All season long we watch the NFL. Whether it is to cheer on your favorite team, beat your buddies in fantasy football, place a small wager, or just for an excuse to drink a beer and kick up your feet, it is 17 straight weeks of excitement. Now the playoffs are here. It is time to get serious.
Who will win the Super Bowl?
The last three champions have had a quarterback who ranked in the top seven of NFL QB Rating and touchdowns thrown. Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees not only won titles but earned Super Bowl MVP honors. Using the same criteria, that leaves us with four candidates this season.
If the formula holds, the Superdome will host a championship triumph by the Packers, Falcons, Patriots or Broncos. Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady all rank among the top seven in both categories. Ryan and Manning have home-field advantage up until the big game. Green Bay is the only team that does not have a first round bye.
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Rodgers knows what it is like to win the Super Bowl without a week off or any playoff home games. The 2010 Packers went 10-6 during the regular season and beat Philadelphia, Chicago, and Atlanta on the road before disposing of Pittsburgh at Cowboys Stadium in the Super Bowl. Rodgers led the league this year in QB Rating and his 39 touchdown passes ranked behind only Drew Brees. During the last three weeks of the year Rodgers accounted for 11 touchdowns and did not throw an interception while completing 68-percent of his passes and averaging 332 yards through the air. Green Bay would be off this week had they beaten San Francisco in week one, not be robbed by replacement officials in Seattle during week three, or contained Adrian Peterson last Sunday in Minnesota.
The Falcons have the week off thanks to playing the easiest schedule in the league, and Ryan making up for the fact that the Atlanta defense is mediocre and passing game nonexistent. Seven times during the season Ryan threw for three touchdowns or more, and during the last three weeks of the year he threw for eight scores and no interceptions while completing 73-percent of his attempts. Ryan reached career highs this season in TD's, passing yards and completion percentage.
Peyton Manning missed last year with a major neck injury, was pushed out in Indianapolis, and spent a portion of the off-season finding a new home. He struggled early with three first quarter interceptions in a week two loss against Atlanta. The Broncos began the year 2-3. Since then Denver has rolled off 11 consecutive wins. At age 37 Manning has had one of his best years. His 4,659 passing yards are just 31 shy of his all-time high, and 37 touchdown tosses are the second most during a single season in his career. His 7.99 yards per attempt is second best in the NFL. Manning's last multi-interception game came two months ago.
And then there is Brady. A winner of three Super Bowl's Brady has shockingly taken a step back the last few weeks. Through 13 weeks he had an NFL low four interceptions and seemed poised for a third straight year with a QB Rating of 100 or better. However, five touchdowns, four interceptions, and only a 58-percent completion percentage over the final three games make you wonder if something is amiss. It has been six weeks since he completed 65-percent of his passes in a game, and three months since he last connected on 70-percent of his throws. Just one time in the last five games has he thrown for more than two touchdowns in a contest. That being said, Brady's 4,827 passing yards are the second most in his career, and his 401 completions match last year's career high.
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All four have a great chance to lead their teams to a title. However, Atlanta and New England's defenses are way below average, while Green Bay has to play an extra game and Rodgers has been sacked an NFL high 51 times. That leaves Denver as the most likely champion. However, Brady, Rodgers, and Ryan are very capable of passing their teams through adversity.