Final four in NFL playoffs shows why QBs are vital to success
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is seen during an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Superstar quarterback play and brand-name matchups have elevated the NFL playoffs from the doldrums of its 2016 regular season of discontent.
Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady are left, riding into championship Sunday like the four horsemen of the defensive apocalypse.
The cream of the QB crop rising to the top after four months shows why teams make massive trades to move to the top of the draft board, and why they lose their minds to reach for people like Jared Goff over a diamond in the rough such as Dak Prescott.
Two will move on from their conference title games to Super Bowl LI.
Whose supporting cast is best equipped to make a difference and get them there?
NFC: Packers at Falcons, 12:05 PT
Green Bay’s ongoing health and personnel problems in the secondary could spell big trouble in Atlanta.
In Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, presumptive NFL MVP Matt Ryan has a running game Aaron Rodgers can only dream about.
The Falcons need to avoid falling behind by much so they can keep mixing in their ground weapons.
Ty Montgomery has done an admirable job filling in as the Packers’ Swiss army knife, but sometimes Green Bay’s biggest rushing threat is a Rodgers scramble.
When the teams last met (a Week 8 33-32 Falcon win in the Georgia Dome), the Packers QB actually led his team in rushing with six carries for 60 yards.
Both teams’ top receivers have some health questions: Julio Jones (turf toe) was slowed against the Seahawks, and Jordy Nelson (ribs) didn’t play versus the Cowboys.
The combination of two potent offences and two shaky defences in a weather-neutral dome should result in a scoring explosion.
It’s hard to bet against Rodgers right now, but it feels like this season’s Ryan is his equal, and may have more components to pull this one out at home.
Last possession wins?
AFC: Steelers at Patriots, 3:40 PT
What sort of problems will Gillette Stadium throw at the Steelers this time?
Assuming they’ve replaced the old headset system, probably just Tom Brady, Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis.
Pittsburgh’s Killer B’s (Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown, RB Le’Veon Bell) are a headache for any defensive coordinator, but Big Ben had poor road stats in the regular season, and Sunday night the Steelers failed to get into the end zone in Kansas City.
New England was underwhelming against the Texans, but keep in mind Houston had the No. 1 defence in the league.
The Steelers only chance on D is to get to Brady quickly. It has worked for other teams in the past (Ravens, Seahawks, Giants), and to a lesser extent for Houston Saturday.
It won’t be enough, but expect a couple of great games Sunday showcasing four great quarterbacks at the peak of their powers.