Two common threads for elite eight

For all the teams trying to figure out what it takes to get to this weekend, the NFL's divisional playoffs, take a look at the common threads that run through the teams that made it here:

Coaches with security.

Quarterbacks with credentials.

They are two of the most important attributes any team can have as it tries to reach the spot these eight teams are in.

Look at how long each head coach has been with his organization. Mike McCarthy has been in Green Bay since 2006, Pete Carroll in Seattle since 2010, Ron Rivera in Carolina since 2011, Jason Garrett in Dallas since 2007 (head coach since 2010), Bill Belichick in New England since 2000, John Fox in Denver since 2011, John Harbaugh in Baltimore since 2008 and Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis since 2012.

Then, look at the list of quarterbacks leading their teams into the elite eight: Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco and Andrew Luck. They are eight of the very best in world at what they do, and there aren't many better ones who failed to advance this far.

For all the owners seeking success, the secret is in those two paragraphs: secure coaches and star quarterbacks. Star quarterbacks make coaches more secure, and secure coaches make quarterbacks bigger stars because they can wait and be patient. One feeds off the other.

It is this way this season, just as it was this way last season, just as it will be this way every season going forward. The eight teams in the divisional playoffs almost always have coaches secure in their standing and quarterbacks at the top of their game.

Rarely does an embattled coach or subpar quarterback lead his team to the second Sunday in January. There might be an outlier every decade or so -- a marginal quarterback who creeps into the elite eight -- but not often. It's just too hard to overcome the game's best coaches and quarterbacks.

It also addresses the age-old question regarding any great coach/quarterback combination: Is one more important than the other? Some have wondered whether Brady makes Belichick or Belichick makes Brady. Why does there have to be an answer? Why can't the answer be both? Belichick has helped make Brady, and Brady has helped make Belichick.

This is what the best combos on the most successful franchises do.

So to all those teams looking for coaches, quarterbacks or both, take a look at how the best and the brightest do it. It's not complicated, but it's not easy.

Find the coach and leave him alone, find him a good quarterback and give him time and then, watch the secure coach and skilled quarterback lead their team to the divisional playoffs. The teams in the final eight almost always have them.

Pondering Garrett's future: Here's one of the great wonders of the NFL.

Before this year, so much time was spent discussing Jason Garrett's future with the Cowboys before he was in the last year of his contract. Yet this season, nobody spent any time talking about Garrett while he actually is in the last year of his contract.

This makes about as much sense as drafting Johnny Manziel ahead of Zack Martin, something Cowboys owner Jerry Jones came dangerously close to doing last May.

Now, a bit more danger lurks.

The moment Dallas' season ends, which could be after Sunday's playoff game in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Garrett is free to sign with any of the NFL teams that have head-coaching openings.

The Cowboys would like to work out an extension for Garrett, and he would like to remain in Dallas, per league sources. Chances are the sides work it out, but no negotiation is complete, questions still remain and Garrett would be free to walk if he wants.

It should also be pointed out that, back in 2008 -- the last time he was free -- Garrett interviewed with the Atlanta Falcons, who tried to hire him before he returned to Dallas.

And he is not the only critical contractual issue confronting the Cowboys. Running back DeMarco Murray and wide receiver Dez Bryant also are in the last year of their contracts. The Cowboys always can sign one of those players before free agency begins March 10 and use their franchise tag on the other, but it's very possible one could hit the open market.

Should the Cowboys win Sunday, the questions will go away for another week. But if they don't, futures will start coming into focus.

It's surprising that they haven't sooner. The Cowboys -- the NFL's highest-profile team -- have their head coach, leading rusher and star wide receiver all in the last year of their contract, and very few are talking about it.

Funny how winning changes the conversation.

Weak spot for Packers: Divisional playoff games, like any game, really, can be decided in the most unusual ways. But here's one way the Packers want to avoid losing Sunday against the Cowboys: special teams.

Despite its dominant offense and playmaking defense, Green Bay has shown a weakness in an area that most people would not think about.

This season, the Packers have had seven of their kicks blocked. Seven! Opponents have blocked three Packers field goals, two extra points and two punts. Green Bay is aware of it and has taken steps to try to correct it.

Now, in comes a Dallas team with a special-teams coach (Rich Bisaccia) who's one of the best at what he does. Bisaccia is aware of the Packers' difficulties on kicks, and the Cowboys will do what they can to capitalize.

But should any more kicks get blocked Sunday, or in the remainder of the postseason, Green Bay is going to have to think about making changes. There's no reason a fundamental play should be allowed to turn into a potential game-deciding play.


Player of the Week: Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo -- This is Romo's chance to outshine Rodgers, the man most expect to be this season's MVP.

Game of the Week: Cowboys at Packers -- The Cowboys haven't lost on the road this season; the Packers haven't lost at home this season.

Upset of the Week: Cowboys over Packers -- Rodgers' calf injury could be a factor, especially in cold weather. It's tough to pick against Green Bay at home, but Dallas has momentum and confidence.