At this time of the NFL playoffs, it’s all about coaching.

The other teams have packed up and left, and after two weeks of survival camp, or the NFL playoffs, only the New York Jets, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Green Bay Packers, and the Chicago Bears remain. 2 out of the 4 coaches have been to the Super Bowl, which is where they are heading, if they just win this battle. They all can be described in a few words. Rex Ryan: loud, obnoxious, winner. For Mike McCarthy: under the radar, unknown. Mike Tomlin is quietly confident, and Lovie Smith is simply quiet. Yet, all four teams have a legitimate chance to get to the big game in Dallas, Jerry Jones’ place. Tomlin’s Steelers host the Jets, and the Bears host division rival Green Bay. As the “second season” rolls on, I seem to notice that the coaches look… well, scared. Just purely scared. Even Rex Ryan, the most confident of them all. Not “In fear of my job” fear. Because they’ll be back. It’s the “How much of the blame will I get if we lose” type of fear. Most of the time, that’s the worse fear. Smith has been to the Super Bowl before, in early 2007, when his Bears lost the Super Bowl to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, 29-17. After that, it was all bad and no good for Lovie. In fact, at this time last year, we were all wondering if a coach 2 years removed from a Super Bowl appearance would get canned. Now, all the talk is about the playoffs, the NFC North Champions, beating, yes, their opponents, the Packers. Their formerly “immature” quarterback, (Side note: Great article on the Bears here by Chris Ross, author of chrisross91.wordpress.com) Jay Cutler, seems to have grown up these recent weeks, heading up to the playoffs, played efficient football against the overmatched Seahawks, very un-Cutler like. For Cutler, it’s really do or die at this point in his career. This is when he’s either going to flourish or fail. He’ll turn 28 at the end of April, and so far, his production level has been much lower than his talent. Because he has possibly the biggest potential of any NFL quarterback. By now, he has probably heard that previous sentence so many times he’s sick of it. Now is the time to shine, and to prove that he is a worthy National Football League quarterback for the Chicago Bears in the future.

But back to the coaches. What does Lovie Smith have to do with Cutler’s development? A lot. Now, Smith can breathe nice and easy (or easier than before) and now expect Cutler to have clean games like he had last Sunday. Because he knows that Cutler can do it. He’s proved it to him. Now, he doesn’t have to worry about babysitting Cutler, and focus on his job: coaching the whole team. The Bears defense is always fantastic, and now Smith has a more balanced role in coaching the team. It used to be, focus on offense, let the great defense do their thing.

For Rex Ryan, he has a quarterback to worry about as well. Very much like the Bears, the Jets have a great defense, and Ryan has to focus on the offense, most specifically, 24-year old Mark Sanchez. “The Sanchise” is the Jets all-time postseason wins leader, but it seems that he only plays well in the playoffs. He looked shaky all season, prompting lots of people, me included, to wonder, with a 17 touchdown, 13 interception campaign, sure, he’s a winner, but would it have been better for the Jets to choose say, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman, who led the Bucs to a 10-6 record with literally no talent around him. That question will remain unanswered, unless Sanchez delivers this Sunday, which is highly likely. He’s one of those athletes that have ice in their veins, and come big games, he’ll show up. In New York’s 7 point win over New England last Sunday, he starred, throwing for 194 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. This quarterback threw for 274 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Without the 80-yard difference between the two, the stats are pretty identical, no? And the mystery quarterback is… Jay Cutler. Surprised? I didn’t think so. The Bears and Jets are surprisingly extremely similar. Both teams have quarterbacks who aren’t completely proven, although New York has the upper hand there. Both teams have coaches who have to deal with them and almost ignore the defense, although both being defensive coaches, although Ryan and Smith are polar opposites in terms of how they coach.

With Mike McCarthy, he’s the most unknown of the group of coaches. He’s been the coach for a while now, just starting his fifth calendar year at the position. Yet, have you ever seen an article based solely on McCarthy? Not really. He’s had success before, during the 2007 season, when the Pack were in this spot, only against the New York Giants, when Brett Favre (when have I heard that name before?) threw an interception in overtime, and the Giants won on a field goal by Lawrence Tynes. They eventually went on to defeat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. For the Packers, this time is revenge for Green Bay, only it won’t be against New York, but maybe someone better, their arch rivals, the Chicago Bears. They’ve got a completely different look from 2007: No Favre, replaced by Aaron Rodgers, McCarthy’s not an inexperienced coach anymore, and shouldn’t coach like it Sunday.

Mike Tomlin has always seemed to have that inner confidence in him. He’s not as loud as Ryan, not by a long shot, but he’s not as quiet as Smith, either. He’s just sort of in between. Average. But he’s certainly not an average coach. He’s the youngest head coach ever to reach and win a Super Bowl, done in 2009 at the age of 37. This season, he’s led the Steelers to a 12-4 record, good for the #2 seed in the AFC and a date with the Jets this Sunday Night for a second Super Bowl in 3 years.

Conference Championship Predictions

Green Bay Packers: 21

Chicago Bears: 18

New York Jets: 24

Pittsburgh Steelers: 20

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