In the playoffs, a team will only go as far as their quarterback will take them. As the NFL has evolved over the years, no longer will just a rock-solid defense with an average quarterback be enough to carry a team to a Super Bowl title.
To go to the Super Bowl nowadays, a team must have a quarterback that can overcome late-game deficits, handle the pressure of the playoffs and put plenty of points on the board.
The last nine Super Bowls have been won by guys with names like: Manning, Brees, Rodgers, the other Manning, Brady and Roethlisberger. What is the one aspect all of those guys share?
They are elite.
The difference between a good quarterback and an star signal caller can be the difference between a Super Bowl Ring and one-and-done in January, so let's look at some rankings of the 12 starting quarterbacks in the playoffs:
2012 Stats: 2,935 Yards Passing, 20 TD (2 Rush), 12 INT
Playoff Record: 0-0
In an era where the starting quarterback is expected to lead a team to a Super Bowl, Christian Ponder does not fit the bill. At this point in his career, he is nothing more than a game manager.
The Vikings offense relies solely on the legs of Adrian Peterson. Ponder is asked to do little at quarterback other handing off to him.
- Ponder will make his playoff debut this weekend.
- With his best receiver Percy Harvin out with an injury, Ponder does not have a great receiving corps to rely on.
- Teams will stack the box to try and stop Adrian Peterson, which will open up the passing game for Vikings.
- Not a consistent enough passer at this point in his career to carry a team to the Super Bowl.
2012 Stats: 1,814 Yards Passing, 15 TD (5 Rush), 3 INT
Playoff Record: 0-0
After taking over as the starting quarterback for the 49ers midway through the season, Kaepernick has provided a needed spark to an offense that didn’t scare many opponents. With the second-year quarterback starting in place of Alex Smith, San Francisco’s offense has added an explosive element.
With a bye this week, Kaepernick must wait a week for his first taste of playoff football.
- Making his playoff debut next week.
- Dual-threat quarterback who can challenge a defense with both his arm and legs.
- Has started only seven games in his career and does not have the experience in different game situations that the others above him have.
- Could put an end to the lingering quarterback controversy with a couple playoff wins.
2012 Stats: 4,008 Yards Passing, 22 TD, 12 INT
Playoff Record: 0-0
Matt Schaub has helped lead Houston from the bottom of the AFC South to one of the top teams in the AFC over the last two seasons. The passing game in Houston relies on the success of its’ vaunted rushing attack. The Texans utilize play action and roll outs very well.
However, when Schaub is asked to drop back and dissect a defense, he struggles.
- Will make his playoff debut this weekend after missing last year’s playoffs due to injury.
- Nine-year veteran has led nine career fourth-quarter comebacks.
- Pure pocket passer struggles when he needs to avoid pressure; makes costly mistakes at times.
- At his best when the Houston running game is clicking.
2012 Stats: 3,669 Yards Passing, 31 TD (4 Rush), 16 INT
Playoff Record: 0-1
Andy Dalton enters the playoffs as the Bengals’ starting quarterback for a second consecutive year. This season he has definitely elevated his game, but the lack of a receiving threat outside of AJ Green really hurts Dalton.
- Second-year pro has made the playoffs in each of his first two seasons.
- Has led five fourth-quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives.
- A gritty competitor who can beat you with you both his arm and legs.
- Has one of the best receivers AJ Greenin the NFL on his side.
- Lacks a solid second receiver, which will hurt Dalton when teams double team Green.
- Running game has been inconsistent, putting added pressure on Dalton.
2012 Stats: 3,118 Yards Passing, 30 TD (4 Rush), 10 INT
Playoff Record: 0-0
Russell Wilson has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the NFL this season. Drafted in the third round this past off season, Wilson was expected to serve as backup to newly-acquired Matt Flynn.
However, after starting since Week 1, he helped transform the Seahawks offense into one of the most explosive and dynamic in the NFL. Seattle runs multiple formations, but Wilson is at his best when he runs Seattle’s version of the spread option.
- Rookie will make his playoff debut this week in Washington.
- In just his first year, Wilson led three fourth-quarter comebacks and four game-winning drives.
- Shorter quarterback (5'11) who utilizes his quickness on deep dropbacks along with his pocket presence to extend plays and find open receivers downfield.
- If he can’t find an open target, Wilson is a threat to run (489 yards rushing).
2012 Stats: 3,200 Yards Passing, 27 TD (7 Rush), 5 INT
Playoff Record: 0-0
Robert Griffin III (RG3) quickly became the league’s most explosive quarterback this season. Blessed with Olympic-level speed and a cannon for an arm, there is not much Griffin can’t do on a football field.
What hurts Griffin and keeps him from being higher on this list is the fact that he is a rookie. No rookie has ever led his team to a Super Bowl. In addition, Griffin is battling a knee injury that is obviously hampering his running ability.
- RG3 will make his playoff debut at home against Seattle this weekend.
- The rookie has been battling a knee injury, which has kept Griffin from performing at 100 percent the last couple of weeks.
- One of the most dynamic quarterbacks the league has ever seen, Griffin led Washington to three fourth-quarter comebacks this season.
- Knee injury may keep Griffin from taking off and running as often as he did early on in the regular season.
- Not just a threat to run (815 yards rushing), the rookie completed 65.6 percent of his throws this season.
2012 Stats: 4,374 Yards Passing, 28 TD (5 Rush), 18 INT
Playoff Record: 0-0
Andrew Luck, the man selected to replace Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, has been as good as advertised. Not one person expected Luck to be able to lead the Colts to the playoffs in his first year – but he did.
What sets Luck apart from the other rookie quarterbacks is that Luck has that clutch factor. He led the Colts back to spectacular comeback numerous times. In the playoffs where all the games are close, having the clutch factor is huge.
- Makes his playoff debut this weekend in Baltimore.
- In just his first year, Luck led the Colts to an 11-5 record and the playoffs after they had a 2-14 record a year earlier.
- Looks more like a veteran than a rookie, as Luck has led four fourth-quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives.
2012 Stats: 4,719 Yards Passing, 33 TD (1 Rush), 14 INT
Playoff Record: 0-3
This season, Ryan took the next step in becoming an elite quarterback by having the best season in his five-year career. Ryan has all the tools to be a great NFL quarterback, but he has not yet proven that he can win a big game,having never won a playoff game. For that reason, Ryan cannot be higher than No. 5 on this list.
- Has never won a playoff game. Otherwise, he would be higher on this list.
- Strong set of receivers gives Ryan plenty of options in the passing game.
- Led the Falcons to the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye.
- Had led 15 fourth-quarter comebacks and 22 game-winning drives in his career.
2012 Stats: 3,817 Yards Passing, 25 TD (3 Rush), 10 INT
Playoff Record: 5-4 (.556)
While Flacco has had his share of shoddy performances in his career, he has also played some of his best games in the biggest games. What many forget about Flacco is that he outplayed Tom Brady in last year’s AFC Championship Game. Had it not been for a Lee Evans dropped pass, Flacco would have played in his first Super Bowl a year ago. Look for Flacco and the Ravens to make another run at the Lombardi Trophy.
- Has made the playoffs in every year of his career, winning at least one game in each.
- Inconsistent quarterback plays his best games in the biggest situations.
- Flacco has had nine fourth-quarter comebacks and 14 game-winning drives in his five-year career.
- Strong armed passer can make all the throws, but struggles when pressure is in his face and has to improvise.
- Looking for a new contract this offseason, Flacco will need a big performance in the playoffs to prove his doubters wrong.
2012 Stats: 4,295 Yards Passing, 41 TD (2 Rush), 8 INT
Playoff Record: 4-2 (.667)
The next three spots could have gone any which way – that’s how good they are.
Aaron Rodgers quietly had another great season for the Packers. Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson's MVP-caliber seasons overshadowed another masterful season for the Green Bay quarterback.
I put him behind Manning and Brady only because he has not led his team to as many comebacks.
- MVP winner.
- Won one Super Bowl.
- One of the most accurate passers in the NFL, Rodgers is also a master of throwing while on the run.
- After an early exit in last year’s playoffs, Rodgers and Green Bay will be hungry this time.
- Has led five fourth-quarter comebacks and nine game-winning drives in his career.
2012 Stats: 4,659 Yards Passing, 37 TD, 11 INT
Playoff Record: 9-10 (.474)
After missing last year due to injury, Peyton Manning has returned and left little doubt that he is still one of the best, if not the best quarterback in the NFL. With an uncanny ability to read defenses and adjust both before the snap and under pressure, Manning can dissect opposing defenses better than anyone in the league.
The reason he is not No. 1 on this list is because, despite all his success he has had, he has only won one Super Bowl in 13 seasons. The guy above him has a couple more and a considerably better postseason record..
2012 Stats: 4,827 Yards Passing, 38 TD, 8 INT
Playoff Record: 16-6 (.727)
Tom Brady is the definition of the word "champion." Winning three Super Bowls while playing five, Brady knows how to get to the Super Bowl and he knows how to win it.
While it is hard to definitively pick between having Rodgers, Manning or Brady on your team, I would pick Brady every time solely because he is a winner.