As we already know, half of the quarterbacks leading teams into the NFL playoffs are either first- or second-year players. All the while, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are singing a song they easily memorized some 10 years ago.
Will the new generation of quarterbacks take the buck and run with it? Do these old dogs still have another trick or two up their sleeves? These two questions promise to be among the most talked about topics as the NFL gears up for the playoffs.
Today's article is going to take a look at all 12 starting quarterbacks in the playoffs and their level of recent play. They will be categorized into hot, warm and cold categories. Remember, you are only as good as your last game. That's an important thing to understand as the playoffs get going in a couple days.
Hot: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
You can easily say that Rodgers has been hot for three years now. The future Hall of Fame quarterback has put up two of the best statistical seasons in the history of the National Football League. He has thrown 84 touchdowns compared to just 14 interceptions since the start of the 2011 regular season.
Despite falling to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 17 and losing out on a first-round bye, Rodgers played near flawless football against the Packers' divisional rival. His late fumble did set up a Minnesota score, but Rodgers finished the day 28-of-40 passing for over 360 yards and four scores.
Following a four-game stretch towards the three-quarter point of the season that saw Rodgers throw interceptions in every game, he has not been picked in his last four outings (138 pass attempts). Green Bay is averaging 34.3 points per game during that span, which is a whole touchdown more than they averaged all season.
If Rodgers continues to play this flawless football, Green Bay will be extremely difficult to beat in the playoffs. He is the type of quarterback that can carry a team on his back and win a championship. We saw this two seasons ago when Rodgers threw three touchdowns in three of his four playoff games in route to the Lombardi Trophy.
Not: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Last three starts: 57.7 completion percentage, 994 yards, five touchdowns, four interceptions and a 79.4 quarterback rating.
It feels wrong to write about Brady in a negative light heading into the postseason. After all, he has been one of the best big-game quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League.
By his standards, however, Brady has struggled a great deal recently. Following a seven-game stretch that saw Brady throw 19 touchdowns compared to one interception, he just doesn't seem to be in sync as of late. The four interceptions that he has thrown in the last three games matches his total output from the first 13 games of the season.
One thing that I have noticed with the Patriots offense during these recent struggles is that they don't seem to be clicking on all cylinders in the passing game. Timing seems to be off a bit as Brady has missed ample opportunities to push the ball down the field on the outside.
While these are corrective issues, Patriots fans need to be a little concerned about their lack of production in the passing game. Brady averaged just 5.7 yards per attempt against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15 and followed that up with a 5.3 YPA performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16. Those represent his two worst performances in that category since October of 2010.
In reality, New England needs Brady to play like he did in the first 14 weeks of the season if it is going to be able to fend off Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos for a return trip to the Super Bowl.
Hot: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
What Wilson has done over the last two months is nothing short of ridiculous. He has the highest total QBR in the NFL during that span and just seems to be taking this whole football thing to an entirely new level.
Some will point to him being a rookie and see he will struggle in the playoffs. Others will come to the conclusion that he isn't asked to do too much in Seattle's run-based offense. The former point stands no ground considering Wilson isn't playing anywhere near like a rookie. The latter point might be a bit more legit.
Wilson has not completed more than 15 passes in any of his last four games and attempted a high of 23 against the Buffalo Bills in Week 14 during that span. This doesn't mean that Wilson can't succeed throwing the ball 40 times. It just indicates that Seattle runs an offensive scheme that runs contrary to having to do that.
I honestly have no idea what the playoffs will bring for all these young quarterbacks. History itself is working against them. That being said, this crop of quarterbacks are the best to enter the NFL in a good three decades. And Wilson is right at the top when it comes to production. That he has thrown just two interceptions in his last 183 pass attempts (eight games) should tell you what you need to know about the rookie third-round pick.
Hot: Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Kaepernick might be the least experienced starting quarterback heading into the playoffs, but he counteracts that by adding an entirely new dimension at this position for San Francisco. He is among the most accurate young quarterbacks in the NFL and has one of the strongest arms in the entire league. His ability to move around in the pocket and create plays is second to none. This is evident by the fact that has has been sacked just once in each of his last three games.
Again, it is hard to have a feel for how a young quarterback is going to handle the pressure of starting a playoff game, especially for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. That being said, nothing seems to faze this talented youngster.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh transitioned from Alex Smith to Kaepernick because he believed the latter gave San Francisco a better chance of winning. The way that its offense has opened up since Kaepernick took over, it is hard to question this decision.
According to Advanced NFL Stats, Kaepernick is tied with Peyton Manning for No. 1 in the NFL in adjusted yards per pass, which takes into account sacks etc.. Over one quarter of his passes have traveled over 15 yards, which is No. 2 in the league behind Jay Cutler. If San Francisco's offense can open it up in the playoffs, its going to be extremely difficult to beat. This is where Kaepernick comes into play.
Not: Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
Schaub just isn't playing up to the level of a playoff quarterback at this point. He has thrown one touchdown in his last 130-plus pass attempts. That isn't going to get it done against elite competition in the AFC.
Equally as alarming, he struggled a great deal against playoff teams during the regular year. Following a great performance against the Denver Broncos in a Week 3 win, Schaub threw three touchdowns in six games against playoff teams. As a result, Houston won just two of those games.
Arian Foster may be one of the most productive running backs in the NFL, but he isn't going to be able to do it all by himself, especially after leading the league with 391 touches in the regular season. In order for Houston to get past the Cincinnati Bengals and into the final four in the AFC, it is going to need Schaub to step up a big deal this week.
At his current rate, I just don't see Schaub being able to be a difference-maker in the postseason. This leads me to believe that fans in Houston will be sorely disappointed when all is said and done on Saturday.
Hot: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Last 11 starts: 70.0 completion percentage, 3,160 yards, 26 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 108.3 quarterback rating.
Just look at those statistics above. Needless to say, Manning is the primary reason that Denver has run off 11 consecutive victories entering the postseason. It's hard to believe, but it doesn't look like the future Hall of Fame quarterback has ever played better in his career.
If Manning keeps this up, the Broncos will be nearly unbeatable in the playoffs. No one in their right mind can legitimitelly conclude that any defense in the NFL stands a chance against Denver's passing game with Manning going the way he is right now.
That being said, Manning isn't the same quarterback in the playoffs as he is during the regular season. He has a career 9-10 record in the second season with a quarterback rating of 88.4. I guess that's one thing opposing teams can look at when drawing out scenarios of how to beat Manning this January.
Not: Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Last five starts: 58.3 completion percentage, 967 yards, eight touchdowns, three interceptions and a 89.8 quarterback rating.
This is where statistics can be a bit misleading. Looking at Flacco's performance over the course of the last five games it is easy to say that he has played some good football. That just isn't the case. Baltimore lost four of its final five regular season games. Despite playing reserves for the most part against the Cincinnati Bengals last week, this isn't going to get it done.
Flacco did have a solid performance against the New York Giants in Week 16, but it's hard to have confidence in him moving into the playoffs, especially on the road. He tallied a total of seven touchdowns compared to eight interceptions and finished at .500 away from Baltimore this season.
Even if the Ravens get past the Indianapolis Colts this weekend, far from a certainty, it's going to be hard for them to defeat either the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots in the second round unless Flacco becomes a reason they excel.
Hot: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Last three starts: 68.3 completion percentage, 787 yards, eight touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 116.2 quarterback rating.
Ryan now has a chance to prove all of his skeptics wrong. The stars are aligning for a deep run into the playoffs for the up-and-coming quarterback and the Falcons. They won't have to play outside a dome in route to New Orleans in February.
On a more relevant note, he has been playing some damn good football as of late. Following a five-game stretch that saw Ryan throw eight interceptions, he hasn't been picked in his last 110-plus passes (three games) and continues to show why he is one of the most improved quarterbacks in the entire National Football League.
Of course it is all going to be about winning when it counts the most. Until Ryan pulls that proverbial monkey off his back and actually wins a playoff game he is going to continue to get grief from those who don't believe he is a big-game quarterback. While three playoff games aren't a large sample size, they do represent something of a trend.
If Ryan continues his recent performance into the playoffs, Atlanta will be extremely difficult to beat in the Georgia Dome. If he reverts back to the performances we saw in his initial three playoff games, it will open the door for the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, among others.
Not: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton isn't playing good football at precisely the wrong time in the season. Most of his issues recently have to do with an inability to get the ball downfield. He is averaging less than six yards per attempt in his last five games, which is a direct reason why Cincinnati is averaging five points less per outing during that span than it put up in the first 11 games of the season.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis might have had a solid season at running back, but he isn't going to be able to shoulder the load in the playoffs. In order for Cincinnati to go deep in the playoffs it is going to need the passing game to open up a great deal.
I fully understand that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden utilized a conservative approach during Dalton's rookie season in 2011, but he now has 32 starts under his belt and needs to pick his game up to make Cincinnati true contenders in the AFC.
Warm: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Last three starts: 48.8 completion percentage, 582 yards, five touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 88.3 quarterback rating.
Lost in all the hoopla about the performance of rookie quarterbacks this season is that Luck threw the third-most interceptions of any player in the National Football League in 2012. One of the primary reasons for that is Indianapolis was just asking too much of a rookie quarterback.
He averaged a ridiculous 41 passes per outing in his first 13 games, throwing one interception per 29 attempts during that span. I don't care how good a rookie quarterback is, he will make mistakes under those circumstances.
Things surely have changed over the course of the last three games. Once Indianapolis realized it stood a good shot at earning a playoff spot, it made the conscious decision to create more balance on offense. Luck is attempting 11 less passes per game and has not thrown a single interception in the last three weeks.
If these numbers continue and Indianapolis is able to maintain balance on offense with Vick Ballard running the ball, it will stand a chance to defeat the Ravens in Baltimore this weekend. If not, we are probably looking at a one-and-done scenario for this team.
Warm: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Last four starts: 59.6 completion percentage, 703 passing yards, 173 rushing yards, five total touchdowns, one interception and a 94.9 quarterback rating.
By his standards, RGIII hasn't performed extremely well since coming back from his knee injury. Of course those standards are extremely high and the reason he hasn't put up the same numbers as earlier in the season is due to the injury.
His passing yards decreased from 208 per game in the first 12 games to 176 per outing in the last four weeks. RGIII has also seen his rushing output decrease a great deal during that span as has his completion percentage and quarterback rating.
I am assuming he will be closer to 100 percent against the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card playoffs this weekend than he was versus the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night. If that is the case, you can easily expect this rookie phenom to duplicate the performance from the first three months of the season. Again, this is more about his recent knee injury than anything else.
Hot: Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
Last three starts: 59.8 completion percentage, 539 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 95.5 quarterback rating.
Ponder is asked to do the least of any quarterback heading into the playoffs. He compiled less than 3,000 passing yards and just 18 touchdown passes during the regular season. Those numbers are similar to Alex Smith's performance entering the postseason in 2011. Start the game manager comparisons here...
With that in mind, Ponder doesn't need to do a whole heck of a lot in order for Minnesota to be successful. After all, he has one of the best running backs to ever play the game sharing the backfield with him. Adrian Peterson will be a primary reason why Minnesota advances to the next round, not Ponder.
As long as the second-year quarterback limits his mistakes, like we have seen over the last three weeks, Minnesota should be in good shape against the Green Bay Packers. If not, it will go down in a big way in Lambeau Field. Minnesota is 3-5 when Ponder throws an interception and 5-3 when he doesn't.