What can we learn from the divisional playoffs? Here's one man's impressions as four teams gear up for the conference championships ...
1. Get a coach on the rebound
Teams are always looking for a new head coach. The NFL usually averages about five to six openings a year. We keep hearing about the "hot" young assistants on the short list for the coaching openings; almost all of them without NFL head coaching experience. Too often when a head coach fails he gets thrown back in the coaching pile never to be heard from again.
We always reference the NFL as a copy cat league. Well, take notice of the final four teams in the NFL playoffs. Three of the teams (Giants, Patriots and Chargers) are all coached by head coaches who were shown the door by other teams. Bill Belichick failed in Cleveland, Tom Coughlin was dismissed in Jacksonville and Norv Turner tried in Washington and Oakland before this stop in San Diego.
There's no substitute for NFL experience. I just wonder why Jim Haslett, Dave McGinnis, Marty Schottenheimer, Brian Billick, Marty Mornhinweg, Jim Mora Jr, Dan Reeves and others are not being pursued in the hopes they can take a team deep into the playoffs like the three men in the playoffs this weekend. I bet at least one of these guys learned a lot from their last experience and would make a difference at their next stop, but we rarely -- if ever -- hear their names as teams look for a new coach.
2. Teams that played through the last weekend
The Giants are going to force coaches to think through the risk and reward of playing starters when a playoff spot has been locked. The risk is always injury but the reward looks like momentum, confidence and toughness. They aren't the only team who played through Week 17, but their road wins in Tampa and Dallas without a turnover has a few NFL coaches rethinking their approach. We will have to wait a year to see if teams act upon their thoughts.
3. Class of 2004 getting stronger and richer
Last week, I wrote about the "arrival" of the quarterback class of 2004. Ben Roethlisberger has already won a Super Bowl, but now we have Philip Rivers and Eli Manning in championship games in their fourth season. Is it possible all the money spent when these three young men were drafted was actually worth it? The class of 2004 looks like a bargain, playing in big games on their rookie contracts, but I can't even imagine what those second contracts are going to look like in the next year or two.
4. Romo is a work in progress, and he will get there
Tony Romo of the Cowboys has yet to win a playoff game and he's taking some heat for his off-the-field decisions. The truth is, Romo is a heck of a quarterback and really just a work in progress. It takes time to get all the parts of playing quarterback in the NFL under control. I would be more interested to see him clean up the decision making outside the pocket -- like throwing the ball away -- than his decisions outside the football environment. Romo makes plays, has arm strength, is a solid leader and will build on this last experience. For the 2007 season, the words of Bill Parcells from 2006 still ring loud, "Don't anoint him just yet."
5. Some words of advice ...
- Philip Rivers should stop engaging the fans in the stands, especially on the road. The New England fans are coming to Foxborough to distract you, and there really is too much to do without discussing it with the fans.
- The weather is projected to be very cold this weekend in New England and Green Bay. Practice outside in the cold, because Belichick will have his team out in the elements all week. The Patriots players never expect to go inside in the training bubble where it is almost comfortable. As one Patriots player said to me, "We never even think about being inside because he never takes us in there, that's just the way it is." Belichick never wants his players to feel comfortable in the week of preparation, and it obviously works.
One coach said the Chargers need to go workout at the Bears' facility to get ready for this game. Of course, they will not be going anywhere, but they will look a lot colder than the Patriots if the forecast for single-digit temperature is accurate. The Giants may be inside their training bubble, but they will as ready for the cold weather as the Packers.