NFL Playoffs Divisional Round: Comparing the QBs
The Divisional Round is upon us, and with the full schedule of matchups, we compare the quarterbacks for each team. Who has what it takes to go all the way?
The Wild Card weekend was fun, but it really wasn’t wild (besides that funky Cowboys/49ers ending). The games went mostly as expected, and the losers lost by a lot, exposing their weaknesses and leaving only the big dogs to play in the Divisional Round.
A football team is more than just its quarterback, of course, but it must be acknowledged that the quarterback plays a major role in the team’s effectiveness. Let’s take a look at the quarterbacks for the remaining matchups and see who has what it takes to take their team deep into the playoffs, and even a Super Bowl run.
Titans vs Bengals
Ryan Tannehill vs Joe Burrow
Ever since Zac Taylor decided to trust in Joe Burrow and stop playing conservative, the Bengals have seen one of the best run of plays by a quarterback in the history of the team. Over the last five games, he has completed 131 of 175 passes (74.6%) at 9.8 yards per attempt with 13 touchdowns (and no interceptions) and a passer rating of over 100. Over the last three years, QBs with a passer rating of 100 and no interceptions in the playoffs have a 17-3 record.
Ryan Tannehill isn’t to be underestimated either. As the Titans had their fair share of injuries and cover woes, Tannehill was a constant. He doesn’t have the statistics Burrow has, but he can run. He ranks third in the NFL in rushing touchdowns (18) for QBs since 2019. We witnessed it in the Titans win over the 49ers in week 16. The Titans are 6-1 when he rushes for over 20 yards and 5-2 when he rushes for a touchdown.
Packers vs 49ers
Aaron Rodgers vs Jimmy Garoppolo
The 49ers released concerning news that Jimmy Garoppolo sustained a shoulder sprain in his throwing shoulder during the Wild Card game against the Cowboys. At 100 percent, Garoppolo executes Kyle Shanahan’s schemes flawlessly, which involve less deep pass risks and more mid-field passes that allow the receivers to do the work. Garoppolo took the 49ers to the playoffs by executing this scheme and did the same in his performance against Dallas, in which he didn’t actually have a single touchdown. He went 16 of 25 for 172 yards and had one interception (a crucial one in the fourth quarter no less). But his ability to deliver the quick passes is what has gotten him this far.
Aaron Rodgers is an MVP contender, on another level of efficient at the QB position. It’s very likely he will be the first player in over a decade to win MVP two years in a row. If Garoppolo is good at the quick passes, Rodgers is even better. Rodgers is able to avoid pressure and make most passes in under 2.5 seconds. Not only that, but his passes are efficient. He makes fast, smart decisions that avoid risk, and he has a good team around him that doesn’t hurt. Interestingly, the Packers are 0-3 in the postseason against the 49ers, but this could very well be the year that changes.
Bucs vs Rams
Tom Brady vs Matt Stafford
Matthew Stafford went into the Wild Card game against the Cardinals without a single previous playoff win to his name. He lost all three playoff games he quarterbacked over 12 seasons with the Lions. But now, Stafford has a talented team around him with Odell Beckham Jr. and Cooper Kupp helping him prove he can be a top quarterback. With the Rams, Stafford led the league in total passing EPA on all drop backs this season. When he is on, the Rams do well. When he struggles, they struggle. A lot will weigh on his performance against the Bucs this Sunday.
Tom Brady is still an MVP contender at 44 years old and is currently in pursuit of his eighth Super Bowl win. This season, he led the league in pass attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns. Whereas Stafford needed a good team around him to win, that doesn’t seem to make much difference for Brady, who was without Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II (the team’s top two running backs) and Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown (two of their top receivers) on Sunday. He still managed to go 29 of 37 for 271 yards, two touchdowns, and not a single turnover. He brings out the best in the team he has around him and his success does not depend on their talent. It’s almost the opposite.
Chiefs vs Bills
Josh Allen vs Patrick Mahomes
Josh Allen rushed for more than 400 yards for the fourth straight season and led the Bills to the top of the AFC East. In their flawless defeat of the Patriots, Allen led them to seven touchdowns in as many possessions. Allen continues to prove that his greatest strength is in his canon-like arm, throwing for 315 yards and three touchdowns against the Chiefs in week five. His leg strength ain’t too shabby either; he ran for 59 yards and two more touchdowns. The benefit he has against the Chiefs is that he knows how to throw touchdown passes on play-action plays (totaling five of those against the Patriots), something the Chiefs have struggled to defend against.
Patrick Mahomes has thrown 17 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in the last six games. In the Chiefs win over the Steelers, Mahomes threw five touchdown passes in less than 11 minutes. Mahomes is another quick paper, and he is great against the blitz. He ended the regular season among the top five QBs in yards, passing touchdowns, and quarterback rating. Though the Chiefs had a rocky start, Mahomes was looking more like the Super Bowl MVP from his first two seasons when he led the team to victory over the Steelers. Mahomes can scramble and get the ball to his open receivers down the field if he and the Chiefs are willing to take risks and not rely on being methodical. That’s the kind of playing that led them to a Super Bowl victory in the past.
Interestingly, the game between the Chiefs and Bills will be the first playoff game ever to feature two quarterbacks who both threw for five touchdowns in their previous playoff game.