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NFL Coach of the Year race: Colts' Bruce Arians in front

INDIANAPOLIS -- Can an interim coach be named NFL Coach of the Year? He should be.

Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was thrust into what seemed like an impossible situation when first-year coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. Arians received a call from Pagano at 11 p.m. Sunday during the Week 4 bye and was the acting head coach during a team meeting at 8 a.m. Monday. The Colts were 1-2 at the time, coming off a two-win season and breaking in No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck and a host of new players. Forty-seven new players have made their way to Indy in 2012. Oh, and Arians was getting past his own issues after an unceremonious separation from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now, the Colts are 9-4 and one win away from a playoff berth. Every other team currently with a minimum of nine wins advanced to the 2011 playoffs while the Colts were preparing for the No. 1 pick. No other team has had the complete turnaround Indianapolis has -- and that's with an ill coach, a new general manager and a new roster. This isn't what Arians spent the offseason preparing for.

"You can't say enough good stuff about BA right now," Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri said Wednesday. "He's always taken Chuck's wishes and our philosophies and our schemes and he's put that front and center and continued to coach his way to make sure it's done the way that this team needs to be. And then to be successful and be able to still do all his offensive coordinator stuff, but yet oversee the defense and special teams and make personnel decisions and stuff.

"I don't get a vote on coach of the year type stuff, but it'd be hard-pressed to find somebody that's done a greater job than he has this year."

Colts linebacker Dwight Freeney added: "He's just kept everybody focused on what the mission is and just the process. Keeping us focused through all the adversity that happened and channeling all of that energy to winning ballgames and everything that Chuck talked about day in and day out, making sure that message is still there."

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Kubiak has the Texans locked into the second playoff berth in franchise history. They currently hold the top seed in the AFC and probably would be considered Super Bowl favorites if not for embarrassing losses to the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers. The franchise is closer to a championship than it has ever been.

The Falcons won double-digit games in three of the first four years under Smith as a run-first team leaning on Michael Turner. Smith made the decision to put the 2012 onus on quarterback Matt Ryan and the receiving trio of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. It hasn't been pretty as of late, but the Falcons are 11-2 and closing in on the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

The 49ers were expected to win the NFC West, but it took some brass to bench veteran quarterback Alex Smith in favor of second-year pro Colin Kaepernick. The ceiling now is higher, but Smith did take the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game last season.

I know, yawn. But the Patriots are 10-3 and playing better than anyone else in the NFL. That can't be ignored.

What, we can't vote for players? Even if we know who's primarily responsible for the Broncos being on a league-high eight-game winning streak and a Super Bowl contender?

Follow Kareem Copeland on Twitter @kareemcopeland.

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