly so bleak they are home underdogs to the 0-2 Raiders on Sunday. It’s a meeting of two playoff teams from last season that appear to be train wrecks this season. Las Vegas just blew a 20-0 halftime lead against Arizona in its latest loss.
The Raiders, who finished 10-7 and overcame all sorts of adversity while led by an interim coach, deserve credit for making a strong effort to improve in the offseason. The franchise hired a new coach (Josh McDaniels) and general manager (Dave Ziegler) from New England and signed free-agent stars Davante Adams, arguably the No. 1 wide receiver in the league, and Chandler Jones, a pass-rushing force.
The Titans tried to improve but got worse. Tennessee traded its top wideout, A.J. Brown, during the draft for two picks instead of handing Brown big money in a new contract.
The fallout for the Titans is evident. Opponents are now able to stack eight or nine defenders in the box to stuff the run, and Derrick Henry has been limited to 3.1 yards per carry (34 carries, 107 yards) in two games. Tennessee does not look like a playoff team, although anything is possible in the pitiful AFC South with the Colts, Jaguars and Texans as the competition. A 9-8 record is probably enough to win the division.
The Raiders, already digging a hole in the tough AFC West, are not returning to the playoffs unless McDaniels changes his conservative play-calling tendencies and quarterback Derek Carr elevates his disappointing play. To make matters worse, Carr’s trusted slot receiver, Hunter Renfrow, is out with a concussion and starting running back Josh Jacobs is doubtful with an illness.
It’s too soon to write off the Raiders or Titans. The team that walks away from this game 0-3 still will have postseason hopes. There’s plenty of time remaining to get hot and put together a win streak. There’s just not a lot to like about either team this week. I’ll take the points in a coin-flip game and go with Vrabel and Henry as desperate dogs. The Raiders have not shown they deserve to be road favorites.
My favorite side this week was Jaguars + 7 before the line nosedived to 3 on Friday morning amid speculation that Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is doubtful with a rib cartilage injury. So I’m dropping Jacksonville — still one of my Circa Millions and Westgate SuperContest picks — in this column and subbing in Tennessee.
Pick: Titans + 2
Four more plays for Week 3:
DOLPHINS (+ 5.5) over Bills: Betting against Buffalo is risky business. Bad business. The Bills’ last 20 wins have all been by double digits, and Josh Allen is currently the best quarterback in the league. But injuries are piling up. The Bills are down four defensive starters and will be playing backups against Miami speed receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, who each finished with 11 receptions, two touchdowns and more than 170 yards in a comeback win at Baltimore.
PANTHERS (+ 3) over Saints: Carolina coach Matt Rhule is walking a tightrope and might be the fall guy if his team loses this game to drop to 0-3. The Panthers have lost nine in a row straight up and against the spread, and it’s actually tough to be that bad. Still, Carolina has lost twice at the gun by a total of five points. New Orleans has not been impressive and Jameis Winston is off a three-interception performance. I like home dogs in divisional games, even this ugly dog.
BEARS (-2.5) over Texans: David Montgomery carried 15 times for 122 yards in Chicago’s 27-10 loss at Green Bay, so there’s some proof the Bears can move the ball against a good defense. What they must do now is let quarterback Justin Fields run around and make plays Kyler Murray-style. This is simply a bad spot for a Houston team playing back-to-back road games.
Cowboys (+ 1) over GIANTS: Brian Daboll was a big-time coaching hire by the Giants, and his offense is getting a major boost now that running back Saquon Barkley is finally healthy. The Giants are 2-0, easily could be 0-2, and good luck lasts only so long in this league. The Cowboys have confidence they can win with Cooper Rush at quarterback, and Dallas has the superior defense led by Micah Parsons.
Last week: 2-3 against the spread