Conference championship picks: You wanna coach?

Jim Vallet and Robert perea, The Fernley Reporter

Overheard.

In the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive huddle before the Los Angeles Rams’ game winning drive, “Don’t bother covering that Cooper Kupp guy. He can’t hurt us.”

In The Tennessee Titans’ coaches room, “I think our best chance of winning is to put the game in Ryan Tannehill’s hands.”

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In the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive huddle, “Don’t worry about putting two hands on the ball, we haven’t fumbled much this year.”

In the Buffalo Bills’ defensive huddle, “You saw what happened when Tampa Bay pressured the quarterback, so we should play WAY back and make them move the ball down the field to beat us.”

Obviously, none of these statements were really made, yet with all the criticism I’ve heard of the coaches from last weekend, you’d think all of it was true. I used to coach with a man who said he wanted to make signs for all the spectators to read with messages like, “No, I really don’t want my 6’ 10” center shooting 3’s”, and “I DID NOT tell our pitcher to walk four guys in a row”, or “I don’t want to kickoff out of bounds”.

His message was that coaches get unfair criticism a lot, and his inference was that a coach is only as good as his players.

Last weekend’s last two games showed this perfectly. In the early game Sunday, The Rams had the ball with a tie score and very little time on the clock 75 yards from the Bucs’ goal line. The Bucs chose to all out pressure Matt Stafford and it only took two passes to Cooper Kupp and the Rams were lining up for what turned out to be the game winning field goal.

Bucs fans were livid. “How can you leave only the safety to watch Cooper Kupp!!?? Play back and make them move the ball more slowly!! Dumb coach!!”

Later, at the crazy end of the incredible second game, the Kansas City Chiefs twice and the Buffalo Bills twice moved briskly down the field to score touchdowns against defenses playing soft, as recommended by the Bucs’ fans.

“Oh, NO!!! The way to stop them is to pressure them!! Prevent defenses only prevent us from winning!! Dumb coach!!” 

It seems to me that a coach can’t win, unless he does. Had Tampa Bay sacked Matt Stafford, or had Travis Kelce been tackled in bounds, fans would not have credited the defensive coaches with the win, but they sure did dump on them with the burden of the loss. But, at least they wouldn’t have caught the blame for the loss if their defensive players had done what they are paid to do.

I bring this up on a day when Sean McVay joked how much he had aged in the five years since becoming Rams’ head coach, and Sean Payton resigned as New Orleans Saints head coach. And, those events happened after six NFL head coaches were fired since the start of this season. They get paid well, but it seems to me that only the U.S. President has a tougher job. And it’s up for debate who gets criticized more. Because even though very few of us have been an NFL head coach or President, all of us seem to think we could do a better job.

A couple of thoughts about last weekends’ games, which to me made for the most exciting weekend of pro football watching ever.

If Joe Burrow gets hit this week as much as he did last week, the Bengals’ coach should be fired.

I have heard many blame the weather conditions for Aaron Rodgers’ poor performance Saturday night, but similar weather did not seem to bother Josh Allen the week before.

In a league where you MUST have a good quarterback to win a championship, the Tennessee Titans need to find one if they want to win a championship.

It appears when the 49ers have all their players, they can beat anyone. But when missing Kittle, Samuel, Bosa, Warner, or Williams, they can lose to anyone. I don’t think there is any other NFL team so dependent upon a few non-quarterbacks.

The Rams did all they could to let a shell of its former self Tampa Bay Buccaneer team back in the game Sunday. The Rams have fallen into a pattern of this that only they can break.

We are witnessing a changing of the guard when it comes to the best NFL quarterbacks. Although both Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers still play very well, they have been surpassed this playoff season by Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, and Joe Burrow. 

Tampa Bay had a rough year, and I wonder if there are signs that all is not well there. On top of the Antonio Brown saga (which continues with a Brown tweet celebrating the Bucs’ playoff loss) Bruce Arians was fined by the League (not his team) for physically smacking a player on his own team! I know there’s a lot of pressure, but if I would have done that when I coached high school in Michigan I would have been (deservedly) arrested. When results do not equal expectations…

This year has been so strange! The more you know, the less you know. Here are my picks for the two conference championship games. Lines are from William Hill Sportsbook on Monday, Jan 24.

Cincinnati Bengals (+7) at Kansas City Chiefs: It’s all too perfect. The Chiefs look so good, they might be the best NFL team ever, the Bengals have to protect their quarterback better. This year, it seems like the perfect spot for a huge upset.

San Francisco 49ers (+3 ½) at Los Angeles Rams: I’m not dumping them now.

Robert’s picks

These two matchups promise to provide great Super Bowl storylines no matter which two teams win. Maybe a rematch of the 2020 Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl, or a rematch of the classic 54-51 Rams-Chiefs game from 2018. Or it could be 49ers-Bengals for the third time, which would only be the second time two teams have met three times in the Super Bowl, along with Cowboys-Steelers. Rams-Bengals would bring the Joe Burrow-JaMarr Chase matchup against Matthew Stafford-Cooper Cupp.

After a dud of a Wild Card round, last week gave us four games for the ages, capped off with that crazy last two minutes plus overtime in Kansas City. I can picture some version of 13-year old me after that 1981 Chargers-Dolphins game, still talking about Bills-Chiefs in 2062.

Robert’s picks

Chiefs (-7) over Bengals: If not for a late interception, this could be Titans vs. Chiefs. If not for the absolute brilliance of Patrick Mahomes, it could be Bengals at Bills. I believed going into last Sunday’s game that the Kansas City-Buffalo winner was going to win the Super Bowl, and all that game did is reinforce the notion. About a month ago, the Chiefs went to Cincinnati and blew a 28-14 lead when Joe Burrow and JaMarr Chase relived their LSU days. That could certainly happen again, and I won’t be heartbroken if it does, but I expect the Chiefs to finish the job this time.

49ers (+3 1/2) over Rams: Life is full of contradictions. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. Also, out of sight, out of mind. It’s hard to beat a team three times in one season. Also, as Mike Krukow says, ownage is ownage. So it goes with this matchup. The 49ers have beaten the Rams twice already this season, and six consecutive times overall. The Rams were favored in both of those games this season, and a couple of the other times, too. The Rams are the more explosive, much scarier team. But the 40ers are the tougher team, and I expect they’ll try to turn this into another dogfight. The game will likely come down to which team is able to overcome the biggest mistake its quarterback makes. This isn’t the same 49ers team that was 3-5 halfway through the season. They’re tested, and they know they can win. The Rams hope they can win, and I’d rather have my cash on the team with belief, especially in a game where losing by a field goal cashes the ticket.

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