If you watched Sunday night's San Francisco win at New England you saw the evolution of the NFL. While shootouts were a fun surprise once upon a time, they are now commonplace. Every week teams combine for 70 or even 80 total points. Without an elite quarterback, the dream of winning the Super Bowl is over.
In six of the last seven weeks at least one NFL game has totaled 70 points or more. The lone exception was Week 12. During that week three games were played on Thanksgiving Day. The holiday slate featured Houston's 34-31 victory at Detroit, Dallas falling to Washington 38-31, and the Patriots 49-19 domination of the Jets. The six quarterbacks in those three games each threw for at least 300 yards with Tony Romo eclipsing 400 yards in the air. The QB's combined for 14 touchdown passes and five interceptions. The need for a top signal caller is not new.
The last three Super Bowl 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 in the process. This year, four signal callers qualify.
If the formula holds, we are a month away from a championship weekend that will pit Green Bay and Atlanta in the NFC, and Denver against New England in the AFC. Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady all rank among the top seven in both categories. Ryan is the only one close enough to the bubble that he could fall out of the top seven in QB Rating. However, he has been brilliant of late.
During the last two weeks Ryan has completed 57 of 77 passes for more than 600 yards and five touchdowns. Atlanta is 12-2 on the season, unbeaten at the Georgia Dome, and one win away from home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
As for Rodgers, he leads the league in QB Rating and is second with 32 TD passes. The last time he threw more than one interception in a game was October 24, 2010. The Packers have won eight of their last nine.
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 nine consecutive wins to clinch the AFC West division title. Manning has completed 70-percent or more of his passes in nine different games. His 31 touchdown passes are third best in the league.
And then there is Brady. A winner of three Super Bowl's Brady has been Mr. Consistent. His six interceptions are the lowest total among our elite quartet. His QB Rating over 100 is in triple figures for a third straight season. The Patriots have won seven of their last eight and Brady is likely to get back top target Rob Gronkowski (broken forearm) for the postseason if not sooner.
The Texans are 12-2 and 49ers stand at 11-3-1. Both are legitimate contenders to win the ultimate prize. If recent history is an indicator, it will one of the four top QB's who gets to celebrate in New Orleans.