| March 20, 2018

Column: The year of the quarterback

January 23, 2017

The Packers, the Falcons, the Patriots and the Steelers — not exactly the teams I was expecting, or hoping, to compete for a spot in the Super Bowl when the NFL season started in the fall. But right now, I cannot complain.

Despite my distaste for Pittsburgh and Green Bay, I can definitely say for certain that football fans are spoiled with the talent in the league’s final games.

Talent most prominently held at the quarterback position.

Let’s begin with whom I would consider the best quarterback to ever play the game – New England’s own, Tom Brady.

Brady may have had 1,700 yards less than the NFL’s leading passer, Drew Brees but this is because he was suspended for the first four games of the regular season because of the “deflate-gate” incident.

Allow me to momentarily digress, I completely disagree with the NFL’s punishment for Brady and the criticism he received from football fans. So what, he may have had a PSI or two less in the ball than what is technically allowed.

Brady only threw two interceptions in 12 games this season en route to an 11-1 record as the starter and a passer rating of 112, the second best in the league.

Never count Brady out. He might win the Super Bowl with a lackluster receiving core featuring such average names as Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell. Rob Gronkowski only played in eight games all year, but the Patriots still went 14-2, proving that Brady makes everyone around him better.

Brady’s opponent in the AFC championship is Ben Roethlisberger. A hated name among non-Steeler fans but still, one of the best quarterbacks to play the game.

A healthy Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell have taken some pressure off of Big Ben, allowing him to throw for nearly 4,000 yards on 65 percent completion with 29 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions. Not the best statistics ever, but remember who we’re talking about.

Big Ben, like Brady, is never fully out of a game. He has 29 fourth-quarter comeback wins, including four in the playoffs.

The Falcons and Packers were two of the more “low-key” teams in the playoffs this season. After starting the year 4-6, the Packers won-out to take the division under the leadership and insane talent of Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers finished the regular season with 40 touchdowns and only seven interceptions on 66 percent completion. He was by far the best quarterback through the second-leg of the year and arguably one of the top-five best quarterbacks of all time.

Rodgers’ opponent, Falcon’s quarterback Matt Ryan has silently been proving his case as one of the elite. Ryan passed for nearly 70 percent completion and about 5,000 yards, the second best in the NFL, while also holding the best passer rating in the league at 117.

Throughout the playoffs, the best quarterbacks have shown their true colors. Sure, Brady did not have a Brady-esque game against the Texans, but he did what he needed to win. Ryan and Rodgers played out of their minds in the divisional rounds. Roethlisberger did not have an incredible game against the Dolphins or the Chiefs, but his leadership certainly played a role in getting the Steelers to the conference championship.

Sure, the quarterback position is only one of 11 on an offense. But usually, a game will come down to experience. A good quarterback, whether he is playing well or not, will find a way to win.

Ask the Carolina Panthers of last season. A one-loss team in the season and playoffs which ultimately fell to the Broncos, led by veteran Peyton Manning, in the Super Bowl. Manning perhaps had one of his worst seasons in his career and a less-than-stellar performance in the Super Bowl. But his leadership on and off the field led to a championship.

Only time will tell which all-star quarterback will hoist the Lombardi Trophy on their shoulders on Super Bowl Sunday. No matter how much you may dislike the remaining teams, you cannot disagree with their talent at the quarterback position.

This season’s championship will likely come down to which quarterback is best, and at this point, it’s incredibly hard to tell.

Colton Clark can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu

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