I'm not sure I'm ready to call it a trend just yet, but it is worth noting that in a league that has been leaning toward bright young things in recent years, there is a decidedly throwback vibe with this postseason. The final four teams are largely old school both in terms of their key decision makers and in the way they operate their clubs on the field.
These teams are led by-and-large by proven decision makers, men who have forged reputations over time. Almost all of these teams are willing to play throwback ball and grind it out on the ground. Three of the four are among the very elite defenses in the NFL, and the other, New England, has been among the best scoring defenses in the league for the past three months. There is a bit of a throwback vibe, to say the least. Rise of the old dudes! Or at least middle-aged dudes, for the most part.
Bill Belichick is a constant come this time of year, so we don't need to belabor the point there. He's seen it all and done it all and is as established a coach/general manager as we've seen. And the other head football honcho still remaining in the AFC, while he's a relative newcomer to Jacksonville, he's anything but a new-school guy. Tom Coughlin, like Belichick a product of Bill Parcells' old staffs with the New York Giants, is as old school as they come, and his presence atop the Jaguars organization in 2017 after a year at the league office has clearly made a significant impact.
The Vikings have a super experienced general manager in Rick Spielman and a football lifer in head coach Mike Zimmer, who more than paid their dues. And while the Eagles aren't nearly as grizzled with Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman as coach and GM, they aren't exactly green either, and they have a pair of 50-somethings as their coordinators, which goes a long way as well. Not exactly the upstarts in this final four.
Watch the Jaguars play, and it's clear that you can still win in this league without a prolific passing game – defense and a power run game still work. The Vikings reached this stage with a guy who was third on the depth chart at one point at quarterback and the Eagles are on their backup. Sure, Philly runs a fair amount of college-style run-pass options that are all the rage and not exactly something we would have seen in the 1990s or 1980s with any regularity. But overall I'd say that experience has carried the day in this postseason in terms of coaching and football operations.
We'll see if it continues in 2018.
Titans should look toward Philly for a coach
You could make a strong case for either of the Eagles coordinators for the Titans job.
Jim Schwartz had a long and successful stint there on Jeff Fisher's staff, rising to the role of defensive coordinator. He knows the team and the city well and has a house and roots there. The Adams family felt strongly about his work there in the past and if he could bring a bright offensive mind with him to help on offense (like, say, Eagles quarterback coach John DeFilippo, who has garnered some head coaching consideration), that might make for a nice package for quarterback Marcus Mariota, who needs to get his play righted next season.
And it boggles my mind why no one interviewed Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich in the initial round of head-coaching interviews. He is a well-respected man and coach, he played the game at a high level and has been a part of many winning organizations and played a key role with several successful quarterbacks (not just Carson Wentz). Had some things gone a little differently he would've been the head coach of the Buffalo Bills a few years ago, or at the University of Maryland. People like Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian vouch for him. Could you possibly bring the top of the Eagles' offensive staff that has been working with Wentz – sans Pederson, of course – to implement similar concepts for Mariota? Makes a lot of sense to me, but what do I know?
Spoke to several executives and agents around the league and none of them can see Drew Brees staying in New Orleans for much of a hometown discount. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't discount his chances of staying there, but it'll cost plenty. Most anticipated at least $75M over three years with $50-ish million guaranteed. And that might prove to be on the conservative side of the ledger.
The Raiders are still likely to bolster their front office more at some point. They didn't land Eliot Wolf when he moved from Green Bay to Cleveland, but I hear rumblings of adding a young assistant general manager after the draft and the team is still planning to fill a spot for an executive vice president of football operations.
The Browns would do well to hire an offensive coordinator who has already been a head coach before, because if you fire Hue Jackson in, say, October after an 0-4 start, well, you'd best have a super experienced coordinator in place who could call plays and run that offense and perhaps serve as the interim head coach as well. Going with a young upstart in that OC spot would be baffling to me, but this is the Browns so I guess I should expect something bizarre. But Ben McAdoo and Mike Mularkey would seem to be precisely what general manager John Dorsey might want there in the event this is a situation where the coach doesn't make it beyond a month or so. And if ever there was a template for that, this is it (think Joe Philbin in Miami and Dennis Allen in Oakland).
Mike Munchak wasn't getting much pub, if any, outside of these parts before the head-coach hiring process began, but I always liked his odds of landing something. He played at a super-high level, is an offensive-line expert with quality head coaching experience and presents well to owners. The Cardinals have a history of hiring coaches with strong Steelers ties (Bruce Arians, Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm, Todd Haley) and if I am them I'm trying to get Haley back on the staff if Munchak is the head coach. Sounds like Arizona would like to keep a fair amount of its defensive staff in place if possible – which makes hiring an offensive head coach more likely – and they could certainly use someone to whip its offensive line into shape the way Munchak did Pittsburgh's.