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Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl directs his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Alabama, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

NFL playoff power poll

This is our last one of these, and we traditionally rank all the playoff quarterbacks and all the playoff coaches and the added sum dictates this poll.

Trying to factor in home field or any number of the unknown variables before any number of players and coaches make their debut in the unknown realm that is the postseason is predicting not polling.

And, like a good EPB crew hanging street lights in a new neighborhood, we poll.

1. Kansas City (QB ranking of the 14 playoff teams: 2; Coach ranking of the 14 playoff teams: 3; Total score: 5) — The Chiefs are the AFC team to beat in Vegas' eyes, and they have the DJ/Rory factor in their corner. If the Chiefs play their A-game, no one can keep up.

2. Green Bay (QB 1; Coach 7; Total 8) — That may be low for Matt LaFleur who has rewritten almost all of the "In his first three seasons" records in NFL coaching history. But as Jim Mora forever clued us in, the "Playoffs?!?!?!" are a different cat. Side note: On the most-at-stake scale, Aaron Rodgers ranks No. 2 in these playoffs.

3. Tampa Bay (QB 3; Coach 5; Total 8) — That may be high for Bruce Arians, but extra weight is given to the dudes with a title in their current locale. It delivers an extra belief within the locker room. And speaking of belief, does anyone inspire more playoff confidence in the huddle than Tommy B.?

4. Tennessee (QB 7; Coach 4; Total 11) — The QB rankings are heavily weighted toward the here and now. The coach rankings are weighted toward his postseason pedigree. That leaves Mike Vrabel, who is as good as almost any week in, week out behind a few ring-wearers heading into these playoffs. Still, if Derrick Henry returns in 10-plus days, well, that would make me look like a pretty decent NFL head coach and would make the Titans a lot more attractive.

5. Buffalo (QB 4; Coach 8; Total 12) — Lots of demons in play for the Bills when the Pats come calling in Round 1. Still, Josh Allen is a grown man, but is he ready to be a Super Bowl-contending franchise QB? The clock is ticking.

6. Pittsburgh (QB 11; Coach 2; Total 13) — Yes, this one feels like the biggest outlier, but hey, the rankings are what the numbers show, right? Still, for a team with that many offensive pieces, that much experience, that kind of defensive difference-maker (TJ Watt quietly had 22.5 sacks this season, friends) and this type of "Win one more for Ben" rallying cry, crazier things have happened than the Steelers making a January run.

7. Los Angeles — (QB 9; Coach 6; Total 15) — Here's the winner for the QB with the most at stake entering the postseason. Matt Stafford can rewrite his narrative with a run to the NFC title game or Super Bowl. As for coach, this stat will blow your hair back: The Sean McVay coaching try, which includes LaFleur and Cincy's Zac Taylor, has more division titles than the Bill Belichick coaching tree. Yes, you read that right.

7. Dallas (QB 5; Coach 10; Total 15) — If you want a lottery ticket that's outside of the heavy favorites to win it all, Dallas could be that scratch-off quick pick. They force turnovers and have a well-balanced offense. The Cowboys are at plus-1100 (bet $100, win $1,100) at oddshark.com. The Packers (+375) and the Chiefs (+500) are the favorites.

7. Cincinnati (QB 6; Coach 9; Total 15) — It's hard not to love the Bengals core, but it's also hard not to believe the Bengals with this many young pieces and stars don't have a "We made the playoffs, everything else is gravy" kind of mood right now. That's not advancing thoughts. That's man, next year is gonna be boss thoughts.

7. New England (QB 14; Coach 1; Total 15) — Belichick is going to have to work some magic in round one. And then the Pats will need some good fortune from there. And friends, rookie QBs making their first playoff start always are ranked at the bottom of this list, no matter how good Mac Jones may have been for most of his initial NFL season.

11. Arizona (QB 8; Coach 12; Total 20) — Injuries are part of the game. Heck, injuries and player availability may be the biggest roster unknown across the entire sport. And no no team had a non-QB injury as impactful as the Cardinals, who were 8-2 in games in which DeAndre Hopkins played and 3-4 in games he missed because of injury. Hopkins has been on the shelf and likely will miss the postseason with a knee injury.

12. San Francisco — (QB 12; Coach 11; Total 23) — A mismatched roster of guys you've heard of and guys you should have. Still, if the play-action is not working, this offense can get stagnant quickly.  

13. Las Vegas (QB 10; Coach 14; Total 24) — Sure, why not? In arguably the biggest regular-season roller coaster in recent memory, the Raiders are dancing. Who in a million years would have believed that in the aftermath of Gruden-Gate. Hey, did you know Jon Gruden's wife was a cheerleader at UT? Hmmmm.

14. Philadelphia (QB 13; Coach 13; Total 26) — How the Eagles persevered into the playoffs is a beacon for the future. How they get out of the first round and a trip to Tampa to see Tom and Co. is anyone's guess. That said, Jalen Hurts looks like he can be a legit QB1, and has shown better pro chops than Tua.

 

Lifetime deal

OK, there are a few coaches that have earned a lifetime deal in college sports.

And it goes beyond actual living and breathing and includes even the harshest of NCAA violations.

Nick Saban, of course, has the utmost impenetrability. I firmly believe that Nick Saban could shoot a man in broad daylight in downtown Birmingham and a dozen Alabama diehards would be willing to either say they did or provide him an iron-clad alibi.

Not sure anyone else has reached the "I'll take a murder rap for you" status like Saban has, but you get the idea.

Kirby will have to leave Athens on his own accord after Monday night. Dabo has more wiggle room than a Grand Canyon rattlesnake. There are others.

And high on that list is also Bruce Pearl. Yes, the Auburn basketball coach has a wanted poster hanging in the NCAA post office, right there between Jerry Tarkanian and John Calipari.

But what Pearl has done at Auburn simply boggles the mind for anyone who has followed SEC basketball for more than a season or three.

Auburn is No. 4 in the country and prevailed in a slugfest at Alabama last night. Auburn basketball matters nationally, something that seemed trivial and borderline impossible with a minor blip for Chris Porter and Co. during an NCAA-ignoring stretch in the early 2000s.

And while I do not know if someone would be willing to go to the hoosegow for Pearl, I do believe this, and this is an extreme compliment to his value and job security: If the NCAA had landed on AU with both feet for the FBI thing and the Chuck Person payment stuff and given Pearl a five-year show cause, I do not think Auburn would have fired him.

I think Auburn would have promoted one of his assistants — and maybe even his son — and waited for the show cause to run its course and then bring Bruce back.

How many other coaches in college sports could even imagine that?

 

Expanded advantage

OK, for my money, there is not a better national sports columnist right now putting fingers to keys than Dan Wetzel of Yahoo.

He combines opinion with reporting. He's informed and talented.

There may be better wordsmiths, but more times than not, Wetzel's insights are more thorough and better reasoned.

But — you knew there was a 'but' coming, right — his support for expansion of the college football playoff is misconnected to me.

Wetzel's point here is that until the playoff field expands, the SEC's stranglehold on college football dominance will continue.

I'm not disagreeing with that part of his logic. As long as Kirby and Lord Saban are working in the SEC and the SEC can cash TV checks big enough to make the phrase "It just means more" actually translate to "We just spend more" the SEC will dominate a four-team playoff.

But playoff expansion, in my mind, will tighten that grip even further.

Because the SEC will fight with everything it has to stop an expansion to six because six would almost eliminate two teams from any one conference getting in. Six would likely mean the power five conferences sending their champ to the playoff and a group of five or independent in most years getting a look. In that setting this year, a six-team playoff would have left Georgia languishing with a record number of opt outs in the Sugar Bowl.

So expansion will have to go to eight, and the SEC will want a plan in place for 12. That means at 8, the SEC gets two every year, and at 12, will likely get three in most years, which increases the revenue and the exposure for the league.

Expansion will not lessen the SEC's grip on college football. It most likely will tighten it.  


This and that

— Here's example 12 billion about Saban's greatness. His statement about stars Will Anderson and Bryce Young after Alabama's loss Monday night was heartfelt and genuine and awesome. It's worth your time.

— Here is some Lookouts news from Paschall of all trades David Paschall. Any news on the Lookouts that involves baseball and not board rooms is great by me.

— Here's Paschall on the Bulldogs' expected roster turnover now that the business was handled at the highest levels for a slew of future NFLers.

— With no complaints or debates — at least about the scoring system — Brent R and RTR19 took first and last in the Bowling for Bowls of Bowl Game Success, Bowler Optional contest. Email me your address and some gift cards are headed that way. Thanks to everyone for playing.

— Tom Watson was named an honor starter at Augusta National for the Masters this year. He joins Jack and Gary Player. As it should be.

 

Today's question

Which way Wednesday starts this way:

Which golfer will be the next name added to the honorary starters at Augusta National?

Which college basketball coach has the most job security at his current locale?

Which NFL playoff coach other than Belichick do you trust the most?

Which NFL person in these playoffs has the most to gain or lose?

As for today, Jan. 12, let's review.

Howard Stern is 68 today.

Rushmore of Howard. Go, and remember the mailbag.

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