NFL playoffs about QBs, coaches — and Falcons have shot

Matt Ryan and Mike Smith will be looking to improve on their postseason resume in three weeks. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Matt Ryan and Mike Smith will be looking to improve on their postseason resume in three weeks. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

With few exceptions, Super Bowls are won by teams with a great quarterback and a great head coach. Or in the case of the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, a defense so great that it can overcome Trent Dilfer.

Results by Matt Ryan and the Mike Smith-coached Falcons this season suggest Atlanta is in a pretty good spot to go to the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history, and possibly win it. Ryan is having the best season of his career. Smith has kept his team focused and ascending over the past four weeks (exception: the Carolina game) and upgraded his staff with coordinators Mike Nolan (defense) and Dirk Koetter (offense).

What Ryan and Smith both lack is a playoff resume. Here are my rankings of the potential 15 quarterback-coach combinations in the playoff field (10 teams that have clinched, five that are in the hunt):

1. Tom Brady-Bill Belichick (New England): It has been eight seasons since the Patriots have won a Super Bowl. But with a game on the line, Brady and Belichick (three Super Bowls won, two lost) still rank above any other duo. The Patriots are the league’s highest-scoring team (35.3) and probably still the most feared team, despite a very average defense.

2. Aaron Rodgers-Mike McCarthy (Green Bay): The only quarterback with more touchdown passes than Rodgers (35) is Drew Brees (39). The difference: Rodgers has eight interceptions, Brees 18. The Packers were probably the best team in the league last season, but killed themselves with four turnovers in the playoffs against New York.

Nobody will be too upset if these two don't make the playoffs. (AP photo)

Nobody will be too upset if these two don't make the playoffs. (AP)

3. (Not in) Eli Manning-Tom Coughlin (N.Y. Giants): The Giants likely will miss the playoffs, which should comfort everybody else. For as many regular season problems as they’ve had, Manning and Coughlin have won eight of their last nine postseason games, including two Super Bowls.

4. Peyton Manning-John Fox (Denver): Fox made it to a Super Bowl in his second season with Carolina. Manning lost his first three playoff games but won seven of his next 10, including a Super Bowl. Personally, I think Denver is a little overrated because of a soft schedule (helped by the AFC West), but Manning and Fox aren’t going to be an easy out.

5. Joe Flacco-John Harbaugh (Baltimore): The defense isn’t as strong as past Baltimore teams. But the Ravens have never been one-and-done in four postseasons with Flacco and Harbaugh. Flacco has seven touchdown passes and two interceptions in his last four playoff games.

6. Matt Ryan-Mike Smith (Falcons): They’re 0-3 in the playoffs and had better performances as quarterback/head coach rookies in 2008 than the last two years. Lost to two Super Bowl winners (Green Bay and New York) and one finalist (Arizona) is some consolation. But the last two years the team didn’t look prepared for the moment.

7. Matt Schaub-Gary Kubiak (Houston): Schaub has never taken a playoff snap. Kubiak coached in his first postseason last year, impressively winning a game with a rookie backup quarterback (T.J. Yates). The Texans are similar to the Falcons: a playoff unknown.

Did Jim Harbaugh choose right with Colin Kaepernick? (AP)

Did Jim Harbaugh choose right with Colin Kaepernick? (Getty Images)

8. Colin Kaepernick-Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco): Harbaugh is a great coach, making it to the NFC title game in his first postseason (losing to the Giants in overtime). But switching to a rookie, Kaepernick, in midseason from Alex Smith was a big risk, even if Kaepernick has a bigger upside.

9. (Not in) Tony Romo-Jason Garrett (Dallas): Tony Romo is talented and tough, but he still makes too many mistakes in big moments and he’s only 1-4 in the playoffs. Jason Garrett might just be keeping the job warm for Sean Payton.

10. (Not in) Robert Griffin III-Mike Shanahan (Washington): Shanahan won two Super Bowls in Denver, he’s one of the best offensive/quarterback coaches in history and he’s done a nice job with RGIII. But Griffin probably is too banged up to expect a long playoff run (if the Redskins get in).

11. Andy Dalton-Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati): Marvin Lewis has been in Cincinnati for a long time (10 years) for a guy who’s never won a playoff game.

12. Andrew Luck-Chuck Pagano (Indianapolis): Luck (taking over for Manning) and Pagano (coming back from leukemia) makes for the best story of the playoffs. The Colts could be a dangerous team in the playoffs.

13. Russell Wilson-Pete Carroll (Seattle): Two guys who have far exceeded expectations. But sorry. I’m not buying in. The Seahawks (3-5 on road) will be a one-and-done wild card.

14. (Not in) Jay Cutler-Lovie Smith (Chicago): Cutler has the talent, just not always the head or leadership to go with it.

15. (Not in) Christian Ponder-Leslie Frazier (Minnesota): If we were ranking running games (Adrian Peterson), the Vikings would be a lot higher.

By Jeff Schultz

205 comments Add your comment

lowdownjj

December 25th, 2012
11:16 am

Not bad. Although I would swap ATL and Baltimore (even with the postseason success I give more credit to the Ravens D than to Flacco). Hopefully the Ryan/Smith combo jumps up the list after this year!

Birdhair

December 25th, 2012
11:21 am

where to put birdhair & murray?

Paul in NH

December 25th, 2012
11:23 am

Jeff – Overall rankings look about right.
A belated Happy Hannukah and enjoy your Chinese food today.

Paul in NH

December 25th, 2012
11:26 am

Haven’t the Pats lost 2 Super Bowls with Brady and Belichik?

Ansel

December 25th, 2012
11:27 am

Habaugh made it to the NFC title game, not AFC.

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 25th, 2012
11:27 am

First year I didn’t have to run out and buy batteries at low, low convenience store prices.

They grow up quick.

Put in Timeout by Ken Suguira,Filtered by Mark Bradley, Banned by Bill King, Chip Towers & only slightly loved by Jeff Schultz.

December 25th, 2012
11:28 am

Ain’t Skeered…….we can beat them ALL

Intellectual Ninja

December 25th, 2012
11:30 am

You are very, very wrong about Seattle.

The only team in the NFC that should scare the Falcons is a physical Seattle team that punches teams in the mouth and always seems to find a way to win the tough games.

This team, with its D, can beat anyone, anywhere. Russell Wilson is Drew Brees-esque in his ability to make the right throw at the right time, with the kind of mobility to keep plays alive that Brees never had.

Seattle is a team that punches you in the mouth and asks are you man enough.

Green Bay, Dallas, Washington, Bears, Vikings, 49ers? They all have gigantic holes the Falcons can exploit.

Seattle has no holes. Punishing defense that forces mistakes. Opportunistic offense that doesn’t make mistakes. And special teams that are also ranked in the top-5.

They are legitimate in ways no other team in the NFC is.

The Falcons could be that kind of legitimate, if Mike Smith stopped being a damn Marty Schottenheimer and stopped forcing Michael Turner on the offense, and just put the whole thing in Matt Ryan’s hands.

But Mike Smith refuses to do that. Anyone want to bet it was just as much Mike Smith as it was Mike Mularkey, who came up with that horrible gameplan against the Giants last year, where they took the ball out of Ryan’s hand and tried to force the offense to go through a gassed Michael Turner?

We see it this year. Time and time and time again, Smith takes the ball out of Ryan’s hands and tries to sit on leads. And time and time and time again, the Falcons go a quick 3-&-out and then the defense gives up a TD, and he lets the other team back in the game.

Until Mike Smith changes his Marty Schottenheimer ways, this team has no real chance.

Jeff Schultz

December 25th, 2012
11:37 am

Repeating a post I had on Facebook and Twitter: Peace, love and serenity to all, regardless of your religion, race, gender, political affiliation or where you stand on the whole Tim Tebow thing.

Jeff Schultz

December 25th, 2012
11:38 am

Paul in NH — Haha. Thanks. Christmas and Kung Pao, a marriage made in heaven.

Not yet a believer

December 25th, 2012
11:38 am

Based on your Denver comment, wouldn’t the Falcons be the little overrated from the NFC based upon that soft AFC West schedule help?

Jeff Schultz

December 25th, 2012
11:39 am

Paul in NH — Yes, will fix that.

Jeff Schultz

December 25th, 2012
11:39 am

Ansel — Did I write that? Lemme double-back.

Jeff Schultz

December 25th, 2012
11:40 am

Chef Tim — No kidding. Had to do a separate budget for batteries in old days.

Jeff Schultz

December 25th, 2012
11:40 am

Intellectual Ninja — You disagree with me? Suddenly I feel so much better about my Seattle projection. Hah!

DJANGO

December 25th, 2012
11:42 am

All 32 teams have a shot every season. Only great teams seize the opportunity
And this team crumbles to hot teams every season and now we have
Seattle, greenbay and Washington all peaking.

Jeff Schultz

December 25th, 2012
11:46 am

Not yet a believer: Yes. But Falcons 4-0 vs. AFC West, 9-2 vs. everybody else. Denver slightly worse: 5-0 (so far) vs. AFC West, 7-3 vs. everybody else. Denver also handled by three best opponents: New England, Houston, Falcons.

DJANGO

December 25th, 2012
11:48 am

Not yet a believer great point!

Ole Smoky

December 25th, 2012
11:52 am

Can’t stand Pete Carroll but has his team coached up & ready to roll on the road. Clearly most dangerous NFC team.

DJANGO

December 25th, 2012
12:06 pm

Greenbay would be the team I fear most. Aaron Rodgers
Is the best qb in the league and they are playing like 2010 and
We all remember their dome visit.

Me Too

December 25th, 2012
12:15 pm

Intellectual Ninja – “Until Mike Smith changes his Marty Schottenheimer ways, this team has no real chance.”

This is the real problem. HC Smith has not learned anything about Michael Turner. Look at the last three minutes of the Detroit game. Turner is given the ball behind the goal line and he is tackled for -2 yards and a safety. If a poll were taken of the fans, it would be almost unanimous that Turner should not be given the ball in that situation based on his results in the past two years. When will REALITY strike HC Smith. I have always said it HC Smith that caused the offensive problems when MM was OC but not all of them. I have a sneaking suspicion that he meddles with Nolan’s defense too. The only thing that can hold the Falcons back is HC Smith.

Geechy Dan

December 25th, 2012
12:26 pm

Hope I’m wrong,but New England will win super bowl…..Belicheck will cheat his way to the championship ( remember spygate) …….In his world,it ain’t cheating til you get caught:)

Discount DoubleDawg

December 25th, 2012
12:26 pm

Matt Ryan and Coach Smith have had their chances to learn what the playoffs are all about. This is their year to prove they are the real deal. I personally think we will make it at least to the NFC Championship game. Tough to predict anything more than that but based on what I have seen this year winning 2 playoff games seems reasonable and even expected.

Discount DoubleDawg

December 25th, 2012
12:27 pm

oh and Merry Christmas!

Dum-Bass

December 25th, 2012
1:02 pm

Strange there’s nothing in the AJC yet about Andruw Jones being arrested last night for battery. Saw it in several other sites and publications. It is relevant as it happened supposedly at the Capitol Club in Gwinnett County.

Dum-Bass

December 25th, 2012
1:04 pm

Oh BTW it will be Atlanta and Seattle playing for the NFC title and Denver-NE for the AFC. Go ahead and mark it down. I said it, it’s so!

kingdaddy

December 25th, 2012
2:05 pm

The wind is still because there is no Brees. Bring out the paper-bags…

Fan

December 25th, 2012
2:45 pm

Falcons will lose in the 1st round, 2nd round for sure.

Dr. Warren

December 25th, 2012
2:52 pm

Happy holidays from Northern Thailand. The Falcons are the official team of Chiang Mai, and large crowd viewed replay of the Detroit game in the walled Old City. I will be making a house call back in Atlanta if the Birds make the Super Bowl…

Larry

December 25th, 2012
3:08 pm

Wishing everyone a very, Merry Christmas here on vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Went Snow Mobilling yesterday to “Old Faithful” in Yellowstone.

Sometimes you just have to buy a “White Christmas.”

Go Falcons and be grateful for an elite QB and a great Head Coach…we could still have NoMora or Quitrino now!

Larry

Mike

December 25th, 2012
3:56 pm

Schultz you are a better writer and prognosticator than Bradley.

dirtybrid!

December 25th, 2012
4:25 pm

RISE UP!!! Love the Falcons.

We got tickets to the falcons game for CHRISTmas. My ten year old little brother will be taking in his very first falcons game.

Eddie G

December 25th, 2012
4:30 pm

I hope the Vikings play Atlanta in the playoffs. Remember 1998? Revenge is best served COLD!!!

Old School Falcon Fan

December 25th, 2012
5:15 pm

If you watched the 49ers game on Sunday, you would be really fearful for the Falcons. They will play the winner of the Redskins/Seattle game and both teams are scary, Seattle has a tough D, a hard running rb, a running QB and is peaking at the right ttme (averaging over 50 points a game the last three games including one agaonst a strong defensive team {49ers]).

45ACP

December 25th, 2012
5:16 pm

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress,non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2013, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wish.

DJANGO

December 25th, 2012
5:18 pm

Seriously what nfc play off team have the falcons beaten?

JR1967

December 25th, 2012
5:33 pm

As good as the Seachickens are, the team to be concerned with is the Washington Redskins. If they were to play Atlanta, they would have the experience of already played them head-to-head and RGIII has only gotten better as the season went on.

Answer This

December 25th, 2012
5:36 pm

@Fan…
one of those rounds? Lol. You guys have predicted losses all yeat! Part of the Mayan Culture are you? Lol lets go birds…….time to make some real noise!

Answer This

December 25th, 2012
5:36 pm

DawgNole

December 25th, 2012
5:41 pm

Ansel
December 25th, 2012
11:27 am

Habaugh made it to the NFC title game, not AFC.
_____________________

“Habaugh” actually didn’t make it to anything.

DawgNole

December 25th, 2012
5:44 pm

Jeff Schultz
December 25th, 2012
11:37 am

Repeating a post I had on Facebook and Twitter: Peace, love and serenity to all, regardless of your religion, race, gender, political affiliation or where you stand on the whole Tim Tebow thing.
____________________

Same to you, Jeff, and thanks for your tolerance and flexibility–and the effort you devote to keeping your blogs mostly civil and always entertaining.

DawgNole

December 25th, 2012
5:56 pm

DJANGO
December 25th, 2012
5:18 pm

Seriously what nfc play off team have the falcons beaten?
_________________________

None to date, but 3 that are still alive for postseason play–Dallas, NYG, Washington.

DawgNole

December 25th, 2012
5:59 pm

45ACP
December 25th, 2012
5:16 pm

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes . . . .
___________________

I believe you’ve covered yourself there. Politically correct from start to finish.

fansince74

December 25th, 2012
6:03 pm

http://blogs.ajc.com/jeff-schultz-blog/, I hope you are right about Seattle and Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Son Of Bart

December 25th, 2012
6:31 pm

I’m hoping the new coordinators will be the difference this year. Stay with the Detroit game plan and all will end well. Go back to “Smitty Ball” and it’s one and done yet again.

DawgNole

December 25th, 2012
6:32 pm

Intellectual Ninja
December 25th, 2012
11:30 am

You are very, very wrong about Seattle . . .
The only team in the NFC that should scare the Falcons is a physical Seattle team that punches teams in the mouth and always seems to find a way to win the tough games.
This team, with its D, can beat anyone, anywhere. Russell Wilson is Drew Brees-esque in his ability to make the right throw at the right time, with the kind of mobility to keep plays alive that Brees never had.
Seattle is a team that punches you in the mouth and asks are you man enough.
Green Bay, Dallas, Washington, Bears, Vikings, 49ers? They all have gigantic holes the Falcons can exploit.
Seattle has no holes. Punishing defense that forces mistakes. Opportunistic offense that doesn’t make mistakes. And special teams that are also ranked in the top-5.
______________________

Wonder how they lost X games.

But yes, they look pretty mean lately. Glad Falcons would have them at home.

DawgNole

December 25th, 2012
6:33 pm

Make that “Wonder how they lost 5 games.”

kingdaddy

December 25th, 2012
6:37 pm

Would have loved another shot at The Ain’ts, other than that, I don’t care who we play. Bring them on. Time to put up or shut up. We need Oline depth next year and a healthy defensive backfield…

dg03

December 25th, 2012
6:55 pm

It’s not right but it is what it is! There is such a bias toward the Falcons by the media(espn etc) I saw the same against the Bulldogs. It is disgusting! There is hardly any good reporting about the team with the best record! Yes the best record! Did you hear me espn? We are tired of being treated as second class citizens! Ok I am glad I got that out! I was about to explode. Oh did I tell you that the Falcons have the best record?

dg03

December 25th, 2012
6:56 pm

Oh and don’t bring up the Falcon’s playoff record. The playoffs haven’t even started yet!