AFC East: Russell Maryland
DAVIE, Fla. -- There already were beaucoup ways to illustrate how far the Miami Dolphins have come in the past year, but I've come across one more I wanted to share.
Dolphins left tackle Jake Long, barring an injury at practice or some other calamity, will become only the fourth No. 1 draft pick in NFL history to start in a playoff game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
But each of the previous three instances had special circumstances.
- 1978 Earl Campbell, Houston Oilers: They finished 8-6 the year before, but acquired the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' No. 1 selection for tight end Jimmie Giles and four picks (quarterback Doug Williams, guard Brett Moritz, quarterback Chuck Fusina and defensive end Reggie Lewis).
- 1982 Ken Sims, New England Patriots: In a strike year, they made the bloated playoff field with a 5-4 record.
- 1991 Russell Maryland, Dallas Cowboys: They finished 7-9 the year before, but acquired the Patriots' No. 1 selection for two draft picks (tackle Pat Harlow and cornerback Jerome Henderson).
That means Long will be the first player taken by the team that finished in last place the year before to start a playoff game in a normal season.
Another bit of trivia underscores how far both teams have come heading in Sunday's matchup.
When Miami's Tony Sparano matches X's and O's with Baltimore's John Harbaugh, it will be only the third time in NFL history two rookie head coaches have squared off in the postseason, significant because coaches rarely step down after their teams reach the playoffs.
The first two times it's happened were 1950, when Paul Brown's Cleveland Browns beat Joe Stydahar's Los Angeles Rams for the NFL championship, and in 2000, when Jim Haslett coached the New Orleans Saints past Mike Martz and the St. Louis Rams.