Revisiting the Draft Classes of the Steelers and Packers

February 5, 2011

As readers are well aware based on my previous posts, I’m fascinated by the NFL Draft. Both of this years’ Super Bowl teams built their squads almost entirely through the draft. Neither team has made anything close to a free agent splash in the last several years. You have to go back to the Packers’ signing of Charles Woodson in the 2006 offseason for the last big free agent signing.

I decided to look back at the last ten NFL drafts for each team. Although both teams built through the draft, they took different routes to get there. The Steelers dominated the early half of the decade, knocking several drafts out of the park. Meanwhile, the Packers struggled in the first half of the decade and have built their team through successful drafts in the latter half of the decade. The Steelers have tended to nail the first picks of each draft while the Packers have struck gold in the later rounds.

A comparison of the drafts from 2001 to 2010:

2001 –

Green Bay: 6 picks (0 still with team)
1st pick – Jamal Reynolds, DE, Florida State (10th overall)

Best pick: Robert Ferguson, WR, 41st overall pick. Ferguson is the best of a weak Packers draft class. He contributed for five years with the Packers as a #3 or #4 receiver before the team cut him in 2006.

Worst pick: Reynolds. Many thought the undersized defensive end was a reach with the tenth overall pick in the draft. They were right. Reynolds never cracked the starting lineup and languished behind 2000 fifth round pick Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila for three years before the Packers cut him.

Other contributors: Not much. Only Ferguson, SS Bhawoh Jue (71st overall), and TE David Martin (198th overall) lasted more than three years with the team, and all were gone by 2006.

Pittsburgh: 7 draft picks (1 still with team)
1st pick: Casey Hampton, NT, Temple (19th overall)

Best pick: Hampton, by a mile. The five-time Pro Bowler has been the anchor of the Steelers’ front line for the past decade. Hampton is a proverbial “destructive force” and is instrumental in the success of the Steelers’ feared defense.

Worst pick: T Mathias Nkwenti (111th overall). Sure, the Steelers probably weren’t expecting a ton of production from a fourth round project. However, they probably were expecting more than eight games and zero starts in three seasons.

Other contributors: LB Kendrell Bell (39th overall). Bell was a Pro Bowl linebacker and had three productive seasons with the Steelers before injuries prematurely ended his career. Besides that, a pretty dry draft for the Steelers.

2002 –

Green Bay: 6 picks (0 still with team)
1st pick – Javon Walker, WR, Florida State (20th overall)

Best pick: Aaron Kampman, DE (156th 0verall). The fifth round draft pick anchored the left side of the Packers’ defensive line for most of the 2000s. Kampman had 54 career sacks for the Packers and made the Pro Bowl in 2006 and 2007 before he signed with the Jaguars in the 2010 offseason.

Worst pick: Marques Anderson, SS (92nd overall). The third round pick wins the worst pick by default. The Packers did not have a pick between Walker and the third round, so Anderson was the second pick of the Packers in this draft. He only played two seasons for the Packers and, according to Wikipedia, is currently coaching football in Norway.

Other contributors: Walker; RB Najeh Davenport (135th overall). Walker was a Pro Bowl receiver and potential star in the making before an ugly contract dispute in 2005. Najeh “Poopy Pants” Davenport was a decent but injury-prone backup running back for the Packers for four years.

Pittsburgh: 8 draft picks (3 still with team)
1st pick: Kendall Simmons, G, Auburn (30th overall)

Best pick: Brett Keisel, DE (242nd overall pick) with honorable mention to LB James Harrison. This was a great draft for the Steelers, but surprisingly, the best pick goes to seventh round pick Kiesel. Kiesel rode the bench for several years before he entered the starting lineup in 2006. Since then, he has been a mainstay on the Steelers line and made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2010. Honorable mention goes to four-time Pro Bowler and 2008 NFL Defense Player of the Year James Harrison, who inexplicably went undrafted, so I can’t give him the best pick award. Currently Harrison is perhaps the most feared defender in the NFL. Any time you can get two Pro Bowlers in the seventh round or later, that’s a solid draft.

Worst pick: None. Although none of the Steelers’ picks became stars outside of Keisel and Harrison, there wasn’t a single bust in the group.

Other contributors: Simmons, Antwaan Randle El (62nd pick), Chris Hope (94th pick), Larry Foote (128th pick), Verron Haynes (166th pick). Simmons was a five-year starter at guard, including the Super Bowl-winning 2006 season. Randle El has never put up big numbers, but the college quarterback-turned-wide receiver seems to pull off at least one gadget play every game. Hope was a solid safety for the Steelers, but didn’t become a Pro Bowler until he left for the Titans in 2006. Foote was a starter at linebacker for six years and now provides backup support off the bench. And Haynes was a fun third down back for several years.

2003 –

Green Bay: 9 picks (1 still with team)
1st pick: Nick Barnett, LB, Oregon State (29th overall)

Best pick: Barnett. Although not without his faults, Barnett has anchored the Packers’ linebacking corps for most of the past decade. He started fifteen games as a rookie and hasn’t relinquished his starting role since then. Unfortunately, he was hurt in the fourth game of this season and will miss the Super Bowl.

Worst pick: Take your pick. The rest of the Packers’ draft is littered with the names of players that most Packers fans don’t remember: Kenny Petersen, James Lee, Brennan Curtin, Chris Johnson (the cornerback), DeAndrew Rubin, Carl Ford, and Steve Josue. None lasted more than two seasons with the Packers. Fifth round pick Hunter Hillenmeyer has had a decent career with the Bears after the Packers cut him in the 2003 preseason.

Other contributors: Cullen Jenkins, DE, Central Michigan (undrafted). The injury-prone Jenkins is still contributing for the Packers. He was an average defensive end for his first several years in the league, but has come into his own under Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme. He had a career-high seven sacks in just eleven games this season.

Pittsburgh (5 picks, 2 still with team)
1st pick: Troy Polamalu, S, USC

Best pick: Polamalu. Only five picks in 2003, but the Steelers still knocked it out of the park. If Harrison isn’t the most feared defender in the NFL, then Polamalu certainly might be. Six Pro Bowls, three First Team All-Pro selections, and one Defensive Player of the Year Award, and my only thought when I looked that information up was: “he only has three first team selections?” Enough said.

Worst pick: Alonzo Jackson, LB (59th overall). Jackson never started a game in two seasons with the Steelers – a rare miss at the linebacker position from the Pittsburgh front office.

Other contributors: Ike Taylor, CB (125th overall). Taylor has started at cornerback for the last six seasons for Pittsburgh and has helped the team win two Super Bowls. Amazing to think that the Steelers only got two producers out of five picks and they STILL had one of the best drafts of any team in 2003.

2004 –

Green Bay (6 picks, 1 still with team)
1st pick: Ahmad Carroll, CB, Arkansas, 25th overall

Best pick: Scott Wells, C (251st overall). I promise, future drafts get better for the Pack. Wells is the only pick still with the team and is one of the stalwarts of the sometimes porous Packer front line. He started all 16 games for the team this season.

Worst pick: Carroll. Hands down the worst cornerback I’ve ever watched on a consistent basis. Carroll had a knack for a) getting burned and b) picking up a lot of penalties. Not the ideal characteristics you want in a cornerback. Carroll was abruptly cut after Week 4 of the 2006 season after he was beat for two long touchdown passes.

Other contributors: None. I suppose you could make an argument for sixth round draft pick Corey Williams’ four seasons as a backup defensive end and undrafted fullback Vonta Leach’s three productive seasons. But I won’t. Another crappy draft for the Pack.

Pittsburgh: 8 draft picks (2 still with team)
1st pick: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami (OH)

Best pick: Roethlisberger. Another no-brainer. Two Super Bowl wins plus another appearance this season…all before he turns 30.

Worst pick: Ricardo Colclough, CB (38th overall). Colclough never started a game in four seasons with the Steelers. Although you can’t say that the Steelers don’t learn their lessons: they have yet to draft another cornerback from Tusculum University. So that’s something.

Other contributors: T Max Starks (75th overall), RB Willie Parker (undrafted). The 6-foot-8 Starks has been a starter at tackle for the better part of the last seven years. Fast Willie earned two Pro Bowl nods and was the main running back on both of the Steelers’ Super Bowl-winning teams in the 2000s. Funny how the Steelers tend to go boom or bust in these drafts. With Roethlisberger and Parker, this was another rousing success for the team despite the fact that four of the team’s eight picks never even played a down for the Steelers.

2005 –

Green Bay: 11 picks (4 still with team)
1st pick: Aaron Rodgers, QB, California (24th overall)

Best pick: Rodgers (duh!). The first of several strong draft classes for the Packers. Three players are starters on the Packers’ Super Bowl team: Rodgers, Pro Bowl FS Nick Collins, and LB Brady Poppinga. Still, the obvious pick is stud young quarterback Rodgers. As an aside, as Joe Posnanski pointed out today, drafting quarterbacks is a crapshoot. The Packers and Steelers are set for years to come because they were one of the lucky teams to draft a star QB in the first round.

Worst pick: Marviel Underwood, SS (115th overall). This award probably should go to second round pick Terrence Murphy. Murphy’s career unfortunately ended with a broken neck suffered in the first game of his second season. I can’t bring myself to put Murphy as the worst pick, so the honor goes to Underwood. Underwood actually had a productive first season, but missed his second season with an injury and was cut in the preseason before his third year.

Other contributors: Collins (51st overall), Poppinga (125th overall), C Junius Coston (143rd overall), DE Mike Montgomery (180th overall). Collins and Poppinga have anchored the Packers’ defense since they were drafted. Coston and Montgomery were decent backup contributors for a few seasons for the team.

Pittsburgh: 8 draft picks (4 still with team)
1st pick: Heath Miller, TE, Virginia (30th overall)

Best pick: Miller. For the third year in a row, the Steelers knocked their first round pick out of the park. The Pro Bowl tight end has been an integral part of the Steelers’ offense, starting all but six games since he entered the league.

Worst pick: WR Fred Gibson (131st overall). The fourth round draft pick out of Georgia never played a down for the Steelers.

Other contributors: CB Bryant McFadden (62nd overall), T Trai Essex (93rd overall), G Chris Kemoeatu (204th overall), WR Nate Washington (undrafted). McFadden was mostly a backup for his first four seasons with the Steelers before joining the Cardinals in 2009. He was traded back to the Steelers in 2010 and started every game this season. Essex was shifted to guard after he was drafted. He was a full-time starter in 2009 but has been mostly a backup since then. Kemoeatu turned into a decent steal – the sixth round pick has stared for the Steelers for the last three seasons. Washington earned two Super Bowl rings as the Steelers’ slot receiver before the Titans overpaid for him in 2009.

2006 –

Green Bay: 12 draft picks (5 still with team)
1st pick: AJ Hawk, LB, Ohio State (5th overall)

Best pick: Greg Jennings, WR (52nd overall). Another solid draft for the Packers. Perennial Pro Bowler Jennings might have been one of the steals of the draft. Drafted 52nd overall out of Western Michigan, the sure-handed Jennings quickly established himself as a favorite of former QB Brett Favre. He has been the Packers’ best receiver for the last five years and led the NFL in touchdown catches this year. Perhaps even more importantly, his emergence allowed the aging Donald Driver to drop into the #2 receiver spot and gave the Packers one of the best receiving crews in the league.

Worst pick: Abdul Hodge, LB (67th overall). Count me as one of the many Packer fans who thought the team got a steal with Hodge in the third round. He only lasted one season with the Packers and is currently a backup for the Carolina Panthers.

Other contributors: Hawk, G Daryn Colledge (47th overall), G Jason Spitz (75th overall), DT Johnny Jolly (183th overall), CB Tramon Williams (undrafted). Hawk is not the star linebacker that the Packers hoped for, but he has been a starter for five seasons. Colledge was a bit of a mess for a few years but have since become better than average guards. Spitz has served as backup for pretty much every offensive line position. Jolly looked like a potential steal after he was a dominant force for the team for a few years. Then the NFL suspended him indefinitely after he was caught trafficking codeine. And Williams, who first signed with the Packers in November 2006, has been so good that he inspired me to write this post.

Pittsburgh: 9 picks (1 still with team)
1st pick: Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State (25th overall)

Best pick: Holmes. Yet another strong first round selection from the Steelers. Holmes was the top receiver alongside Hines Ward on the Steelers’ Super Bowl XLIII winning team. For his efforts in the big game, he was named Super Bowl MVP. The Steelers traded Holmes to the Jets in the 2010 offseason because of legal troubles.

Worst pick: Take your pick. Five of the Steelers’ nine picks never played for the team and a sixth, WR Willie Reid, caught only four passes in two seasons. If pressed, the award probably goes to third round pick Reid, as the five players who never played for the team were drafted later than the fourth round.

Other contributors: T Willie Colon (131st overall). Colon started 50 consecutive games at tackle between the end of the 2006 season and the 2009 season before tearing his Achilles tendon in the 2010 preseason.

2007 –

Green Bay: 11 draft picks (6 still with team)
1st pick: Justin Harrell, DT, Tennessee (16th overall)

Best pick: LB Desmond Bishop (192nd overall). The 2007 class didn’t produce any stars, but did produce some solid contributors. Bishop gets the nod as best pick with his clutch performance this season. Prior to this year, Bishop was viewed as an undersized backup; his emergence as a decent player led to the team waiving Hodge. However, this season, with the Packers’ linebacking corps decimated by injury, Bishop has stepped in to solidify the defense and help lead the team to the Super Bowl.

Worst pick: Harrell. Harrell was viewed as a reach with the 16th overall pick. He has done nothing to sway critics since then. Although he is still on the team (thanks to injured reserve), he has only started two career games for the Pack. With the emergence of B.J. Raji this season, Harrell is unlikely to have a role next season. Fortunately for him, he will likely get hurt in July so the Packers will be able to move him to the injured reserve.

Other contributors: RB Brandon Jackson (63rd overall), James Jones (78th overall), FB Korey Hall (191st overall), K Mason Crosby (193rd overall). The Packers didn’t end up with a single starter (other than Crosby) in this bunch, but all are still contributing to the team. Jackson has been decent as a rusher and Jones has given the squad a talented #4 receiver that allows the team to run their beloved four receiver set.

Pittsburgh: 8 draft picks (5 still with team)
1st pick: Lawrence Timmons, LB, Florida State (15th overall)

Best pick: LaMarr Woodley, LB (46th overall). In just three seasons as a starter, Woodley already has a ridiculous 39 sacks. He finished third in the league with 13.5 sacks in his Pro Bowl 2009 season. Woodley gets the slight edge over the under-appreciated Timmons, who has been less dynamic but no less impressive in his two seasons as a starter.

Worst pick: None. Each of the Steelers’ top four picks in the draft are still key contributors. Hard to give a worst draft pick honor after that.

Other contributors: Timmons, TE Matt Spaeth (77th overall), P Daniel Sepulveda (112th overall), CB William Gay (170th overall). Spaeth is not the star tight end that Heath Miller is, but has still been solid for the Steelers. When he plays, Sepulveda is one of the best punters in football, averaging 43.4 yards per punt. Unfortunately, he has torn his ACL three times and his missed parts of two seasons. Gay sees plenty of game action as the Steelers’ nickel back.

2008 –

Green Bay: 9 draft picks (7 still with team)
1st pick: Jordy Nelson, WR, Kansas State (36th overall)

Best pick: Nelson (for now). The Packers did not have a first round pick in 2008 but still came up with solid role players. Nelson joined Jones as a slot receiver in the Pack’s four receiver sets. He figures to be a contributor in that role for years to come. He gets the best pick honor (for now) because fourth round pick TE Jermichael Finley emerged as a stud early this year before an injury ended his season early.

Worst pick: Brian Brohm, QB (56th overall). Funny how times change. The Packers drafted Brohm in the second round to challenge then-new starter Aaron Rodgers. Brohm couldn’t even beat out seventh round pick Matt Flynn for the backup job and was last seen throwing three interceptions for the Buffalo Bills as a spot starter in the 2010 season finale. And Rodgers…well, he turned out pretty good.

Other contributors: Finley, G Josh Sitton (135th overall). After years of wasting second and third round picks on guards, the Packers may have found their long-term solution in fourth round pick Sitton. He has started every game in the last two seasons. Four other Packers are still on the roster, but none have done much outside of special teams work.

Pittsburgh: 7 draft picks (5 still with team)
1st pick: Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois (23rd overall)

Best pick: Mendenhall has been by far the best player of the Steelers’ weak 2008 class. He saw little action in his first season but has since become the running back that the Steelers expected when they drafted him. He entered the starting lineup for good in Week 4 of the 2009 season and has run for almost 2,400 yards since then.

Worst pick: Limas Sweed, WR (53rd overall). Sweed was a mess for his first two seasons and grabbed only seven career catches. He missed the entire 2010 season with an Achilles injury.

Other contributors: Not much. The Steelers grabbed a decent backup quarterback in the fifth round with Dennis Dixon and a backup strong safety with Ryan Mundy in the sixth round. Dixon has started three games and Mundy two games as spot starters.

2009 –

Green Bay: 8 draft picks (7 still with team)
1st pick: B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College (9th overall)

Best pick: Clay Matthews, LB (26th overall). This really was an amazing draft for the Packers. The obvious standout is Matthews. In two years, Matthews already has two Pro Bowl selections and finished runner-up this season for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Just a stud.

Worst pick: Jamon Meredith, T (162nd overall). Tough to name a worst pick this soon after the draft. Meredith wins by virtue of being the only Packer draft pick not still with the team.

Other contributors: Raji, T T.J. Lang (109th overall), FB Quinn Johnson (145th overall), LB Brad Jones (218th overall), P Tim Masthay (undrafted). Matthews and Raji are probably enough to make this an amazing draft for the Pack – anything else is just icing on the cake. Lang and Johnson are both valuable backups for the team and Jones could prove to be a steal based on his performances in spot starts over the last two seasons. Masthay has been only an average punter, but that undrafted looks a lot better when you remember that the Packers spent a third round draft pick in 2004 on a punter (B.J. Sander) who only played one season with the team.

Pittsburgh: 9 picks (7 still with team)
1st pick: Ziggy Hood, DT, Missouri (32nd overall)

Best pick: WR Mike Wallace (84th overall). The third round draft pick had a breakout season this year after the Steelers traded away Santonio Holmes in the offseason. The deep threat caught 60 passes for 1,257 yards this season. His 21.0 yards per catch led the AFC.

Worst pick: T Kraig Urbik (79th overall). In what appears to be an ongoing theme for the Steelers, their second pick in the draft never played a game for the team. He was released after the 2009 season and currently plays for the Buffalo Bills.

Other contributors: Hood, TE David Johnson (241st overall). Hood cracked the starting lineup midway through this season and looks like the Steelers’ potential defensive end of the future. Seventh round pick Johnson started seven games this year at the tight end position. The remaining players still on the team have seen little action.

2010 –

Green Bay: 7 draft picks (7 still with team)
1st pick: Bryan Bulaga, T, Iowa (23rd overall)

Best pick: Bulaga. Another year, another great draft. Amazingly, four of the seven rookies that the Packers drafted started a game this season (Bulaga, S Morgan Burnett, TE Andrew Quarless, and RB James Starks). Two more undrafted rookies started games (CB Sam Shields and LB Frank Zombo). The best pick so far has been Bulaga, who struggled early, but has shown enormous potential in his first season.

Worst pick: TBD. The early favorite is second round draft pick DT Mike Neal, who didn’t contribute at all for the Packers this season. It’s early though.

Other contributors: See above.

Pittsburgh: 10 draft picks (8 still with team)
1st pick: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida (18th overall)

Best pick: Pouncey. The center emerged as a star in the making in his rookie season. He was one of only five rookies to be selected to the Pro Bowl.

Worst pick: TBD. Early favorite is DE Jason Worilds (52nd overall). The second round draft pick saw very little action this season.

Other contributors: WR Emmanuel Sanders (82nd overall), WR Antonio Brown (195th overall). Sanders had a great rookie season as the slot receiver, catching 28 passes for 376 yards. Brown only caught 16 passes, but made the biggest catch of the year for the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.


Ranking the Best Quarterback Matchups in Super Bowl History

January 25, 2011

Heading into Super Bowl XLV, quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger will get the lion’s share of attention. And deservedly so – Roethlisberger is shooting for his third Super Bowl title at just 28 years old and Aaron Rodgers has already been anointed as the best young quarterback in the league.

With that in mind, I decided to see where this quarterback matchup ranked among Super Bowls of the past. For a challenge, I looked at how each quarterback was perceived at the time; after all, anyone can look at matchups like Favre/Elway, Montana/Elway, and Montana/Marino and say they were good in retrospect. Besides that, I really have no other methodology other than my own personal preference. In reverse order:

45. Super Bowl XXXV: Trent Dilfer (Ravens) vs. Kerry Collins (Giants)

Super Bowl 35 pitted the league’s 22nd best passing offense (Baltimore) versus the league’s 13th best passing offense (Collins). Both quarterbacks had had remarkably similar careers up to this point. Both were 28 years old. Dilfer was the sixth overall pick of the 1994 NFL Draft and Collins was the fifth pick in 1995. Neither had lived up to anything close to expectations; Dilfer was already on his second team and Collins was on his third.

The consensus coming into this game was that the winner would be the worst Super Bowl-winning quarterback in history. Dilfer had already lost his starting job in Tampa Bay the previous season and was slapped with the “game manager” tag.* Collins was an even bigger train wreck. This was his sixth season in the league for three different teams. The 2000 season was only the second time he finished with more touchdowns than interceptions. Even after a 22 touchdown and 13 interception season, he had still accumulated an ugly career line of 85 TDs and 98 INTs.

* I’ve watched football for twenty-six years and I’m not entirely sure what a game manager is. Best I can tell, game manager is code for “this guy sucks but he doesn’t have the arm strength to throw interceptions, so he won’t hurt you that much.”

Dilfer’s Ravens came out on top and you could still make a pretty convincing argument that Dilfer is the worst Super Bowl-winning quarterback ever. He bounced around the league for six more seasons with three different teams, starting only 29 more games before retiring in 2007. Collins actually became a solid NFL quarterback. As of the end of the 2010 season, he ranks eleventh on the career passing yards chart and 28th on the career passing touchdown list.

44. Super Bowl XVII: Joe Theismann (Redskins) vs. David Woodley (Dolphins)

Joe Theismann is one of those quarterbacks that is remembered as better than he actually was. As a 32-year old in the strike-shortened 1982 season, he made his first Pro Bowl and first All-Pro team. Judged by his whole career, Theismann would probably rank higher. However, at the time, he had never been considered an elite quarterback.

Woodley has a good argument for the worst quarterback ever to play in a Super Bowl. In nine games in the 1982 season, his third in the league, the 24-year old Woodley finished with only five touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Dolphin passing attack ranked 27th of 28 teams.

In short, there was a reason that the Dolphins drafted Dan Marino the next year. Woodley started only 18 more games in his career and was out of the league by the time he turned 27. Theismann went on to be named MVP of the NFL the next season and became one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks until Lawrence Taylor infamously sent him into early retirement by breaking his leg on Monday Night Football in 1985.

43. Super Bowl XXV: Jeff Hostetler (Giants) vs. Jim Kelly (Bills)

Hostetler is probably the only quarterback that could give Dilfer a run for his money for worst Super Bowl-winning quarterback. After Phil Simms got hurt late in the 1990 season, long-time backup Hostetler improbably led the Giants to the Super Bowl. Including the first two games in the playoffs, he entered the Super Bowl having started a grand total of six career games.

For his part, Kelly had already established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL by 1990. He made the 1987, 1988, and 1990 Pro Bowls. The 1990 season was the best of his career to that point, as he led the league in quarterback rating (101.2) and completion percentage (63.3%).

Kelly must still be kicking himself at the one that got away. He went on to lose the next three Super Bowls, all to more established quarterbacks. Hostetler parlayed his playoff success into a starting job for the next six years, but he only made the playoffs one more time, in 1993 with the Raiders.

42. Super Bowl XX: Jim McMahon (Bears) vs. Tony Eason (Patriots)

Talent-wise, this matchup could certainly be last on the list, but the media hype before the game gives it a few bonus points. At the time, this was billed as a quarterback matchup for the future – both McMahon and Eason were promising young former first round quarterbacks.

Yet for as much trash talking and beer chugging that McMahon did, his career was remarkably light on accomplishments. In his four seasons in the league, he missed 17 of 57 games with an injury and made his first and only Pro Bowl in the 1985 season.

Eason is known as one of the busts of the 1983 NFL Draft that included Jim Kelly, John Elway, and Dan Marino. His career actually started out better than Elway’s or Kelly’s. As a sophomore in the 1984 season, he had 23 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. He took a step back in the 1985 season and was benched for veteran Steve Grogan. Still, he got the start in the Super Bowl. He promptly redefined “deer in headlights” and went 0-for-6 passing before being yanked for Grogan.

McMahon bounced around the league for the remaining eleven years of his career. He started only 57 more games for six teams and never won another playoff game. Eason had one more solid year for the Patriots, but never really recovered from his Super Bowl catastrophe. He was out of the league by 1990.

41. Super Bowl XXII: Doug Williams (Redskins) vs. John Elway (Broncos)

Doug Williams might be the most unlikely quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Williams was an average quarterback for the Tampa Bay Bucs between 1978 and 1982 before moving to the USFL to become an average quarterback for three more years. By 1986, he was a 31-year old backup quarterback for the Redskins. He saw little action with the team until starting QB Jay Schroeder went down with an injury halfway through the 1988 season. Williams was again average – he threw 15 TDs and 12 INTs in 10 regular season games. Still, it was good enough to make it to the Super Bowl. Conveniently, he had the best game of his career and was named MVP of the Redskins’ 42-10 romp over the Broncos.

At this point in his career, Elway had established himself as a very good quarterback, but was not quite the legend that he would later become. He made the Pro Bowl in both 1986 and 1987. This was his second chance at a Super Bowl after losing to the Giants the previous season.

The two quarterbacks took slightly different paths after this game. Williams started two more games before retiring following the 1989 season. Elway would go on to win two Super Bowls ten years later and pops up in every “greatest quarterback ever” discussion.

40. Super Bowl V: Johnny Unitas (Colts) vs. Craig Morton (Cowboys)

Another matchup that looks way better in name than it was at the time. Unitas and Morton both had fantastic careers, but the timing just didn’t align for the two.

The 1970 season was Unitas’s last full season as a starter and he simply wasn’t very good. In his last two full seasons with the Colts, he threw for only 26 touchdown passes and 38 interceptions. Morton was only in his second season as a starter with the Cowboys. Though he showed promise, he was not considered one of the top quarterbacks in the league – the Cowboys only finished 16th out of 26 teams in passing that season.

Perhaps it isn’t much of a surprise that this game is often considered the worst Super Bowl ever played. Morton went on to lose Super Bowl XII with the Broncos and had a solid 19-year NFL career. Unitas had three more forgettable seasons as a part-time quarterback before mercifully retiring.

39. Super Bowl XXXVII: Brad Johnson (Bucs) vs. Rich Gannon (Raiders)

Like Doug Williams, both of these quarterbacks were extremely unlikely candidates to lead their team to a Super Bowl. Johnson was the epitome of a “game manager.” By 2002, he was a 34-year old quarterback with nine years of NFL experience, only four of which were spent as a starter. He wasn’t terrible by any means; although he couldn’t throw the ball downfield because of poor arm strength, he at least seemed aware of his own shortcomings. He stuck to dink and dunk type passes and never finished a season with less than a 60% completion rate.

Gannon was an even more unlikely story. He joined the Oakland Raiders in 1999 as a 12-year NFL veteran with only 58 career starts. His career improbably took off, and he made four consecutive Pro Bowls between 1999 and 2002. In 2002, he led the league with 4,689 yards passing and was named MVP.

Neither Johnson or Gannon did much after the Super Bowl. Gannon only started 10 more games after two seasons before retiring due to injuries. Johnson hung around the league for six more years as a backup before retiring in 2008.

38. Super Bowl XXXVIII: Tom Brady (Patriots) vs. Jake Delhomme (Panthers)

In 2003, Tom Brady wasn’t quite the Tom Brady we now know. He won the Super Bowl in 2001 as an upstart rookie injury replacement with the Patriots, but had yet to put up the Madden-like numbers he later would. It wasn’t until after this Super Bowl victory that Brady joined the discussion of best quarterbacks in the league.

In 2003, Jake Delhomme was still Jake Delhomme. This was his first year as a starter after four years as a backup for the Saints. Amazingly, he led the Panthers to the Super Bowl and actually had a very un-Delhomme-like performance in the big game as the Panthers almost pulled out the win. He went on to have a few more decent seasons before his name became synonymous with the TAINT.

37. Super Bowl XXXVI: Tom Brady (Patriots) vs. Kurt Warner (Rams)

If Tom Brady wasn’t quite Tom Brady in 2003, he certainly wasn’t in 2001. You’ve heard Brady’s story by now – a sixth round draft pick, he was forced into action when Drew Bledsoe got hurt in the Patriots’ second game of the season. He wasn’t great by any means, but got the job done and led the Patriots to the Super Bowl.

It’s easy to forget that Warner only played two and a half full seasons with the Rams…he was just that good in that short time period. In 2001, he was clearly the best quarterback in the league. He was named NFL MVP for the second time and led the league in most passing categories.

36. Super Bowl XLI: Peyton Manning (Colts) vs. Rex Grossman (Bears)

Talk about a matchup of polar opposites. Before this game, Manning was known as the great statistical quarterback who couldn’t win the big game. Grossman was known as the terrible quarterback who fell ass backwards into a Super Bowl appearance.

By 2006, Manning had an argument for best quarterback in the game – it really came down to whether you appreciated Brady’s three Super Bowl rings or Manning’s superior statistics. He was already a seven-time Pro Bowler, three-time First Team All-Pro, and two-time NFL MVP. The only knock on his resume was his 3-6 playoff record coming into the 2006 season. With Grossman’s help, he handled that one blemish with ease.

I seem to remember Grossman sucking for a lot longer than he actually did. In truth, the 2006 season was his only full season for the Bears. He wasn’t a complete train wreck – he started all 16 games and had 3,193 yards passing, 23 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions that season. But yeah…it was Rex Grossman.

35. Super Bowl XXXIV: Kurt Warner (Rams) vs. Steve McNair (Titans)

The first of many matchups that look much better after the fact. This game surely didn’t lack for storylines, but at the time, no one thought Warner and McNair were particularly great.

This was the 28-year old Warner’s first NFL season after he famously stocked shelves at a grocery store in Iowa while playing arena football. After starter Trent Green tore his ACL in the preseason, Warner emphatically stepped in. He led the league in completion percentage (65.1%), touchdowns (41), and quarterback rating (109.2) en route to winning the NFL MVP Award.

McNair was in his third season as a full-time starter but was not yet considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He led the Titans to two straight 8-8 seasons before his breakout 1999 season.

Warner and McNair both went on to have very good careers. They each made three Pro Bowls, threw for over 30,000 yards, and are considered potential future Hall of Famers.

34. Super Bowl IV: Len Dawson (Chiefs) vs. Joe Kapp (Vikings)

In 1969, Hall of Famer Dawson was at the tail end of his prime. He made his fourth consecutive AFL All-Star Game (and sixth overall), but actually had his worst statistical season and only started seven games due to injury. Prior to the 1969 season, he had led the AFL in completion percentage and quarterback rating for five years in a row. Despite the down season, it was safe to say that Dawson was the premier quarterback in the AFL (although Joe Namath certainly got more attention).

Joe Kapp is the surprising answer to the question “who was the Vikings quarterback in their first Super Bowl appearance?” Kapp was picked up from the Canadian Football League’s B.C. Lions in 1967 and started for three seasons for the Vikings while Fran Tarkenton was on his brief mid-career exodus to the New York Giants. Kapp led the Vikings to two consecutive division titles and the 1969 NFC Championship. He was one of the top quarterbacks in the league in 1969 and made the NFL All-Star Game.

After the 1969 season, Kapp was not resigned by the Vikings. He eventually signed a four-year deal with the Boston Patriots as the league’s highest paid player. After one horrendous season (three TDs, 17 interceptions), he was sent home at training camp the following season and never played in the league again. Dawson had six more productive years but the Chiefs have yet to make it back to the Super Bowl to this day.

33. Super Bowl XL: Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) vs. Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks)

Long before Ben Roethlisberger was an elite NFL quarterback and alleged rapist, he was a 23-year old stud sophomore in his first Super Bowl in 2005. In two seasons in the league, Big Ben compiled a stellar 22-3 regular season record, but he was still a relatively unknown commodity prior to this game.

Meanwhile, two-time Pro Bowler Hasselbeck was one of the many solid, but not great, quarterbacks that permeated the NFL in the suddenly pass-happy league of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Hasselbeck continually put together very good seasons but might just be the most boring quarterback of the decade. Not only was he trapped on the West Coast, but he was the epitome of the good at everything, great at nothing quarterback.

I feel like Hasselbeck probably deserves his own column one day – he’s basically on the Mendoza Line of quarterbacks good enough to keep a starting job for an entire career but never manage to become one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

32. Super Bowl XV: Jim Plunkett (Raiders) vs. Ron Jaworski (Eagles)

The list of quarterbacks that have won two or more Super Bowls consists of Hall of Famers Bart Starr, Bob Griese, Roger Staubach, John Elway, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, and Joe Montana; active players Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady; and Jim Plunkett. Plunkett was a 33-year old quarterback in 1980 primed to go down as another in the long list of journeyman quarterbacks. And then he got traded to the Raiders and won two Super Bowls in four years.

His career statistics: 52.5 completion percentage, 164 touchdowns, 198 interceptions, 2 Super Bowl wins, 0 Pro Bowls.

Jaworski was a solid quarterback for a long time. He is probably best known as the guy who held the consecutive games streak for a quarterback before Brett Favre broke it two decades later. In 1980, Jaworski had the best season of his career (257-451, 3,529 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions) and was selected to his only Pro Bowl.

31. Super Bowl XVIII: Jim Plunkett (Raiders) vs. Joe Theismann (Redskins)

Plunkett was an even more unlikely Super Bowl winner three years later at the age of 36. In 1983, he did have the best season of his career and set career highs in completion percentage (60.7%), touchdowns (20), and passing yards (2,935).

Theismann earned his only All-Pro First Team after the 1983 season but could not make it two Super Bowl wins in a row with a victory in this game.

30. Super Bowl XIV: Terry Bradshaw (Steelers) vs. Vince Ferragamo (Rams)

Terry Bradshaw was the first quarterback to win four Super Bowls. I knew that his statistics weren’t all that great, but they really are something else. He had more Super Bowl victories than Pro Bowl appearances (three). He ranks just below Chris Chandler, Trent Green, and Ron Jaworski on the career passing yards list. But the guy did what he was supposed to, and did it well.

The 1979 season was actually Bradshaw’s best statistical season. He passed for a career-high 3,729 yards and earned his third and final Pro Bowl appearance. However, his reputation was already set at this point in his career – he was an unspectacular winner. This game was the fourth and final Super Bowl that Bradshaw won.

Ferragamo drags this matchup down a little bit. He was a career backup and the 1979 season was one of only two in his career that he was a full-time starter. His stats were quite similar to Bradshaw’s on the season…but of course, it was still Terry Bradshaw versus Vince Ferragamo. After the season, Ferragamo was a backup for six more years in the league until he retired following the 1986 season.

29. Super Bowl XXIX: Steve Young (49ers) vs. Stan Humphries (Chargers)

How did the 49ers keep Young as a backup until he was 30 years old? Didn’t the other NFL teams have talent scouts? I mean, this is the same league in which the Houston Texans traded for Matt Schaub and named him their starter of the future after he started one game for the Falcons.

Whatever the reason, Young was immediately one of the best quarterbacks in the league after he took over the starting job in 1992. He made seven consecutive Pro Bowls and three consecutive All-Pro teams. In the 1994 season, he led the league in completion percentage, touchdown passes, and quarterback rating en route to his second MVP Award in three years. The Super Bowl victory over the Chargers cemented a Hall of Fame career that didn’t begin until after the age of 30.

Humphries was basically Hasselbeck, only if Hasselbeck’s career ended early because of concussions. He was a solid, but never spectacular, starter for the Chargers over his six-year career. He is still the only quarterback to lead the Chargers to the Super Bowl, so there’s that.

28. Super Bowl XXXIII: John Elway (Broncos) vs. Chris Chandler (Falcons)

John Elway was the anti-Brett Favre. Elway was a great performer all the way up until he retired following the 1998 season. He was selected to his ninth Pro Bowl in 1998 despite missing four games with injuries. Plus, he gets bonus points for making the last game of his prolific career in the Super Bowl. That’s the big dream for every kid…that’s exactly how I dreamt of retiring, but so far no NFL team has shown any interest in my abilities.

Poor Chris Chandler and the Falcons. They make it to the first Super Bowl in their history and their reward is a dominant Bronco team and 99% of the country rooting against them to give Elway a fairy tale send-off.

Chandler was the very definition of a journeyman quarterback. He played for seven teams over an eighteen-year career and was never very good. But he caught fire for the Falcons in 1998. He threw for career highs in every major passing category and led the Falcons to a 15-2 record in the 17 regular season and playoff games that he started. He promptly fell back to earth the following season and won a combined 19 games in six more NFL seasons.

27. Super Bowl VII: Bob Griese (Dolphins) vs. Billy Kilmer (Redskins)

Griese only started five games in the Dolphins’ historic undefeated season because of injury, but got the start over backup quarterback Earl Morrall in Super Bowl VII. At only 26 years old, Griese had already put together a fantastic career. He was already a four-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro.

Billy Kilmer was basically Chris Chandler. A career-long journeyman for three different teams in his career, he finally put it all together as a 33-year old for the Redskins in 1972. He earned his only Pro Bowl nod and led the league with 19 passing touchdowns.

Kilmer would go on to have six more decent seasons with the Redskins, while Griese won the next Super Bowl and clinch a place in the Hall of Fame by the time he was 27.

26. Super Bowl XXVI: Mark Rypien (Redskins) vs. Jim Kelly (Bills)

Mark Rypien had a strange career. He became a full-time starter partway through the 1988 season at the age of 26. He made the Pro Bowl in both 1989 and 1991 and threw 84 touchdowns and only 48 interceptions in his first three and a half seasons. The Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1991 when Rypien was only 29.

And…that was it. He fell apart in the 1992 season and was eventually benched by the Redskins halfway through the 1993 season after throwing only four touchdown passes in ten games. He was a backup for six teams before finally calling it a career in 2002.

This was the second of four consecutive Super Bowls for Jim Kelly. The 1991 season was arguably his best year – he made the Pro Bowl and earned his only All-Pro First Team selection.

25. Super Bowl XVI: Joe Montana (49ers) vs. Ken Anderson (Bengals)

The 1981 season was Joe Montana’s first as a full-time starter. I was born in 1984, so I probably don’t quite appreciate just how good Montana was. But I’ll try. By 1981, the 49ers were on an eight-year playoff drought. They finished below .500 in all but one year (8-6 in 1976). Then Montana comes in and leads them to a Super Bowl victory in his first season as a starter. In my lifetime, the only comparable season was Kurt Warner taking the Rams to the 1999 Super Bowl, only if Warner then led the Rams to three more Super Bowl titles.

But in 1981 Montana was still largely an unknown. He was a solid quarterback for Notre Dame, but fell all the way to the Niners in the third round of the 1979 NFL Draft. The 1981 playoffs were Montana’s coming-out party. His pass to Dwight Clark to win the NFC Championship Game is still shown 8,400 times each NFL season.

It feels weird to type it now, but Ken Anderson was the far more accomplished quarterback coming into this game. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro, although he had never won a playoff game before the 1981 season. He was basically Matt Hasselbeck. Anderson had two more decent seasons in 1982 and 1983 but backed up Boomer Esiason for the last few years of his career.

24. Super Bowl XXX: Troy Aikman (Cowboys) vs. Neil O’Donnell (Steelers)

Troy Aikman came into Super Bowl XXX with two Super Bowl victories and five consecutive Pro Bowl selections under his belt. Aikman was never a statistically great quarterback, but like Bradshaw before him, he got the job done. His third Super Bowl victory over the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX all but assured he would be a Hall of Famer.

Neil O’Donnell was a slightly better Brad Johnson. Like Johnson, O’Donnell stayed in his own lane and stuck with what he was good at. He never threw more than 17 touchdown passes, but never threw more than nine interceptions in a season.

I remember O’Donnell as a pretty solid quarterback, but he loses points after the Steelers didn’t bother to resign him after the season, instead taking their chances with the immortal Mike Tomczak. He was a part-time starter for the Jets, Bengals, and Titans for the rest of his career.

23. Super Bowl XXI: Phil Simms (Giants) vs. John Elway (Broncos)

Simms is another quarterback that I remember as a lot better than he actually was. By 1986, he was a six-year veteran with only one Pro Bowl and only one more touchdown pass than interception (104 to 103). In the Giants’ 14-2 regular season, he actually threw more interceptions (22) than touchdown passes (21).

Meanwhile, Elway had his first breakout season with Denver in 1986 and earned his first Pro Bowl selection after the season. He led the Broncos to the Super Bowl with his first two playoff victories.

Simms had one more Pro Bowl appearance in seven injury-prone seasons with the Giants. He also won a second ring with the Giants in 1990, though he was injured for the Super Bowl itself.

22. Super Bowl XII: Roger Staubach (Cowboys) vs. Craig Morton (Broncos)

Though he was already 35 by 1977, Staubach was still in the prime of his career. He already had one Super Bowl title and became the fourth quarterback to win multiple titles with the Cowboys victory in this game. The Cowboys finished the season at 12-2, the best record of Staubach’s career. He was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl following the season.

The Denver Broncos started former Staubach backup Craig Morton. The 34-year old Morton led the Broncos to a 12-2 record in his first season with the team. Unfortunately, he came up short in his second try at a Super Bowl title.

21. Super Bowl III: Joe Namath (Jets) vs. Earl Morrall (Colts)

I probably have this one on the list a lot higher than most. Namath tends to be one of the most polarizing quarterbacks in NFL history. There seems to be two camps with Namath. On one hand, there is the believers in the legend of Broadway Joe. On the other, there are the cynics who point out that he had 173 TDs, 220 INTs, and only completed 50% of his passes.

I ranked Namath high on this list because most people that seem to fall for the Broadway Joe romanticism are from the era. Since I’m ranking quarterbacks based on how the quarterback matchup was viewed at the time, I’ll go with their thoughts.

Earl Morrall had a fascinating career. He played for six teams over 22 seasons, mostly as a backup. Yet as a starter, he went 63-37-3, so he must have been doing something right. In today’s NFL, there’s no doubt that a team like the Texans would have signed him to an outrageous contract.

As a 34-year old in the 1968 season, he was named to the All-Pro First Team when he stepped in for an injured Johnny Unitas and led the Colts to a 13-1 record. Morrall later won a Super Bowl and went 9-0 as a fill-in starter for Bob Griese for the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

20. Super Bowl VI: Roger Staubach (Cowboys) vs. Bob Griese (Dolphins)

This is another matchup that looks quite a bit better in retrospect than it did at the time. The two future Hall of Famers were relatively unaccomplished quarterbacks when they met after the 1971 season.

Staubach was a 29-year old first-time starter. He joined the Cowboys after a five-year tour in the Navy in 1969, where he backed up Craig Morton for two years. In 1971, coach Tom Landry benched Morton after a couple early season losses. Staubach promptly went 10-0 as a starter and led the league with a 104.8 passer rating. He threw 15 touchdown passes and only four interceptions in leading the Cowboys to their first ever Super Bowl appearance.

Griese was a solid starter for five years, but the 1971 season was the first season that he was considered a star quarterback. He was the NFL Newspapers Association MVP and earned his first All-Pro nod and second straight Pro Bowl selection. Although he lost this Super Bowl, he would go on to win the next two and cement his legacy.

19. Super Bowl XLV: Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) vs. Aaron Rodgers (Packers)

This seems about right for the upcoming matchup between the Steelers and Packers. Roethlisberger is the only active quarterback not named Tom Brady with multiple Super Bowl rings. Rodgers is only in his third year as a starter, but has already been named the Next Big Thing among future quarterbacks.

18. Super Bowl II: Bart Starr (Packers) vs. Daryle Lamonica (Raiders)

Starr gets a spot this high based mostly on his reputation. In the Packers’ first Super Bowl season in 1966, he was probably the best quarterback in the league. In the 1967 season, he was just bad. He set career lows in passing yards (1,823) and touchdowns (9) and set a career high in interceptions (17). The Packers won in spite of him. Still, Starr was one of the most popular quarterbacksh in the NFL at the time.

Daryle Lamonica finally started for the Raiders in the 1967 season after he was stuck on the Buffalo Bills’ bench for four seasons. In his first season with the Raiders, he was the best quarterback in the AFL. He led the league with 30 touchdown passes and was named to the First Team All-AFL squad.

Starr never again had a winning season for the Packers and retired four years later. Lamonica put together several more solid seasons for the Raiders but never made it back to the Super Bowl.

17. Super Bowl XXXI: Brett Favre (Packers) vs. Drew Bledsoe (Patriots)

1996 was only Brett Favre’s fifth year as a starter, but he was already one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. He had already been selected to four Pro Bowls and two All-Pro First Teams. In 1996, he won his second of three consecutive MVP Awards and led the league in touchdown passes all three of those years.

The Super Bowl was the culmination of Favre’s progress. He missed the playoffs in his first season, then got knocked out in the divisional round two years in a row, then made the conference championship before finally making it to the Super Bowl. In short, the media had plenty of stories ready.

Drew Bledsoe  was one of the most underrated quarterbacks of the 1990s. The guy retired seventh on the NFL’s career passing yardage list (now eighth) and his middle name is McQueen – that’s a solid career right there. By 1996, he was already a two-time Pro Bowler, but like the rest of his career, was underrated.

16. Super Bowl XLII: Eli Manning (Giants) vs. Tom Brady (Patriots)

With a couple more bad seasons, Eli Manning is falling dangerously close to Trent Dilfer territory for the worst quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Eli was never considered elite, or even particularly good, before the Giants’ playoff run in 2007. Before 2007, he had never even won a playoff game. In the regular season, he threw a league-high 20 interceptions and finished 25th in the league with a 73.9 passer rating. The four quarterbacks immediately ahead of him? Kyle Boller, Brian Griese, Damon Huard, and Joey Harrington. So, yeah, he was justPeyton’s little brother.

Of course the real reason that this matchup is so high on the list is Tom Brady. Prior to the 2007 season, three-time Super Bowl champion Brady was this generation’s Terry Bradshaw – a sound, but not statistically great “winner.” Then he decided to make the 2007 season his own Madden experience. He easily won the MVP Award after throwing for an NFL-record 50 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He led the league in completion percentage, passing yards, and passer rating and single-handedly carries Eli Manning to the #17 spot on this list with his historically great season.

15. Super Bowl IX: Terry Bradshaw (Steelers) vs. Fran Tarkenton (Vikings)

In 1974, Terry Bradshaw was on the verge of being called a bust. Drafted by the Steelers with the first overall pick in 1970, Bradshaw was erratic – he threw only 41 touchdown passes to go along with 63 interceptions in his first four seasons. He was benched partway through the 1974 Super Bowl season in favor of the immortal Joe Gilliam. Luckily for Steelers fans, Gilliam proved to be quite a bit worse and Bradshaw “earned” the starting job back before the postseason. He won his first Super Bowl against the Vikings and the rest is history.

Fran Tarkenton was 33 years old when he made his first Super Bowl in 1973; this was his second consecutive trip to the big game. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler with the Vikings and Giants and had a reputation as one of the best quarterbacks in the league, despite never winning a playoff game before 1973. Tarkenton got better with age – he peaked in the three-year period between 1973 and 1975, and won the NFL MVP in 1975 after leading the league in completion percentage and touchdown passes. There was no doubt that he was the far superior quarterback in this game.

14. Super Bowl XXXIX: Tom Brady (Patriots) vs. Donovan McNabb (Eagles)

I already covered Brady above, but this was the year he really cemented his legacy. In just his fourth year as a starter, he already played in his third Super Bowl. I suppose a sixth round pick that already has a Hall of Fame-worthy career by age 27 isn’t a bad story, even if the media shoved it down our throats for most of the lead-up to this game.

McNabb was a six-year veteran in 2004, and owned the title for best active quarterback never to reach the Super Bowl not named Peyton Manning. He made his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl in 2004 and was one of the premier quarterbacks in the league, along with Brady, Manning, and (gasp!) Daunte Culpepper.

13. Super Bowl XXVII: Troy Aikman (Cowboys) vs. Jim Kelly (Bills)

In 1992, Aikman was not yet the Hall of Fame quarterback he would later become. He was thrown into the fire as a rookie in 1989 for a terrible 1-15 Cowboys team. Predictably, he was a train wreck for his first couple of seasons before slowly turning into a star. He was selected to his second straight Pro Bowl in 1992 and led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record.

Poor Jim Kelly. There’s not much more to say about him that hasn’t already been said already. The guy made four Super Bowls, but somehow got progressively farther away from winning the title each season. Against the Giants in 1990, they were 7 point favorites and lost. Against the Redskins the next season, they were 7 point underdogs and lost. They were 6 1/2 point underdogs in this game and 10 1/2 point underdogs the following season. And lost them both.

12. Super Bowl XLIII: Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) vs. Kurt Warner (Cardinals)

Fun stat: only four times in history have two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks met in the Super Bowl. Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach met twice. Jim Plunkett and Joe Theismann – neither of whom was particularly good – met once. And then there was Roethlisberger and Warner.

Roethlisberger clinched his reputation as a big game quarterback by making it to the Super Bowl this season. Although he had previously won a Super Bowl title, he was not generally considered an elite quarterback. He had only made one Pro Bowl and actually had his second worst statistical season in 2008.

Warner came out of nowhere to make the Super Bowl with the upstart Cardinals this season. The 2008 season was the first full season he made it through as starter since 2001 due to a combination of injuries and teams thinking he was washed up. As a 37 year old this season, he made his fourth Pro Bowl and proved that he was far from washed up, throwing for 3,583 yards and 30 touchdowns.

11. Super Bowl XI: Ken Stabler (Raiders) vs. Fran Tarkenton (Vikings)

Now the rankings are starting to get difficult. Ken Stabler did not become a full-time starter until he turned 28, but quickly became one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The 1976 season was his fourth full season as a starter and he had already compiled a stellar 40-8-1 regular season record. He earned his third Pro Bowl nod this season after leading the league in touchdown passes and completion percentage. He was also the 1974 NFL MVP.

Tarkenton turned 36 in 1976 and had his last productive season. He earned his ninth Pro Bowl selection but came up short in his third and final try at a Super Bowl title.

Somewhat surprisingly, Stabler never again reached the highs of this season. He was known as a partier and the Raiders quickly grew tired of his antics after his performance dropped off in the next few seasons. He was traded to Houston before the 1980 season and had five more unsuccessful years with the Oilers and Saints before retiring in 1984.

10. Super Bowl VIII: Bob Griese (Dolphins) vs. Fran Tarkenton (Vikings)

Griese won his second consecutive Super Bowl in the 1973 season, his seventh in the league. He was considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league after adding the Super Bowl victory to his resume the previous season. He earned his fifth Pro Bowl selection in 1973 after leading the Dolphins to a 12-1 record in the regular season.

Tarkenton finished the 1973 season with a 12-2 record with the Vikings. He turned 33 in 1973, and the Super Bowl nod was fairly important for his legacy. Although he already had six Pro Bowl nods to his name, he only played for a winning team twice in his first 13 seasons. The 1973 season was the first time he made the playoffs. Basically, he was the Carson Palmer of his generation – good enough to put up solid stats, but not good enough to be a winner.

9. Super Bowl XXVIII: Troy Aikman (Cowboys) vs. Jim Kelly (Bills)

See #13 above. This is the only time in NFL history that two quarterbacks met in back-to-back Super Bowls and Aikman once again came out on top. This matchup ranks four spots ahead of their first game on account of Aikman making the leap from very good to elite quarterback with his Super Bowl victory the previous season.

Aikman would go on to win one more Super Bowl to become only the third quarterback to win at least three Super Bowls. Kelly never again reached the Super Bowl and retired three years later.

8. Super Bowl XLIV: Drew Brees (Saints) vs. Peyton Manning (Colts)

This might be high for a game between two quarterbacks that had one Super Bowl victory between the two of them. However, it is amazing how infrequently the best quarterbacks in the AFC and NFC meet in the Super Bowl. In this season, that was the case. Brees was considered the best quarterback in the NFC a year after throwing for 5,069 yards for the Saints. In 2009, he led the league in completion percentage, touchdown passes, and passer rating, and won the 2009 Bert Bell Award for Most Valuable Player.

Manning gained the upper hand over Tom Brady and was considered the best quarterback in the AFC this season. He led the Colts to a 14-0 start en route to winning the NFL MVP Award.

Manning and Brees were indisputably the two most popular players in the league that year. More American households (53.6 million) watched the Super Bowl than any other television program in history (only the M*A*S*H* series finale also drew more than 50 million). It was the best rated Super Bowl since 1985, despite the fact that Indy and New Orleans are two of the smaller markets in the league. I’d call that a hyped quarterback matchup.

7. Super Bowl X: Terry Bradshaw (Steelers) vs. Roger Staubach (Cowboys)

The first matchup between former Super Bowl winners gets the number 7 spot on the list. Bradshaw led the Steelers to their second consecutive Super Bowl in 1975. In 1974, he was an erratic potential bust that was the Steelers quarterback mostly by default. By 1975, the Super Bowl victory must have given him renewed confidence – for the first time, he had more touchdown passes (18) than interceptions (9) and earned his first Pro Bowl bid.

Staubach took the leap from solid starter to elite quarterback in the 1975 season. He separated his shoulder and missed most of the 1972 season and struggled through much of the next two seasons. In 1975, he made his second Pro Bowl to began a stretch of five straight Pro Bowl selections.

6. Super Bowl XXVIII: Joe Montana (49ers) vs. Boomer Esiason (Bengals)

Like the Manning/Brees matchup, this game pitted the best quarterback from the AFC against the best quarterback from the NFC. Montana was already a 2-time Super Bowl winner and 4-time Pro Bowler before the 1987 season. The 1987 season was the best of Montana’s career up to that point – he led the NFL in completion percentage (66.8%), touchdown passes (31), and quarterback rating (102.8) and was named First Team All-Pro for the first time. Although Montana actually had a down season (for him) in 1988, he was still the most popular quarterback in the NFC.

Meanwhile, Boomer made the leap to superstardom in the 1988 season. For one year at least, Esiason was the big story in the NFL. He led the Bengals to a stunning turnaround from 4-11 in 1987 to 12-4 in 1988. He won the NFL MVP Award and was named to the All-Pro First Team. Plus, his name was Boomer, so that didn’t hurt things.

Montana would go on to win this game to join Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks to win three Super Bowls. Esiason never again reached the heights of the 1988 season; although he was a starter for nine more seasons, he never finished better than 9-7 and won only one more playoff game.

5. Super Bowl XIX: Joe Montana (49ers) vs. Dan Marino (Dolphins)

The 1984 season was the year that Montana made the jump from very good quarterback to superstar quarterback. Montana led the 49ers to their second Super Bowl and a 14-2 regular season record. Although he already owned a Super Bowl ring, he was not yet the elite player that he would later become. Still, he earned his third Pro Bowl appearance in 1984 and set career highs in every major passing category. With a second Super Bowl title in this game, he sealed a position as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.

Marino’s 1984 season was the best statistical season in NFL history. Although he was only in his second year in the league, Marino put up ridiculous numbers. His 5,084 passing yards are still an NFL record and his 48 touchdown passes was the record for over twenty years. He was the runaway winner of the NFL MVP Award and was already a superstar in his second year in the league.

Unfortunately, Marino went on to lose this game and never again made the Super Bowl. Although as a bonus, his statistical supremacy later led to this exchange, perhaps the best in the history of NFL pregame shows:

4. Super Bowl XXXII: John Elway (Broncos) vs. Brett Favre (Packers)

I had trouble separating places 6 through 11. Then there was a bit of a gap between five and six. And then it got even harder – really, any one of the top five could be the best matchup in Super Bowl history.

Super Bowl XXXII had pretty much every story you could want. On one side, there was defending Super Bowl champion Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Favre was the young stud of the league and won his third consecutive MVP Award in the 1997 season. He led the league in touchdown passes for the third consecutive year and was probably the most famous quarterback in the league.

Meanwhile, John Elway returned to the Super Bowl for the first time in almost a decade. He turned 37 in 1997 and many felt that this was his last chance to win a Super Bowl after failing to win on his first three chances. Basically, he was football’s Phil Mickelson.

Surprisingly, Elway went on to win one more Super Bowl at age 38 and 28-year old Favre never again made it back to the Super Bowl.

3. Super Bowl XXIV: Joe Montana (49ers) vs. John Elway (Broncos)

In 1989, Montana had his best season to date…and that’s saying something for a three-time Super Bowl winner that was already a sure Hall of Famer. He won his only MVP Award after finishing the season with 26 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, and a ridiculous 70.2% completion percentage. The 49ers finished 14-2 this season; although they won three Super Bowls in the 1980s, this was probably the only season that they were truly a juggernaut. They won their three playoff games by an insane combined score of 126-26 to win their fourth Super Bowl of the 80s.

Elway was at his peak in the 1989 season, but the Broncos were trounced in the Super Bowl for the third time in four years. He made his third Pro Bowl following the season, although with Elway, statistics never really told the whole story. Fortunately for him, Jim Kelly came along the next season to lose four consecutive Super Bowls and take some of the heat off of the Broncos.

2. Super Bowl I: Bart Starr (Packers) vs. Len Dawson (Chiefs)

Visa has been playing these commercials with the four guys that have gone to every Super Bowl. One guy’s line is: “We thought this might turn into something big.” And that seems to be the general thought on the early Super Bowls – no one knew what to expect, but aw shucks, it worked out. I wasn’t there, but I’m a bit skeptical.

The first Super Bowl was shown on both CBS and NBC and an estimated 51 million viewers watched on the two channels combined. 79% of American TVs watched the game. And yes, I know that there were only three channels – that’s still a ridiculous number. TV commercials cost $32,000 ($210,000 in today’s money). Keeping in mind that there were twice as many commercials because the game was on two different channels, that’s a pretty penny for a game that supposedly was just a crazy experiment.

Anyway, the NFL and AFL probably lucked out somewhat with this quarterback matchup. Dawson was the AFL’s best quarterback and Starr was the NFL’s best quarterback. Dawson led the league in passer rating for five of the previous six years and was twice named to the All-AFL First Team. The 1966 season was the second time he led the Chiefs franchise to the AFL title.

Starr earned his fourth NFL All-Star Game appearance in 1966 as the Packers won their fourth NFL title in six years. He led the NFL in passer rating in three of the previous five years and owned a 5-1 career playoff record heading into the game.

1. Super Bowl XIII: Terry Bradshaw (Steelers) vs. Roger Staubach (Cowboys)

Finally we reach the end of this exhausting list. Bradshaw and Staubach had five Super Bowl victories between the two of them – by far the most for a quarterback matchup in history.

Bradshaw had his best statistical season in 1978, earning the NFL MVP Award and only All-Pro First Team selection. He led the Steelers to a 14-2 regular season record, their best record in any of their four Super Bowl seasons.

Staubach also had one of the best seasons of his career. He earned his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance and set career highs in touchdowns (25) and passing yards (3,190).

Unlike many of the games on this list, this one actually lived up to its billing. The Steelers won 35-31 in a game that many consider to be one of the best in Super Bowl history.


Conference Championship Thoughts

January 24, 2011

Rooting for a professional sports team is completely irrational.

By the end of every NFL season, there’s a 31 out of 32 chance that you will be unhappy as a fan (32 out of 32 if you root for the Vikings or Lions). I know going into the start of every single season, that there’s a 97% chance that I’m going to be unhappy at the end of it. That’s borderline masochism.

But there’s always that 3% chance, and well…I’ll be doing this move for the better part of the next two weeks:

Unless you’re also a Packer (or Steeler) fan, you don’t care about that. And I certainly don’t want to jinx the Packers by writing about my own feelings. I also can’t really write a coherent article without sounding like a homer, so instead I’ll go with a few stray thoughts from the weekend.

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#1. Aaron Rodgers picked up right where he left off last Saturday. Rodgers was 4-4 for 76 yards on the opening drive as the Packers drove right down the field against the Bears defense to take a quick 7-0 lead. Every Packer fan breathed a sigh of relief after this drive, because the team had been able to move the ball on the Bears this year, but just couldn’t score. In the first two games against the Bears, the Packers offense had 663 total yards but could only muster 27 points combined. So the opening touchdown was a very good sign.

Rodgers scored on a bootleg from the one yard line. I always find it strange that teams think the best way to score from inside the 2 is by running the ball up the middle four times. Why would anyone think running it right at all eleven players on the other team is the best way to go? Especially considering that two goal line plays – the fake hand-off/quarterback bootleg and the tight end fake block/release into the end zone – work something like 114% of the time.

I think it goes back to my theory that all coaches are scared of getting fired all the time. If a team calls a run up the middle four times and it fails, the coach won’t get called out for it because that’s what every team does. But if they try something off the wall and it fails, then the fans will be calling for the coach’s head. This is reason #2,943 that an NFL team needs to hire Les Miles. The entire league will open up, because every coach will be able to say “at least I’m not as crazy as that guy.”

#2. I love when NFL announcers latch on to a talking point that bares little, if any, relation to reality. The ongoing theme about why the Packers offense has been so good in the playoffs is the emergence of James Starks at running back.

Starks stats for the playoffs: 70 carries, 263 yards, 3.8 yards per carry, 1 touchdown
Packers running backs in the regular season: 421 carries, 1,606 yards per carry, 3.8 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns

And it’s not like Starks has been going against the best rushing defenses in the league. In yards per rushing attempt allowed in the regular season, the Bears ranked 6th, the Eagles 14th, and the Falcons 27th.

But I suppose “the sixth round draft pick out of Buffalo suddenly emerging in the playoffs after rushing for only 101 yards in the regular season” is a fun story, even if we have to ignore statistics.

#3. I don’t know how hurt Jay Cutler was, so far be it for me to question his toughness. In fact, I’m an anti-tough it out guy. The outrage at Cutler not going back in the game is an example of the biggest obstacle to player safety. It’s nice to crack down on the helmet-to-helmet hits, but those are small potatoes compared to the “Durrr…get out there and tough it out” mentality that both fans and players have. If it turns out that Cutler has a mild sprain, by all means, go to town on his toughness. But until we know the extent of his injury, there should be no questioning his toughness.

The more interesting story is Cutler’s reaction on the sidelines. Prior to the game, he was already the least self-aware person in the league. This is a guy who complained on the bench that the other team’s quarterback was getting too much screen time on the Jumbotron during a game that he was wearing an NFL Network microphone for their Mic’ed up segment. That’s just ballsy. I personally wouldn’t want the entire world to know that I was jealous of my Jumbotron screen time, but that’s just me.

Apparently Cutler just doesn’t have that off switch that the rest of us have. Most people have that little voice in their head that says things like “maybe I shouldn’t be standing up on the sidelines if I don’t want people to question my knee injury.” Not Cutler. It’s actually admirable in a way. He not only doesn’t care about what other people think – he seems to actively try to be the biggest jerk he can be.

#4. Thank you Lovie Smith for giving us two series of Todd Collins before putting Caleb Hanie in the game. Apparently Collins’ two appearances in the regular season didn’t show Lovie that Collins was a washed-up 39-year old quarterback. In two games, Collins threw 27 passes. He completed 15 of those 27 passes, but five of those 15 were caught by the other team. Predictably, he went 0-for-4 in this game. Unfortunately for the Packers, they couldn’t intercept any of the four passes because none were in the vicinity of anyone.

Meanwhile, Caleb Hanie wasn’t terrible. Raji’s interception looked bad, but I give him a break there. Raji had only dropped into coverage a total of five times all season – hard to fault a third-string quarterback for missing that read. He only played in one quarter, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a crappy team brought him in to compete for a starting job.

#5. Why, oh why, can’t the Packers just put a team away? It’s inconsiderate to your fan base. Don’t they understand how many brats and beers were consumed by Wisconsinites yesterday? Talk about a heart attack waiting to happen.

The Packers were thirty yards away from one of the more epic collapses in football history. How the Packers almost blew that game is beyond me. They were up 21-7 with six minutes left and the Bears had their third-string quarterback in.

I think it goes back to the conservative coach syndrome that I explained above. Every other NFL coach would have gone with the prevent defense/run the ball up the middle and punt. So that’s what McCarthy called…never mind that the Packers can’t run the ball and that it might be a good idea to put pressure on the guy with eight career passes.

#6. I somehow nailed the Steelers/Jets pick. From now on, I’m going to throw out random theories when I pick games and hope one of them sticks. Yesterday, I predicted a Steelers win because of Roethlisberger, the potential letdown for the Jets, and home field advantage.

I was way off on Roethlisberger. He went 10 for 19 with two picks and one fumbled snap in the end zone that led to a safety. Sanchez went 20 for 33 with two touchdowns. The Steelers were completely unable to move the ball in the second half as they almost let the Jets comeback to win the game. Sanchez, while not exactly brilliant, probably had the best performance for a quarterback this weekend.

#7. The home field advantage probably helped some, but the real reason the Jets won was the emotional letdown. They came out flat and could never recover.

The Steelers coaching staff came out with a brilliant game plan. The first drive was a 15 play, 92 yard scoring drive that ate up 9:06 off the clock. That was the game. The drive was perfect – the Jets were demoralized right off the bat. The Steelers converted all three third downs.

Roethlisberger made the play of the game on third and 12 from the Jets 25. Finding no one open, he scrambled 13 yards for the first down. Not only did that keep the eventual touchdown scoring drive going, but a 42-yard field goal try on the Heinz Field grass is no gimme.

#8. Speaking of conservative coaches, Rex Ryan probably should have been conservative at the end of the half. What was he expecting to happen on third and 17 on their own 26 with 1:20 to go in the half? Do the right thing – dump the ball off to your running back, pick up some yards, pin Pittsburgh in their own territory with no timeouts left, and go into the half down 17-0.

Instead, Sanchez dropped back to pass and was stripped of the ball. The Steelers’ William Gay picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown. The Jets lost the game in the last minutes of the first half. They were just two minutes away from going into the half down 10-0. Instead, because Ryan got greedy, they entered the half down 24-3. Game over.

#9. The Jets blew their chance to get back in the game late in the fourth quarter. Down 24-10, they had first and goal at the two-yard line. They ran the ball for a yard on first down. On second down, for one of the few times ever, the tight end release play didn’t work. After another incompletion on third down, the Jets faced fourth and goal from the 1.

Up to this point, I applaud Ryan for not falling into the conservative coach trap. But why in the world would you run up the middle on fourth down? That might be worse than running it up the middle four straight times. If that’s how you want to score, isn’t it better to try it four times instead of two? Just a dumb play call.

#10. I loved Mike Tomlin’s play call on the last drive of the game as much as I hated Ryan’s fourth down call. Facing third and six on the Jets 40 at the two minute warning, the safe move would have been to run up the middle, punt, and leave Sanchez to drive at least eighty yards in 1:10 with no timeouts.

Brilliantly, Tomlin put the ball in Roethlisberger’s hands on a rollout play. First, the ball is in the hands of the team’s best player – that seems like a good thing to me. Second, the rollout is a great call here. It gives Roethlisberger the option to pass to an open receiver or take it himself if nothing is there. This isn’t really any riskier than a run up the middle and the potential payoff is huge.

As it turns out, rookie receiver Antonio Brown was open, Roethlisberger’s throw was on the money, and the Steelers moved on to the Super Bowl, where they will hopefully lose to the Packers.


Conference Championship Games Preview

January 23, 2011

I haven’t been this excited for a set of conference championship games in years. This is largely due to the Packers’ appearance in the NFC championship, only their second appearance since 1998.

The Packers’ last NFC Championship appearance was in 2008, when they lost in overtime to the Giants. The AFC game that year was the undefeated Patriots against the Chargers. It seemed like a mere formality that the Patriots would win the Super Bowl at the time, so it was hard to be excited about that game. This time around, the Jets and Steelers are virtually dead even and should have a great game. Of course, if the Packers lose on Sunday, I’ll probably pass out angrily and miss the whole thing, but I’ll read the recap later.

The great thing about this year is that you could put forth a pretty good argument for any of the four teams. If you have to put your life on the line for one team to win this weekend, who do you even feel most comfortable with? Each year, it seems that there’s one obvious favorite – last year it was Indy over the Jets; the year before it was the Steelers over the Ravens; and so on. This year, it’s unclear.

So I suppose this year we’re not going to get a true underdog story. But at least we should get two highly competitive games.

AFC Championship Game: Jets (13-5) at Steelers (13-4, -3.5)

This is a rematch of a game that took place a month ago under almost exactly the same situations. The Steelers were also 3.5 point favorites in that game, but the Jets prevailed 22-17.

Pittsburgh dominated large stretches of that game; in fact, the difference was now-injured Brad Smith’s return touchdown on the opening kickoff. The Jets couldn’t really move the ball – the Steelers out-gained them 377 to 276. And that’s without Troy Polamalu in the lineup; he’s back for this game.

There seems to be little doubt that the Steelers will be able to move the ball more efficiently than the Jets. The Jets will try to win this game ugly. That’s what they are good at and that’s how they pulled off the first victory versus the Steelers. So the only question is whether they will be able to do it again.

I don’t think they can, for a few reasons.

#1. I’m sticking with Roethlisberger. In my prediction column last week, I said that you always go with the better quarterback when two teams are otherwise equal. Roethlisberger is now 9-2 in the playoffs with two Super Bowl victories. The guy just makes big plays.

At some point, Mark Sanchez is going to make a believer out of me. He’s now 5-1 in the playoffs and all five of those victories have come on the road. I know this, and I give him credit for it.

And then I actually watch him play. His stats really aren’t that bad, but unlike the rest of the quarterbacks still left in the playoffs, I find myself abnormally impressed whenever he makes a routine 10-yard completion. I am well aware I shouldn’t feel that way based on his track record, but I can’t shake the feeling. I’m also well aware that Sanchez just beat Manning and Brady in consecutive weeks. Call me foolish.

#2. The Jets are due for a letdown. Emotionally, I don’t know how the Jets keep this up. In consecutive weeks, they avenged their loss against the Colts in a game they spent an entire year preparing for. Then they backed up a week of trash talk by upsetting their arch rival Patriots. At some point, the streak has to end.

#3. Pittsburgh has one of the biggest home field advantages in sports in the mud bowl known as Heinz Field. Do you really expect them to lose twice to the same opponent at home in the same season? I sure don’t.

Those are my three theories and I’m sticking with them. As always, I really have no idea what’s going on in this game.

However, before you go put all your money on the Jets, I’ve been on quite the hot streak on games that I guess at; it’s only when I have a good idea about who’s going to win that I lose. The Steelers win this one 24-17. Take that to the bank.

NFC Championship Game: Packers (12-6, -4) at Bears (12-5)

Oh come on, you didn’t think I would break my streak of not thinking about Packers games, did you? If this keeps on working, I might just tune out all pre-game Packer news for the rest of my life. Packers win 24-14.


NFL Divisional Weekend Picks

January 14, 2011

A fantastic weekend of football coming up in the NFL. Four matchups and not a single clunker. We have games from the two biggest rivalries in the AFC, the two best teams in the NFC, and the luckiest team in the league versus America’s adopted underdog. Here are my picks:

Baltimore (13-4) at Pittsburgh (12-4, -3)

This game is pretty simple: one team is going to win by a field goal. Here are the results of the seven Ravens/Steelers games since Joe Flacco entered the league in 2008 (away team first):

12/5/10 – Pittsburgh 13, Baltimore 10
10/3/10 – Baltimore 17, Pittsburgh 14
12/27/09 – Baltimore 20, Pittsburgh 23
11/29/09 – Pittsburgh 17, Baltimore 20 (OT)
1/18/09 – Baltimore 14, Pittsburgh 23 (playoffs)
12/14/08 – Pittsburgh 13, Baltimore 9
9/29/08 – Baltimore 20, Pittsburgh 23 (OT)

Five of those seven games were decided by a field goal. And even that’s deceptive. Pittsburgh won by 9 in the 2009 playoffs only after Flacco threw a late TAINT and won by 4 in the 2008 regular season on Ben Roethlisberger’s TD pass with 43 seconds left.

So basically we just have to figure out which team is going to win by three.* Let’s roll through some considerations.

* This could be the first game ever where I’d actually think about taking “push” if someone offered it.

At first I thought that Baltimore might be better than Pittsburgh this year based on their head-to-head matchups. They both finished 12-4 and the Ravens had the season series in the bag in the closing minutes in Pittsburgh in Week 13. The Ravens had the ball facing second and five on their own 43, up 10-6 with 3:20 left. Inexplicably, Joe Flacco drops back to pass.* Troy Polamalu comes around the outside, strips the ball and LaMarr Woodley returns it to the 9-yard line. The Steelers punch it in and steal the division from the Ravens just like that.

* I like going for the win in this situation as much as anybody. But, come on, if you’ve held the opposing team to six points in the first 57 minutes of the game, you absolutely have to run the ball, punt if necessary, and take your chances that they can’t drive for a touchdown in the last two minutes.

But then I looked back to the Week 4 game. Flacco needed to drive the ball forty yards in the last 55 seconds for a last-minute touchdown to give the Ravens a 17-14 win in Pittsburgh. Charlie Batch was at quarterback for the Steelers. Yeah, I’d call the season series a wash.

Then I thought about giving the edge to the Steelers based on the home field advantage. Road teams are 3-4 in this series since 2008 and won both games this season. Another wash.

My favorite tiebreaker in these tight games is which quarterback I trust more. Roethlisberger’s playoff record: 8-2, 2 Super Bowls, 1-0 vs. Ravens. Flacco: 3-2, 0-1 vs. Steelers. Huge advantage for the Steelers. If you’re going to go down with someone, you’d rather it be with Roethlisberger than Flacco. And yes, that was a subtle Big Ben joke.

To top it off, 62% of the public is on the Ravens this weekend – the highest of any team. Enough said. Steelers win 20-17.

Seattle (8-9) at Chicago (11-5, -10)

How quickly things change: just a week ago, fans considered Seattle a joke and I actually picked against them getting 10.5 points at home. A few poor decisions from Sean Payton and one highlight reel Marshawn Lynch touchdown run later, and suddenly the Seahawks are America’s darling and a trendy pick to upset the Bears this weekend.

It’s not difficult to see why. The Seahawks put everything together and looked incredible last weekend against the defending champion Saints. Matt Hasselbeck had the game of his life, throwing for 272 yards and four touchdowns. That was the first time he threw more than two touchdowns in ten career playoff games and only the sixth time he’s thrown four touchdowns in a game since his career began in the late 1970s. And his best receiver was Brandon Stokley. I didn’t know Stokley was still alive. I can only assume is immortal, so that’s another huge advantage for Seattle. Then there’s the 23-20 Seahawk upset victory over the Bears on the road back in Week 6.

Meanwhile, the Bears have Jay Cutler, who holds the record for most times making an entire fan base say “are you shitting me?” in unison. In his defense, he has decreased his interception total from 26 last season to 16 this season. He has compensated for that by increasing his sack total from 35 last year to 52 this year, capped by an insane nine first half sacks against the Giants. Cutler has never won a bowl or a playoff game before. The last time he played in a playoff game of any kind? The 2000 Class 3A Indiana High School State Championship. Again, in his defense, his team won that game…but I think the Bears should pack some extra pants just in case.

This game will come down to which Seahawk team shows up for the game. If it’s the team that struggled to finish 7-9 this season, the Bears win easily. If it’s the team from last week’s Saints game, the Seahawks could actually pull off a second straight huge upset.

Again, I’ll point out the same statistic from last week – the Seahawks either win (8 times) or lose by more than 15 (9 times). Last week, I didn’t think the Seahawks could win outright, so I picked the Saints. This week, I do think the Seahawks can win outright. They’ve already done it once this season and are playing better football now. Naturally, I’ll end up way off, but for now Seattle is the pick. Seahawks win 31-21.

New York Jets (12-5) at New England (14-2, -8.5)

The Jets spent the week trash-talking the Patriots. Antonio Cromartie called Tom Brady an asshole and Rex Ryan called the rivalry personal. Brady shrugged it off, saying that he’s been called worse. Then wide receiver Wes Welker did this at a press conference, presumably as the entire team cracked up behind the curtain:

Call me crazy, but I think the Patriots might come out a tad bit looser than the Jets. The Patriots are already a better team than the Jets – they beat them 45-3 on this same field just a few weeks ago. Trash-talking yourself into a corner might not have been the best approach to this game, although it is certainly the most amusing.

I just can’t see any way the Jets win this game. Of course the last time I said that, I picked the Saints to dominate the Seahawks. If you’ve learned anything so far, you should immediately go put your money on the Jets. The Patriots win 41-14.

Green Bay (11-6) at Atlanta (12-4, -2.5)

If I couldn’t provide any objective analysis last week, I definitely can’t this week. Am I terrified that #1 seed Atlanta isn’t even favored by the standard 3 points at home? Am I even more terrified that the majority of the public is on the Packers? Am I most terrified that the Packers have become a trendy Super Bowl pick? Yes, yes, and yes. The Packers still win 24-21.