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Bruce Arians dark-horse candidate for top coach honor

So last week, we hit you with the end-of-the-regular-season quarterback power rankings. This week, we look back at 2012 coaching performances.

These rankings are based on this year's performance only. Consider it a big Coach of the Year ballot, if all 32 coaches were ranked.

Top shelf: Bruce Arians, Pete Carroll, Mike Smith, Jim Harbaugh

There's no earthly explanation for the Indianapolis Colts' 10-5 record. It's not a 10-5 roster. For them to win all those games with an interim head coach like Arians is remarkable. Arians' work with Andrew Luck, and his aggressive in-game management puts him over the top. He maxed out this team's potential.

Smith quietly helped the Atlanta Falcons overachieve yet again. The Falcons don't make mistakes and they win the turnover battle. They are greater than the sum of their parts. That's coaching.

Carroll's mad scientist approach to defense and energy has translated to the NFL this time around. His decision to start Russell Wilson in Week 1 was gutsy and wise. He's built a program in Seattle.

The same is true for Harbaugh in San Francisco. The 49ers might be the toughest team to prepare for in the NFL. The move to start Colin Kaepernick at quarterback has been as seamless as possible.

Arians has my vote, but any of the coaches above have strong cases.

Close to award-worthy: Bill Belichick, Jeff Fisher, Gary Kubiak, Mike Shanahan,
Mike McCarthy, Leslie Frazier

Belichick's defense hasn't quite made expected strides, but the offense feels years ahead of the competition. He's still the best at situational football and in-game adjustments. A 12-win season for the New England Patriots is taken for granted.

Fisher quickly changed the culture in St. Louis after a historically bad period for the franchise.

Kubiak's consistency has helped the Houston Texans live up to high expectations this year.

The Shanahans have done a terrific job bringing Robert Griffin III into the NFL.

McCarthy has navigated a number of injuries and some tough early losses in leading the Green Bay Packers to another NFC North title.

The Minnesota Vikings have overachieved, largely because of Frazier's improved defense.

Praiseworthy: John Fox, Joe Philbin, Greg Schiano

It's hard to know where Fox's impact ends and Peyton Manning's impact begins, but don't overlook the coach's hire of Jack Del Rio to run a much-improved Denver Broncos defense.

A lot of analysts expected the Miami Dolphins to be the worst team in the league, and they've won seven games. Philbin has enjoyed a strong start, just like Schiano. Even though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have fallen apart Raheem Morris-style down the stretch, they were a very tough out for most of the season.

This group took the talent it had and got more out of it than could be reasonably expected.

Did the job: John Harbaugh, Marvin Lewis, Jason Garrett

The Baltimore Ravens confuse me. I can't tell if they did well just to get to 10 wins or if they should have been much better. Harbaugh keeps getting the Ravens back to the playoffs.

The Cincinnati Bengals have taken a modest step forward from a season ago, but Lewis still can drive you crazy with his challenges and game management.

Garrett doesn't excel during games either, but I bumped him up a tier for the Dallas Cowboys' overall play down the stretch and his handling of the Josh Brent/Jerry Brown Jr. situation.

These three didn't overachieve, but they achieved.

Should have done more: Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin, Tom Coughlin, Rex Ryan

It's hard for a 7-1 team not to make the playoffs. That's what will happen to Smith's Chicago Bears without a little luck. Tomlin's Pittsburgh Steelers lost five games by three points. Pittsburgh was a tough team to figure out, but the defense has slowly eroded. Getting rid of Arians didn't work.

Coughlin's team played its absolute worst when it mattered most. The New York Giants have too much talent to miss the playoffs. Ryan actually didn't do a terrible job coaching up a mediocre defense. The lack of talent on the New York Jets' roster was a bigger problem.

This group should have squeezed a few more wins out of their teams.

Did poorly with a bad hand: Joe Vitt, Pat Shurmur, Chan Gailey, Dennis Allen

Vitt hardly saved the New Orleans Saints, going 4-5 since taking over as interim head coach. Shurmur's Cleveland Browns played tough for most of the season, but he's another coach from the Andy Reid school of clock management.

Gailey's defensive coordinator hires have been awful, and his reputation for maximizing offensive talent took a hit this year, when the Buffalo Bills' passing game was easier to prepare for. Allen's defense in Oakland was disappointing, but I'm not sure if any coach could save the Raiders' roster.

Bottom of the barrel: Mike Munchak, Ron Rivera, Norv Turner, Jim Schwartz, Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Mularkey, Andy Reid, Romeo Crennel

The Tennessee Titans have gone backward under Munchak. They are a five-win team that looks like a three-win team. Rivera's inability to win close games hurt a talented Carolina Panthers squad that should have competed for a playoff spot. The San Diego Chargers continued their slow, steady decline under Turner.

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Schwartz would have been fired by the Detroit Lions if he put this season together in 2011. Whisenhunt probably will be fired after failing to fix the Arizona Cardinals' passing game for three years running.

Mularkey somehow made the Jacksonville Jaguars worse, although he also had terrible injury luck. Reid would be the first to admit he failed a talented Philadelphia Eagles roster on many levels. The pieces never fit together. Crennel's Kansas City Chiefs somehow have five Pro Bowl players and two wins.

Schwartz is the only coach on this list who definitely will keep his job. It's a brutal business.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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