The team that wins the Super Bowl is not necessarily the one with the best coach or the best quarterback. But the team with the best coach-quarterback combination that season is often the way to bet. Below are my rankings of the 12 coach-quarterback combinations in the playoffs.
For the purposes of this exercise, I”m going to pretend the Brian Billick-Trent Dilfer combination in Baltimore never won a Super Bowl.
1) NEW ENGLAND: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady (won 4 Super Bowls).
This qualifies as a “Duh.” Belichick and Brady not only have each won four Super Bowls but they’ve won them together, tying them with Bill Walsh and Joe Montana in San Francisco and Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw in Pittsburgh. (Lord, please forgive me for putting Bradshaw in the same sentence with Montana and Brady.) But they’re not first because of their past. Their first because Belichick continues to find ways to compete for championships in a salary cap/draft system that is supposed to prevent that, and Brady continues to do so despite not being surrounded by great weapons. The Patriots (14-2) have the best record and Brady (28 touchdowns, two interceptions) is an MVP candidate despite being suspended the first four games.
2) GREEN BAY: Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers (won 1 Super Bowl).
The Packers have had a myriad of injuries and personnel issues since their Super Bowl season in 2010 but it hasn’t mattered because of McCarthy and Rodgers. When Green Bay lost four straight and was sitting at 4-6, seemingly playoff-dead in November, the other NFC teams were probably thinking, “Good.” But Rodgers (with an improved defense) engineered a six-game winning streak down the stretch, including wins over Seattle and Detroit. Rodgers during the streak: 15 touchdowns, zero interceptions. Your team does not want to play this team.
3) PITTSBURGH: Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger (won 2 Super Bowls).
Some organizations just keep winning. The Steelers, like the Packers, looked dead at 4-5 in November but finished the season with seven straight wins (albeit, two over Cleveland). Tomlin often gets criticized because … well, I’m sure why. Because he’s not Noll? He may be one day. He’s halfway to Noll’s four rings and this is the one team in the AFC that can beat New England. Roethlisberger is understandably a pariah with some because of past sexual assault allegations. On the field, he has been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, obviously helped by having Antonio Brown at receiver.
4) FALCONS: Dan Quinn and Matt Ryan.
Of the first five duos on this list, they have the shortest resume together (two seasons) and have never experienced playoff success together. Quinn went to two Super Bowls as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, winning one. Ryan reached the NFC championship in 2012 (losing to San Francisco) but is only 1-4 in the postseason. So why the high ranking? Because Ryan has a strong case for the MVP award this year and Quinn, unlike a year ago, has had his team playing at a consistent level in the second half, regardless of the opponent. Quinn has been instrumental in a number of the personnel changes since coming aboard, particularly on defense, and has connected with players.
5) SEATTLE: Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson (won 1 Super Bowl).
I initially ranked Carroll and Wilson fourth but dropped them behind the Falcons. It’s close. The Seahawks have had five straight double-digit win seasons and Carroll’s teams always play hard and physical. But they struggled with consistency this season. There’s no explaining going 1-3-1 against the Rams, Cardinals and Saints. Russell Wilson statistically had the worst season of his career (11 interceptions and his rating dropped from 110.1 last season to 92.6 this year).
6) DALLAS: Jason Garrett and Dak Prescott.
This was Garrett’s best regular season (13-3). The question is whether he can have any more success in the playoffs without Tony Romo than he had with him. Garrett-Romo made the playoffs two years ago but lost in the second round. Prescott has had a remarkable season, particularly for the 135th pick (fourth round) in the draft. It helps to have running back Ezekiel Elliott and probably the NFL’s best offensive line, but to have 23 touchdown passes vs. only four interceptions with a 104.9 rating is great for any quarterback, let alone a rookie.
7) N.Y. GIANTS: Ben McAdoo and Eli Manning (Manning won 2 Super Bowls).
McAdoo replaced Tom Coughlin and the Giants (11-5), after four straight years out of the playoffs, won more games than in any season since 2008 (12-4). The Giants have a great defense. They also have Manning, who can look perpetually mediocre during the regular season but has won two Super Bowls. In his last 10 postseason games, Manning is 8-2 with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions.
8) KANSAS CITY: Andy Reid and Alex Smith.
I suspect that when Andy Reid retires, he will go down as one of the best coaches to never win a Super Bowl as a head coach. He made it to one with Philadelphia (having won one as a Green Bay assistant). He does not have a championship roster but the Chiefs went 12-4. Reid should get a ring for doing that well with Smith (a step above “game manager” as his quarterback).
9) DETROIT: Jim Caldwell and Matthew Stafford.
The Lions looked like a playoff threat at 9-4 until effectively turning back into the Lions and losing their last three games, barely making the playoffs. They likely will lose at Seattle. But Stafford can cause defenses problems with his arm so I guess an upset isn’t out of the question. (Dallas certainly wouldn’t mind since it would get Detroit next.)
10) MIAMI: Adam Gase and Matt Moore/Ryan Tannehill.
Gase should be in the running for coach of the year after going 10-6, the Dolphins’ best record since their last playoff appearance in 2008. This will be only Miami’s second postseason in 15 years. So all the credit to Gase, who was viewed as one of the NFL’s top quarterback coaches in Denver and Chicago and was interviewed by the Falcons two years ago before landing the Miami job. But Tannehill is unlikely to play this week because of a knee injury. Moore is the backup for a reason.
11) OAKLAND: Jack Del Rio and Connor Cook.
Del Rio also is a candidate for top coaching honors. But losing MVP candidate Derek Carr (broken leg) late in the season doomed this team, and then to see backup Matt McGloin go down in the season finale with a shoulder injury was like some cruel joke. So the Raiders will start Connor Cook, who was a terrific college quarterback at Michigan State. The good news: Oakland, by virtue of its 12-4 record, draws Houston as a first-round opponent. Cook played tougher teams in the Big Ten.
12) HOUSTON: Bill O’Brien and Brock Osweiler.
O’Brien, a former Georgia Tech assistant, is a solid coach, as evidenced by three straight 9-7 records. In his defense, I’m not sure what the Texans’ talent level is and we certainly know the organization blew it by giving Osweiler a four-year, $72 million contract ($37 million guaranteed). Osweiler had 15 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a weak 5.8 yards per attempt in his first season as a starter. Because of the contract, felony theft charges also are pending against him.
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