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THE MOJ: A coaching week for the history books, and sizing up the NFL weekend

Carroll, Saban and Belichick gone in one fell swoop, plus our picks for week one of the playoffs
FILE - New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick holds up a Super Bowl trophy as he addresses the crowd during a rally Feb. 7, 2017, in Boston to celebrate the team’s win over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game in Houston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

We won’t see anything like it again in our lifetime.

On Wednesday, Pete Carroll was pushed out the door after 14 seasons as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, which included a Super Bowl championship during the 2013 NFL season.

Carroll’s departure would have been dissected by fans and media alike for days, especially considering the fact he told everyone after the Seahawks final game that he wanted to return in 2024.

Instead, it was old news just 24 hours later as Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots mutually parted ways after 24 seasons and six Super Bowl championships.

Throw in the fact that on Wednesday night Nick Saban announced that he was retiring after 17 seasons and six National Championships at the University of Alabama and you have a trifecta of head coaches that have combined for seven Super Bowl titles and seven NCAA championships with two of them considered by many as the greatest of all-time at their respective levels.

And all of them are connected in either a big or small way.

The obvious tie between Carroll and Belichick is Super Bowl XLIX in which the Patriots won 28-24 in dramatic fashion.

But do you want to take a guess who Belichick replaced as head coach of the Patriots way back in 2000?

Pete Carroll.

Then there is the strong friendship between Belichick and Saban which developed during Belichick’s tenure as head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1991 to 1995 where Saban was his defensive coordinator for four seasons before leaving to become the head coach at Michigan State in 1995.

The pair remained close friends through the years with HBO producing the documentary “Belichick & Saban: The Art of Coaching” in 2019 which detailed the bond between the two.

As for Carroll and Saban, they never were part of the same staff nor did they face each other as head coaches at the NCAA level but there is a thread between the two.

Carroll left his position as the defensive backs coach at Ohio State in 1979 to become the defensive coordinator at North Carolina in 1980.

Carroll’s replacement as the defensive back coach with the Buckeyes?

Go to the front of the class if you guessed Saban.

I never had an opportunity to be around Saban although as a spectator I did take in the 37-21 win over Texas at the Rose Bowl which earned the Crimson Tide the 2010 NCAA title.

Although I never dealt with Belichick either, covering the Patriots in all of their Super Bowl appearances allowed me access to quite a few former players and people who knew Belichick and provided insight into his success.

I had several ex-players such as Chad Brown, Christian Fauria and Deon Branch talk about – get this – Belichick’s sense of humor and how witty he could be.

When I asked Patriots owner Robert Kraft why he hired Belichick when he didn’t exactly come across as the world’s greatest motivational speaker, he responded by telling me how impressed he was during the interview process by Belichick’s wisdom when it came to the economics of football and building a roster.

As for Carroll, well there is one word that comes to my mind – energy.

Even at 72 years of age, Carroll seems to be nuclear-powered.

I remember one year our radio show being at the VMAC for Seahawks camp and Carroll out on the field between practices riding some sort of electric scooter/board, doing figure eight’s and looking like a 10-year-old kid in the process.

That energy and positivity allowed for Carroll to connect with his players and develop a winning culture in Seattle.

Carroll and Belichick have both expressed their desire to continue to coach. As for Saban, we will see how long his retirement will last.

Moving along, it is time for our NFL Playoff predictions!

BROWNS (-2.5) at TEXANS, Saturday, Jan. 13, 1:30 pm

How can you go against the Browns when you consider that they are the only team to have beaten both #1 seeds (Baltimore and San Francisco) during the course of the season? The Browns defense is legit as they finished the season as the NFL’s best. Then there is 38-year-old Joe Flacco, who has gone 4-1 since taking over as the Browns starting quarterback. Flacco has been an amazing story and there will be another chapter to come. My biggest concern for the Browns moving forward is ball security as they led the league with 37 giveaways. Browns win and cover.

DOLPHINS at CHIEFS (-4.5), Saturday, Jan. 13, 5 pm

Miami is the most fraudulent team in the playoffs. Of their 11 wins, only one came against a team with a winning record (Dallas). They will be exposed when they travel to Kansas City where the Chiefs, despite all of their issues this year, will have more than enough to beat Miami. And while we are talking about exposure, the Dolphins are horrible in cold weather. In their last 10 games where the temperature was 40F or below at kickoff, Miami is 0-10 and been beaten by an average of 17 points. Chiefs win and cover.

STEELERS at BILLS (-10), Sunday, Jan. 14, 10 am

This game features the biggest spread and rightfully so. Many believe that the Bills are the best team in the league right now having won five straight. I don’t think I’d go that far but they will have enough to get by Pittsburgh. After all, who are you going to put your money on to win a playoff game? Josh Allen or Mason Rudolph? Quirky factoid of the day? These two teams have met three times in the playoffs (’74, ’93, ’96) with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl on each occasion. Bills win but Steelers cover…barely.

PACKERS at COWBOYS (-7), Sunday, Jan. 14, 1:30 pm

The Cowboys are a perfect 8-0 at home this season but I wouldn’t sleep on the Packers in this one. Dallas’ defense is at its best when it pressures opposing quarterbacks but…the Packers offensive line got healthy in the second half, and as result, Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love played very well. Having running back Aaron Jones also healthy is another positive for Green Bay. The Cowboys may pull out the win but an upset by Green Bay would not shock me - especially if the Packers take care of the ball on offense. Cowboys win but Packers cover.

RAMS at LIONS (-3), Sunday, Jan. 14, 5 pm

The Lions will be hosting their first playoff game since 1994. Detroit head coach Dan Campbell’s biggest challenge will be trying to keep his team grounded with all the hype. On the field, Campbell and his staff must figure out a way to contain the Rams passing game featuring quarterback Matthew Stafford and receivers Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua. For the record, Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson and Dallas’ Ceedee Lamb combined to torch the Lions secondary for 31 receptions and 560 yards in the last three games of the season. And now you have to stop Kupp AND Nacua? The Rams have been in big games before, the Lions haven’t. Rams win and cover.

EAGLES (-3) at BUCCANEERS, Monday, Jan. 15, 5:15 pm

The Eagles come into the playoffs reeling, having lost five of their last six games. Last year, Philadelphia had the NFL’s top-ranked defense – this year it finished with a 28th place ranking in terms of yards allowed (356.1 yards per game). That’s impacted quarterback Jalen Hurts and the offense, forcing Hurts to be more aggressive, which in turn has seen him throw 15 interceptions this season. For comparison, he threw 15 picks in the two previous seasons combined. Tampa, meanwhile, has won five of their last six. The Eagles have not covered since Week 11. They won’t this week either. Buccaneers win and cover.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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