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BY ADAM GREENE

Our NFC and AFC Conference Championship games are set and we’ve officially hit three head coaching hires. Let’s talk about it.

THE EARLY CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP LINES & TOTALS

AFC Championship

Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens (-3.5, O/U: 44.5)

This looks like a solid line to me, but that over is begging to be taken. I wouldn’t be shocked to see it go down to Ravens -3 at kickoff. The people talking themselves, rightly, into thinking Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce can work some magic and pull out another one just to put Taylor Swift into an Allegiant Stadium luxury suit with a camera trained on her at all times, are not crazy in the least.

NFC Championship

Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers (-7, O/U: 51)

Considering what we saw in the Divisional Round, I feel like this spread is way high and, much like the AFC title game, tt’ll drop by kickoff. Maybe not a ton, but 49ers -5.5 seems the likely landing spot. As it is, a full touchdown and extra point? I feel like Detroit should be a tad insulted by that. That total looks pretty good to me. I would definitely flirt with the under, especially if Deebo Samuel doesn’t play.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 34, HOUSTON TEXANS 10

Sure, it wasn’t a great game and no one, maybe outside of the Texans’ locker room, thought it would be, but there are so many reasons for Houston to be excited about not only what happened this season, but what should happen for them in seasons to come. Every team is searching for its coach and quarterback combo. It’s not only how you win a championship in the NFL, but it’s how you build a dynasty. From the looks of it, after one single season, the Texans nailed both those positions emphatically. DeMeco Ryans, rightly, will be named the NFL’s Coach of the Year in a couple of weeks and CJ Stroud will join him at the ceremony, claiming the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. And neither guy has put forth this performance in a vacuum. We have seen some tremendous head coaching this season, from Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams to Kevin Stefanski of the Cleveland Browns. Ryans, to do what he did in his first season, well, it’s McVay-esque and, if you’ll remember, McVay won the Coach of the Year award in his first season and had the Rams in the Super Bowl in his second.

It’s the same for Stroud, who had an historic run as a rookie quarterback, unquestionably the best in NFL history while another rookie, Puka Nacua of the aforementioned Rams, also unleashed an historic season, the best rookie receiving season in all of NFL history. It’s a shame they can’t share it, but it’s hard for me to see a way Stroud doesn’t win every single vote. No position is more important than quarterback on a team and Nacua, who has one of the NFL’s best tossing him the ball in Matthew Stafford, would be the first to agree.

As for the Ravens, someone, and I don’t remember who (that’s not true, it was me) wrote in the preseason that firing Greg Roman, the Pop Warner Pauper, as their offensive coordinator and replacing him with Todd Monken, a man who called two consecutive Georgia NCAA Championship offenses, as their new OC would instantly make them a Super Bowl contender and one of the four best teams in the league. And in that, and only that, I was wrong. They’re not “one of the four best.” They’re the best team and have been all through the second half of the season. And Lamar Jackson is, without a doubt, the NFL Most Valuable Player. Again.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 24, GREEN BAY PACKERS 21

Like the Texans, the Packers were playing with house money this season and earned their way into the NFC Divisional Round. They were maybe a missed field goal away from getting to the NFC Championship. And, sure, that would have probably been the end of their run, but no one, especially me, thought they’d be within a field goal of sending the 49ers into overtime and possibly ruining their coronation season. Jordan Love, in spite of a Brett Favre-ian decision at the end of the game, would be due a monster payday if he hadn’t already collected some of it, signing a one-year extension this past offseason that negated his potential “fifth-year option” on his rookie contract. Love will make $22.5 million next season, which probably seemed like a smart move at the time, considering no one expected him to throw for 4,159 yards, 32 touchdowns and 11 picks, taking his team all the way to the NFL’s final four in the process. Now, it’s a downright bargain and one Green Bay looks brilliant for pulling off. Needless to say, Love, if he puts up these numbers and performances next season, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t, will be in the $40 million club in the 2025 season. For now, he’ll just have to find some way to make ends meet with nearly $23 million. Bootstraps, Jordan!

As for the 49ers, a lot of people are going to point out that second-year QB Brock Purdy had a rough game and was that same missed field goal away from wrapping the Niners’ season early. Others will point out that, when the game was on the line, he delivered on a got-to-have-it touchdown drive to win the game. Both of those factions are correct.

Now, to be fair, Purdy is just in his second season and has helped San Francisco reach at least the NFC Championship in both of those campaigns. He’s also put up some of the best stats in 49er history. It is also true, if you watched CJ Stroud and Jordan Love play over that same divisional playoff weekend, then you know Purdy is nowhere near as dangerous, as a passer and QB alone, as either of those men. In fact, ranking all the quarterbacks that suited up in the Divisional Round, any honest assessment would put him last, barely behind Baker Mayfield of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but still last.

That’s not a slight. Not everyone is going to be Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen. Purdy’s top out is probably Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield, two guys that, when they have loaded rosters pushing them, can certainly get the job done. Purdy is not a playmaker like Stroud, Love or even Kyler Murray and Matthew Stafford in his own division. But who is? He’s definitely a starting quarterback and could turn into that. He’s just not there now and there’s no reason to pretend he is.

DETROIT LIONS 31, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 23

Baker Mayfield has spent the last season and a half showing David Tepper of the Carolina Panthers just one more reason he should not own an NFL team. Mayfield made himself some money with his performance on the field this season, but, more importantly, in the postseason where he knocked off the defending NFC Champions in the Wild Card Round and then came within a touchdown of landing in the NFC Championship. While Tampa Bay was easily the NFC South favorite a month into the season, the fact that they performed so well when it matters the most justifies not only bringing Mayfield back at a real starting QB salary but keeping Todd Bowles too. And that was something I would have never believed back in October.

The Lions were favored here for a reason and got the job done in impressive fashion against a Bucs team tougher than they looked on paper. Jared Goff will now play in his second NFC Championship and is one of just five quarterbacks in NFL history to take two different franchises to championship games. All four of the other guys — Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner and Brett Favre are either already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or being measured for a Gold Jacket as I type this.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 27, BUFFALO BILLS 24

The Bills were left searching for answers again after falling to the Chiefs, as they regularly have, in the playoffs. People before this game were talking up the Patrick Mahomes vs Josh Allen is this era’s Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning. Now, someone pointed out that Allen might not be Manning in this scenario, but Philip Rivers instead. It was brutal, and… very true. After all, the forgotten guy here is Joe Burrow who regularly beats both the Chiefs and the Bills when he’s healthy.


What’s next for Buffalo? I mean, they missed a field goal. That’s what cost them. I’m not sure what wholesale changes need to be made other than just continuing to add talent and hope some other team doesn’t get desperate and pull away offensive coordinator Joe Brady as their “too soon for this guy” head coach. They need a wide receiver to compliment Stefon Diggs and, if they can’t get one in the draft, should be looking hard at a Tee Higgins free agent contract in the offseason.

As for the Chiefs, that was fun. And, yes, I’m not just talking about winning one of the best, most entertaining games of the year. I’m also talking about the Jason Kelce and Taylor Swift show. Let me tell you, if you have an issue with the TV broadcast showing these people watching the game and having fun, do I have horrible news for you on how pro sports coverage works. I guarantee you Jerry Jones gets just as much camera time during Dallas Cowboys games as Taylor Swift does when she’s watching the Chiefs and he’s not nearly as fun to look at. There are only two acceptable opinions to have about Taylor Swift attending her boyfriend’s contests of sport — 1. Hey, this is a fun thing that adds to my enjoyment and brings new fans to the league that I love or, 2. I have no opinion on Travis Kelce’s girlfriend rooting for his team to win whatsoever.

And that’s it. Any negative post, thought, opinion on humans behaving like normal humans isn’t their problem. It’s your problem and maybe you need to look into why seeing a pretty woman happy at the success of her pretty man makes you so stupid mad.

Because unless Taylor Swift is calling plays, coaching up Mahomes on his throws or calling defensive alignments, you’re just making yourself look bad. And, hey, while “Karma” might be “that guy on the Chiefs,” it’s also the thing that’ll propel Kansas City to hoisting another Vince Lombardi and this time Taylor will be on the podium with them. You’re going to hate them all the way to their third Super Bowl ring. The football Gods will do it just to spite you.

FIRST COACHING HIRES HAPPEN WITH A YAWN

Of the eight open head coaching positions available at season’s end, three of them have now been filled and, I hope you are sitting down when I tell you this (because there’s really no reason to stand), those hires have been the most boring options they could possibly be.

These hires have neither landed with a bang or a thud, but more of a shoulder shrug and a “whatever.” None of these franchises that have made the hires, the New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans and Las Vegas Raiders, have gotten better from said hiring. At best, they’ve remained exactly the same.

First up was Jarod Mayo, former Pats linebackers coach who was named as Bill Belichick’s replacement barley the minute the Super Genius was tossed over the ship’s railing. It was apparently in Mayo’s contract that he’d get the job and Robert Kraft wanted that to be sooner than later. Considering Mayo is so much like Belichick that the other players on the team used to refer to him as “Jerod Belichick” I’m not sure how this is an upgrade. Especially since the defense wasn’t the issue the last two seasons. The offense was.

As for the Raiders, they made the only call they realistically could. With every star player on the team campaigning for Antonio Pierce, along with the fact that Mark Davis has whiffed so bad on his past hires, there was no way he wasn’t landing the job. The fact that he ever took a meeting with another squad is the shocker there. As for a change in the team and the culture? It’s already happened and while I expect Las Vegas to be better next season, by just continuing what they did under Pierce in this one, it’s not going to be enough to catch the Chiefs and probably the Los Angeles Chargers after they make a blockbuster hire.

Lastly, we have the Tennessee Titans, currently holding the silver medal for the NFL’s dumbest run franchise (behind the Car. They fired one of the best coaches in the league, Mike Vrabel, and replaced him with former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. Now, Callahan isn’t the first former OC hired as a head coach that wasn’t allowed to call plays for the team he helped coordinate. In fact, Zac Taylor, his former boss, did the same thing with the Los Angeles Rams back in 2018. Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur too in 2017.

There’s plenty of reasons it could work out. Callahan is part of the Sean McVay coaching tree, coached up Matthew Stafford in Detroit and was a Super Bowl winning assistant with the Denver Broncos. But, you know, with every name out there and guys like Bobby Slowik and Ben Johnson in the wind, it’s an odd reach, especially after firing Vrabel. A guy all 31 other teams in the NFL would pick over Callahan as their head coach in a two-way battle.

Our five currently open head coaching seats now reside with the Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Commanders, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks.

Our big names currently in the wind remain the same too, with Jim Harbaugh leading the way, with Vrabel, Belichick and Pete Carroll not far behind.

I would not be surprised to see Harbaugh officially signed up and announced as the next Chargers head coach after I write this. Vrabel’s domino will likely fall right after unless he wants to take a season off.

Belichick is apparently finding his job prospects look a lot worse than his Hall of Fame credentials would warrant. Carroll too, which probably shows an NFL team’s reluctance to hire a “new regime” led by a 71 year-old (Belichick) or 72 year-old (Carroll). Which you can understand. Why put a man that old and close to death and dementia in charge of your NFL Franchise when you could easily put him in charge of the United States of America, the most powerful country to ever exist on the face of the Earth?  

Follow Adam Greene on Twitter @TheFirstMan and Threads at @Adam.Greene

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