This year's AFC and NFC championships reflect the movement towards a new era of quarterbacks.
Absent are the elite quarterbacks of the past decade: Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner. Replacing them are four young quarterbacks only in their 20s (Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Mark Sanchez), and with plenty of years of potential greatness ahead of them.
Brady, Favre, McNabb, Manning and Warner have been the face of NFL quarterbacking for the past 10 to 15 years. The five have a combined total of 20 conference championship appearances between them and a total of 12 trips to the Super Bowl. Of the five, four are safe bets for the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Brady, Favre, Manning and Warner), while McNabb is on the bubble.
However, their era is coming to an end.
Both Warner and Favre are now retired. Warner was able to leave the NFL gracefully after ending his career on a strong note with the Arizona Cardinals, and now is currently working as a broadcaster. In contrast, Favre is leaving the NFL on a sour note, with charges of sexual harassment swirling around him.
Brady, Manning and McNabb are currently still playing in the NFL, but the three of them do not have many years left. Of the three, McNabb's future is the least certain. At the age of 34, McNabb will likely be looking for a new team next year coming off of a terrible season with the Washington Redskins.
If McNabb can land with a team that's only a year or two away from playoff contention, then maybe we have not seen the last of him playing in the spotlight. However, for some teams, it may seem too risky to take the chance with an aging quarterback on the decline.
As for Brady and Manning, they will be 34 and 35 years of age when next season begins. It is hard to think of Brady and Manning being old, but they will be the two of the oldest starting quarterbacks in the NFL in 2011.
They certainly have the chance to win the Super Bowl next year since their productivity has not declined, and they likely have good supporting casts coming back next year.
Nevertheless, their window of opportunity is closing. John Elway was the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl at the age of 38 in Super Bowl XXXIII. This means that both Brady and Manning likely have three to four years left to win another Super Bowl before retiring.
This year's conference championship games showcases four quarterbacks that could be the face of quarterbacking for the next five to 10 years.
Ben Roethlisberger, 28, who is the most established of this group, has led the Pittsburgh Steelers two Super Bowl wins in seven seasons of experience.
Aaron Rodgers, 27, is in his third season as a starter for the Green Bay Packers and is arguably the best pure passer currently in the NFL.
The Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler, 27, has the physical tools to get it done, but his decision-making worries me at times.
Finally, Mark Sanchez, 24, is in leading the New York Jets to his second AFC Championship in as many years as a starter.
In addition to this, there are other young quarterbacks in the NFL that are making a name for themselves, such as Joe Flacco, 26, and Matt Ryan, 25.
Therefore, the quarterbacks playing in this weekend's conference championship games represent a changing of the guard currently underway in the NFL.