The NFL and its fans have been blessed with one of the great quarterback rivalries in league history with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning over the past decade. And while that rivalry is certainly still alive and well, a new rivalry is emerging between elite NFC quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
The two have only met twice, one being a Week 12 matchup in which Rodgers led the Packers down the field late in the fourth quarter for the game-tying touchdown, only to be countered by Ryan's quickly marching the Falcons down the field for a game-winning field goal with nine seconds left.
Both Ryan and Rodgers have established themselves as stars in the NFL. Ryan has done so with his late-game heroics and tying an NFL record with 33 victories in his first three seasons. Rodgers has burst onto the scene with his eye-popping statistics and his spearheading a pass-happy Packer offense.
In Rodgers's first three seasons as the Packers starter, he has yet to throw under 28 touchdowns in a season, came 78 yards short of becoming the first player in NFL history to start his career with three consecutive 4,000-yard seasons, and has the highest career passer rating in league history at 98.4.
Ryan doesn’t have the numbers Rodgers does, but the kid simply wins games. He won 11 games as a rookie, nine games in his second year and has led the Falcons to the No. 1 seed in the NFC with this year’s 13-3 record.
Before Ryan, Atlanta hadn’t had consecutive winning seasons in its 45-year history. Ryan has now done it three times. His touchdown total has increased by six each year, throwing 16 in winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, 22 during what many considered his “sophomore slump” and a career-best 28 this season.
Needless to say, Rodgers and Ryan are the NFL’s quarterbacks of the future. And the beauty of it? Both play in the same conference and will be dueling each other for conference supremacy the rest of their careers, assuming they both continue playing for their respective teams.
The NFL has marveled at the Manning-Brady rivalry the past decade as the Colts and Patriots have faced each other each of the past 10 seasons. And while Manning and Brady still have significant length left in their careers, the next great quarterback rivalry, Rodgers vs. Ryan, will officially be born Saturday in Atlanta.
Ryan holds the head-to-head record edge at 2-0, but the Packers are streaking and seem to be the sexy pick in this year’s playoffs. The Falcons had the second-best record in the NFL this year, but many seem to think Atlanta has been more lucky than good in the majority of its victories. They’ll have a chance to prove naysayers wrong in the Georgia Dome this weekend.
Rodgers has jumped into the discussion of elite quarterbacks along with Brady, Manning and Drew Brees with his consistent ability to shred opposing secondaries. He’s led the Packers to three straight victories since suffering his second concussion in a loss to the Lions and has yet to let Green Bay trail by more than seven in any game this season.
His ability to extend a play with his mobility causes fits for defenses, seeing as he has the speed to pick up the first down with his legs and the accuracy to hit his receiver in stride on the run.
Both Ryan and Rodgers have proven themselves as winners. Comparing it to the Manning-Brady rivalry, I’d say Ryan is more like Brady and Rodgers more like Manning. Ryan doesn’t put up crazy stats game in, game out, but has become known for his clutch play late in games.
He’s established himself as one of the league’s most clutch quarterbacks and has earned the nickname “Matty Ice.” Sounds pretty similar to how people describe Brady.
Rodgers has excellent numbers, is tremendously efficient and has shown he can produce with a shaky offensive line, a non-existent running game and a plethora of injuries to key players. That’s exactly how most would describe Manning.
As for the postseason success argument, Rodgers won his first playoff game last Sunday while Ryan is 0-1 in his playoff career. Round 2 of the rivalry will have much more at stake, with the winner advancing to an NFC title game, which it’ll likely be favored in.
At this point, the Rodgers-Ryan soon-to-be rivalry is a toss-up. Whichever quarterback leads his team to a win in the divisional matchup will have the early leg up. But one thing’s certain, the Ryan-Rodgers rivalry begins Saturday night and is primed for Manning-Brady-esque entertainment for the next decade.