Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Gary Shelton: Rating the NFL postseason quarterbacks

It is Peyton's game now. Unless, of course, it is Tom's.

Aaron may have something to say about that. Matt may have something to show.

This is the time of quarterbacks. The NFL is down to its Elite Eight, and it is time for one of the league's golden boys to take over. It is time for someone to lead the charge, to convince the critics and to enhance his legacy.

In the NFL, this is how the playoffs work. You can spend weeks debating coaches and defenses. You can spend months admiring running backs and receivers. Then the postseason kicks in, and it's all about the passers. Everyone else is either a supporting actor or a backup singer.

This year the postseason will belong to a champion: Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers.

Or perhaps it will belong to a veteran trying to establish himself as something more than ordinary: Matt Ryan or Matt Schaub or Joe Flacco.

Or perhaps, it will belong to one of the kids: Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick.

Just an observation here, but the better the quarterback, the better his team's odds.

Oh, teams haven't always had to have a great quarterback to win a Super Bowl. There for a while, an excellent team could carry an average quarterback all the way to the title. The Giants won with Jeff Hostetler, and the Ravens won with Trent Dilfer, and the Bucs won with Brad Johnson, and the Redskins won with Mark Rypien.

Lately, however, quarterbacks have re-established themselves. It has been 10 years since a team has won a Super Bowl with an average quarterback. Over that decade, Brady has won two of his titles, and Eli Manning both of his, and Ben Roethlisberger both of his. Also, Peyton won his, and Drew Brees won his, and Rodgers won his.

In other words, coaches might as well back their safeties up.

Given the pedigrees of Peyton Manning, Brady and Rodgers — together they have won the past five MVPs and seven of the past nine — you might suggest they have little left to prove. Alas, that isn't the case. In the NFL there is always more proving to do.

Start with Peyton. He has been one of history's best quarterbacks, but the playoffs have never been particularly kind to him. He is 9-10 as a starter in the postseason, and he has only one Super Bowl ring. His postseason quarterback rating is 88.4, roughly seven points less than his regular season rating.

This season could be different. After four neck surgeries, and after some critics doubted how effective he could be earlier this season, Peyton seems to be enjoying one of those "I told you so'' seasons. It has to help, too, that Denver's defense is the highest rated left in the playoffs.

Over the years, Brady's postseason performance has been better than Peyton's, but not so much lately. Brady won his first 10 playoff games for the Patriots, but he's 6-6 in his past 12. That includes two losses to the Giants in his past two Super Bowls.

It has now been seven seasons since Brady won a title. When you consider the Patriot defense (ranked 25th), Brady is going to have to be spectacular for his team to win this season. The good news? Brady is spectacular fairly often.

Rodgers? He's won six of his eight career playoff games, and his rating (105.3) is as stellar as his regular-season one. Still, he's won only one Super Bowl.

Then there is Ryan, who has lost all three of his playoff games. If the Falcons don't make it to at least the NFC championship game, you're going to hear a lot of questions about whether Ryan can win the big one.

Flacco has heard that already. His team has won six of the 10 playoff games in which he has started, but the Ravens have always been seen as a defensive team. This season that isn't the case (they're 17th), which means Flacco will have to be very good to give the Ravens a chance.

You can say the same for Schaub, who played his first playoff game last weekend. Now Sunday he has to go into New England, where the weather isn't very good. On the other hand, neither is the Patriots defense.

It should be somewhat easier for Wilson and the Seahawks. Wilson has a knack for the playing the game. Still, he's only a rookie. Winning on the road against Atlanta on Sunday will be a lot to ask.

Wilson isn't the least experienced quarterback standing, however. San Francisco's Kaepernick started only seven games this year. Kaepernick's legs give the 49ers an extra dimension, but again, has he played enough football to give the Packers a run Saturday?

We'll see.

Again, they all have something to prove. Quarterbacks always do. They either haven't won lately, or they haven't won enough, or they haven't been spectacular along the way.

That's the NFL. It's all about doubts, and this time of year, it's all about dispelling them.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at 98.7-FM the Fan.

     
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