Any NFL team that makes an AFC or NFC championship game almost certainly benefits from exceptional quarterback play. This season's final four features not just exceptional players but some of the best in league history.
Future Hall of Famers Tom Brady of the Bucs and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers meet in the NFC game on Sunday while the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, certainly showing the potential to reach Canton, and the Bills' Josh Allen, turning heads and establishing himself as one of the league's top young quarterbacks, collide in the AFC game.
So with that in mind for our reporters' roundtable, we posed this question to our NFL staff: There are four sensational quarterbacks playing on NFL championship Sunday – which one do you expect to steal the show and why?
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady when he was with the Patriots in 2018. (Photo: Charles Krupa, AP)
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Here are their answers:
Tom Brady. Because, well, he’s Tom Brady. The TB12 move to Tampa Bay is already a smashing success. The Bucs made the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, are in the NFC title game for the first time since the 2002 season. The warm weather (plus bevy of supporting-cast playmakers) has been so good to Brady’s arm. Sure, beating A-Rod — especially this MVP version of Aaron Rodgers that we’ve seen this season — will take more than Brady. But he’s The GOAT for a reason and part of his greatness is the ability to make those around them better. You notice how the Bucs are no longer the undisciplined team that dooms itself with stupid penalties, untimely turnovers and other big-time blunders? No knock on Bruce Arians (the pattern was there long before Coach Kango arrived), but Brady’s like another coach added to the rest of the extensive brainpower on the Bucs staff. It has to make a difference that the QB is chewing out the O-line, has to hit home even more than when the coach flares up on the sideline.
Yeah, when the guy is out there in the trenches, too, out there taking the lumps, too, I have to think his messages carry an extra layer of weight. So, the ability to avoid major mistakes is why I give them a chance to win. And the confidence that if it comes down to a close game at the end, Brady can make it happen. And never mind the snow and wintry elements of Lambeau Field. The dude played in Foxborough for 20 years. He might even have some sort of flashback, like recalling the game made famous by The Tuck Rule, or the day he burned the Titans for six TDs amid a blizzard. Now, if the Packers prevail and Rodgers lights it up, that would deserve major props. But it wouldn’t be so much as stealing the show. The Packers are supposed to win as the No. 1 seed hosting the title game. The same goes for Patrick Mahomes, even though we’re all so eager to see if he has lingering effects from the head and toe injuries. Mahomes, like Rodgers, is poised to give us some more breath-taking highlight plays. As expected. And let’s not forget Josh Allen. He can be a show-stealer, too. But if it’s one quarterback, one game, one moment, I’ll bank on TB12.
Aaron Rodgers is going to be the league’s MVP for the 2020 season. He’s going to be playing in his first NFC championship game at Lambeau Field. He’s going to be playing days after the general manager who drafted him, Ted Thompson – he also constructed the only Titletown title team Rodgers has played for – died. And Rodgers is going to be facing Tom Brady, whose NFL legacy is writ in granite, for the first time in postseason. Suffice it to say, the subplots are in place that add up to a storybook ending for Rodgers – who, by the way, is playing as well as ever has at age 37. And if you strip away – just for a minute – how many rings are on a quarterback’s resume, I’m not sure anyone has every played the position more effectively or beautifully than Rodgers, who offers a near-optimal combo of arm strength, accuracy, mobility, intelligence and swagger. But back to the resume – and the opportunity to burnish it with another championship at the expense of TB12? – I’m expecting a big performance from AR12 on Sunday.
Though Tom Brady’s postseason run is legendary, Brady’s quarterback play last week was alternately impressive (a 43-year-old diving for the Superdome end zone in the playoffs?!) and a struggle (3-of-6 in the red zone, converting only after turnovers). Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers deserves the MVP, but he’ll need to watch out for Todd Bowles’ scrappy Tampa D and a potential snowfall. All of which is a lengthy scramble in this roundtable pocket to say I expect Patrick Mahomes to steal the show — which he managed to do even from the locker room last week with his “#HenneThingIsPossible” tweet. Against the Bills in the AFC championship, Mahomes trends toward stealing the show as he returns to the field. That doesn’t mean the Chiefs win in a blowout. I don’t expect the Chiefs to trounce Buffalo after they’ve won their last eight games by an average of four points. But Mahomes regularly finds the magic to star late or the tenacity to hold on when an opponent mounts a comeback. Josh Allen and the Bills will threaten. But like when he rallied the Chiefs to 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points in last year's Super Bowl, and like he has repeatedly done before and since, Mahomes will lift a talented and well-coached Chiefs squad to prevail.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during the victory over Buffalo earlier this season. (Photo: Mark Konezny, USA TODAY Sports)
This feels like Aaron Rodgers’ time to shine. He’s been playing at such a high level already, and now, he’s this close to the second Super Bowl appearance of his career, so there’s a sense of urgency, and he loves playing at home. Look for him to bring the hammer on Sunday and steal the show.
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