How Much Do We Trust Each QB To Handle Business on Divisional Weekend?
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There’s no sugarcoating it: The quality of football on Wild Card Weekend just wasn’t up to snuff. The quarterback play was below average (I’m looking at you, Andy Dalton and Joe Webb), and games suffered as a result.
We won’t have that problem on divisional weekend.
This weekend, there are no fewer than three all-time greats (Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady) ready to call signals and lead their teams to victory. I expect the quarterback play to be excellent this weekend, which is usually the best weekend of games on the NFL calendar.
It's time to rank the eight quarterbacks playing on divisional weekend based on the confidence they instill.
8. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Somewhere, Alex Smith is sighing.
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Colin Kaepernick rewarded Jim Harbaugh for his decision to play him in favor of an injured (and then healthy) Alex Smith, leading the 49ers to a 5-2 mark as the starter and a first-round playoff bye. One of those wins came in the game of the year, when he outdueled Tom Brady and the Patriots on Sunday Night Football in Week 15, 41-34.
But, if you look closely, Kaepernick’s accuracy declined in his final three starts, as he didn’t complete more than 57 percent of his passes in any of those games. His rushing yards waned as well.
The Green Bay Packers defense is battle-tested. Seeing Joe Webb last weekend will likely serve as a boon, as they got a taste of the read-option they’re likely to see from Kaepernick on Saturday. Plus, this is Kaepernick’s first postseason start, and as such, it’s hard to trust him going against a future Hall of Famer like Rodgers.
In Week 1, the 49ers went into Lambeau Field and smacked the Packers around, 30-22. Their quarterback that day was magnificent. He completed 20 of his 26 passes for 211 yards, two touchdown tosses and no interceptions. That quarterback’s name? Alex Smith.
I don’t expect Kaepernick to have similar success against Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and a Packers defense that seems to be peaking at the right time. Give me Green Bay in an upset special.
OVERALL CONFIDENCE LEVEL: 40%
7. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
"I have to play in New England AGAIN?!?"
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In fact, if it wasn’t for Andy Dalton's absolutely wretched play, Cincinnati would have escaped Reliant Stadium with a victory. It wasn’t exactly a confidence-inspiring first playoff start for Schaub.
It won’t get any easier this week for Schaub and the Texans, as they travel to New England for the second time in a month. While I don’t expect Houston to lose 42-14 like it did on Monday night in Week 14, it’s hard to conjure up a scenario where the Texans can win.
I know the Patriots' playoff mojo hasn’t been what it was at the start of the great Bill Belichick/Brady run. I know that Mark Sanchez and the Jets went into Foxborough in January 2011 and beat the Patriots. The New England defense, while improved from last year, can certainly be had.
But Schaub isn’t the quarterback to take them down. I’m not confident in his ability to beat New England.
OVERALL CONFIDENCE LEVEL: 50%
6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
I'm predicting another January loss for Matt Ryan and the Falcons.
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Yes, Falcons fans. I’m ranking Matt Ryan No. 6 on this list. How could I possibly place him higher?
The other five quarterbacks ahead of him have all won playoff games. Ryan is 0-3 in such contests, and you have to wonder if the lack of postseason success has gotten into his and the Falcons' heads.
I’m not taking anything away from the incredible regular season that Ryan just put together, as he threw for 32 touchdown passes and over 4,700 yards. He was a major reason that the Falcons clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the second time in three years.
However, despite Ryan’s success from September through December, the narrative all season long for the Falcons has been to win games in January, and Ryan’s playoff record leaves much to be desired.
In his three previous postseason starts (again, all Falcons losses), Ryan has yet to throw for over 200 yards, and he has just three touchdown passes against four interceptions.
The white-hot Seattle Seahawks, and their “Legion of Boom” secondary, don’t exactly present the ideal opponent. They have the physical corners in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner to match up with Falcons wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones.
I’m picking Seattle to win on Sunday. Because of his spotty playoff record thus far, I can’t trust Ryan more than the other quarterbacks on this list.
OVERALL CONFIDENCE LEVEL: 60%
5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson was terrific last Sunday against the Redskins.
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The Legend of Russell Wilson grew by leaps and bounds last weekend, as the neophyte signal-caller continued to defy expectations, leading Seattle to a 24-14 road victory over the Washington Redskins.
His numbers (15-of-26, 187 yards, one touchdown) don’t tell the story. Wilson was superb: He didn’t turn the ball over; he rushed for 67 critical yards; he made an incredible downfield block on Marshawn Lynch’s go-ahead touchdown.
People said that Wilson and the Seahawks couldn’t win on the road. They silenced those critics in a major way.
I have a ton of respect for Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. I believe he deserves another opportunity to be a head coach. You know that he’s going to have a solid defensive game plan put together. But there’s just something about Wilson that makes me believe that he’s going to get the job done.
I trust that Lynch will run well against the Falcons' 21st-ranked run defense. I trust that the Seahawks defense will be ultra-physical and disrupt Atlanta’s high-powered passing attack.
But most of all, I trust Wilson. The Seahawks will beat the Falcons on Sunday.
OVERALL CONFIDENCE LEVEL: 65%
4. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Wacko for Flacco!
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Last week, I was criticized for ranking Flacco second on my confidence list. When will people learn that the man just gets it done in January?
Regular readers of my column know that I believe in Flacco, so his ranking on this list shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The Ravens were crushed by their upcoming opponent, the Denver Broncos, in Week 15, 34-17. Flacco didn’t play well in that game, particularly in throwing a heinous pick-six at the Broncos' goal line, which completely swung the momentum of the game.
But that was the regular season; Flacco elevates his game in the postseason. If he can thoroughly outplay Brady in an AFC title game in Foxborough, he can certainly hang with Manning in Denver.
I don’t expect the Ravens to defeat the Broncos, but I have a lot of confidence that Flacco will play an excellent game. This will be a closer contest than you think.
OVERALL CONFIDENCE LEVEL: 80%
3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
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The only reason that Rodgers is third on this list is because of the two guys in front of him. Otherwise, he’d be No. 1.
I can’t overstate how much trust I have in Rodgers. By far, he’s the best quarterback remaining in the NFC playoff field.
I know that the 49ers have an excellent, physical, ball-hawking defense and that they shut down the Packers' vaunted aerial assault in a Week 1 victory at Lambeau Field. It won’t matter.
Perhaps more than any elite quarterback in recent memory, Rodgers plays with a chip on his shoulder. The 49ers made Alex Smith the No. 1 pick of the 2005 NFL draft over Rodgers, starting his precipitous drop all the way to No. 25. You don’t think that fact, coupled with the Week 1 disaster, has Rodgers motivated to go out and sling it all over Candlestick Park?
Did I mention that Rodgers grew up a 49ers fan? The revenge factor is off the charts.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy put it best this week: The Packers are “better when disrespected,” and Green Bay is the underdog in this game. The Packers have the look and feel of their 2010 Super Bowl team.
In the end, I trust Rodgers to get the job done. He’ll help Green Bay advance to its second NFC title game in three years.
OVERALL CONFIDENCE LEVEL: 90%
2. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
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The NFL postseason simply wasn’t the same last season without Manning. Welcome back, Sheriff! (cc: Jon Gruden.)
Manning had another regular season for the ages, tossing 37 touchdown passes against only 11 interceptions. He completed nearly 69 percent of his throws and passed for over 4,600 yards. If not for the superlative performance of the amazing Adrian Peterson, Manning would have been the runaway favorite for league MVP.
He was efficient against Baltimore in Week 15, throwing for over 200 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. It’s irrelevant that the Ravens were without Ray Lewis in that game; if you expect Lewis to be a difference-maker this Sunday, I have an island in the Caribbean I’d like to sell you.
So, while the Ravens defense has played much better since that game, I expect Manning to be his usual, clinical self, completing pinpoint passes to main targets Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker with surgical precision.
I have all the confidence in the world in Manning. His Broncos will host the AFC title game against the No. 1 quarterback on my list. The only reason that quarterback is ranked above Manning is because I like his matchup better.
OVERALL CONFIDENCE LEVEL: 95%
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Brady is soon to be the winningest QB in postseason history.
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With a win on Saturday over the Texans, a team the Patriots beat by 28 a month ago, Brady will set the record for most playoff wins by a quarterback with 17, breaking a tie with his childhood idol, Joe Montana. That’s simply amazing.
When the Patriots last met the Texans, Brady threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns. That was without stud tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The Texans defense just hasn’t been the same since losing Brian Cushing. Does anyone really expect them to slow down the Patriots' passing attack?
New England scored a league-best 557 points, directed by Brady. He threw 34 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions. I expect the Patriots offense to have a big game on Sunday afternoon.
I couldn’t possibly be more confident in Brady. He will lead the Patriots to yet another AFC title game, and it will surely be against his old pal, Manning. I can’t wait.
OVERALL CONFIDENCE LEVEL: 95%
Nick Kostos is the executive producer of the "SiriusXM Blitz", hosted by Rich Gannon and Adam Schein, on SiriusXM NFL Radio. You can follow Nick on Twitter.