Praising the Chiefs, Ravens, Lions and 49ers for being the last four teams standing in the NFL playoffs is one form of flattery.
Copying their blueprints is the highest form.
What can other teams learn from analyzing how the teams in the AFC and NFC championship games were built, and watching how they play?
Here are five trends among the final four:
Offensive head coaches
Andy Reid (Chiefs), Dan Campbell (Lions) and Kyle Shanahan (49ers) come from offensive backgrounds. John Harbaugh (Ravens) is an outlier — but not just in these playoffs.
Harbaugh, who was a special teams coordinator once upon a time, is the only non-offensive-minded head coach to reach conference championship weekend over the past three years.
In addition to repeat appearances by Reid and Shanahan, Nick Sirianni (Eagles), Zac Taylor (Bengals) and Sean McVay (Rams) — the latter two of whom also call plays, like Shanahan does and Reid used to — joined the fold over that time span.
Bill Belichick was the last defensive-minded head coach to reach a Super Bowl (his ninth) in 2018.
Eighteen of the NFL’s 28 current head coach coaches (four vacancies) come from offensive backgrounds, which suggests more offensive coaches are going to advance.
The split is disproportionate, however.
Does that mean hiring the right defensive-minded head coach is a bad idea?
The Texans do not have any buyer’s remorse on DeMeco Ryans after he restored a downtrodden franchise with a division title and a playoff win.
Tight ends trumping receivers
You don’t have to stack three one-time 1,000-yard wideouts like the Bengals in order to have a great passing attack. In a league of exploiting mismatches, all four teams count a tight end as their No. 1 or No. 2 pass-catcher.
Travis Kelce led the Chiefs in receptions and yards (93 for 984).
Sam LaPorta was second on the Lions in both categories (86 for 889) while tying for the lead with 10 touchdowns.
George Kittle was second in receiving yards (1,020) for the 49ers, and Mark Andrews was on his way to a fifth straight season leading the Ravens in catches (45) before he missed the final six regular-season games with an ankle injury.
Fill-in starter Isaiah Likely had five touchdowns in those six games.
The Lions’ Amon-Ra St. Brown (1,515) and the 49ers’ Brandon Aiyuk (1,342) are the only wideouts remaining who reached 80 catches or 950 receiving yards.
None of the five difference-making tight ends — four starters plus Likely — were first-round draft picks, either: a second, two thirds, a fourth and a fifth. Cheaper production.
Every general manager says the same thing during Day 1 on the job: We will draft and develop.
Well, the Ravens, 49ers and Chiefs actually abide by the philosophy based on the percentage of homegrown players — draft picks or originally signed undrafted free agents — on their 53-man rosters during Week 1 of this season, according to overthecap.com.
They were fourth, seventh and tied for 10th, respectively. Six of the top eight (all 68.4 percent or above) made the playoffs.
The Lions look like an aberration at No. 19 (58.6 percent), but that number will be on the rise based on general manager Brad Holmes’ stellar draft record over three seasons: Nine of Holmes’ picks made significant contributions to the divisional-round victory.
Four already have Pro Bowl selections. Seven non-first-rounders have at least one season as primary starters.
Stability, symmetry, patience
Harbaugh (hired in 2008), Reid (2013) and Shanahan (2017) are three of the six longest-tenured NFL head coaches. To get there, Shanahan survived a 10-22 two-year start, and the Ravens weren’t fooled into thinking Harbaugh’s message was tuned out when he went 40-40 and missed the playoffs four times in five years (2013-17).
On the general manager front, the Chiefs’ Brett Veach and Ravens’ Eric DeCosta were promoted in 2017 and 2019, respectively, but both had worked with their respective head coaches for more than decade in other roles first.
The 49ers hired Hall of Fame player John Lynch out of the broadcast booth, and his first act was hiring Shanahan.
Holmes didn’t pull a quick trigger on the first-timer Campbell — 12 NFL head coaches since 2011 have been fired during or after their first season — despite an 0-10-1 start to his debut in 2021.
Defense wins championships
The adage remains true, even in a quarterback-dominant league.
The Ravens, Chiefs and 49ers ranked No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in scoring defense. The Lions ranked No. 2 in rushing defense — up from No. 29 last season.
One common theme across the Ravens, 49ers and Lions is valuing inside linebackers where others devalue the position.
The 49ers spend a league-high $36.7 million on linebackers, per overthecap.com, including Drew Greenlaw (two interceptions last game) and All-Pro Fred Warner.
The Ravens traded two draft picks for Roquan Smith to pair with Patrick Queen.
The Lions used a first-round pick in the 2023 draft on All-Rookie Team selection Jack Campbell.
The Chiefs’ Nick Bolton, who scored a touchdown in last year’s Super Bowl, is a rising star.