Quarterbacks Rule Playoff Roost

Rodgers (Andrew Weber - USA Today Sports)

Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson are the exceptions. Historically, it takes a Hall of Fame-worthy quarterback to win the Super Bowl. That limits the field as the divisional round kicks off on Saturday. We look at the matchups, including the on-paper mismatch of Aaron Rodgers vs. Colin Kaepernick.

The NFL is driven by the quarterbacks.

Of the first 16 Super Bowl champions, only two were guided by a quarterback not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The last 20 Super Bowls were won by a who's-who list of modern quarterbacks: Troy Aikman (three), Tom Brady (three), John Elway (two), Ben Roethlisberger (two), Eli Manning (two), Brett Favre, Steve Young, Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers (one apiece). That's 18 championships won by quarterbacks who are in the Hall of Fame or are in the process of crafting Hall of Fame-worthy resumes. The only exceptions in the last 20 years were Trent Dilfer (Super Bowl XXXV) and Brad Johnson (Super Bowl XXXVII), who had outstanding defenses at their disposal.

Here's a look at the four divisional-round matchups.

Green Bay at San Francisco

On paper, Rodgers has an overwhelming advantage over Colin Kaepernick. Rodgers is the NFL's career leader in regular-season and postseason passer rating. He led the league with a 108.0 rating this season, finished second with 39 touchdowns and hasn't thrown an interception in 177 passes over the last four-plus games. He's thrown 16 touchdowns against four interceptions in six playoff games.

Kaepernick will be making his eighth NFL start on Saturday night. He's having an outstanding season with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions in seven starts. While Rodgers has to carry the Packers on his shoulders, Kaepernick is surrounded by nine Pro Bowlers — including six on defense. It's been a long, long time, however, since Johnson and Dilfer won a Super Bowl because of their defenses.

Baltimore at Denver

Is Joe Flacco a good quarterback or a great quarterback? He made NFL history last week by becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to a playoff win in each of his first five seasons in the league but is 0-2 in conference championship games. During the regular season, he ranked 12th in passer rating (88.1) and 18th in completion percentage (59.1). Those are ho-hum numbers.

There's nothing ho-hum about Peyton Manning, who added several more pages to his Hall of Fame resume. After sitting out last season with a neck injury, Manning signed with Denver and finished second in rating (105.8), first in accuracy (68.6 percent) and third in touchdowns (37). The Broncos are riding an 11-game winning streak and they scored 30-plus in nine of those games. In the playoffs, he's 9-10. His 5,389 passing yards trails only Brett Favre (5,855) and Montana (5,772).

Seattle at Atlanta

As is the case for Kaepernick, Russell Wilson has made plays through the air and with his feet, minimized the mistakes and let a superb running game and defense do the heavy lifting. He threw 26 touchdown passes, tying Peyton Manning's league rookie record. Wilson finished fourth with a 100.1 passer rating. Since 1966, only 14 rookie quarterbacks have started a playoff game. Three of those came this season, and only Wilson remains alive. No rookie quarterback has started in the Super Bowl.

There's a ton of pressure on Matt Ryan and the top-seeded Falcons. Ryan has won 56 games as a starter, most by a quarterback in his first five seasons in the league. However, he's 0-3 in the playoffs with three touchdowns and four interceptions. Ryan set career highs with yards (4,719), percentage (68.6), touchdowns (32) and passer rating (99.1) but also matched his high in interceptions (14).

Houston at New England

There's considerable pressure on Matt Schaub, as well, as the perceived weak link on a Texans team with a top-shelf defense and running back. Schaub's numbers were excellent: ninth in rating (90.7), sixth in accuracy (64.3) and 11th in yards (4.008). In his last five games — a 1-3 finish to the regular season to fall out of a first-round bye and last weekend's ugly wild-card win over Cincinnati — Schaub threw one touchdown pass and four interceptions.

It was another exceptional year for Brady. He finished sixth in rating (98.5), fourth in yards (4,827), fourth in touchdowns (34) and first in interception percentage (1.3). A two-time Super Bowl MVP, he owns a 15-6 record in the playoffs. That .727 winning percentage trails only Terry Bradshaw (.737) among quarterbacks with more than 10 starts. (Bart Starr went 9-1, .900). However, until winning twice in last year's postseason, he and the Patriots were on a three-game playoff skid.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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