NFL Playoff Predictions: Why Aaron Rodgers Will Outperform Every QB This Weekend
NFL playoff predictions come in all forms: who will win, who will lose, who will play well, who will surprise, who will disappoint, etc., etc., etc.
So here's another.
Aaron Rodgers will outperform every quarterback this weekend.
Why? Here are 10 reasons. Some are purely about Rodgers, and some are about the other seven quarterbacks who will suit up this weekend.
No. 10: Atlanta's Pass Rush
Falcons defensive end John Abraham is a great pass rusher. For the second time in three years, he grabbed double-digit sacks.
But if the Packers tailor their gameplan to avoiding Abraham's pressure (and they will), the rest of Atlanta's front seven is going to have to step up.
And that didn't happen the last time the Packers came to the Georgia Dome. For the most part, Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Babineaux and the linebacker unit didn't get much pressure on Rodgers.
Not only did Abraham record the lone sack in the game, but Rodgers was able to slip out of the pocket several times and gain yards downfield.
They'll need to wrap him up this Saturday in order to advance.
No. 9: Matt Hasselbeck Doesn't Have Another Miracle Effort in Him
Matt Hasselbeck was incredible last week in the upset win over the Saints. Very recently regarded as washed up, the beat-up 35 year old threw four touchdowns and completed 22 passes for 272 yards against the defending World Champions.
But he certainly was aided by mistakes in the Saints secondary and Gregg Williams' aggressiveness. Several of his big plays, like that touchdown pass to Mike Williams, was the result of a mistake from a corner locked in man coverage.
Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli won't make that same mistake. They can get pressure Hasselbeck with the front four alone: they do have Julius Peppers.
When Hasselbeck drops back and sees six and seven men in coverage, he'll struggle to make completions down the field.
No. 8: Improved Running Game
When the Packers went to Atlanta in Week 12, they were still searching for a running back. Brandon Jackson had done a decent job in the place of the long-since injured Ryan Grant, but he wasn't a "feature back."
That was proven by the fact that Rodgers was the team's leading rusher against the Falcons in yards and carries. Yet he still completed 74 percent of his passes and threw for 344 yards.
In fact, it was the following week that Green Bay started to turn to rookie James Starks: he carried the ball 18 times for 73 yards in the win over San Francisco.
And we all know what happened last week in Philadelphia: Starks set a franchise rookie record with 23 carries for 123 yards.
If Starks has a day half as good against Atlanta, Rodgers could dominate.
No. 7: Baltimore and Pittsburgh's Defenses Will Suffocate One Another
It won't be terribly shocking to the football world if Saturday's Steelers vs. Ravens matchup in Heinz Field is a defensive struggle.
Although Joe Flacco had by far his best postseason game last week in Kansas City, the Steelers defense is far superior to the Chiefs: Pittsburgh led the NFL in sacks and yards per pass attempt.
On the flip side, Ben Roethlisberger will make a handful of big plays scrambling and throwing, but definitely won't turn out a 300-yard, three-touchdown game. The Ravens were just slightly behind the Steelers in many categories, including yards per attempt.
And together, the two units forced 54 turnovers.
It will be hard for Flacco or Roethlisberger to turn out an overall brilliant afternoon.
No. 6: Rodgers' Ability To Spread the Ball Around
Aaron Rodgers doesn't have a favorite target, but that will work to his advantage.
Peyton Manning's favorite receiver is Reggie Wayne, who led the AFC with 111 receptions. But we all saw what happened when the Jets limited him to one catch in the AFC Wild Card game. Indianapolis lost.
The Packers may lose on Saturday, but it won't be because ONE of his receivers is held in check.
Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones or even Jordy Nelson could have a huge day for the Packers. If they do, Rodgers will have an even better day.
No. 5: Jay Cutler's Turnover Problems
No one is going to deny that Jay Cutler is talented. He might have the best arm in the NFL...well, maybe the best RIGHT arm in the NFL since Michael Vick is a lefty.
But no one will also deny that he is wildly inconsistent, and most of his problems are turnover-related.
Last year he led the NFL in interceptions. This year he threw four in a single game (all to the same player), and threw two bad ones in the Week 17 loss at Lambeau.
The Bears lead the NFL with 56 sacks allowed, and the Packers lead the NFC with 47 sacks, so that gives Rodgers a better chance to have a better weekend than Cutler.
No. 4: Rodgers' Big Game Prowess
A week ago, all the pundits could talk about was how "Aaron Rodgers needs to win a playoff game to join the upper echelon of quarterbacks."
That may or may not have been true. And it may or may not be true that the win over Philadelphia put him in the class of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees.
But Rodgers has performed brilliantly when the Packers absolutely had to have a win.
Against the Cardinals in the 2008 Wild Card game, he was awesome, throwing for 423 yards and four touchdowns.
In the Metrodome rematch with Brett Favre and the Vikings, he threw four touchdowns. Against the Falcons he was outstanding, driving the Packers to a game-tying fourth quarter touchdown. In the must-wins against the Giants and Bears, he threw for five touchdowns, 633 yards and completed more than two-thirds of his attempts.
And last week, he tossed three more touchdowns in the win over the Eagles.
No. 3: Mark Sanchez in Gillette Stadium
Mark Sanchez had an excellent game against the Patriots in Week 2, throwing three touchdowns and completing 70 percent of his passes.
He had an equally awful game in the Week 13 rematch, throwing three picks while completing only 51 percent of his passes. And a year earlier, he threw four interceptions and only completed eight attempts in the Jets' loss in Foxborough.
For years, Peyton Manning has been tagged with a Foxborough curse. Sanchez seems to be working on one as well.
No. 2: Brett Favre's Shadow
As much as people say Rodgers needed to win a playoff game in order to be mentioned in the same breath as the premier NFL quarterbacks, he needs to do more than win a single Wild Card game against a mediocre Eagles defense.
And while Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and the others are the ultimate goals in Rodgers' legacy, Brett Favre is the most immediate man Rodgers is chasing.
Rodgers' three straight seasons of outstanding regular season play has gone a long way in doing that. But Favre won 12 playoff games, two conference titles and a Super Bowl. He also took the Packers to four NFC Championship Games.
Rodgers needs to put one on his resume to get closer to No. 4.
No. 1: Tom Brady Is Due, Isn't He?
Brady is the league MVP, without question. He's the best quarterback in the NFL and has proven that almost every week of t he regular season.
But he has gone 335 attempts without a single interception. That unheard of.
Isn't he due for one this week?
Maybe that alone isn't enough to produce a mistake or two from Brady. But with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie back there in coverage, there's a decent shot at one of them grabbing a pick.
Brady did throw two interceptions in the Week 2 loss at Giants Stadium. And although he dominated the Jets in Week 13, the sudden loss of Jim Leonhard (three days before kickoff) had to contribute to Brady's success.
Let's say Brady throws a pick and Rodgers doesn't. If both the Packers upset the top seed on the road and Patriots defeat a Wild Card team at home win this weekend, that could be enough to say Rodgers had a better day.