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How NFL coaching searches played out

AP Photo

Hiring head coaches is not unlike drafting college players. Each team believes it got the man it wanted. Even those that didn't won't admit it. After the hiring is complete, just as after the player is drafted, each team thinks it has an answer for the future. Some are right; some -- not so much.

But the truth is, no one knows, and won't for a while. In 2013, when there were eight head-coaching openings, Philadelphia hired Chip Kelly, Buffalo hired Doug Marrone, Cleveland hired Rob Chudzinski and Chicago hired Marc Trestman before Arizona, the last team to make its hire, could settle on its choice. After seven other teams hired head coaches, Arizona concluded the hiring process by choosing Indianapolis assistant Bruce Arians.

How'd that work out?

Sometimes the last man hired turns out to be the best choice, and the first man hired turns out to be the worst, even though when the announcements are made, organizations automatically treat them as victories.

Now that the 2016 coaching carousel has come to a stop, it's time to give a quick scouting report regarding some of the turns along the way:

Cleveland Browns: The Browns liked Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. But, much like each team that had an opening, the Browns recognized how important it was to help bolster their offense, and they did it by hiring a man whose players loved playing for him in Cincinnati. In hiring Hue Jackson, Cleveland believes they have strengthened their own coaching situation, but they also believe they weakened Cincinnati, which perhaps counts as a rare Browns win in January. But Jackson must get his program up and running against coaches who have had continuity in their AFC North cities for at least seven seasons.

Miami Dolphins: Just as the Dolphins aggressively charged into free agency last year, signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, they did the same during their coaching search this year, landing Adam Gase before any other team had even filled its opening. Gase was bypassed last year and was unwilling to wait around for potential opportunities in New York or Philadelphia. In the end, his anxiousness meshed with Miami's aggressiveness.

New York Giants: New York seriously entertained the idea of hiring former Falcons head coach Mike Smith and keeping Ben McAdoo as its offensive coordinator. But when the Eagles expressed interest in McAdoo, the Giants knew they could not risk losing him and elevated him to the head-coaching job. McAdoo might have needed more seasoning, but he'll get on-the-job training.

Philadelphia Eagles: Because the Eagles didn't get to know Chip Kelly as well as they should have during their last hiring cycle, they were determined to be more patient during this one. Yet while they got to know their candidates, Gase accepted the Miami job and McAdoo accepted the Giants job. The Eagles were completely comfortable turning to Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, who had an ordinary initial interview in Kansas City, but who played and coached in Philadelphia and knows what it takes to succeed there.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers believed they had four viable candidates -- Kelly, Mike Shanahan, Tom Coughlin and Anthony Lynn -- and believed they were good with whichever route they chose. But of those four, Kelly was the only one without a Super Bowl ring and the team believes his desire to get one was a key part of the final selection.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Few owners are quieter about their intentions than the Glazers, who four years ago quietly inquired to see if they could lure Nick Saban out of Alabama. No one will confirm if they did the same this year, but there was some reason they waited over a week to eventually promote offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter when most expected he would be the man all along. Some people around the league believe the Glazers attempted a big swing again before hiring Koetter.

Tennessee Titans: Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton made a final, impressionable push on Saturday, but Tennessee owners never wanted to get away from Mike Mularkey, who spent two seasons as the Bills' head coach, one season as the Jaguars' head coach, and now will enter his second season as the Titans' head coach.

Arizona hosts the classics

University of Phoenix Stadium, Arizona's home field, will not be the site of Sunday's NFC Championship Game; Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, will.

It is a loss for football fans.

Since the University of Phoenix Stadium opened in August 2006, the stadium has hosted more classic football games than any other stadium in the world.

The first playoff game played there was Super Bowl XLII, when wide receiver David Tyree made the most memorable play in Super Bowl history and the Giants ended the Patriots' bid for a perfect season, winning 17-14.

Super Bowl XLIX, when Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson in the closing seconds to help New England beat Seattle 28-24 in Super Bowl XLIX, also was played at University of Phoenix Stadium.

And so was Saturday night's divisional round playoff classic, when Aaron Rodgers completed a game-tying Hail Mary, the coin didn't flip in overtime, and Larry Fitzgerald ran wild in overtime for Arizona's 26-20 win over Green Bay.

So arguably the two greatest Super Bowls and one of the most memorable playoff games in NFL history all have been played on the same field.

As if that wasn't odd and impressive enough, three other playoff games at University of Phoenix Stadium -- all decided by seven points or fewer, all memorable in their own way, including Arizona's 51-45 overtime win over Green Bay in the 2009 wild-card round -- were also played there.

And even the best bowl game of this season, Alabama's national-championship win over Clemson, was played on the same field as so many recent NFL classics. Should Arizona achieve home-field advantage in any future season for any future playoff game, it's a big deal for the Cardinals. But it might be even bigger for football fans.

The Edelman alternatives

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady might just be the greatest quarterback and NFL player ever. But there also might not be a Patriot any more valuable than wide receiver Julian Edelman.

With Edelman in the lineup and on the field this season, the Patriots are 10-0; without him, they are 3-4, including a loss earlier this season in Denver, site of Sunday's AFC title game.

Edelman is the successor to Wes Welker, who was the successor to Troy Brown; all have become critical in their own way to the success of Brady and the Patriots.

New England once knew what it had in Brown, and it knew what it had in Welker, who was lured away from the Miami Dolphins. But New England didn't realize what it had in Edelman until after the Pats pursued -- in the same offseason --two other wide receivers who also figure to play prominent roles Sunday.

In March 2013, the Patriots signed former Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola as a potential Welker replacement, giving him a three-year, $12.75 million contract. The next month, they signed former Steelers restricted free-agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to a one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet that Pittsburgh matched. New England attempted to add both those wide receivers after losing Welker to Denver during free agency.

But while New England added Amendola and lost out on Sanders, Edelman was blossoming into the standout he has become today. Over time Edelman developed, changed the complexion of the Patriots offense, and has proven time and again how valuable he is to the team. Without him, the Patriots might not have won Super Bowl XLIX last season against the Seahawks, and with him they are favored to advance to Super Bowl 50 two weeks from Sunday in Santa Clara, California.