Which coach was the most deserving loser?

Who was the least valuable coach in the NFL conference championship games?

The obvious disclaimer: Just as most valuable player honors based on one performance almost always goes to the winning team’s quarterback, this little exercise has to be one of the two losing coaches. From Sunday’s NFL action, that means Baltimore’s John Harbaugh or Detroit’s Dan Campbell.

Campbell’s greatest strategic sins Sunday were obvious. On a fourth-and-2 play at the San Francisco 28, the Lions went for the first down and failed. On a fourth-and-3 play at the San Francisco 30, Campbell rolled the dice again and came up snake eyes.

There were no guarantees that both field goal attempts would have been good. And the analytics say the Lions were very aggressive on fourth downs all season and converted most of those tries.

But measuring their success rate on fourth-down tries in October and using that as a guide in the NFC Championship Game is foolish. The stakes are higher and emotions are boiling. And at least some of those regular-season gambles were made to show the players that their head coach was fully confident in them.

They didn’t need reminders of their coach’s faith Sunday night.

Campbell’s players made mistakes that swayed the game’s momentum – a fumble here, a drop there, exacerbated the 49ers’ grip on the second half. And why the Lions abandoned their running game, which bludgeoned San Francisco in the first half is a head-scratcher.

And then there are the Ravens, led by head coach John Harbough. His mistakes in the AFC Championship Games are embedded in his players’ collective mindset.

When your team is guilty of multiple unnecessary roughness calls, roughing the quarterback and a flag for taunting, they are violations rooted in arrogance or ignorance. 

When a team’s culture is such that penalties of choice are somehow acceptable acts of aggression, that is on the head coach.

So, it says here that Sunday’s Least Valuable Coach award goes to Harbaugh.

And for Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan it’s on to Vegas.

Gamble carefully, gents.