DENVER — Sweaty palms. Disappearing fingernails. White knuckles.
Over 48 hours, the NFL featured four walkoff victories in a breathtaking playoff divisional round, capped by arguably the greatest postseason finish ever in the Kansas City Chiefs' win over the Buffalo Bills.
The Broncos want some of that. They want under the velvet rope into the postseason club for the first time since Super Bowl 50. And yes, ending the five-year streak of losing seasons would be embraced like a long lost friend as well.
It starts with a new head coach, the Broncos' fourth in seven years, as general manager George Paton is moving towards the finish line. After 10 interviews, the Broncos have narrowed to a list of three finalists, per a source: Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell.
The next step is to conduct in-person interviews, meaning it's possible the Broncos could hire a new coach this week.
Hackett interviewed Monday at Broncos headquarters, arriving at the facility around noon and flying back to Green Bay at 9 p.m. Quinn is expected to travel to Denver this week, though a date has not yet been set.
O'Connell, who impressed with his interview, is not eligible to talk until after the NFC Championship Game as the Rams host the 49ers.
The question becomes: Will the Broncos make an offer to Quinn or Hackett this week or wait until talking with O'Connell?
Hackett, 42, boasts a creative mind as a football renaissance man. According to the Broncos, he toured the facility Monday and met with several executives across multiple departments.
Hackett has gained attention for his unique ways of teaching, incorporating everything from Austin Powers to Will Ferrell movies into his play calls. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose future is again in limbo after an ugly loss to the 49ers, has pushed for Hackett to get a head coaching job. Hackett, who has 14 years of NFL experience, interviewed with Atlanta last offseason, saying he learned from that process.
The Broncos, Jaguars and Vikings have talked with Hackett in recent days. While Hackett did not call plays in Green Bay, he was in charge when Jacksonville reached the AFC Championship Game with Blake Bortles at quarterback.
Quinn emerged as a favorite hours after Paton fired Vic Fangio 15 days ago. He is the hottest coaching candidate in this cycle, attracting interest from six teams, including the New York Giants, who interviewed him Monday. Quinn is the lone remaining candidate with head coaching experience.
The 51-year-old posted a 43-42 record with the Atlanta Falcons. In his first three seasons, he was 10 games over .500 and led Atlanta to its second Super Bowl, suffering a heart-in-a-blender loss to the Patriots after squandering a 28-3 lead. The Falcons fired Quinn after an 0-5 start in 2020. He resurfaced this season as the Cowboys defensive coordinator, turning around one of the league's worst units.
Linebacker Micah Parsons will win Defensive Rookie of The Year honors, and is a candidate for the Defensive Player of The Year award along with cornerback Trevon Diggs.
Quinn brings a jolt of energy and the type of personality that fills a room and connects with players. He is also well-respected in league circles, making it likely he can put together a good staff. It has left him in demand. The Vikings, Bears, Dolphins and Giants are all interested in Quinn. Quinn has interviewed twice with the Bears.
O'Connell, 36, is the youngest candidate and the only one whose team is in the Final Four. O'Connell emerged as a sharp mind while he was a backup quarterback with the Jets. They considered him so valuable they kept as a third-stringer to work as a quasi-coach. After stops in Cleveland and Washington, he gained traction in Los Angeles under Sean McVay. O'Connell doesn't call plays, but is considered an invaluable resource. McVay blocked O'Connell from interviewing with the Chargers last offseason to keep him aboard.
The Eagles' Jonathan Gannon and Patriots' Jerod Mayo, who both interviewed well with the Broncos, are considered strong candidates with the Texans. Mayo, according to reports, is interviewing with the Raiders on Monday.
It remains to be seen whether O'Connell's timeline will impact the Broncos' search. If Quinn is identified as the man, Denver might have to move fast given the interest as things are starting to heat up around the league with the eight current vacancies.
The Broncos traveled 10,000 miles in 10 days for their interviews, all in person save for one. Now, they are entering the next stage, zeroing in on the coach to call Denver home.