In its simplest form, the NFL comes down to winning and losing -- and as a head coach, that is how you will be judged against your peers. But the outcome of a playoff game or season can be viewed much differently from one organization to the next, depending on specific circumstances. We aren't usually comparing apples to apples; every team and every coach has run a different path.
Yes, your record is the only thing that matters in the long run, but that doesn't mean each victory is weighted the same on the scale. It's never just another win or just another loss ... it always means so much more.
Let's take a deeper look at the realities facing two losing coaches and three winners from Wild Card Weekend:
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
No one cares that Andy Dalton was without his best weapon (receiver A.J. Green, out after suffering a concussion in Week 17) and his security blanket (tight end Jermaine Gresham, out with a back injury), even though the pair accounted for 44 percent of Dalton's passing yards and 58 percent of his touchdowns this season. After Sunday's 26-10 loss to the Colts, all people care about is Dalton's 0-4 postseason record. No one will think about the fact that Lewis has posted six winning campaigns in 12 years for a Bengals franchise that hadn't experienced one winning campaign in the 12 years before he was hired. All that will be remembered is the fact that Lewis has lost all six of his playoff games. The coach gave the front office and the city of Cincinnati a taste of success, and now they crave more. But people shouldn't take for granted what Lewis has accomplished -- and they should carefully consider the alternatives, were Lewis to be replaced.
Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
While Arians -- a top Coach of the Year candidate -- will never publicly tolerate or accept a loss, Saturday's defeat to the Panthers can certainly be justified. We're talking about an Arizona team that got just six games out of its franchise quarterback; simply qualifying for the postseason was a monumental feat. Forget about staying competitive in a game in which the offense accumulated just 78 total yards behind third-stringer Ryan Lindley. Despite the embarrassing performance, the Cardinals -- specifically Arians -- could walk out of Carolina with their heads held high, because few expected them to make it that far after suffering several key personnel losses. But only for a brief second. Because, as was true of Lewis early in his tenure in Cincinnati, the ceiling has been placed for Arians in the desert, and if he doesn't find a way to crash through it, he, too, eventually will have to answer some of the same questions. That is the pressure of today's NFL.
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
Rivera stood at the abyss, having gone seven straight games without a win in the regular season, before pushing the Panthers to become the unlikely champions of the NFL's worst division. Yes, Carolina was just the fourth team in league history to qualify for the playoffs with a losing record (7-8-1). But all of that amazingly disappears with a single win in the wild-card round -- the first playoff victory in the careers of both Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton. Even with the daunting task of traveling to Seattle for next week's divisional round on tap, this season has instantly been transformed into a successful one. Let's not forget that four short years ago, the Seahawks were the third team to qualify for the playoffs with a losing record -- and now they find themselves attempting to repeat as Super Bowl champions. This is good and bad for the future of Rivera and his staff. The blueprint has been laid, and no matter how uncommon Seattle's path has been, that becomes the expectation.
Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys were "supposed" to beat the Lions on Sunday, but that doesn't change the fact that Garrett now gets credit for earning just the second playoff win for the franchise in the last 18 seasons. This puts him in excellent position to negotiate his contract in the offseason. Much like Joe Flacco and the Ravens in 2012, Garrett and the Cowboys have played a cat-and-mouse game in the final year of his deal. Now Garrett holds the upper hand -- not only with the Cowboys, but with other teams that might enter a bidding war for his services.
John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
Harbaugh was the most successful postseason coach working this weekend, entering with a 9-4 lifetime record and a Super Bowl ring to his name. Still, the Ravens' head man had a significant demon to exorcise: Baltimore had not beaten Pittsburgh in three previous playoff contests (two under Harbaugh and one with me). With that monkey now off his back, Harbaugh can draw on a history of success -- he's 2-1 in postseason matchups at Foxborough -- as he prepares his squad to take on the Patriots in New England.