By HOWARD FENDRICH
It’s quite a list: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer and Alex Smith.
A particularly elite collection of NFL quarterbacks will be in action this weekend. Never before have the last eight teams in the playoffs featured starting QBs that already own a combined nine Super Bowl championships, according to STATS.
“A star-studded cast,” said Joe Theismann, QB of the 1983 Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins. “What it really tells me is — and it should send a message to everybody — if you don’t have a quarterback of this quality, it’s going to be very difficult to get to the level of competing for a championship.”
Brady has four titles, Roethlisberger two, and Manning, Rodgers and Wilson one apiece. That group also accounts for nine NFL MVP awards (five for Manning; two apiece for Brady and Rodgers). The other three guys, meanwhile, were the No. 1 overall pick in the draft: Newton and Palmer, both in the conversation for league MVP this season, plus Smith, whose team is on an 11-game winning streak.
“They’re all outstanding decision-makers,” said Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott, who helped Joe Montana win four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers. “What they’re really good at is taking advantage of what the defense gives them.”
When Lott watches today’s star quarterbacks, he does so with an eye to how he would game-plan as an opponent.
“You’re trying to figure out what you would do to try to slow them down or get them out of their rhythm. You’re not going to stop them,” Lott said. “But you want to try to take something away and force them to try to do something else with the football.”
Last season is the only other time five previous champs started at quarterback in the divisional round; that bunch owned seven titles at the time.
On Saturday, it’ll be Smith’s Kansas City Chiefs at Brady’s New England Patriots, followed by Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers at Palmer’s Arizona Cardinals. On Sunday, Wilson’s Seattle Seahawks are at Newton’s Carolina Panthers, before Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers play at Manning’s Denver Broncos.
“They all bring something different to the table. They all bring great leadership; that’s the constant. But when it comes to being able to play the game, everybody’s a little bit different,” Theismann said, “and I think that’s what makes this group so exciting.”
This combination of file photos shows NFL quarterbacks clockwise from top left, New England Patriot’s Tom Brady on Dec. 13, 2015, in Houston, Pittsburgh Steeler’s Ben Roethlisberger on Dec. 27, 2015, in Baltimore, Kansas City Chief’s Alex Smith on Dec. 20, 2015, in Baltimore and Denver Bronco’s Peyton Manning on Nov. 8, 2015, in Indianapolis. On Saturday, it’ll be Smith’s Kansas City Chiefs at Brady’s New England Patriots, followed by Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers at Palmer’s Arizona Cardinals. On Sunday, Wilson’s Seattle Seahawks are at Newton’s Carolina Panthers, before Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers are at Manning’s Denver Broncos.(AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Nick Wass, AJ Mast,)
Here is a look at the elite eight, listed alphabetically:
TOM BRADY, Patriots
Drafted: 6th Round, 199th Overall, 2000
Super Bowl titles: 4 (2002, 2004, 2005, 2015)
Playoff W-L, stats: 21-8, 53 TDs, 26 INTs, 89.0 rating
This season: 36 TDs, 7 INTs, 4,770 yards, 102.2 rating
Positive: Been there, done that. Career playoff records include most wins, TDs, yards passing.
Negative: Working with a thin crop of receivers; if Julian Edelman (broken left foot) isn’t effective, could spell trouble.
His words: “I would say I’m not the easiest guy to play with. I think there are a lot of high expectations and I try to put a lot of pressure on everybody to get the best out of us.”
PEYTON MANNING, Broncos
Drafted: 1st Round, 1st Overall, 1998
Super Bowl titles: 1 (2007)
Playoff W-L, stats: 11-13, 38 TDs, 24 INTs, 88.5 rating
This season: 9 TDs, 17 INTs, 2,249 yards, 67.9 rating
Positive: No one is better at diagnosing an opposing defense.
Negative: Age is a tough foe, and Manning’s health has been a problem this season. Is this his last hurrah?
His words: “In the playoffs, you certainly just want to do your job to help your team win, no matter how old you are or how long you’ve been playing.”
CAM NEWTON, Panthers
Drafted: 1st Round, 1st Overall, 2011
Super Bowl titles: 0
Playoff W-L, stats: 1-2, 5 TDs, 5 INTs, 80.5 rating
This season: 35 TDs, 10 INTs, 3,837 yards, 99.4 rating
Positive: Adds a dimension with his running ability (636 yards, 10 TDs). Excelled in red zone this season (24 TDs, zero INTs).
Negative: Small sample size, but been much shakier in postseason than regular season.
His words: “My (playoff) record is not what I want it to be.”
CARSON PALMER, Cardinals
Drafted: 1st Round, 1st Overall, 2003
Super Bowl titles: 0
Playoff W-L, stats: 0-2, 1 TD, 1 INT, 66.5 rating
This season: 35 TDs, 11 INTs, 4,671 yards, 104.6 rating
Positive: Playing the best football of his career. Master of the deep throw.
Negative: The only member of this group who never has won a playoff game.
His words: “Butterflies are a good thing, nerves are a good thing and excitement is a good thing, so I am not trying to tail anything off.”
AARON RODGERS, Packers
Drafted: 1st Round, 24th Overall, 2005
Super Bowl titles: 1 (2011)
Playoff W-L, stats: 7-5, 25 TDs, 7 INTs, 100.3 rating
This season: 31 TDs, 8 INTs, 3,821 yards, 92.7 rating
Positive: With up-tempo offense, uses smarts to outfox defense. Unparalleled combination of touch and arm strength.
Negative: Clearly misses Jordy Nelson, out all season. Facing tough Arizona defense.
His words: “It’s tough to win these type of games. You’ve got to know how to do it — and we obviously do.”
BEN ROETHLISBERGER, Steelers
Drafted: 1st Round, 11th Overall, 2004
Super Bowl titles: 2 (2006, 2009)
Playoff W-L, stats: 11-5, 22 TDs, 19 INTs, 83.8 rating
This season: 21 TDs, 16 INTs, 3,938, 94.5 rating
Positive: Able to withstand or move away from rushers, giving receivers extra time to get open.
Negative: Dealing with injured right shoulder and absence of best receiver (Antonio Brown, concussion).
His words: “Anytime a thrower has a … shoulder injury, it’s not good.”
ALEX SMITH, Chiefs
Drafted: 1st Round, 1st Overall, 2005
Super Bowl titles: 0
Playoff W-L, stats: 2-2, 10 TDs, 1 INT, 107.0 rating
This season: 20 TDs, 7 INTs, 3,486 yards, 95.4 rating
Positive: Protects ball; 1.4 interception percentage since 2011 is second-best in NFL. Good runner.
Negative: Will have to decipher Bill Belichick’s defensive schemes.
His words: “The mentality doesn’t change. It’s ‘there is no tomorrow.'”
RUSSELL WILSON, Seahawks
Drafted: 3rd Round, 75th Overall, 2012
Super Bowl titles: 1 (2014)
Playoff W-L, stats: 7-2, 13 TDs, 7 INTs, 93.9 rating
This season: 34 TDs, 8 INTs, 4,024 yards, 110.1 rating
Positive: Establishing himself as an elite thrower; led NFL in passer rating.
Negative: Would ease his workload if he had more help from a running back; Marshawn Lynch has been injured.
His words: “You don’t care about all the statistics. You don’t care about how hard the journey, or how easy the journey, was. Ultimately, it’s the finish. It’s how you finish and how you find ways to win.”
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