They say no one sells hope like the NFL.
Every year, every team has a theoretical shot at playing relevant football. Sometimes, if they’re lucky, the football they play could even be construed as fun, or heaven forbid, aesthetically pleasing. (Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.) In a league where parity runs supreme, it’s not out of the ordinary for half of every season’s postseason field to be completely fresh. With a few major tweaks and some general good fortune — a bounce of the ball here and there — a last place, bottom-dwelling team from last fall could catapult into first place. At this point, it’s almost shocking if one doesn’t go from worst to first. (Ahem)
But even that definition of parity has its limits. When push comes to shove, when it’s time for “big boy” elite football, it’s not those former bottom-dwelling squads making deep playoff runs well into January. Their time will come, theoretically. The teams playing for Super Bowls, or chances at Super Bowls, are those with the special quarterbacks who possess a complete mastery of the game. They’re helmed by brilliant and innovative coaches pushing all the right buttons. And while flawed in their own very specific fashions, balance defines them in all three phases, in their programs, and in their game-plans. Whatever pitfalls they work against are minimalistic in comparison to their also-ran peers.
No where are those descriptors more evident than when applied to this year’s Conference Championship participants. The Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers all have elite quarterbacks capable of reining in contests on their own. Having any of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady as the man under center is a definitive point in your winning favor — who knew?
Their coaches — Andy Reid, Sean McDermott, Matt LaFleur, and Bruce Arians, respectively — have developed reputations as both pioneers and premier teachers. Reid is, perhaps, the greatest offensive mind to ever put on a headset. McDermott is the steward of one of the NFL’s new chief organizations from top to bottom. The legendary Vince Lombardi might be the best football coach in history and LaFleur has already won more games in his first two years (28) than any Packers coach ever did. Meanwhile, Arians, the obvious surly stepchild of this group, is bold and old school in the nicest of senses for any modern football leader.
If pressed, none of these teams are uncomfortable at the prospect of leaning on their other units. Stars such as Tyrann Mathieu, Tre’Davious White, Za’Darius Smith, and Devin White, among others, are to thank for that reality. These are complete teams, the way any championship contender should be.
There’s a reason the Chiefs, Bills, Packers, and Buccaneers have qualified for pro football’s final four. This is the true cream of the crop. And while some of their competitors next January may (likely) will change thanks to the prospect of chaotic parity, chances are this group will be doing this same dance for years to come.
Windy City Gridiron picks the 2021 NFC and AFC Championship Games.
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