For 30 teams, the offseason has started. For many of those teams, the offseason started weeks ago.
Every team should be looking for clues on how to build Super Bowl teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. Every postseason we get some lessons on where the league is heading and other trends we'll see repeat themselves. This postseason brought plenty of lessons, some learned the hard way from teams sitting at home.
Here are the top 10 lessons we can take from the first three rounds of the postseason:
10. Fourth-down decisions aren't easy
Who knew Dan Campbell would set off a turf war? Campbell decided to bypass two field-goal attempts to go for it on fourth down, like he did all season, and the two incompletions set off a passionate debate about analytics. Like most things in life, there is nuance. It's not wrong for coaches to follow the numbers and go for it more often than they did even 10 years ago. There's also something to be said about taking into account factors that are difficult to quantify, like how a turnover on downs in a 14-point game could shift momentum (if you believe in such things) to the home team in a playoff game. Should Campbell have kicked a field goal and gone up 17 points in the third quarter? Probably, and especially in hindsight. But those who believe in analytics will argue that the decision was right, but the result wasn't good. It's also worth noting that the win probability differences in these fourth-down decisions is often just a percentage point or two. Yes those small edges add up, but it's hard to argue there are absolutes in many of the cases.
Either way, the debate will rage on all offseason. And next season, coaches will worry what the backlash will be if they trust their instincts.
9. Playoff experience matters
The Chiefs are not fazed by much. There was a lot made of Patrick Mahomes having to play true road games for the first time in his playoff career, and it didn't matter. The Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens were the teams that seemed to panic in the big spot. The Chiefs' experience in big playoff games seemed to play a big factor. There's a reason they're in their fourth Super Bowl in five seasons.
Championship and playoff experience doesn't always win out. But the Chiefs showed it's sure nice to have it.
8. There are some good young QBs
Brock Purdy will be the third-youngest quarterback to start a Super Bowl. We saw Jordan Love and C.J. Stroud make big leaps with playoff wins. Quarterback play was not great across the NFL this season, mostly due to injuries. But we saw some young quarterbacks boost their stature this postseason. That's good for the league going forward.
7. Home-field advantage doesn't hurt
In 12 playoff games, home teams went 9-3. The Chiefs accounted for two of the three road wins, with the Packers over the Cowboys being the other. So if we remove road teams that employ Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, home teams won 90 percent of the time this postseason. That's on the high end and it likely won't repeat going forward, but it showed that being at home still can be an edge. All of those regular-season games matter because being at home in the playoffs still matters.
6. Find good coordinators
We didn't make a big enough deal over the Philadelphia Eagles losing both coordinators, Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon, after last season's Super Bowl. The Eagles looked lost on both sides of the ball late in the season and flamed out in a wild-card loss. Other teams addressed those positions much better. The 49ers lost defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans after last season but did a great job hiring Steve Wilks to replace him. The Baltimore Ravens made two great coordinator hires, Mike Macdonald to run the defense two offseasons ago and Todd Monken to scheme up the offense last offseason. There's a reason the Detroit Lions' coordinators, Ben Johnson and Aaron Glenn, got head-coaching interviews. And the best coordinator of the postseason was Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
We spend a lot of time talking about and debating head coaches. We should shift way more of that energy to breaking down coordinators.
5. You can win without a top-five QB
There are a handful of quarterbacks walking the planet that can lift an entire organization on their shoulders. Teammates, coaches, schemes, it doesn't matter. They're just that good. That doesn't mean the rest of the NFL should give up if they don't have one of those QBs.
There are other ways to win. The debate will go on forever about Brock Purdy, but the truth is he was the last pick of the seventh round and the 49ers built a championship team around him. That's a blueprint. It's safe to say Jared Goff isn't a top-five quarterback, but the Detroit Lions were a break or two from making a Super Bowl with him.
It's great to have a Patrick Mahomes. That makes life easier. But if you don't have one of those superstars, you can do just fine in the NFL.
4. No. 1 seeds don't have huge edge yet
When the NFL expanded the playoffs, it seemed like going to just one team getting a bye gave the No. 1 seed a huge edge. That team would need to win just two home games to make a Super Bowl, and every other team would have to win three times to make it. But it hasn't played out that way. The Baltimore Ravens lost at home as a No. 1 seed in the AFC championship game. That means just four of the eight No. 1 seeds since the field was expanded to 14 teams have made the Super Bowl. That's a small sample size and there's still an obvious edge to having a bye, but it's not like it has deemphasized the rest of the playoffs.
3. Don't turn it over
Brock Purdy's interception in the second quarter of the NFC championship game was significant. That was the only turnover in the entire playoffs from a quarterback whose team won the game. That's remarkable. In the first 11 postseason games, every winning quarterback had zero interceptions and zero lost fumbles.
Winning the turnover battle has mattered through the entire history of NFL football. But having a mistake-free quarterback is becoming even more important with the small gaps between playoff teams. One or two big plays usually turn playoff games.
2. Tight ends matter
Look at the final four of the NFL playoffs and there was a common thread: Every team had a top tight end. The Baltimore Ravens had two; Isaiah Likely proved his value after Mark Andrews' leg injury. Sam LaPorta had a great rookie season for the Detroit Lions. And there's no arguing that George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers and Travis Kelce of the Chiefs are among the best in the game.
You can make a reasonable argument that a healthy Andrews, Kittle, Kelce and LaPorta are all among the top five tight ends in football. It's not a coincidence all their teams were in the conference championship.
1. Patrick Mahomes still running the AFC
It's not a fun lesson for AFC teams, but the Chiefs are going to dominate most of the Super Bowl trips as long as Mahomes is in his prime. This was the worst Chiefs team of the Mahomes era and they're still going to the Super Bowl. If the rest of the AFC couldn't beat this version of the Chiefs, it's going to be a long rest of the decade.