Tom Brady and Peyton Manning... this rivalry is old-school.
There is no question that as the NFL evolves from smash mouth football towards a finesse based delicate league, the play of the quarterback is at a premium. In years past, a team could win the Super Bowl by having a dominant defense and bad to mediocre offense. A team could win the Super Bowl by having a dominant rushing attack yet lackluster QB play. However, as the rules change, so too has the recipe for a championship. No longer is having nothing but a defense enough. No longer is having nothing but a great running back enough (sorry Minnesota). No, today, you need a great QB playing great to have a legitimate chance at winning a ring. Yes, having those other pieces greatly increase your chances at hosting the Lombardi Trophy, but, more than any other piece of the puzzle, the play of the QB will be the deciding factor in the playoff race.
With all of that being said, it’s time to rank the playoff quarterbacks, bottom to top, so we can start developing an idea of how these playoffs might pan out.
#12: Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings – Amazingly enough, out of all the quarterbacks on this list, Christian Ponder doesn’t have the lowest QBR (ESPN’s QB Ratings). He doesn’t even have the 2nd lowest QBR. Most of this however, is because of his last 4 regular season games when Adrian Peterson was running for football immortality. Teams were forced to focus more on Peterson than anything else which opened more lanes for Ponder to operate. This isn’t a knock on Ponder as he still needed to complete the passes, but unlike these other QBs, much less was needed from him, and thus, much less was given.
#11: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals - Andy Dalton, to me, is the modern day Trent Dilfer. He isn’t bad, but he certainly isn’t great. He is incredibly average and very forgettable. He benefits by having one of the best WRs in the entire league. While there is certainly a common theme of great quarterbacks having great wide receivers, Andy Dalton is simply an average QB with a great wide receiver. While some might say that he has nobody outside of A.J. Green, I will counter that by saying “who was Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie before Peyton Manning?” Look, great wide receivers will be great no matter what, but the great quarterbacks can turn average and forgettable wide receivers into household names. Andy Dalton isn’t capable of doing that, and at least to my eyes, he lacks the skill-set to ever be that type of QB. Some quarterbacks have it, and some don’t. Unfortunately for the Bengals and their fans, Andy Dalton doesn’t have it. He’s good enough to occasionally make the playoffs with the right team around him, but he isn’t good enough to take the team on his back and do anything with it when he does make the playoffs (and yes, I know he’s 2 for 2 in making the playoffs).
#10: Colin Kaepernick, S.F. 49ers – Kaepernick ranks third in QBR, yet he finds himself in the ten spot. Kaepernick’s lowly ranking has nothing to do with his talent, it has more to do with him being raw; Very, very raw. He has played a grand total of 8 games. Call me crazy, but I would not fully trust a QB to lead me in the playoffs who has played only 8 games. Being raw naturally leads to fantastic as well as horrible play; Often times in the span of the same game. I’m not saying that he isn’t good and can’t get it done, I’m simply saying that he needs more seasoning before he can rise up the ranks and be talked about in the same breath as the others on this list. He is ridiculously talented and can make things happen with both his arm and his legs, but out of all of the young unproven QBs, I would trust the others in crunch time over Kaepernick.
#9: Matt Schaub, Houston Texans - Matt Schaub (#14 QBR) is set to make his playoff debut. While he started out the season on fire, he has since been extinguished. When the Texans needed an anchor to keep them in the dock, Schaub let them float aimlessly out to sea. The Texans had a very 2008 Broncoesque late season meltdown. Until the last game of the season, the Texans had the #1 seed in the playoffs wrapped up. All they needed to do was not self destruct, yet here we are, talking about how big of a funk they are in. While I think they will beat the Bengals in the playoffs, I don’t think they go any further because even if their defense keeps them in the game, Schaub has been unable to capitalize on his opportunities. Fortunately for him, all he has to do is out-duel Andy Dalton. If he was up against any other QB, he’d leave the game still hunting for his first career playoff victory.
#8: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks - This kid (#8 QBR) is fun to watch, isn’t he? The only knock on him coming out of college was his size. He always had the accuracy, the arm strength, and the athleticism to make things happen, but much like Drew Brees, he fell down the draft boards because of genetics, not ability. He benefits from having a very good supporting cast around him, and a head coach who puts him in fortuitous situations. While I like Wilson more than Flacco and Ryan, I’m having a hard time ranking him ahead of those vets for the playoffs. Perhaps Wilson will shine brighter than he already does come Sunday afternoon, but until he has one playoff game under his belt, I have no choice but to park him right here at #8.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) rushes out of the pocket for a first down before being tripped up by Denver Broncos safety Renaldo Hill (L) during the third quarter of their NFL football game in Baltimore, Maryland October 10, 2010. (REUTERS/Joe Giza)
#7: Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens - Joe Flacco (#25 and lowest playoff QBR) is in a bit of a funk after a very fast start to the season. If there is a bigger Jekyll and Hyde QB to make the playoffs, I have yet to see him. Flacco has shown to be able to make all the plays you would want a QB to make on the biggest stage, but he has also proven to go into slumps that make you forget about all the good he has done. Will Flacco be the playoff QB who for all intents and purposes beat Tom Brady in the 2011 AFC Championship game? Or will Flacco be the QB who threw for a whopping 34 yards and an interception (albeit winning thanks to Ray Rice) against the Patriots in the 2009 playoffs? Through it all, we can safely rely on this: Joe Flacco is good for 1 victory each year in the playoffs.
#6: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons - “Matty Ice” (#4 QBR) got his nickname after the first pass of his NFL career when he hit Michael Jenkins for a 62 yard Touchdown; however, Matt Ryan has had anything but ice in his veins when it comes to the playoffs. He is 0-3 in the playoffs and has yet to pass for more than 199 yards. Will this be the year that Ryan finally breaks out of his playoff funk? I’m not sure, but I have to rank him this high based on his regular season and how the Falcons are playing as a team. I’d trust him about as far as I could throw the team bus, but I have a firm belief that he’ll eventually get a win. Even if he is fantastically average in the Falcons’ first playoff game this year, I think that he will do just enough to get his team the win. By doing just enough, he gets the nod ahead of all the other QBs behind him (even if I still think Wilson will be better). I’m ranking him here based on the stability that a veteran QB *should* provide. Because of that, he’s ahead of the youngsters behind him on this list who might be better, but are untested.
#5: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts - Here we go, “Top 5″ time and we still have 2 rookies that I haven’t mentioned. Andrew Luck (#11 QBR) can flat out get it done! While Matt Ryan has done nothing to earn his moniker, Andrew Luck has earned a nickname to reflect the ice in his veins. So why doesn’t he have any nicknames like “Andy Ice”? Simple, because he doesn’t need a catchy nickname to be noticed, his game speaks louder than any name ever will. Is any QB in the playoffs winning more with less than him? Only RG3 has a legitimate claim to that crown. While Luck doesn’t have mind blowing statistics, he is clutch when he has to be, and solid the rest of the time. He shows ridiculous amounts of mental toughness and leadership for a rookie, and when the 4th quarter comes around, he’s as clutch as anybody (sound familiar?). Did the Colts make a wise decision to let Peyton walk and turn the team over to Andrew Luck? For the next few years, the answer is No, but for the next 15 years, it’s an emphatic YES!
#4: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins - RG3 (#6 QBR) is the most electric player currently in the NFL. He’s the very best of Michael Vick and Aaron Rogers combined. So why isn’t he #1 on this list? Simple, he’s too young, too raw, and writes too many checks that his body can’t cash. He is everything Cam Newton wishes he could become, and has the Maturity that is a throwback to the humble rookies of the 80′s. The sky is truly the limit for RG3, and I honestly can’t imagine a scenario that has him crumbling under the pressure of any football situation. The only thing that will hold RG3 back in this year’s playoffs is the cast surrounding him. I have every confidence that Griffin will make the plays to lead them to victory, I just don’t have the confidence that everyone else will. Will his WRs have a bad case of the dropsies like we’ve seen throughout the season? Will a Mike Shanahan defense show their true (ugly) colors? Unfortunately for RG3, I think the answer to both of those questions is yes. While I want to see the Redskins win this weekend, I think that Seattle is a much better team. This will truly be a case where the QB can literally be heads and shoulders above the rest, yet still lose.
#3: Tom Brady, New England Patriots - Tom Brady (#2 QBR) can have an entire book written about him to describe his place in NFL history. He’s won the awards both regular and post season. He’s won the rings (off the foot of his kicker), and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Look, being #3 on this list isn’t a bad thing especially when you take into account who is in front of him. Why do I rank Brady third and not higher? Simple. It is because when the chips are down and it’s time to make a play that isn’t a dink and dunk play, Brady will throw a pick while Rogers and Manning will throw for a first down. Brady is the most easily rattled of the top 5 QBs on this list. Hit him early and then watch him take 3 quarters to recover. I also believe whole heartedly that Brady is a “system quarterback.” I think that Rogers and obviously Manning can go to any team in the league and make them Super Bowl contenders, but Brady will need just the right system to slide into in order to do what he does. I’m not here to bash Brady and say he isn’t any good because that simply isn’t true. History will show him being one of the best to ever play the game; I’m simply saying that Rogers and Manning are better. But hey, Brady has the hotter wife, so that is a small victory he can take over those two.
#2: Aaron Rogers, Green Bay Packers - Aaron Rogers (#5 QBR) is arguably the best QB in the league today. He is deadly accurate and mobile enough to get out of trouble and throw a dart 60 yards for a touchdown. Rogers is good, very very good. Green Bay got spoiled by seamlessly transitioning from Favre to Rogers without skipping a beat (and arguably getting much better). Rogers looks amazing every time you see him play. He has a stronger arm than Manning and is more mobile than Manning. Like Manning and Brady, Rogers has all the awards and trophies. He truly is one of, if not the best QB in the game today. There is only 1 thing that can stand in the way of Rogers being ranked #1, and that is pure football genius. Is there such a quarterback who offers everything Rogers does AND brings a football IQ that is even further off the charts than Rogers?…….
Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos warms up prior to the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 30, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images)
#1: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos - YES, YES THERE IS, and his name is Peyton Manning (#1 QBR). Peyton Manning puts a check mark next to every attribute on the QB wish list. He has the arm strength, he has the mobility (very much so on display this year), and unlike every other QB in the league, he is “Rain Man” when it comes to football IQ. Unlike all the other QBs in the history of the league, Peyton Manning is the QB coach, Offensive Coordinator, and Field General all wrapped up into one ridiculous QB package. Manning is always the smartest man in the room. While RG3 might be able to get out of a bad situation with his legs, Peyton Manning doesn’t allow himself to be put into those bad situations. He can’t be out coached. He can’t be confused, and he can’t be out smarted. If he throws an incomplete pass, you almost get the sense that he only allowed the pass to fall incomplete so that in the 4th quarter, instead of being a 15 yard completion, it’ll be a 40 yard touchdown. This game has never seen such a cerebral and talented QB as it has with Peyton Manning. As huge of an Elway homer that I am, the instant he snapped the football in a Broncos uniform, he became the best QB to ever play for the Broncos. To steal the catch phrase from one of my favorite childhood (wayyyy back in the day) wrestlers Bret Heart, Peyton Manning is “The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be!” There will never be a QB as good as Peyton Manning. No matter how diluted and lopsided the rules force the NFL to become, there will never be another Peyton Manning. No matter how many and by how much Manning’s records get shattered, he will always be the best because lets face it, Manning would dominate in any era of football, whereas the eventual record breakers will only be great in the era they are playing in because of the rules and probably flags attached to their belts.
Lets have it football fans. Rank your Playoff QBs and tell me why I’m a genius or completely off my meds in the comments below!