Ranking coach-QB duos in playoffs (Smith-Ryan are 7th)

Mike Smith and Matt Ryan are looking for their first playoff win. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Mike Smith and Matt Ryan are looking for their first playoff win. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The top seeds sometimes flop. (Last season, the Falcons and New England were the No. 1 seeds in the playoffs for the NFC and AFC, respectively and each lost their first game.)

The wild cards don’t always fail. (Green Bay was an NFC wild card last season and won four games on the road, including the Super Bowl. Since 1970, 10 wild card teams have reached the Super Bowl and six have won it all.)

So there is hope, Falcons’ fans.

But NFL playoff success almost always starts with coaches and quarterbacks. The Super Bowl winner doesn’t always come from the perceived best duo of the group but it’s as good a gauge as there is.

So with that, here’s how I rank the 12 coach-quarterback duos in the field. Noteworthy: The first five on the list all have won Super Bowls.

Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers: Primed for another Super Bowl.

Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers: Primed for another Super Bowl.

1. Green Bay (Mike McCarthy-Aaron Rodgers): The Packers are beat up and showed their flaws down the stretch. But let’s start with this: Every team has flaws. McCarthy and Rodgers are as good as it gets. They coach and play with a chip on their shoulder. Green Bay can win another Super Bowl  because of them.

2. New Orleans (Sean Payton-Drew Brees): Both seem to have the Saints driven after getting bounced by Seattle in the first round of the playoffs last year. Brees also is playing as well now as any quarterback we’ve ever seen (25 touchdowns, three interceptions in the last seven games).

3. New England (Bill Belichick-Tom Brady): Brady just completed another great season (39 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) and Belichick somehow squeezed a 13-3 season out of a team with one of the worst defenses in the league. Also, they know how to win playoff games.

4. Pittsburgh (Mike Tomlin-Ben Roethlisberger): I might have them slotted No. 2 if Roethlisberger’s ankle wasn’t the size of a melon. Tomlin is a master motivator and Roethlisberger – his off-field baggage notwithstanding – knows how to win games. But the quarterback’s health is an issue.

5. N.Y.Giants (Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning): People dump on the Giants a lot – this is a team that lost to the Redskins a few weeks ago – but they’re a scary bunch in the postseason. I’ve lost track of how many times Coughlin was supposed to be fired but it must mean something that the Giants didn’t fold. Also, Manning doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves for being a great quarterback, given the weak cast surrounding him – and because he’s the lesser Manning.

Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin upset New England in the Super Bowl.

Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin upset Patriots in Super Bowl.

6. Baltimore (John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco): Flacco is coming off arguably his worst season. His passer rating of 80.9 was just ahead of his rookie year (80.3), and his yards-per-attempt was less this year than in 2008 (6.7 compared to 6.9). But he has won playoff games three straight years (4-3 overall). Harbaugh has kept the Ravens winning despite a defense not nearly as dominant as it used to be.

7. Falcons (Mike Smith-Matt Ryan): The two have had tremendous regular season success in four years but that hasn’t carried over in the postseason. The only consolation is that they lost in 2008 to Arizona (which went to the Super Bowl) and in 2010 to Green Bay (which won it). Ryan has committed major mistakes in his two postseason games.

8. Detroit (Jim Schwartz-Matt Stafford): Nobody will question Stafford’s talent or, at this point, his toughness (he has endured a lot of injuries). But he’ll be making his postseason debut, and going against Brees won’t be easy. Schwartz usually has the Lions playing hard. But there are some character issues on that team, as evidenced by a cheap-shotting defense, and Schwartz is the chief enabler. And what does it say that Matt Flynn just threw six touchdown passes against them?

9. San Francisco (Jim Harbaugh-Alex Smith): Harbaugh has done a tremendous job in his first season changing the culture in the 49ers locker room and turning them in to a tough and resilient team. There’s no reason to think he won’t have playoff success at some point. I just don’t believe that’s going to happen with Smith at quarterback. The 49ers’ offensive liabilities will catch up with them in the playoffs.

10. Cincinnati (Marvin Lewis-Andy Dalton): The Bengals have been a great story. Credit to Lewis for turning around a team that has been such a punchline in recent seasons and for making the playoffs in the first season without Carson Palmer.

John Fox is facing uphill climb with Tim Tebow.

John Fox is facing uphill climb with Tim Tebow.

11. Denver (John Fox-Tim Tebow): Fox won’t win coach of the year honors from anybody but he should because getting this roster to the playoffs is as good a job as he’s ever done. I don’t feel up to starting another Tebow blogging bonfire today. But suffice to say, defenses are starting to figure him out. After winning six straight starts, he lost his last three, throwing four interceptions, only one touchdown and completing 41 percent of his passes (30 for 73).

12. Houston (Gary Kubiak-T.J. Yates): Maybe you think the Texas should be ranked higher. But they clearly weren’t the same team down the stretch, losing three straight after a one-point win over the Bengals and an improbable 17-10 win over the Falcons. Yates, the No. 3 quarterback (after injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart), has been great under the circumstances, but even he has a sore shoulder now.

So there are my rankings. Do you agree with where I have Smith and Ryan, or would you put them higher? Or lower?

By Jeff Schultz

194 comments Add your comment

Larry

January 2nd, 2012
12:46 pm

Dawgfan0711

January 2nd, 2012
12:50 pm

I agree with everything except your 6-7 rankings, I would flip them. Flacco seems to be regressing while Ryan continues to improve.

Jeff Schultz

January 2nd, 2012
12:53 pm

Dawgfan0711 — Fair enough. I’m factoring in past playoff performances (for both QBs).

D.Ellis

January 2nd, 2012
12:55 pm

JEFF-Would you move Tebow/Fox to 12th if Delhomme gets the start?

Larry

January 2nd, 2012
12:58 pm

Jeff,

Give Ryan either Rodgers’, Brees’, Flacco’s, Roethlisberger’s or even Manning’s Defense–and particularly their Defensive Line and Defensive Coordinator–and let’s revisit your rankings.

Happy New Year!

Larry

CGD..

January 2nd, 2012
12:58 pm

Giants 45 falcon 17

slydog

January 2nd, 2012
12:58 pm

Jeff, I have to say this list is put together really well is fairly accurate. No argument here

CGD..

January 2nd, 2012
12:59 pm

Giants O-line will dominate the Falcons D-line…

Game over..

Jeff Schultz

January 2nd, 2012
1:00 pm

D.Ellis — Probably not. Delhomme went to a Super Bowl. (OK. That was a while ago.)

Dave s

January 2nd, 2012
1:01 pm

It’ll be interesting to see Houston’s an situation. The ageless name delhomme possibly starting? And I agree with dawg fan. Flip the 6 and 7. Very accurate rankings though I’d say. And flaccid does have some playoff success that Matty ice does not. (here’s hoping that can finally change this time around)

Larry

January 2nd, 2012
1:02 pm

Exhibit A:

Mark Sanchez was in the AFC Championship each of the two precious season with a top 10 defense. Now that their defense drifted back to the middle of the pack (In Ryan’s first 3 seasons he was paired with statistically one of the poorer defenses in the NFL) Sanchez and the Jets finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

What would Ryan’s record be with an elite defense?

Matt Ryan is a championship caliber QB inhibited by a grossly out-coached Defensive Coordinator.

J Clay

January 2nd, 2012
1:03 pm

Based on this year, I would have Stafford/Schwartz 5th and Flacco/Harbaugh 4th

Mr. Mustard

January 2nd, 2012
1:09 pm

Good luck to the Falcons. I will always root for them, but in the Smith era, this is where they crumble. Until they adjust defensively calling new schemes on third downs, I have little faith. My utter exasperation is that management clearly are thinking people, who are trying hard to win. The fact that they cannot or won’t change this glaring weakness is mind boggling, and disappointing.

I expect Dimitroff, Blank and Smith to be willing to change, because you have to change to succeed, anywhere in football and in life. Yes, be true and good with your core competencies, but when an excellent opponent or challenger faces you, you have to be able to try something different. The good ones will match against your core, as we have seen all too often.

We may not have the most talented team yet, which is fine because we are building a strong squad, but we won’t truly know as long as we refuse to stop playing the soft zone defensive scheme on 3rd downs.

In addition, New Orleans was calling audibles against our offensive audibles, and said they knew what was coming. Predictability shows an inability to think, and this is a thinking man’s game, wrapped around a physical environment.

Mr. Smith – you must change the scheme to win against the elite. Look at who they are and what they do. New England, New Orleans, Green Bay, and even Pittsburgh. They throw slants, screens, and call outstanding games and adjust. They plan for change.

Until we do that, we will be better than average at best.

Good luck and maybe they beat the Giants. They can certainly. But then again, they may be humiliated.

And if we see one more “It is 3rd down and 12. Complete to a WIDE OPEN receiver for 18 yards”, we will most certainly lose, because Coach Smith and staff will have learned nothing.

I truly hope they change, and win. If they change and lose I will continue to be as excited as I was the last three years. If they don’t then in my opinion, they have peaked with this management.

Good luck and go Falcons. I do wish you success.

Dawgs4Eva

January 2nd, 2012
1:22 pm

Jeff –

Just how different would these rankings look if the pairs were matched differently. Would you not think that a matching of Sean Payton and Matt Ryan would certainly be a lot different than a pairing of Mike Smith and Drew Brees?

Would Drew Bree be even close to the passing records he has? Would not Matt Ryan be considered “Elite” by now or much closer to it?

That’s my only problem with Mike Smith. By nature, his way of winning in the NEW PASS HAPPY league will not get us to the Championship.

Dawgs4Eva = Falcons4Evan = Braves4Eva

January 2nd, 2012
1:23 pm

Just an FYI.

True Homer! !

Larry

January 2nd, 2012
1:44 pm

Dawgs4Eva,

Good analogy; however, I still think we’d see an even greater Matt Ryan if he had the confidence to attempt the more risky deeper routes believing when it doesn’t work out he has a defense to get the bal back.

This ball control, ground it out, eat up the clock offense has protected this defense for four years as they wear down too easily in the 4th quarter if they play too much.

Me Too

January 2nd, 2012
2:07 pm

Larry if the Falcons had a elite defense, Matt Ryan and the team would defeat every team 45-0. Is that the right answer?

chris

January 2nd, 2012
2:09 pm

dawgs4eva, great post and good point..ive always felt that ryan has not really been alowed to just be himself and play football the way that he can play. The teams scoring 40-50 points a game are offenses that allow their quarterbacks to throw the ball without a bunch of shackles on them and over coaching. Smith is a good coach and I am thrilled to have him here in Atlanta..those of us who has suffered with poor football for the past 3 decades respect the fact we’ve had back to back 10 win seasons for first time, 4 straight winning seasons and just a confidence each year that at the end of each season now with this nucleus in place we’re going to be in the hunt. Prayerfully soon we will see a Super Bowl trophy held by Smith and Ryan together. THere are so many intangibles that go into Super Bowl winners and yes some luck too. Have a good feeling about the Giants game if we can control the ball and take the crowd out of it early………no matter what congrats on another winning 2011 and heres to better days and bigger wins ahead for 2012 and beyond.

Larry

January 2nd, 2012
2:10 pm

Me Too,

Come on, man…how about an adult-like debate?

chris

January 2nd, 2012
2:11 pm

and the fact we’re talking playoffs three of the past four years is a big deal!..better than having to wonder who was going to be the new coach after having 4-12 seasons! lol

AtlNative

January 2nd, 2012
2:12 pm

Pretty fair list I think. Might switch some here or there, but overall I think a good job.

Question – If Ryan and the Falcons lose in the first round (again), will that change to perception of Smith/Ryan as a good duo?

chris

January 2nd, 2012
2:13 pm

Jeff, I think Ryan-Smith have got to win a playoff game to move up.. I actually think you have em about right at thispoint…having said that I do believe Ryan is showing some improvement and getting more confident..we’ll see how he holds us Sunday under the New York atmosphere…it’ll be fun

Jeff

January 2nd, 2012
2:15 pm

Regardless of what Smith/Ryan do, Until MGMNT and Smith get rid of our BVG we will never have a championship DEFENSE. You can’t live play in and play out with a soft zone… BVG will be gone after this year, there are too many better DEF.Coordinators out there to be had.Not a college Def.Coordinator Flunky like BVG!!

AtlNative

January 2nd, 2012
2:19 pm

@Jeff

I don’t like the soft zone either – however, do you think that one reason we play so much of it is the talent (or lack of) that is on the field?
The reason I ask is due to our really poor pass rush, which can never get pressure on good teams. I don’t care how good a secondary is, at this level, when you give a QB 5 seconds or longer, they are gonna pick you apart.
I am not saying BVG is the answer, I honestly don’t know, but it seems to me we have really questionable talent on D.

Falcons4Eva

January 2nd, 2012
2:31 pm

Our upcoming playoff game will be one that is one (or loss) at the line of scrimmage. This is the one game where by we are going to have to:

1.) Take some shots down field to loosen up that defense.
2.) Turner is going to have to have a good game
3.) Our offensive line MUST MAN UP. No doubt about it.
4.) Ryan is going to get beat-up, but he must be tough and get back up.

If there ever was going to be a “check down” game on the recievers, this is IT! the Giants line is scary.

Big Crimson 75

January 2nd, 2012
2:32 pm

maybe its me………..but all this talk about who has done what in the playoffs would make me put the New England duo #1 without a doubt

Let's Be Honest

January 2nd, 2012
2:42 pm

Pats should be #1, Falcons should be #6, Lions should be #7. Slide everyone else down and it’s perfect.

Larry

January 2nd, 2012
2:45 pm

AtlNative

January 2nd, 2012
2:19 pm

@Jeff

“I don’t like the soft zone either – however, do you think that one reason we play so much of it is the talent (or lack of) that is on the field?”

AtlNative,

Every Defensive Coordinator in the NFL has input and suggestions for the Head Coach and GM on what he needs to be successful as the leader of the defense…same with the offense.

BVG has had four drafts, four free agencies, and four years of teaching and developing. He is a failure, plain and simple, and we badly need to upgrade here. Frankly, I am still pissed he was given this responsibility as he had never done anything at the professional level to warrant a coordinator position….that’s on Mike Smith and TD!

Is the defense we saw againt New Orleans two weeks ago any better than the one he trotted on the field in his first game as DC four years ago? No!

Just look at what Wade Phillips did for the Texans in his FIRST season! Last year they were one of the worst; this year they are one of the best with basically the same players. That’s coaching my friend!

Let's Be Honest

January 2nd, 2012
2:48 pm

Reason why I elevate ATl over BAL is because John and Joe inherited a heck of a defense with a handful of Hall of Famers. Without that defense, that team isn’t much. Ryan and Smith basically started from scratch, to reach the playoffs 3 of 4 seasons, with a mediocre defense.

Eric C.

January 2nd, 2012
2:48 pm

Giants defense – 402 pts allowed this year and 376 yds/gm

Jeff, Flacco has had a lot better defense to back him up

Paul in NH

January 2nd, 2012
2:55 pm

Not sure how any duo can be picked over Brady and Belichick – 3-1 in Super Bowls is as many as Rodgers, Brees and Eli combined.

Supes

January 2nd, 2012
2:58 pm

I don’t know why everyone here is so “scared” of the Giants Defense…their LB core is average, their secondary is questionable at best…granted their D-Line and Pass Rush is Outstanding, but that’s 1 area out of the defense…on top of that I remember seeing SEATTLE and THE DEADSKINS go up there and SMACK the GIANTS around in all areas of the game.

If the Falcons play their “A” game I don’t care what the Giants do…Matt Ryan and Coach Smith will finally get that monkey off their back…one last thing for those admonishing Ryan for not having a playoff win…it took Peyton Manning 6 seasons to GET ONE! Just saying folks…if they were easy everyone would be doing it…

Steve

January 2nd, 2012
3:34 pm

Jeff’s ranking is probably accurate (unfortunately). It doesn’t look good that the five combinations he ranked below Smith-Ryan have never been to the playoffs together before (not many of those coaches or quarterbacks have been to playoffs at all). But I am one who hopes that Smith-Ryan improve their playoff record with a win next weekend.

Larry

January 2nd, 2012
3:53 pm

Good point, Supes!

Refreshing to see some positive team spirit on here!

Tommy

January 2nd, 2012
4:10 pm

Funny thing is, when the coaches turned the Falcons loose during the first 20 minutes of the Bucs game, they put up 42 points. True, it was against a Tampa team that didn’t care, but seriously, a 10-year-old playing Madden can’t put up 42 in a half. When the coaches started reining them in late in the 2nd quarter, the whole thing ground to a halt.

It helps explain why this team has not put together many complete games this year. I have no doubt that the Falcons coaches are very competent and are excellent at preparing their players and setting up a game plan. What Smith and Co. lack is ruthlessness.

Falcons coaches, for whatever reason, take their foot off the gas all of the time. They did it against Green Bay and lost after going up 14-0, and they nearly blew the Seattle game (up 24-0, won 30-28), the Tennessee game (up 23-3, won 23-17), and the Vikings game (up 24-0, won 24-14), as a result. In these four games, the Falcons were up by a combined total of 82 points at one point. The final margin in the four games together was nine.

Had that been the Saints playing the Bucs yesterday, the final might have been 68-3. Jerks win Super Bowls. That’s an unfortunate fact. I like that Mike Smith is a nice guy, but we need him to be a jerk 3 hours a week.

CGD..

January 2nd, 2012
4:14 pm

2-4 against winning teams this year= .250 winning %… Lousy

The results will be the same this coming Sunday Js..Sit tight Sir….

Nativebird

January 2nd, 2012
4:17 pm

Harbaugh-Flacco? Really? New bag o Ganga just in from Jamaica?

JP

January 2nd, 2012
4:28 pm

Joe Flacco is overrated. His past playoff success is like Tim Tebow’s midseason success in 2011. It’s been largely thanks to a good running game and defense.

falconfan58

January 2nd, 2012
5:00 pm

The difference between Flacco and Ryan has been what’s been asked of them since arriving in the NFL. When Ryan joined the Falcons, he was asked to go out and win games. When Flacco joined the Ravens he was asked not to lose games. It will be interesting to see what happens with Flacco as the Ravens defense ages and he is asked more and more to go out and win games. Conversely, it would be nice to see Atlanta develop an elite defensive unit.

Mr Charlie

January 2nd, 2012
5:17 pm

I think I have the 32nd combo…Raheem Morris and Josh Freeman.

Mr Charlie

January 2nd, 2012
5:18 pm

Anyone watch the Baltimore-Jax game? Probably the worse QB play I have ever seen, well, until yesterday at the dome for the Bucks.

Mr Charlie

January 2nd, 2012
5:20 pm

Paul in NH, have to agree.

Mr Charlie

January 2nd, 2012
5:20 pm

Paul in NH, have to agree.

Mr Charlie

January 2nd, 2012
5:20 pm

Paul in NH, have to agree.

Blahblahblah

January 2nd, 2012
5:28 pm

Hard to argue with the rankings. The top 5 all have rings. I’d put Ryan #6 and Flacco #7 based on Flacco’s bad year.

Walker, Texas Ranger

January 2nd, 2012
5:33 pm

Jeff, You don’t give Smith any credit for the quick turnaround. That puts him ahead of the Ravens group which Harbaugh came into a winning situation. When Smith came in, the Falcons were a hot mess. Therefore, Smith & Ryan #6

Walker, Texas Ranger

January 2nd, 2012
5:34 pm

Agree with Paul in NH as well. Top coach and top 3 qb

CGD..

January 2nd, 2012
5:46 pm

Giants 48 Falcons 10

ELi will Melt how its done IN THE PLAYOFFS………

CGD..

January 2nd, 2012
5:48 pm

Wow. can you believe that lousy team yesterday beat the Falcons and Matt earlier this year…Amazing..

CGD..

January 2nd, 2012
5:48 pm

Eli will show^^^^