When it comes to handicapping the NFL playoffs, it’s all about quarterbacks. The tournament starts Saturday, when the Chiefs play at Indianapolis. Here’s one man’s ranking of the 12 QBs in the 2014 postseason.
1. Peyton Manning, Denver
Sorry, Tom Brady fans. Everybody knows the knocks on Manning. In 12 postseasons, he has been one-and-done a whopping eight times. He seems to make big mistakes at inopportune times. Remember the Tracy Porter pick-6 in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami? How about last year’s overtime interception in the shocking loss at home to the Ravens? There’s also the notion that Manning is a bad cold-weather quarterback and will spit the frozen bit in January or February. Fine. But Manning just finished a season in which he threw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns.He should be the league’s Most Valuable Player, is Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year, and, until he loses, is the top quarterback in the AFC.
2. Tom Brady, New England
You know the dossier. He won his first 10 career playoff games. Three Super Bowl rings. Two Super Bowl MVPs. But the trend is downward. Brady is 3-5 in his last eight playoff games. If you subtract the hideous Broncos game of two years ago, Brady has nine interceptions and 11 TD passes in his last seven playoff games. He’s also coming off a season that featured his lowest completion percentage (60.5) since 2003. Most of us still would take Brady over Manning in any playoff showdown, and we can only hope we see this matchup Jan. 19 at Mile High.
3. Philip Rivers, San Diego
He’s cocky, emotional, and doesn’t have a great supporting cast, but Rivers threw for 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns this year. He’s also tough. Rivers played a full four quarters with a torn ACL in a playoff game against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in January of 2008. The Chargers are pretty happy they wound up with Rivers instead of Eli Manning in the 2004 draft.
4. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis
A high school valedictorian, Stanford grad, and son of an NFL quarterback (Oliver Luck) who played with Archie Manning on the Houston Oilers in the early 1980s, Luck has the professional pedigree and the dropback passing skills. He set a record by passing for 8,196 yards in his first two years in the league. Too bad his offensive line and receiving corps are weak.
5. Alex Smith, Kansas City
The prototypical “game manager.’’ Smith doesn’t beat you with style or deep balls, but he beats you. Smith took the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship Game in the 2011 season, then lost his job one year later when Jim Harbaugh (correctly) concluded that Colin Kaepernick could take the Niners to the Super Bowl. The Smith-Andy Reid partnership is working in KC. Smith threw for 23 TDs with only seven picks this year. He also went to the same San Diego high school (Helix) as Bill Walton and Dennis Hopper.
6. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati
This guy could end up in the Super Bowl, but he has much to prove. Dalton is 0-2 in the playoffs with zero touchdown passes and four picks. He threw four interceptions last weekend, and 20 on the season. He’s got more weapons than anyone in this conference other than Manning. He’s also got red hair and grew up in Katy, Texas, home of Roger Clemens.
1. Drew Brees, New Orleans
This is one of the great quarterbacks of all time, a man with a Super Bowl MVP on his résumé. He’s 5-4 in the playoffs with 22 touchdowns and only four interceptions. The downside is that, like his team, he’s been great at home and ordinary on the road and the Saints aren’t going to be playing in the Superdome in these playoffs. We like the idea that Brees wears No. 9 as an homage to Ted Williams, but he bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a young Tom E. Curran.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Another big boy veteran QB with all the Super Bowl credentials. Rodgers is 6-3 in the postseason with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. He fractured his collarbone in Week 9 but came back to put the Packers in the playoffs last weekend. The Packers were 6-2 with him and 2-5-1 without him. The Discount Doublecheck guy makes $22 million per year.
3. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco
Toughest to rate, by far. There’ve been suggestions that he could be the greatest quarterback of all time. He also could be a one-read QB who’ll take you out of a game. He can beat you with his legs (181 yards on the ground against the Packers in last year’s playoffs), and throws the football harder than anyone since Bert Jones. He’s got more tattoos than Chris Brown. When the Giants asked Kaepernick to throw a ceremonial first pitch, he gunned one 87 miles per hour, almost killing the unsuspecting Sergio Romo.
4. Nick Foles, Philadelphia
A true wild card. Foles beat out Michael Vick for the Eagles starting job and finished with 27 touchdown passes and only two interceptions — the best ratio in NFL history. He looks a little like Kenneth from “30 Rock” and played at the same high school (Westlake, Texas) as Brees.
5. Russell Wilson, Seattle
He’s only 5 feet 11 inches, and has played only two NFL seasons, but Wilson could wind up winning a Super Bowl with Pete Carroll’s juggernaut. He threw 26 TDs with only nine picks this year and you might remember his performance against the Falcons in last year’s playoffs. Wilson was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, and played for Tom O’Brien at North Carolina State before transferring to Wisconsin.
6. Cam Newton, Carolina
He’s big (6-5, 245), fast, and durable. Newton hasn’t missed a start in three seasons. His 14-yard scramble against the Patriots during which he eluded six tacklers and actually ran 75 yards is a highlight-reel run for the ages. He can beat you with his arm or his legs. His playoff inexperience and TD-INT radio (64-42) put him at the bottom of our list, but it also demonstrates the strength of the field in the NFC.