The NFL has become a passing league. This year, teams passed for more yards than in any years past with 118,418. It is no coincidence that all the remaining games feature at least one elite quarterback.
As fans, we are fortunate to live in a time in which some of the greatest quarterbacks ever play. This weekend, future Hall of Famers Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers will get a chance to further their respective legacies.
At 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, Tom Brady will begin his annual playoff run. This year he is leading an offense different than any he has ever captained. Bill Belichick has always been an innovator, and this year he brought the fast-paced offense so common in the NCAA to the NFL. The Patriots run more plays per game than any team, which prevents defenses from adjusting to their varied attack.
This dynamic offense would not be possible without Brady. He is the maestro of the perfectly run Patriots orchestra. The most important aspect of any fast-paced offense is the play-calling. The quarterback must rush his team to the line quickly, determine the best course of action, then execute it. The plays can’t just be called at a hurried pace without success, because running an uptempo offense and going three-and-out is a great way to exhaust your defense.
In 2012, Brady has led an offense with a renewed emphasis on running the ball. Stevan Ridley has run hard and allowed the Patriots to be a balanced offense, but Brady must be credited with setting Ridley up to succeed. In the same respect, No. 12’s masterful control of the offense has allowed Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski to maximize their talent. Brady uses his young tight end's position versatility to create mismatches. With a lesser quarterback, Gronk and Hernandez wouldn’t be put in so many favorable situations and America might not know who they are.
Brady leads the most potent offense in the league, leading the league at 34.8 points per game. In a previous meeting with the Texans, Brady led an offense that befuddled a formidable Texans defense. Tom Terrific kept them off guard en route to a blowout.
Mind you this demolishing was without the best tight end in the league in Gronkowski. He is an excellent receiver but also one of the best blockers at his position. His return only improves what is a devastating, fast-paced offense. He prevents the other team from leaning too heavily on the run or the pass with his ability to both catch and block at an elite level.
Expect the Patriots to keep the Texans off balance again this week. Although the game shouldn’t be a blowout like their first encounter, the Patriots offense should thrive with Brady at the helm. Expect the Patriots to move on to face our next quarterback on the list.
Peyton Manning in his 15th year is still one of the best players in the NFL. Had Adrian Peterson not had a season for the ages, Manning would probably be the second-ever unanimous MVP. After one season in Denver, he has turned a 9-7 team with an anemic offense to the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Manning is very similar to Brady in that not only does he quarterback the offense, he is the offense. With play-calling responsibilities squarely on his shoulders, the offense is whatever Peyton wishes. Like Brady, his mastery of the quarterback position is as mental as it is physical.
While the Patriots move the ball with confusion and position versatility, the Broncos dominate opposing defenses with perfectly timed routes and elite big-play athletes who stretch the top of the defense.
Demaryius Thomas has flourished in his first year under Manning. Thomas was always known as a freak athlete, but this year he has developed his route running to make him an elite, complete receiver. Along with the addition of Manning, the biggest reason the Broncos are elite is Thomas. Like the Patriots’ young tight ends,Thomas is reaching his max potential under the tutelage of an elite quarterback.
Although, Manning does not lead the league in any quarterback statistics, he is top five in every category that matters, including second in completion percentage and passer rating. More importantly, he has a very proud franchise in the Denver Broncos.
Expect Manning’s march to greatness to continue after beating the Ravens. The Ravens have a depleted secondary, which Manning should put to the torch. The only way the Ravens can compete is if they control the ball and keep Manning off the field. The Broncos defense, led by Von Miller, will not allow this and the Broncos will move on.
What Aaron Rodgers has done this year is nothing short of miraculous, leading the league in passer ratings as well as TD/INT ratio. This is not surprising when you look at Rodgers' career numbers. The surprise is that Rodgers managed these feats without a 1,000-yard receiver.
Being able to put up the numbers he did without zeroing in on an elite target is a testament to Mr. Discount Double Check. Not having one elite receiver to target means that Rodgers more often than any other quarterback threw to the open receivers.
Rodgers is a different type of quarterback than Brady and Manning. Although his preparation is very good, he is not at the same level of play-calling in the no-huddle offense. Where Rodgers excels is with arm strength and speed, something Brady and Manning wish they possessed.
Rodgers' preparation is elite, and this allows him to accurately read the defense before the snap. His elite pre-snap reads were a driving factor in his success despite having his best two receivers injured. With the emergence of Randall Cobb and James Jones, the Packers were able to get by after losing Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson (for parts of the season) due to injury.
Now Jennings and Nelson are back, leaving the former MVP with his full complement of weapons. Essentially the Packers are reliving the script from their last Super Bowl victory: Play well throughout the regular season, get everyone back healthy for the postseason and play your best football heading into the new year.
Although the 49ers have the best defense in the league, they will struggle against Rodgers leading a Packers offense that will play its best game of the season. Rodgers will lead his team to an upset of the higher-seeded Niners. This team is catching fire just at the right time while being led by the red-hot Rodgers. His championship meddle will resurface, cementing himself with names like Brady and Manning.