The question seems simple enough: Which remaining playoff quarterback do we have the most confidence in?
Not, “Who’s the best quarterback?” Or, “Whom do we expect to be playing in the Super Bowl?”
But, “Whom do we trust the most in the fourth quarter with the game on the line? Who is least likely to choke under the pressure of the national spotlight?”
We came up with a few criteria to help bring some order to this exercise:
■ Overall playoff record, to see who has shined the brightest in January.
■ Career game-winning drives, to see who has the most experience in leading comebacks.
■ Playoff comebacks and game-winning drives, to see who has a history of leading his team back in the most pressure-packed situations.
■ Game-winning drives in 2013, to see who has performed big in crunch time this season.
■ Win-loss record in their last six games of the regular season, to see who played well down the stretch.
■ And Super Bowl record, to see who has won the only game that truly matters.
Of course, we also have to consider other factors, such as the fact that Russell Wilson will be playing every game at home, Drew Brees will likely be on the road, and that Peyton Manning might be facing his greatest nemesis: a cold-weather game.
Here are our results. Send angry e-mails to the address at the bottom:
1. Tom Brady
This one is pretty obvious. Brady is at or near the top of the class in pretty much every statistic. He has a successful track record, with a 17-7 career playoff mark and 3-2 record in Super Bowls. He has led seven game-winning drives in the playoffs — two each in the 2001 and 2003 seasons, one each in 2004 and 2006, and in the 2011 AFC title game against Baltimore.
He has led 42 game-winning drives in 12 seasons (3.5 per year), and had five this year, including heroic efforts against the Saints, Broncos, and Browns. And Brady cruised toward the end of the season, finishing out with a 5-1 record.
If a game is close in the fourth quarter, Brady is the guy you want at quarterback. He might not win every playoff game, but he won’t be the reason the Patriots lose, either.
2. Andrew Luck
In just two short years, Luck has established an amazing track record as a winner and comeback artist. He has posted consecutive 11-5 records, and his fourth-quarter success is nothing short of remarkable. Luck has compiled 11 game-winning drives, including the historic comeback he authored Saturday against the Chiefs in which he erased a 28-point second-half deficit, the second-largest in NFL playoff history, to win, 45-44.
Luck had four game-winning drives this regular season, and ended 2013 on a 4-2 run. His season will likely end Saturday in Foxborough, but he was the one AFC quarterback the Patriots didn’t want to face in the second round.
3. Peyton Manning
Manning gives us 16 seasons of data to work with, and the numbers don’t lie. On the one hand, he has a whopping 51 game-winning drives (3.2 per year), a Super Bowl ring, a 4-2 record to end this regular season, and two game-winning drives this year.
He threw for a record 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns this year, and the Broncos were often ahead by so much that he didn’t have to come back much in the fourth quarter.
Manning also has a history of coming up short in January. His playoff record is a mediocre 9-11. He has one playoff game-winning drive, in his Super Bowl season of 2006. And who can forget the Tracy Porter pick-6 in his other Super Bowl appearance, a loss to the Saints?
He’s still Peyton Manning, and the Broncos will play at home throughout the postseason, so we rank him No. 3. But we have less faith in him coming up big than we do the kid who replaced him in Indy.
4. Russell Wilson
Like Luck, all this kid has done since entering the league last year is win, and he’s done so in spectacular fashion. Wilson’s regular-season record is 24-8, and he was a Matt Ryan miracle away from taking the Seahawks to the NFC Championship game as a rookie. Wilson already has nine game-winning drives, including four this season, and finished the season on a 4-2 stretch.
No quarterback gets more out of his talent than Wilson, who can do it all — throw from the pocket, throw on the run, buy time in the pocket, and even run some read-option. Add in the fact that the Seahawks have the best home-field advantage in the NFL and will play at home in the playoffs, and it’s easy to have total confidence in Wilson.
5. Colin Kaepernick
He’s only been a starter for 1½ seasons, but there’s a lot to like about this kid.
He has a 3-1 playoff record and two game-winning playoff drives, including one Sunday to win at Green Bay in frigid temperatures. Kaepernick led an epic comeback against the Falcons in last season’s NFC Championship game, and then came up 5 yards short in the Super Bowl. He also authored four game-winning drives during the 2013 season, and enters this weekend on a seven-game winning streak.
Kaepernick may be the least proficient pocket passer of the bunch, knocking him down in the rankings. But he can more than make up for his deficiencies with his feet, as the Packers learned Sunday.
6. Drew Brees
There’s obviously a lot to like about Brees: the Super Bowl win in the 2009 season, the 34 game-winning drives over 12 seasons as a starter, the 6-4 career playoff record, the three game-winning drives he has led in the playoffs (including one Saturday against the Eagles), and, of course, the four seasons of 5,000-plus passing yards, including each of the last three.
But the Saints limped into the playoffs with a 3-3 record, and Brees isn’t nearly the same quarterback on the road as he is at home.
7. Philip Rivers
This ranking doesn’t do justice to Rivers, who has had an excellent season and led a nice playoff road victory at Cincinnati Sunday. Rivers had 32 TD passes against just 11 interceptions this year and entered the playoffs on a 5-1 stretch. He’s 4-4 in his career in the playoffs, with a game-winning drive in 2008, and has 20 game-winning drives overall in his career, including four this season.
That said, he will have to keep pace with Manning and Brady in consecutive games if he wants to reach his first Super Bowl. We foresee a few fourth-quarter interceptions in his future.
8. Cam Newton
Newton gets the bottom ranking mostly because he lacks a body of work.
This weekend’s clash against the 49ers will be his first career playoff game in three seasons. He’s as dynamic an athlete as they come, and has authored six game-winning drives (including four this year). That said, let’s see what he can do with the playoff spotlight shining brightly.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.