Ravens coach John Harbaugh isn't in the playoffs, but he is uniquely qualified to judge the coaches overseeing the four teams still standing.
As Don Banks in Sports Illustrated points out, Harbaugh served with Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera as Philadelphia Eagles assistants; hired Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator last season; and coached many a game against New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, a longtime Pittsburgh Steelers assistant.
"I think it's very fitting because when you look at these coaches and their teams, they all deserve to be there," Harbaugh told Banks, adding: "So I guess the system worked, so to speak. They're all where they should be."
The article is chock-full of good anecdotes and quotes from Harbaugh. Here's how he sees each of the four coaches:
The connection: Former Eagles coach Andy Reid hired Rivera as linebackers coach and retained Harbaugh as special teams coach in 1999. Rivera and Harbaugh were together through early 2004, when Rivera was named Chicago Bears defensive coordinator.
The quote: "He doesn't seem like he ever gets too uptight, he kind of goes with the flow. We were playing Chicago in a playoff game, a divisional game, one year, and all us coaches, we were all sitting in the locker room before the game kind of tapping our toes with our heads down. And we look over and Ron is reading a novel, like just before we go on the field. It was that Dan Brown novel, 'The Da Vinci Code,' just ripping the Catholic church. And Ron's kind of a devout Catholic, and he's like: 'You cannot believe this. This is crazy.'
"[Then-Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson] and I looked at each other like, 'Are we about to play a game here?' Ron's going to be fine no matter what. He respects his players, he respects his coaches, and he lets them do their thing. And they really respond to him."
The connection: Harbaugh hired Kubiak as offensive coordinator after Kubiak was fired as coach of the Houston Texans. In Kubiak's one season in Baltimore, Joe Flacco had the finest statistical season of his career and the Ravens set a single-season franchise record with 409 points. He was named Broncos coach last January, after announcing that he would stay with the Ravens.
The quote: "When I look at Denver's offense, it's Gary's offense. You can see where there are some pieces: OK, Peyton's given him some ideas and he's been able to incorporate them into what he does and so he's accepted that. But I think he's done a brilliant job of tying Peyton into what he believes and how he believes in doing it. Pass protection-wise, running game-wise, play-action passes, those kind of things, it's all Gary. I'm really impressed with the fact he's been able to tie that all together. To me, it's because he's a good guy, with a down-to-earth, easy personality."
The connection: Belichick has been in charge of New England since 2000; Harbaugh has been in Baltimore since 2008. Harbaugh is 2-4 overall against Belichick in that span.
The quote: "It's not enough to just say it's [quarterback Tom] Brady. It's not just him. To me it's those two guys. Bill is just so good at everything. Game-planning is a big part of it. But how he puts a roster together, how he manages to put the talent in place, around the salary cap, and somehow still maintain the quality of his team is remarkable. He's always able to reinvent himself, his defense, his offense, from year to year and even week to week. The more you play him against him, the patterns start to emerge somewhat. But then he's good enough to kind of throw curveballs at you."
The connection: Before becoming offensive coordinator and interim coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 and moving to Arizona in 2013, Arians served as Steelers offensive coordinator from 2007-11.
The quote: "He's damn-the-torpedoes, just a supremely confident guy. And if you're playing against him, you're going to make certain assumptions, because he's going to make every decision to give his players a chance to make plays. With Bruce, it's kind of, 'Qué será, será' ['What will be, will be']. Because when you talk to him, he's been through a lot of things in life, and he's had enough things not go his way, where I just think at this stage, he just doesn't give a damn. And because of it, his guys are filled with confidence."