- 2006 turned out to be the Year of the Retiring Coach. The most notable was Dick Vermeil of the Rams, who called it a career for good after several years of trying to chase his white whale of a Lombardi Trophy. Vermeil was replaced with Dolphins offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
- Bill Parcells also elected to retire for a third time, stepping down as head coach of the Cowboys. Jerry Jones decided to stay in house, and promote quarterbacks coach Sean Payton.
- Lions head coach George Seifert also declared his intention to retire. He was replaced by Patriots defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
- For the second time, Dom Capers was unable to get an expansion franchise started off straight. He was fired and replaced by Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
- The Broncos also lost their defensive coordinator, as Larry Coyer was hired in Buffalo as the Bills scrambled to replace the resigning Mike Mularkey.
- The Vikings fired Mike Tice, and he was replaced with Brad Childress.
- Jim Haslett was also fired as head coach of the Saints despite a trying season thanks to Hurricane Katrina, and he was replaced with Bengals offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, who had served in the same capacity for the Saints in the prior five years.
Most observers thought that quarterbacks were going to go with the first three picks, and the consensus seemed to think that the order would be Vince Young of Texas, Matt Leinart of USC, and Jay Cutler of Vanderbilt. While the Saints did take Leinart at #2, the Texans shocked many by instead going defense with NC State’s Mario Williams. This also caused controversial rumors to emerge in Tennessee, as while the front office was said to be wanting to take the hometown hero Cutler regardless, it was reported that Titans owner Bud Adams overrode them and insisted that the team take Young instead. These events caused several players to fall: Cutler fell to the Rams at #9, who were in the market for a possible rookie to groom behind Trent Green. Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush also fell a few spots, to the Lions at #6, while Virginia’s D’Brickashaw Ferguson fell all the way to the Cardinals at #13 in the pick they acquired from the Chiefs in the Alex Smith trade.
- Chargers 48, Broncos 24
- Buccaneers 34, Cowboys 23
- 49ers 31, Eagles 23
- Patriots 23, Colts 10
Demonstrating that they weren’t going to be bullied around by their AFC West foes anymore, the Chargers humiliated the two time defending champion Broncos, with flawless performances from Philip Rivers and Michael Turner. Sean Payton’s inaugural season with the Cowboys was positive, particularly with the late find of receiver Marques Colston giving Chad Pennington a new weapon, but that wasn’t enough to outduel a red hot Drew Brees, throwing two TDs to TJ Houshmanzadeh in a decisive Buccaneers win. Tom Brady to Terrell Owens excelled as usual in a 49ers victory, and were aided on defense by two sacks of Donovan McNabb and a forced fumble by rookie defensive end Tamba Hali. Many believed that the 13-3 Patriots were underseeded at #5, and they demonstrated it with a solid performance over the Colts in Indianapolis.
- Patriots 16, Ravens 6
- Buccaneers 23, Bears 20 (OT)
- Cardinals 37, 49ers 20
- Jets 24, Chargers 21
Steve McNair had a career resurrection after being traded to the Ravens, but in a defensive-minded game he was stripped sacked twice and picked off once in a loss to the Patriots. Defense also ruled in Chicago, and while Kyle Orton helped to force overtime with a late tying TD to Desmond Clark an efficient Drew Brees drive set up the game winning field goal. Cardinals quarterback Michael Vick proved to have arrived at the elite level in 2006, and two sacks by Terrell Suggs helped undo their division rival 49ers. And despite losing Philip Rivers to a knee injury early, the revitalized Chargers defense was able to keep Peyton Manning at bay, but a late long run by rookie running back Laurence Maroney helped seal the deal.
- Buccaneers 37, Cardinals 31 (OT)
- Patriots 20, Jets 3
A shootout game between Drew Brees and Michael Vick emerged in a game billed as a referendum on the 2001 NFL Draft, with the lower draft pick and previous Super Bowl champ emerging victorious and returning to the big game. Defense, on the other hand, dictated the AFC, with Jets quarterback Peyton Manning having one of the worst games of his career. Patriots cornerback Darrent Williams picked off Manning twice, handing him a third straight AFC Championship Game loss, and his fourth in five seasons. Arguments began emerging on how much Manning was to blame, and how much Bill Belichick was to blame for failing to find Manning receiving targets better than the aging Keyshawn Johnson.
Super Bowl XLI
- Patriots 41, Buccaneers 17
In a rematch from four years ago, this time Patriots head coach Tony Dungy was able to exact revenge from the team that fired him, and it wasn’t even close. After facing tough sledding earlier in the playoffs, both Aaron Rodgers and LaDainian Tomlinson had huge days, with the latter winning MVP honors in finally delivering the first Lombardi Trophy to Foxborough, shedding an almost loveable loser status that the Patriots had formed in recent years.