What's more valuable to the success of an NFL team: Coach or quarterback?
How about both?
If you had to pin me down on the choice, though, I would take the quarterback. Look at the New England Patriots. Would they be better off against the Jets this weekend without Tom Brady or without Bill Belichick?
I would take my chances with Brady and whoever else might coach the team.
You can have Belichick and Brian Hoyer.
That's not to demean the importance of Belichick. It just shows that this is now more of a quarterback league.
In New England's case, it just happens to have two greats at the most important spots.
That's why they are the favorite in Vegas to win the Super Bowl. Brady is the top quarterback left in the playoffs and Belichick is the top coach. There's no arguing either.
Coach-quarterback usually decides champions. So I decided to rank the remaining eight coaches and quarterbacks left playing the NFL playoffs.
Based on these rankings, expect to see the Patriots and Falcons in the Super Bowl.
1. Tom Brady, Patriots
There are those out there who think Brady has played better this season than he did in his record-setting 2007 season. I don't think he has been that good, but it's close.
|Tom Brady has the postseason record and likely MVP award to prove he's the best QB left standing. (US Presswire)|
2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Some might wonder why Rodgers is ahead of Ben Roethlisberger. I see a better quarterback. Now, he doesn't have the rings Roethlisberger has, but he hasn't played as long either.
Rodgers just missed out on his third consecutive 4,000-yard season because he missed a start with a concussion. He averaged 8.3 yards per attempt, which was second to San Diego's Philip Rivers.
The knock on Rodgers was that he had not won a playoff game. But he did that last week at Philadelphia. If he can win a Super Bowl this season, he might be on his way to joining the upper elite.
3. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
He missed the first four games this season serving a league-imposed suspension. He started slowly after that, but you could see him come on as the season moved along.
With two Super Bowl rings, he knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. He's as good a clutch quarterback as we've seen in recent years. He loves the big moments.
Roethlisberger is good outside the pocket, and sometimes I think he's more comfortable there. He has problems sometimes when he has to stand in and read the coverage. He's very good at improvising.
"The guy gets outside the pocket and he's so tough," Ravens safety Dawan Landry said. "He's a playmaker."
He threw 17 touchdown passes and only five interceptions, cutting down on the mistakes and showing he's growing as a passer.
4. Matt Ryan, Falcons
They call him "Matty Ice" for his cool under pressure. He doesn't put up the gaudy numbers some of the others here do, but that's in part because of the system that is used.
If Ryan were allowed to wing it more, he would put up some big numbers. He's smart. He's a gym rat. And he loves to dissect the game.
He threw 28 touchdowns passes and nine interceptions this season, and completed a career-best 62.5 percent of his passes. His yards-per-attempt average of 6.5 could be better, but it's more of a sign of the style of offense rather than Ryan's talents.
Ryan threw 571 passes this season, which is 120 more than he threw last season, when he missed two games.
Ryan is another who seems to thrive in the clutch. I also think he plays better when the Falcons allow him to be more up-tempo. If you saw him run the no-huddle offense against the Ravens, you know what I'm talking about.
These are pressure-packed playoffs for him since the Falcons have the top seed and he's 20-2 at home in his career. It will be interesting to see how he responds in that role.
5. Joe Flacco, Ravens
The Ravens asked Flacco to do more this season and he responded with 25 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.
|NFL Divisional Playoffs|
But there were still some who wondered if he had that championship form. He has been to the playoffs in each of his three seasons and he's 4-2, but until he shined against Kansas City on Sunday there were still a lot of doubters. Flacco completed 25 of 34 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns against the Chiefs.
"It's whatever is called on to win the game," Flacco said. "I don't know if we ever came out and have done what we did today but could have. I could have. We just didn't do it. We're going to do whatever we need to do to win football games and that's all I'm worried about."
What he will need to do against the Steelers on Saturday is have another big day. Teams don't run on the Steelers. That means Flacco and the passing game have to come up big.
6. Jay Cutler, Bears
Is there a more maligned quarterback than Jay Cutler?
There's no in-between with the guy. You either like him or you don't. I think he can play.
Cutler has thrown at least 20 touchdown passes in each of the past four seasons, including 50 in the past two with the Bears. Yet all anyone talks about his propensity for throwing interceptions.
Does he throw too many? You bet. Does some of it have to do with his confidence in his strong right arm? Sure. But it also has to do with poor line play. The guy takes a beating, some of it self-inflicted by holding the ball.
You can bet there is a legion of media members just waiting to see if Cutler has a meltdown in the playoffs. If he does, the venom will come at him again.
That's why this week's game against Seattle, in his first postseason appearance, is so big. He has to show he can win a playoff game.
7. Mark Sanchez, Jets
The Sanchez hype machine was out of control this summer. The race to make him an elite player was happening way too fast.
Sanchez is good. He's not nearly as good as some think.
But he will get there. He has become a guy who loves to put in the work. That's a big help.
Sanchez improved in all categories from last season, taking a step forward. But his completion percentage of 54.8 is way too low. That has to get closer to 60 before you can start mentioning him as a top passer.
Sanchez plays in a run-first offense, which limits him some. The Jets will allow him to do more next season, but he might have to do more against New England if the Jets are to have any chance Sunday.
Sanchez was terrible the last time the teams met. In his two career starts at Foxboro, Sanchez has thrown one touchdown pass and seven interceptions.
A big game against the Patriots might start that hype machine going again. Only it might be deserved this time.
8. Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks
Before beating the Saints last week, there was a lot of talk that Hasselbeck was done.
But after lighting up New Orleans, that might not be the case.
Hasselbeck was booed late in the season and had fans calling for backup Charlie Whitehurst. So Hasselbeck shocked us all by throwing four touchdown passes against the Saints.
Hasselbeck has always been a quarterback who did more with his head than with his arm. He understands the passing game, which means he knows where to go with the ball.
Injuries have slowed him in recent years, but he looked sharp against the Saints. At 35, his contract expires after the season and there have been no talks to bring him back to Seattle. Coach Pete Carroll did say he wants him back.
|Bill Belichick's work on both sides of the ball has the Pats favored to win it all. (US Presswire)|
1. Bill Belichick, Patriots
He has three rings and he's favored to get a fourth. This season might be his best. He has taken Brady and a group of young players and has them favored to win the whole thing. That's unreal.
What makes him special is that he knows both sides of the ball. He might have earned his bones on the defensive side, but he has had major input into the offense the past couple of years.
Like him or not, there's no arguing his greatness.
2. Mike Tomlin, Steelers
If you're going to stack these guys based on Super Bowl rings, he has to be second. Tomlin won a Super Bowl two years ago and he's in position to do it again. In his four seasons, he has proved to be a coach who can work through problems. When he didn't have his quarterback the first four weeks this season, it was no big deal. The Steelers just played on and went 3-1 in that stretch, the only loss coming to Baltimore late.
He isn't always the best when it comes to game-day decisions -- see the end of that Baltimore game when he played not to lose rather than to win -- but he has the right demeanor for the job. Players seem to respond to him.
3. Mike Smith, Falcons
When he was hired in Atlanta, there were a lot of people who wondered why. Now they know.
His players call him "Smitty," yet he still has a firm hand in handling them. He treats them with respect, which they love. Smith earned his shot by being a good defensive coordinator. That shows with the improvement the Falcons have made on that side in his tenure. He is as even-keeled a coach as there is in the league and I think that shows up with his team.
4. Rex Ryan, Jets
There's a lot of bluster that comes out of his mouth, but let's not forget how good he is at what he does. He is a fiery coach who talks the talk, but he often backs it up. His players love that in him.
Ryan isn't afraid to put himself or his team out there. Ryan is also one of the best defensive minds in football. His ability to scheme up an aggressive approach on that side of the ball is why the Jets are where they are and where he is now. Don't get lost in all the bravado. This guy knows what he's doing, even if he sometimes allows things to get a little too loose.
5. Mike McCarthy, Packers
McCarthy earned his stripes on the offensive side of the ball, and that has showed up in his time with the Packers. They are an explosive offense. McCarthy takes heat for game mismanagement at times, but I think he has a pretty good feel of the happenings on game day.
His players seem to like him. He's a Pittsburgh guy and those coaches from there usually have a pretty good rapport with the players -- except maybe Mike Ditka.
McCarthy doesn't seem to sweat the small stuff. He understands what is and isn't important.
6. John Harbaugh, Ravens
His players play hard for him even though you hear whispers they don't actually love him all that much. Harbaugh is a disciplinarian who has a lot of rules that players sometimes don't like, which could cause the disconnect.
But like him or not, they do show up and play hard for him. That might come from the veteran leadership, but Harbuagh has to get his credit for that as well.
I'm not sure he's the greatest X's and O's guy -- and that seems to show up at times -- but he sure knows how to get his team to play well on the road in the playoffs. That shows something about mental toughness.
7. Pete Carroll, Seahawks
This is Carroll's third stop as an NFL head coach. He has been in the playoffs three of his five seasons, even if he got in this season with a losing record.
Carroll is a rah-rah, in-your-face coach who seems to act far younger than his 57 years. His ability to relate to the modern player seems to be a strong suit for him.
Carroll knows defense as well. That's where he earned his way. In five seasons as a head coach, he's 42-42, counting playoffs. I think he's a better coach than that.
8. Lovie Smith, Bears
Let's be honest: If the Bears didn't make the playoffs, Smith would be gone. But this season will save his job and then some.
Smith is a Tony Dungy disciple who has the same temperament as his former boss. You rarely see him show emotions. You have to give him credit this season for making two bold moves: Hiring Mike Martz as offensive coordinator and removing himself as defensive coordinator and giving those duties to Rod Marinelli.
They've both paid off. That speaks volumes about Smith and any ego he might have.
He doesn't have much of one.