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There is no shortage of candidates for NFL coach-of-year honors

They are scorching-hot as NFL coaches.

Their chairs, for the moment, are comfortably cool.

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This season features an unusually high number of coach-of-the-year candidates, making that one of the more competitive races.

There’s no time to campaign for the honor, of course, with all the focus on a fluid playoff picture that won’t be fully decided until Sunday night. But several coaches could make a convincing case that the 2013 award belongs in their office.

The field of contenders includes Kansas City’s Andy Reid, who rescued the bottom-of-the-barrel Chiefs; Philadelphia’s Chip Kelly, whose team has a chance to go from worst to first in its division (something at least one NFL team has done every year for the last decade); and Arizona’s Bruce Arians, who last season became the first interim coach to win the honor.

The NFL’s top 10 coach-of-the-year candidates, from least to most deserving:

10. Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis

He deserves it: Pagano was an inspiration to the Colts last season when he battled cancer, but this year he proved he’s a good head coach. At one point, Seattle, San Francisco and Denver were a combined 17-1 against the rest of the league, and 0-3 against Indianapolis.

Maybe next year: Having Andrew Luck at quarterback automatically gives you a big edge. The Colts repeatedly fell behind early in games this season and couldn’t always dig themselves out. They were crushed by St. Louis and Arizona by a combined 78-19.

9. Sean Payton, New Orleans

He deserves it: With Payton suspended last season, the Saints were 7-9. He returned and the team won its first five games. His decision to hire Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator was key, and Payton’s play-calling, especially early in the season, was masterful.

Maybe next year: New Orleans has gone 5-5 in its last 10 games and 3-5 on the road. The Saints can’t seem to figure out their issues playing away from the Superdome. They will need to, though, because it looks as if Carolina will win the NFC South with the Saints hitting the road in the playoffs (if they get that far).

8. John Fox, Denver

He deserves it: Just look at what the Broncos have done on offense. Peyton Manning has thrown an NFL-record 51 touchdown passes with one game to play, and a record five Denver players have scored at least 10 touchdowns. Fox is something of a sentimental favorite too, having missed part of the season for heart surgery.

Maybe next year: Manning is essentially the NFL’s 33rd head coach, and he makes the job look easy. Denver’s defense has gone from elite last season to a subpar liability this season. The Broncos blew a 24-0 halftime lead at New England on their way to a 34-31 defeat in overtime.

7. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco

He deserves it: Another year, another great season for Harbaugh, whose team has a league-long winning streak of five games. They played most of the year without No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree. In fact, Harbaugh had to deal with more adversity this fall than his first two seasons combined.

Maybe next year: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick stalled or maybe even regressed this season. He has played better lately, but this season doesn’t compare to his skyrocketing trajectory in 2012. These 49ers have yet to prove they can win at Seattle, having lost the last two by a combined 71-16.

6. Pete Carroll, Seattle

He deserves it: Once again, the Seahawks have been almost unbeatable at home. Russell Wilson is 14-1 there. Seattle had a few signature wins, among them pounding San Francisco and New Orleans, and rebounding from a 21-point deficit to beat Tampa Bay in overtime, the largest comeback in franchise history. The Seahawks also had to deal with a major reshuffling of their offensive line because of injuries.

Maybe next year: The knock on the Seahawks is they’re a different team on the road, and they certainly were in a 19-17 loss at San Francisco. Arizona won at Seattle last Sunday. Carroll’s team has had a month to lock up a first-round bye and home-field advantage, and it has failed to do so. The final chance comes Sunday against St. Louis.

5. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia

He deserves it: Lots of successful college coaches have flopped in the pros. So far, Kelly isn’t one of them. His up-tempo pace and creative route combinations have transformed the Eagles into a scary offensive powerhouse, and Kelly made a seamless quarterback transition from Michael Vick to Nick Foles, who have vastly different styles.

Maybe next year: The Eagles haven’t made the playoffs yet. Their schedule was significantly easier than it first appeared (thanks in part to the disappointing New York Giants and Washington Redskins), and they caught teams at the right time, when stars were either injured or out. They were embarrassed at Minnesota, 48-30, even though the Vikings were without Adrian Peterson.

4. Andy Reid, Kansas City

He deserves it: The Chiefs, who were 2-14 and utterly dysfunctional last season, won their first nine games this fall and were the last undefeated team standing. Reid has gotten the best out of Alex Smith, and has helped elevate Jamaal Charles from a good back to a great one.

Maybe next year: That 9-0 start created unrealistic expectations, and it was a cold slap of reality when the schedule got tougher. The Chiefs are 2-0 against Oakland but a combined 0-3 against Denver and San Diego. The cupboard wasn’t bare when Reid arrived; the Chiefs already had six Pro Bowl players on the roster.

3. Bruce Arians, Arizona

He deserves it: The Cardinals have won seven of eight in part because of the flexibility of Arians. He went against his throw-it-deep nature and has drawn up a more conservative game plan for Carson Palmer, who doesn’t have the offensive line to take his time in the pocket. Last Sunday, the Cardinals were the first team in two years to win at Seattle, after being wiped out there last season, 58-0.

Maybe next year: Arizona probably won’t make the playoffs and lost its first three division games. The Cardinals blew an 11-point lead to St. Louis in the opener, and that has come back to haunt them.

2. Bill Belichick, New England

He deserves it: This was one of Belichick’s top three coaching performances, along with the Patriots’ 16-0 season in 2007, and 11-win year without Tom Brady. Not only did the Patriots begin the season without their top five pass catchers from 2012 — among them Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and the incarcerated Aaron Hernandez — but they also went on to lose such standouts as defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Despite that, New England went on to win another AFC East title, and had several dramatic victories, including a 24-point comeback against Denver, and beating Cleveland after being down by 12 with two minutes left.

Maybe next year: Not a lot of knocks on Belichick this season, other than he isn’t going to win any popularity contests outside of the New England area. His team did lose to Miami two weeks ago, but every team has had its setbacks.

1. Ron Rivera, Carolina

He deserves it: Rivera, whose last two teams finished 6-10 and 7-9, was on the hot seat from the start this season, and when the Panthers started 1-3, it looked as if he might be the first coach fired. But his team has whipped a remarkable U-turn since, winning 10 of 11, including victories at San Francisco, and over New England and New Orleans. Cam Newton, who had a problem with pouting in his first two seasons, has matured into a team leader, in part because of Rivera’s guidance, and Carolina’s defensive front seven is as good as any in the game.

Maybe next year: Or maybe he won’t have to wait.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer


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