NFL Playoff Schedule 2013: Power Ranking QBs in Divisional Round
Entering the divisional round, this is the position that will make or break many franchises' fates. While experience typically gives teams the edge, there are several young, dynamic athletes that are changing the position and could be the x-factor their teams need to reach the Super Bowl.
Here is a power ranking of all the QBs left, based on their postseason track record and recent form, and how they will fare next weekend.
8. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
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Considering Schaub just won his postseason debut and was elected to the Pro Bowl this season, it shows how high the quality of quarterback play is at this juncture.
The Texans lost three of their final four regular-season contests, and much of it was due to the play of Schaub, who threw just one touchdown in that span.
Against the Cincinnati Bengals to open Wild Card Weekend, Schaub again didn't throw a touchdown in Houston's 19-13 win. That type of performance can't happen again when the Texans travel to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots.
The first time Houston faced the Pats back in Week 14, Tom Brady and Co. put on an offensive clinic on the 11-1 Texans and their vaunted defense while keeping DE J.J. Watt from registering a sack. That led to a 42-14 New England victory.
Schaub has had an impressive tenure as a starter in Houston but has often failed to stay healthy or has fallen short of the playoffs. This is his first rodeo, and the stakes are extremely high. He must find a way to snap out of the relative funk he's been in since the dawn of December, or else the Texans will find themselves blown out at the hands of the Patriots once again.
7. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
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Sporting an 0-3 postseason record—all of which were one-and-done's—Ryan has plenty to prove.
Even though he should be regarded as an elite quarterback after his strong 2012 campaign, averaging roughly 5.3 yards per attempt in the playoffs simply isn't going to get it done.
It may seem outrageous to place Ryan this low, but consider the supporting cast around him. No one has weapons like Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez to throw to. That has to be the best pass-catching trio in the NFL.
The opportunity for redemption will present itself Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, who are the NFC's hottest team and sported the No. 1 scoring defense in the regular season. They present a bit of a matchup nightmare with their athletic front seven and the best secondary the league has to offer.
White and Jones may be significantly stifled by Seahawks corners Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. That means that Ryan will have to rely heavily on Gonzalez, pass-catching RB Jacquizz Rodgers and his other targets.
If Matty Ice wants to silence his doubters, there would be no better way to do that than lighting up Seattle. As with anything, though, that's easier said than done—especially with a shaky, 27th-ranked running game.
6. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
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Ravens fans may detest this, since Flacco has been in the playoffs every year of his career.
There's no denying Flacco's physical tools, But all he really did against a suspect Indianapolis Colts defense was lob it up to a possessed Anquan Boldin and dump a pass to Ray Rice that the star running back carried for about 40 yards near the end of the first half.
Questions linger about Flacco's accuracy and general consistency, which is already inferior to any of the other quarterbacks that are on this list ahead of him.
Flacco had a chance to beat the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos in a critical game with playoff ramifications in Week 15, but failed to pull through. Flacco's shaky performance at home was defined by a lazy pass deep in Denver territory that was picked off by Chris Harris and returned 98 yards for a touchdown.
The Broncos won that game in M&T Bank Stadium 34-17, with Manning clearly outplaying Flacco. His two late TD passes to Dennis Pitta were inconsequential, because the Ravens were down 31 points after three quarters.
As hot as the Broncos have been in closing out the regular season with 11 consecutive wins, the Ravens are coming in revitalized with the return of linebacker Ray Lewis and a home playoff victory.
Expect Flacco to perform a little bit better than the first time around, but in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, it won't be enough to drive the Ravens to victory.
5. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
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The new starting quarterback in San Francisco has every desirable physical attribute any coach could ask for. Kaepernick has prototypical size at 6'4" and 230 pounds, a huge arm, exceptional accuracy and is an explosive runner.
There isn't much in Kaepernick's game to poke holes in, especially since elements of the spread offense are leaking into NFL playbooks.
Since taking over for Alex Smith, the 2011 second-round pick out of Nevada is 5-2 as a starter and has given the Niners the ability to come from behind in games thanks to his ability to extend plays and open up running lanes for the power running game.
This will be his postseason debut, but if there were ever any worries that Kaepernick couldn't handle the big stage, he put those concerns to rest in his electric starting debut against the Chicago Bears.
San Francisco beat the Green Bay Packers all the way back in Week 1 by a score of 30-22. With Kaepernick—who averages 8.32 yards per attempt—the Niners are a much more dangerous offense, but the possible absence of DL Justin Smith is a huge blow to the defense.
The Packers' defense is solid, but they haven't faced anything quite like Kaepernick this season. A strong supporting cast and the punishing running of RB Frank Gore will take pressure off of the young QB, and he should have a strong playoff debut.
4. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
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A lot of teams searching for quarterbacks feel pretty silly passing over Wilson simply because of his height. He has been getting it done all year and didn't miss a beat in the playoffs.
Despite getting sacked five times for the second week in a row and majestically escaping several others, Wilson led his team to a 24-14 victory over the Washington Redskins on the road. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett dialed up the pressure on Wilson all day, and he was undaunted, continuing to make plays.
Unfortunately, it wasn't quite the rookie QB epic everyone looked forward to because of Robert Griffin III's knee injury, but Wilson was extremely impressive nonetheless.
On Sunday, Wilson threw for 187 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 68 yards on just seven carries.
That type of dual-threat ability is precisely what is changing the position, and Wilson is proving that height doesn't necessarily matter. He will eternally have a chip on his shoulder after being selected in the third round, and the Seahawks will forever be grateful for finding their long-term answer at QB in the middle of the draft.
The Seahawks have now won nine of 10 games, and the biggest difference in that stretch has been Wilson's improvement.
Against the very leaky defense of the Atlanta Falcons, is there any reason to think Wilson won't continue rolling?
3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
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The defending NFL MVP is only at No. 3 because he doesn't have quite the lengthy, consistent track record of the two legends before him. That said, Rodgers has a chance to add to his own legacy this postseason and establish himself as the unquestioned best QB in the game.
Some may already be jumping on that wagon, and rightfully so. Rodgers gets decent pass protection at best most of the time and doesn't have much of a rushing attack to speak of. But the depth of his receiver corps revealed itself this season, with lengthy injuries to typical top targets Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson.
Part of the reason the Pack kept getting W's is due to others—most notably the ever-dangerous Randall Cobb and touchdown machine James Jones—stepping up big. That's not to detract from how good Rodgers is, though.
Green Bay would be in serious trouble without Rodgers under center, and the team will only go as far as he carries them. He has a very stiff test coming when the Packers travel to take on the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday.
The 49ers have a defense that Rodgers' offense struggled against in the regular-season opener. In fact, Rodgers led the Pack in rushing that game—with 27 yards on five carries.
That type of imbalance can't happen again if the Packers expect to win. Even if it does, though, I expect Rodgers to still perform at an MVP level—especially if Justin Smith can't be effective for the 49ers.
2. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
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Here comes The Sheriff, who has home-field advantage and has had a stirring comeback season to lead the Denver Broncos to an AFC-best 13-3 record.
Only one of Denver's 11 straight wins was by fewer than eight points, which makes the Broncos the best team in football at the moment. Manning's presence has accelerated the development of wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and even revived the career of first-round RB Knowshon Moreno.
The defense has also benefited from having Manning in the fold, as the unit is now among the league's best in Jack Del Rio's 3-4 scheme. Far fewer three-and-outs by the Broncos offense has given their defenders a rest, which helps premier pass-rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.
With the Baltimore Ravens coming to town to kick off the divisional round, the Broncos have had the benefit of playing them recently, in Week 15. That game was over by the third quarter, as Denver cruised to a 34-17 triumph in Baltimore, as mentioned earlier.
Manning is renowned for his cerebral nature and meticulous preparation, so having that game tape along with whatever he'll incorporate from Baltimore's more recent contests will only help him thrive even more.
The Ravens have always struggled to figure out Manning, and the outcome should be no different with this complete Broncos team, which is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. And Manning will lead the charge to victory, once again.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
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The biggest stage has been rather unkind to Brady lately, but he has three Super Bowl rings against the one that Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers possess.
It's just impossible not to put Brady at No. 1, especially since his production this season has done nothing to knock him off that perch. He threw for 4827 yards—the second-highest total of his career—with 34 touchdowns to just eight interceptions.
RB Stevan Ridley has helped balance the offense, but this was still a particularly impressive achievement. Without the services of touchdown beast extraordinaire Rob Gronkowski for five full games and fellow dynamic TE Aaron Hernandez for six, the Pats' No. 1 scoring offense kept rolling.
Most quarterbacks wouldn't necessarily smile at having to play the Houston Texans' defense, but Brady eviscerated them for 284 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-14 home victory in Week 14. Now the Patriots sport an even better defense and a healthier offense than when that matchup took place.
Brady may not exactly duplicate that performance, but he and head coach Bill Belichick would love to capitalize on the possibility of playing in a Super Bowl not against the New York Giants.
There is no way Brady lets the Pats blow their playoff opener at home coming off of a bye against a team they blew out a little over a month ago.