Is it ‘Coughlin Time’ again for Belichick and the Patriots?

It is unusual for a team’s chief front office executive to be in the spotlight before a conference title game.

But that is what is happening this week with the hype before the New England-Jacksonville game for the AFC title.

One of the storylines is the matchup between New England coach Bill Belichick and Jaguars vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin.

That is because the two men once coached together under Bill Parcells, and Coughlin has a 5-2 edge on Belichick in head-to-head matchups and twice beat him in Super Bowls.

The key to both of Coughlin’s victories was a fierce pass rush that throttled Tom Brady and held him to 14 and 17 points. And then Eli Manning directed game-winning touchdown drives in the fourth quarter of both games.

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Steelers’ Tomlin looking more and more mediocre with each big-game loss

When Mike Tomlin coached the Pittsburgh Steelers to two Super Bowls in his first four years as a head coach, winning one and losing one, he seemed destined to be an elite coach in the NFL.

It hasn’t worked out that way.

Seven years have gone by and Tomlin hasn’t made it back to another Super Bowl. His playoff record is now 8-7.

Even worse, he had the most talented offensive team in the league in 2017 and lost his first playoff game to Jacksonville despite a 13-3 regular season record, although the loss of Ryan Shazier during the season was huge.

Still, Tomlin must take most of the blame for how undisciplined the Steelers were during the season. And his premature talk about playing the New England Patriots twice were certainly ill-advised.

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Assessing the NFL Divisional Round quarterbacks

They might be called the Other Seven.

They are the quarterbacks heading into the divisional NFL playoff round with a chance to win the Super Bowl not named Tom Brady.

Brady, of course, is the one with a chance to make the most history. He’s already become the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls (Bart Starr also won five titles but the first three were before the Super Bowl was invented)  and now can become the first to win six.

Despite the drama surrounding the Patriots recently, he still overshadows the rest of the QB field in the playoffs. But the other seven can also put their names in the history book by winning it all this year. A Super Bowl victory is a defining moment for a quarterback’s career.

Two others — Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees — have already won rings.

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If the Patriots come up short, the drama in Foxboro could be delicious

Start the popcorn popping.

NFL fans may be in for quite a show in the next month as the New England Patriots begin their drive for a sixth Super Bowl victory.

Or maybe not. But the anticipation keeps things interesting.

At first glance, the Patriots appear to have an easy road to the title.

Their first opponent, Tennessee, lost three of their last four games. And both their possible second opponents are vulnerable. Pittsburgh has lost its best defensive player, Ryan Shazier, and its defense has a history of being carved up by Tom Brady. The other possible opponent, Jacksonville, has probably the league’s best defense, but is quarterbacked by Blake Bortles.

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Taking a look back: NFL Week 17

Five observations on the final weekend of the NFL season:

1. The top two seeds in the NFC go into the playoffs with 13-3 records and backup quarterbacks, but that is the only thing the top seeded Eagles and second seeded Vikings have in common. The Eagles have to be worried if they can win with Nick Foles at quarterback. He only played a quarter in the team’s ugly 6-0 loss to Dallas and was only four of 11 for 39 yards and pick. Meanwhile Case Keenum played most of the season, going 11-3. The Vikings seem the better bet in the playoffs with Keenum than the Eagles are with Foles. The Vikings also could become the first team to play the Super Bowl in their own stadium.

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