With the contenders set for the ultimate title fight, we're now offered a chance to look at just what it takes to win in the current NFL climate. It's interesting to look at both the Colts and Saints and dissect the reasons they were the ones left standing when the final bell rang. Of course, the Vikings threw away their chance and the Jets certainly seemed like they would advance when watching the first half of the AFC Championship. But in the end, the teams we look to emulate are the ones who were undefeated for most of the NFL season.
If there's anything we've learned in this 2009 season, it's the same things we've come to learn in the several years up until now: you rise and fall with the quality level of your QB. Of the final four teams, three were quarterbacked by Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Drew Brees. The other featured a dynamic rookie coming into his own, but that team only made it on the back of the NFL's top defense armed with the NFL's top defensive mastermind in Rex Ryan. In other words, if you don't have a top-notch NFL QB, then you better have the best defense (and even then it didn't work).
The bottom line: You have to have the quarterback to win.
The laundry list of examples is endless: David Carr ruined the Texans; Alex Smith is hanging by a thread with the 49ers who undoubtedly will finally move on this off-season; the Raiders QB situation is the laughingstock of the NFL; Jason Campbell's middling abilities are endlessly frustrating to Redskins fans; Tarvaris Jackson nearly ended Brad Childress' head coaching career before they wised up and moved on signing Favre; the Browns juggled two bad choices all season in Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson; the Lions finally invested at the key position with QB Matt Stafford after high-profile acquisitions at every other position still left them in the cellar.
You get the point. You either have a winner - someone who can carry you to the next level with the right talent around him and the correct schemes that work - or you do not. And when you do not have it, you don't continue to add new talent around him, hoping that he can change. Of course, it takes a bit of time to figure this out and that's what the Chiefs have been doing this year. But if there's any modicum of doubt after 2010, the Chiefs would be wise to forget they lost a second round pick for Matt Cassel and just move on (or bring in some dynamic competition).
I'm not at all down on Matt Cassel. I loved his single season in New England and, honestly, I'm a lame assessor of talent. He's not had a fair shot this year given the talent around him and he definitely deserves a chance to build on some signs of life displayed in Kansas City. However, it's clear that the way to continually win in the NFL is to have the right guy at one key position. And if the Chiefs have any doubts about Cassel's ability to helm a playoff-caliber team year in and year out, they need to call it when they see it. At least, that's what the winners do.