Friday, January 20, 2017

Conference Championship Quarterbacks

Happy NFL Conference Championship weekend! With four great teams remaining, I expect we will see two great games on Sunday. But just in case you need something to spice up your Conference Championship weekend, here are some of this weekend's more exciting prop bets.

With the divisional round now behind us, teams are just one win away from reaching Super Bowl 51. Quarterback play is always important, but it seems twice as important in close playoff games. That's why it's no surprise that the four remaining teams all have MVP-caliber signal callers leading them.

Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots are both among the greatest to ever play the position. Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers is only a tier below those players, and perennially underappreciated Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons is an MVP candidate this season.




Of course, football fans also remember Trent Dilfer leading following the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl and Mark Sanchez taking following the Jets to back to back conference championships

That got me to wondering how often in the last 25 years teams have made it to a conference championship with an underwhelming quarterback. Admittedly, this is a bit of a subjective exercise, but it should be fun anyway. Here's a list of every conference championship quarterback since 1992:

The verdict refers to how good that quarterback was that season, since I'm only interested in what led the team to the championship that season.

If you want to skip the list, scroll down past the indent.

'92-93: 
NFC : Dallas Cowboys defeat San Francisco 49ers Final: 30-20 
AFC : Buffalo Bills defeat Miami Dolphins Final:29-10 
4 Quarterbacks: Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino 
Verdict: All Superstars. 
'93-94:
NFC: Dallas Cowboys defeat San Francisco 49ers Final: 38-21 
AFC: Buffalo Bills defeat Kansas City Chiefs Final: 30-13 
4 Quarterbacks: Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Joe Montana 
Verdict: All Superstars. 
'94-95:
NFC: San Francisco 49ers defeat Dallas Cowboys Final: 38-28 
AFC: San Diego Chargers defeat Pittsburgh Steelers Final: 17-13 
4 Quarterbacks: Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Stan Humphries, Neil O'Donnell 
Verdict: 2 Superstars, and 2 about average 
'95-96:
NFC: Dallas Cowboys defeat Green Bay Packers Final: 38-27 
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers defeat Indianapolis Colts Final: 20-16 
4 Quarterbacks: Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, Neil O'Donnell, Jim Harbaugh 
Verdict: 2 Superstars, and 2 about average 
'96-97:
NFC: Green Bay Packers defeat Carolina Panthers Final: 30-13 
AFC: New England Patriots defeat Jacksonville Jaguars Final: 20-6 
4 Quarterbacks: Brett Favre, Kerry Collins, Drew Bledsoe, Mark Brunell 
Verdict: 1 Superstar, 1 great, 1 good, 1 average 
'97-98:
NFC: Green Bay Packers defeat San Francisco 49ers Final: 23-10 
AFC: Denver Broncos defeat Pittsburgh Steelers Final: 24-21 
4 Quarterbacks: Brett Favre, Steve Young, John Elway, Neil O'Donnell 
Verdict: 3 Superstars and 1 average 
'98-99:
NFC: Atlanta Falcons defeat Minnesota Vikings Final: 30-27 :( 
AFC: Denver Broncos defeat New York Jets Final: 23-10 
4 Quarterbacks: Chris Chandler, Randall Cunningham, John Elway, Vinny Testaverde 
Verdict: 2 great, 2 average 
'99-2000:
NFC: St. Louis Rams defeat Tampa Bay Buccaneers Final: 11-6 
AFC: Tennessee Titans defeat Jacksonville Jaguars Final: 33-14 
4 Quarterbacks: Kurt Warner, Shaun King, Steve McNair, Mark Brunell 
Verdict: 1 Superstar, 1 great, 1 good, 1 average 
'00-01:
NFC: New York Giants defeat Minnesota Vikings Final: 41-0 
AFC: Baltimore Ravens defeat Oakland Raiders Final:16-3 
4 Quarterbacks: Kerry Collins, Daunte Culpepper, Trent Dilfer, Rich Gannon 
Verdict: 2 great, 1 good, 1 average 
'01-02:
NFC: St. Louis Rams defeat Philadelphia Eagles Final: 29-24 
AFC: New England Patriots defeat Pittsburgh Steelers Final: 24-17 
4 Quarterbacks: Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb, Tom Brady, Kordell Stewart 
Verdict: 1 Superstar, 2 great, 1 average 
'02-03:
NFC: Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat Philadelphia Eagles Final: 27-10 
AFC: Oakland Raiders defeat Tennessee Titans Final: 41-24 
4 Quarterbacks: Brad Johnson, Donovan McNabb, Rich Gannon, Steve McNair 
Verdict: 2 superstars, 1 great, 1 good 
'03-04:
NFC: Carolina Panthers defeat Philadelphia Eagles Final: 14-3 
AFC: New England Patriots defeat Indianapolis Colts Final: 24-14 
4 Quarterbacks: Jake Delhomme, Donovan McNabb, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning 
Verdict: 3 Superstars. 1 Average. 
'04-05:
NFC: Philadelphia Eagles defeat Atlanta Falcons Final: 27-10 
AFC: New England Patriots defeat Pittsburgh Steelers Final: 41-27 
4 Quarterbacks: Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger 
Verdict: 2 Superstars, 1 Great, 1 Good 
'05-06:
NFC: Seattle Seahawks defeat Carolina Panthers Final: 34-14 
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers defeat Denver Broncos Final: 34-17 
4 Quarterbacks: Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Delhomme, Ben Roethlisberger, Jake Plummer 
Verdict: 4 Good 
'06-07:
NFC: Chicago Bears defeat New Orleans Saints Final: 39-14
AFC: Indianapolis Colts defeat New England Patriots Final: 38-34
4 Quarterbacks: Rex Grossman, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady
Verdict: 3 Superstars. 1 trash can.
'07-08:
NFC: New York Giants defeat Green Bay Packers Final: 23-20
AFC: New England Patriots defeat San Diego Chargers Final: 21-12
4 Quarterbacks: Eli Manning, Brett Favre, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers
Verdict: 2 Superstars, 2 Greats
'08-09:
NFC: Arizona Cardinals defeat Philadelphia Eagles Final: 32-25
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers defeat Baltimore Ravens Final: 23-14
4 Quarterbacks: Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco
Verdict: 3 Greats, 1 Good
'09-10:
NFC: New Orleans Saints defeat Minnesota Vikings Final: 31-28 :((
AFC: Indianapolis Colts defeat New York Jets Final: 30-17
4 Quarterbacks: Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Mark Sanchez (lol)
Verdict: 3 Superstars. One of whatever this is.
'10-11:
NFC: Green Bay Packers defeat Chicago Bears Final: 21-14
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers defeat New York Jets Final: 24-19
4 Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, Mark Sanchez (lol)
Verdict: 1 superstar. 1 great. 1 good. 1 of these.
'11-12:
NFC: New York Giants defeat San Francisco 49ers Final: 20-17
AFC: New England Patriots defeat Baltimore Ravens Final: 23-20
4 Quarterbacks: Eli Manning, Alex Smith, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco
Verdict: 1 superstar. 1 great. 2 good.
'12-13:
NFC: San Francisco 49ers defeat Atlanta Falcons Final: 28-24
AFC: Baltimore Ravens defeat New England Patriots Final: 28-13
4 Quarterbacks: Colin Kaepernick, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Tom Brady
Verdict: 1 Superstar. 3 Good.
'13-14:
NFC: Seattle Seahawks defeat San Francisco 49ers Final: 23-17
AFC: Denver Broncos defeat New England Patriots Final: 26-16
4 Quarterbacks: Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady
Verdict: 2 Superstars. 2 Good.
'14-15:
NFC: Seattle Seahawks defeat Green Bay Packers Final: 28-22
AFC: New England Patriots defeat Indianapolis Colts Final: 45-8
4 Quarterbacks: Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck
Verdict: 2 Superstars. 2 Great.
'15-16:
NFC: Carolina Panthers defeat Arizona Cardinals Final: 49-15
AFC: Denver Broncos defeat New England Patriots Final: 20-18
4 Quarterbacks: Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady
Verdict:  1 Superstar. 1 Great. 1 Good. 1 old, average, still genius Peyton Manning.
'16-17:
NFC: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons 
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots 
4 Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady 
Verdict: Discussed above, all greats.

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So what does all of that mean? First and foremost, how did Neil O'Donnell get to the conference championship game so much? What a strange and lucky career for him.

What stands out to me is that only once in the last 4 years did a league average quarterback advance as far as a conference championship, and that was Peyton Manning in 2015-2016. Not really the usual "average quarterback" as he is probably the smartest quarterback to ever play the game.

In today's game, with so many rules favoring the quarterbacks, you need someone who is a top tier starting quarterback, or someone who can play like one for the last few games of the year, like Eli Manning has done.

We are in the golden age of the NFL quarterback, and while the players are likely only going to improve in the future, it's worth taking a minute to appreciate the greatness we get to watch this Sunday and regardless of who wins, again on Super Bowl Sunday.