Quarterbacks always get the most praise for the success of their teams, and the most blame for their failures. As we head into Championship Weekend let's look at the quarterbacks of the four teams that will vie this weekend for the right to play in Super Bowl XLVI and rank them, 1-4.
Career success, both regular and postseason, is part of what I am considering. When I think about ranking these four, though, I am thinking in terms of 'confidence.' Who am I the most confident -- and least confident -- in when it comes to thinking about which guys can get their team to Indianapolis. Thus, this season's performance factors heavily into the rankings.
So, without further explanation, let's get down to brass tacks.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
A no-brainer, of course. Brady is a future Hall of Famer who threw for a ridiculous 5,235 yards -- only surpassed by Drew Brees of New Orleans throwing for 5,476 this season. Add in the fact that he has three Super Bowl rings and is a seven-time Pro Bowler. No quarterback in the sport today is more accomplished, and Brady is still at the top of his game. He had a 105.6 passer rating this season.
2. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Manning said before the season began that he thought he was elite, that he should be considered in Brady's class a quarterback. Then he went out and backed it up with the best season of his eight-year career. He isn't Brady, but he's pretty darn good. He passed for 4,933 yards, had a passer rating of 92.9 and led five fourth-quarter come-from-behind victories. Confidence? The Giants have all the confidence in the world that Manning can make the plays when it counts. He has done it over and over throughout his career, so why shouldn't they?
3. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
4. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
I am writing the Smith-Flacco section of this together because putting Smith ahead of Flacco is sure to generate the most discussion, and draw the ire of Ravens fans. Putting Smith ahead of Flacco really requires a side-by-side comparison of the two quarterbacks, and I have to write that simultaneously.
Here is the simple reason for why I have Smith third and Flacco fourth. Based on the way the two quarterbacks have played this season, and what we saw in the divisional round of the playoffs last weekend, I have more confidence in Smith playing well Sunday against the Giants than I do in Flacco playing well against the Patriots. And yes, I know the team Smith has to face -- the Giants -- has a superior defense to the Patriots one Flacco will be playing against.
I also understand that asked which quarterback you would prefer to begin a team with right now, Flacco would be the choice over Smith. For me, though, this debate is about which guy I would want under center this weekend. Based on the evidence at hand, I will take Smith.
You can argue that statistically Smith had a better season than Flacco. He completed 61.3 percent of his passes, had a rating of 90.7 and threw just five interceptions all season while tossing 17 touchdown passes. Flacco completed only 57.6 percent of his passes, had 20 TDs and 12 interceptions while compiling an 80.9 rating.
Really, though, we need to compare the postseason results.
Fact is, in the very first playoff start of his career last weekend against the New Orleans Saints Smith accomplished something Flacco has never been able to do in eight playoff games. That would be come up huge and win a football game for his team in the closing minutes.
In the 49ers divisional round victory over New Orleans Smith one-upped Drew Brees. He ran 28 yards for a touchdown in the closing minutes, then engineered a game-winning drive that culminated with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis to win the game.
Flacco's postseason history is littered with failure. Eight games, six touchdowns, seven interceptions, a quarterback rating of 66.2. He has had one really exceptional game, going 25-of-34 for 265 yards and two TDs in a 30-7 rout of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010. He has yet to come up big in a big spot.
Flacco might be the better quarterback overall -- and in the long run he probably is. The postseason has not been kind to him, though, with the perception being that he hasn't yet risen to the challenge of leading his team when it mattered most. He gets another chance this weekend against Brady and the Patriots.