NFL

Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers gives Bucs-Packers chance to be best NFC title game ever

It’s too early to call this the greatest NFC championship matchup ever.  

But with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers meeting in the playoffs for the first time next weekend, there’s a strong possibility. The magnitude of Sunday’s matchup between the Buccaneers and Packers (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox) means there will be an overload of hype that will make it almost impossible for the game to live up to expectations.

BRADY vs. RODGERS: Inside the numbers

What do these quarterbacks have to prove? That’s just it: There’s always something to prove when it comes to the all-time greats at the position.  

Brady and Rodgers are two of 12 quarterbacks who have made at least five conference championship appearances since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Brady, of course, leads that group with 14 conference championship appearances. Rodgers became the latest quarterback to accomplish that feat by leading the Packers past the Rams in the NFC divisional playoffs.  

QBs with most conference championship appearances 

A closer look at those 12 quarterbacks with five or more conference championship appearances in the Super Bowl era: 

Brady has twice as many appearances as Montana, but he’s trying to add another notch to his legacy in his first NFC championship appearance.  

Craig Morton led the Cowboys (1970) and Broncos (1977) to the Super Bowl. Montana nearly became the second quarterback to reach the Super Bowl in both conferences when he led to the Chiefs to the AFC championship game in the 1993 season. The Chiefs lost 30-13 to the Bills.  

Manning won Super Bowls with the Colts and Broncos. Brady can become the first quarterback to win Super Bowls in each conference. That would also be an emphatic closing argument to whether Brady could win without Bill Belichick in New England.

Rodgers, of course, stands in the way. Remember, Manning beat Brady three out of four times in the AFC championship game.  

Rodgers will be starting an NFC championship game at Lambeau Field for the first time. It’s a chance for the two-time (perhaps three-time) NFL MVP to reach the Super Bowl for the second time — which would match predecessor Brett Favre’s total — and lead the Packers to a fifth Super Bowl championship.

BENDER: Packers show why road to Super Bowl ‘runs’ through Lambeau

Six quarterbacks on that conference championship list — Brady, Montana, Elway, Staubach, Bradshaw, Manning — won multiple Super Bowls. That’s the group Rodgers has sought to join since winning the 2011 Super Bowl.  

The Packers were road underdogs in their last three NFC championship games, all losses. They’re home favorites this time, but of course, Brady stands in the way.  

Those are all footnotes in the long resumes of two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.  

This marks the fourth head-to-head meeting between the two. Brady is 2-1 in those matchups, including Tampa Bay’s 38-10 blowout win over Green Bay last Oct. 18. Rodgers won the only head-to-head meeting at Lambeau Field, in 2014.

The anticipated Super Bowl matchup between New England and Green Bay that season never materialized, but the NFC title game offers the next best thing. Brady and Rodgers combined for 88 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions in the 2020 regular season, and they’re at the top of their games heading into their biggest head-to-head showdown.

IYER: How Rodgers, Packers made Rams’ defensive stars irrelevant

Of course, Bucs at Packers is more than just Brady and Rodgers. Tampa Bay is loaded at receiver and boasts a tough defense, but Lambeau Field offers one of the biggest home-field advantages in the NFL. Green Bay is loaded on offense with Aaron Jones, Davante Adams and an offensive line that will need to be better than it was in the first meeting.  

This has the makings of being one of the best conference championship games of all time. If it’s a one-score game late, which quarterback would you want with the ball?

If that does happens, then it could be the greatest NFC championship ever. Given who’s involved and what’s at stake, we wouldn’t be surprised if it lives up to the hype.

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