Coaching Matchups in NFL and BCS

Coach Ron Meyer: Coaching Matchups in NFL and BCS

As I promised, I'm back to look at the head coaching matchups for this weekend's Wildcard games in the NFL, and the BCS Championship game Monday Night. I'm always encouraging you to handicap football games from a coach's perspective. I'll give you a taste of my process here in today's article.

Unfortunately, I have to admit up front that I believe the coaching is going to cancel out in many of these games. I don't think there are any spots where clearly unqualified coaches have lucked into a playoff spot. And, we have several proven veterans in the field. Maybe inexperience will be a problem for Jim Harbaugh and San Francisco NEXT week. This week...known quantities will probably be avoiding surprises.

SATURDAY

  • Cincinnati (Marvin Lewis) at Houston (Gary Kubiak)

Both of these coaches are tweeners. Some years it looks like they're about to be fired (there are fans in each city who have been stunned in the past when these guys WEREN'T fired). Other years, they have playoff caliber teams who are one or two plays away from really accomplishing something.

I don't personally consider either to be "championship caliber" coaches at the moment. But, I do think Kubiak has done a good job recently of bringing in better assistants. His past teams could throw the ball, but do little else. This year's team was very balanced before injuries took their toll. You got the impression that Kubiak had finally figured things out. We'll see.

I'm not giving an edge in the coaching department to either team in this game. My final decision will be based on other factors. I will tell you this. I probably would have gone against either of these guys had they matched up against Pittsburgh instead of each other. They each caught a break in drawing each other.

  • Detroit (Jim Schwartz) at New Orleans (Sean Payton)

Well, here you have a Super Bowl winner with a great coaching pedigree playing at home...against an up-and-comer who encourages very physical football if not very smart football. It's clear that Payton deserves a big edge in consideration. But, we're talking about a team that's laying -10.5 points or -11 points...so those advantages have already been factored into the line.

In fact, the style of Schwartz may be something that can throw the Saints off their game. New Orleans is a finesse team, and finesse teams can lose their focus if things get chippy. If you see me on Detroit in this one, that would be one of the reasons that factored into the play. Sometimes "handicapping the coaches" isn't about coaching "quality," it's about how the styles match up.

In terms of the straight up win, a HUGE edge goes to Payton in my view. But, for the cover? You'll have to sign up for my picks to find out!

SUNDAY

  • Atlanta (Mike Smith) at NY Giants (Tom Coughlin)

Interesting matchup here...with a pair of coaches who are guaranteed to have pretty good teams, but haven't yet figured out how to make a run at the title every year in the manner that powerhouses New England and Pittsburgh do. Smith's Falcons have had a winning record every year he was in charge. Yet, they're only 0-2 in playoff games. Coughlin won a Super Bowl a few years back...but always seems to be a couple of weeks away from being on the hot seat because his teams are so erratic.

It's the consistency of Smith, versus the ups and downs of Coughlin. That may seem odd because Coughlin is such a straight shooter. He has a knack for taking chances on aggressive players and aggressive play calling though...and that leads to wild changes in direction for what seems like a conservative coach.

Who do I give the edge to? To me, Smith has to win a playoff game before you can give him the coaching edge in a playoff game over someone who's been around as long as Coughlin. The Giants are already favored by a field goal...which looks to capture that postseason advantage for Coughlin in the number.

  • Pittsburgh (Mike Tomlin) at Denver (John Fox)

Two proven quantities...but Tomlin has had much more recent success. Tomlin has a 5-2 postseason record already in his brief career, and has been to the Super Bowl twice. You may not be aware that Fox has a 5-3 lifetime postseason record, spread over a lot more years. Fox did reach one Super Bowl, but that was way back in 2003. It's as if Tomlin had squeezed Fox's career into a much shorter time period.

I have a lot of respect for both of these coaches...but you have to give the edge right now to Tomlin. And, in particular, you really have to respect how well the veterans reflect their head coach when they go to battle on the field. It's a joy to behold for a former coach like me...seeing a coaching philosophy "come to life" like this.

What gets tricky here is that Tomlin is such a huge pointspread favorite because of the differences between the teams. You don't often get a coach like John Fox AND that many points in a playoff game. Can Fox come up with a few wrinkles that keep this one close? Will one of those wrinkles be named Brady Quinn?

We could be in store for a very interesting Wildcard Weekend because none of the underdog coaches are pretenders who don't belong...and there really is a lot of brainpower getting points on the Vegas board. I can't tell you here in my weekend web article who I'll be taking. But, I can tell you I'm very excited about the pro card!

MONDAY

  • LSU (Les Miles) vs. Alabama (Nick Saban)

What interests me here is that Miles has the reputation of being a loose cannon-riverboat gambler, while Saban is the control freak who plays very conservatively and tries to let his superior athletes with the game. Yet...THIS YEAR...both teams are playing very similar styles...

Fantastic, truly dominating defenses
Unspectacular quarterbacks
Very productive running games

Miles isn't making headlines for doing crazy things...and nobody's talking much about how he likes to eat grass any more. We have two very successful coaches who have built virtually clone teams. Not surprisingly, those strikingly similar teams went to overtime in their regular season meeting.

Is there an edge? I have a feeling Miles WILL try something a bit crazy just because he can't control himself. Give that mindset a month to prepare for a game...and he'll come up with a few wrinkles. If those surprises work, he's a genius and LSU wins the title. If they blow up in his face, the conservative Saban will be sitting pretty knowing that his own team won't be giving anything away with recklessness.

I do have a personal preference for one of those styles over the other...and that preference will strongly influence my final release in this grand finale to the college season.

You can purchase my weekend of Wild Card selections here at the website. Log on a few hours before kickoff each day. If you have any questions about longer term service, call my handicapping office at 1-877-540-8787.

Maybe this is a football weekend where it's better to appreciate good (and great) coaching rather than to find nitpicky differences. Or, maybe this is the weekend where those slight differences are truly the deciding factor for who wins and who covers. You can't try to take some guesses on your own. Or, you can put A COACH IN YOUR CORNER by joining RON MEYER on the Vegas sidelines!

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