DAN BICKLEY

NFL championship weekend is better than Super Bowl Sunday

Jan 29, 2024, 3:12 PM

Few things in sports compare to conference championship games in the NFL. The stakes are immense. Players are motivated by proximity to the Super Bowl. There are no passengers and no business decisions. Everyone is selling out for the cause. Everyone is playing at full speed with full intensity, displaying a collective courage and toughness rarely seen in the regular season.

Every player understands the significance of each snap. The enhanced focus limits the mental errors. NFL officials are also less inclined to get in the way, reticent to nitpick or throw too many flags. If you’re a fan of human gladiators, the result is the most exhilarating days on the sporting calendar.

The Super Bowl is different, and far less satisfying. The game is commercially distorted. Players know they are only part of the show, sharing the stage with the halftime entertainment. The two-week buildup, the dramatic shift in routine, and the massive television audience makes performance anxiety common, decreasing the overall quality of competition. And while losing a Super Bowl certainly stings, it’s not like the pain they’re currently feeling in Baltimore and Detroit.

Lose a Super Bowl, and you’re still the reigning conference champion.

***

Dan Campbell learned a hard lesson on Sunday. One or two bad decisions in a high-leverage playoff game can marginalize a masterful year at the helm.

Torey Lovullo is an exception, a manager whose hot streak extended all the way through the Diamondbacks’ unlikely playoff run, recovering from a summer swoon to reach the World Series.

***

Attention fantasy football owners: despite his ill-timed fumble on Sunday, a well-placed NFL source predicts Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs will be a breakout star in 2024.

***

I understand that Brock Purdy is a local kid, the classic underdog, and the last player drafted in 2022 NFL draft. But to some Cardinals fan, the “Let’s Go Brock Purdy” billboards that popped up in the Valley courtesy of a local law firm seemed a little bit strange. I agree. After all, we are striving to be an elite major league sports town, and he is the starting quarterback for a division rival.

***

After Lamar Jackson’s latest playoff failure, here are my penultimate NFL quarterback rankings, and where Kyler Murray stands among them:

Patrick Mahomes; 2. Josh Allen; 3. Joe Burrow; 4. Lamar Jackson; 5. Matthew Stafford; 6. Jalen Hurts; 7. C.J. Stroud; 8. Jared Goff; 9. Brock Purdy; 10. Jordan Love; 11. Dak Prescott; 12. Kyler Murray.

***

Andy Reid is the only NFL head coach to win 100 or more games for two different NFL franchises. has a great reputation for making football fun for his players. With Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, he might pass Don Shula for the all-time wins record in six years.

Meanwhile, Bill Belichick was replaced by a rookie head coach in New England (Jerod Mayo); can’t find a job on the open market; and will forever carry the suspicions and stigma of cheating.

Tell me again who’s the greatest coach of all-time?

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

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Western Governors University

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