When ESPN.com assigned 2011 preseason predictions last summer, I chose the Green Bay Packers to win the NFC North and Super Bowl XLVI, the Detroit Lions to clinch a wild-card playoff berth and Jim Schwartz as the NFL's coach of the year.
I now place that latter designation before you as our final debate of the regular season.
There is no arguing with the job Schwartz has done, having directed the Lions to a 10-5 record and their first postseason since 1999. On the other hand, as we discussed earlier this month, Packers coach Mike McCarthy has presided over a record-breaking period in Green Bay, and at 14-1 his team remains the favorite to win the Super Bowl.
The odds-on favorite for the league-wide award is probably San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, but I'm curious who you think deserves the NFC North coach of the year: Schwartz for reversing the Lions' fortunes quicker than most people expected? Or McCarthy for fielding the NFL's top team throughout the regular season?
I don't expect there to be a landslide opinion. There might not even be a consensus among you, considering how Packers and Lions readers have been going at it here in recent weeks. I myself am wavering even though I chose Schwartz in the preseason under the circumstances that ultimately played out: The Packers finishing with a better record than the Lions with both teams making the playoffs.
More often than not, the league-wide award goes to the coach who engineered the most unlikely turnaround. Marvin Lewis won it in 2009 after leading the Cincinnati Bengals to a 10-6 record one year after they finished 4-12. Mike Smith was the winner in 2008 when the Atlanta Falcons flipped a 4-12 record to 11-5. And Sean Payton won it in 2006 after the New Orleans Saints went 10-6 in his first season after going 3-13 in 2005.
Schwartz would fall in line with that trend, having improved the Lions to no worse than 10-6 after they finished 6-10 in 2010 and 2-14 in 2009. But voters have occasionally nodded toward exceptional performances, most recently when naming future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick the winner after the New England Patriots went 14-2 in 2010 and 16-0 in 2007.
So does McCarthy's record with the Packers this season, which includes the majority of a 19-game winning streak, qualify under the Belichick "exception?" Remember, if the Packers beat the Lions on Sunday at Lambeau Field, they'll be one of only six teams in NFL history to finish the regular season with at least 15 victories.
I'm curious what you think. Give me your thoughts in the comments section below. I'll publish a representative sample, as well as my own take, by the end of the week. Have at It.