My good friend, Zach Bocian, noticed something very strange about this weekend’s NFL Playoff matchups. Every game displays extreme similarities between the two opposing QBs. Check it out:
New Orleans (Drew Brees) at Seattle (Russell Wilson)
Two charismatic leaders who both scared off teams in the draft because of their size.
San Francisco (Colin Kaepernick) at Carolina (Cam Newton)
Two excellent, mobile QBs with absolute howitzer arms who can be inconsistent at times and rely on their defenses to keep them in games.
Indianapolis (Andrew Luck) at New England (Tom Brady)
The young stud QB who wears #12 and is becoming known for his dramatic comebacks heads to New England to take on the elder #12 stud QB who made a name for himself because of dramatic comebacks.
San Diego (Phil Rivers) at Denver (Peyton Manning)
Two older, immobile chuckers whose regular season stats are usually staggering but they’ve often left fan bases disappointed in the playoffs.
Those descriptions are anecdotal, but it’s still weird, right? This got me thinking about how often this has occurred. I looked back at every Divisional round since 2000 and found just one example. 2008.
The Class of 2004 (Steelers vs Chargers)
Both Ben Roethlisberger and Phil Rivers were top picks in the 2004 draft and, along with Eli Manning, they make up one of the better QB classes in NFL history. The three of them have had scarily similar career numbers. They’re all within 10 career passing TDs of one another and within 6% points of career completion percentage. Yet Roethlisberger and Eli have each won themselves Super Bowls while Rivers has, despite playing on generally more explosive offenses, failed to even really come close. That was certainly the case in this game as Rivers’ teammates included Darren Sproles, Antonio Gates, Chris Chambers, and a young Vincent Jackson. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl. There isn’t a corollary for this game in this year’s playoffs.
The Arms (Ravens vs Titans)
Joe Flacco and Kerry Collins. Both 6’6” behemoths crafted for quarterbacking duties by the football gods. Massive frames, massive hands, massive arm strength. And both pretty much sucked in this defensive slugfest. Yes, the defenses ruled this one and, looking back, it isn’t hard to see why. Look at some of the names:
Fabian Washington (hey, he sucked but he was really fucking fast)
Kyle Vanden Bosch
The game was a mess. 12 total punts, 20 total penalties, just 23 total points. Neither team could get anything going on the ground (Chris Johnson averaged 7 yards per carry but Jeff Fisher still gave LenDale White the ball more often) and the Titans leading receiver was Justin Gage. Yuck. Nevertheless, we’re looking at two similarly skilled QBs with dominant defense, much like the SF/CAR game this weekend. If that game goes like this one did, it’s going to depend on which defense plays better. Looking at the Titan and Raven defenses above, it’s clear that Baltimore had more talent. Can we examine the Panther and 49ers defense and determine which one we like more? (The players’ names are followed by their positional ranking based on Pro Football Focus’ game charting grades. They grade every player on every play every week)
Ray McDonald #22
Glen Dorsey #22
Justin Smith #16
Ahmad Brooks #33
NaVorro Bowman #1
Patrick Willis #2
Aldon Smith #5
Tarell Brown #32
Carlos Rogers #71
Eric Reid #16
Donte Whitner #6
The linebacking unit is impressive. The 08 Ravens team had a similar group. They were playing a 4-3 back then. Ray Lewis was #8 among MLBs, Bart Scott was #1 for OLBs, Jarret Johnson was #3 amd Terrel Suggs was #2 among DEs.
Greg Hardy #3
Kawaan Short #14
Star Lotulelei #16
Charles Johnson #19
Thomas Davis #3
Luke Keuchly #8
Chase Blackburn #76
Captain Munnerlyn #11
Drayton Florence #22
Robert Lester #15
Mike Mitchell and Quintin Mikell #35 and #32
More high-end talent in SF but the Panthers have more depth (and a few guys that don’t even start that are really good like Dwan Edwards and Colin Cole) so you’ll have to make up your mind on this one. Onto the next game from 2008…
The Journeymen (Panthers vs Cardinals)
The game that stole my innocence, undrafted free agent and old man, Jake Delhomme threw five interceptions. FIVE. Fuck, it was bad. Oh, and he fumbled once. On the other side, another elder statesman whose journey to the NFl was long and arduous, Kurt Warner. Delhomme was, in fact, Warner’s backup in the late 90s when both of them were playing for the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe. Warner (and really, Larry Fitzgerald) torched the Panthers. Jake Delhomme ruined what was left of my childhood. Is there a game this weekend with similar traits? Let’s hope not, or else suicide rates will be up in Seattle or New Orleans. That’s right, mark my words. If a QB self destructs this weekend it’ll either be Wilson or Brees.
The Socially Awkward Lightning Rods (Eagles vs Giants)
Have any two QBs ever been simultaneously good and hated at the same time? Donovan McNabb and Eli Manning are two of the most bizarre sports figures of our time. Record setters, winners, just about everything you’d want in your QB but dear lord there is just something about both of them that people do not like. Again, this game was won with defense (Victor Abiamiri recovered a fumble!) as no position player topped 100 yards (Brandon Jacobs and DeSean Jackson came closest) NYG kicked three FGs and had a safety while Philly’s 2 TDs were both of the 1-yard variety. Exciting stuff. If you’re looking to compare this game to one of this week’s contests I suppose New England and Indy makes some sense. The offense are similar (Andy Reid and Bill Belicheck have similar offenses while the Giants and Colts both run a very traditional pro style offense) and all four teams have defensive star power in some spots but glaring holes in others. In that Eagles/Giants game, it seemed like both teams took advantage of the others weaknesses. Looking back at that game, the Giants had a few serious issues. First, all of their corners (Terrel Thomas, Corey Webster and Aaron Ross) were big, strong press-zone corners and their Strong Safety was something called “James Butler”. DeSean Jackson ran by all those stiffs to the tune of four catches for 81 yards, almost half of the Eagles total passing yards that day. Conversely, Brandon Jacobs ran right at shitty Eagles LB, Akeem Jordan. Jacobs had 19 carries that day. 13 of them were to Jordan’s side of the line and Jacobs tallied 84 of his 92 yards on those rushes.
So what weak links are to be exploited tomorrow in the Colts/Pats game? Well, the Patriots DTs suck. No more Vince Wilfork inside means Joe Vellano and Chris Jones are in there and I don’t know who the fuck those guys are. New England is solid, albeit unspectacular everywhere else (though I like Rob Nincovich and Chandler Jones). I don’t know if the Colts have the O-line and the RBs to exploit that Pats interior line the way they’d like but they’re going to have to try. Tom Brady has more options. Indy DT Aubray Franklin has been bad, so the Pats can run up the gut. More likely, though, you’ll see Brady attack former Pats DB Darius Butler. Butler ranked 61st in Pro Football focus’ CB rankings and is going to get a lot of attention this weekend with studly Vontae Davis locking down the other side. I’m assuming either Antoine Bethea, LaRon Landry or both will be helping Butler on whomever he’s covering every play, which might leave Shane Vereen as the key here. With one safety out of the picture at all times, Vereen will be manned on a linebacker (and probably a middle backer since Indy is going to rush Robert Mathis and Erik Walden almost every play) a lot of the time and he could rip them to shreds. The Patriots have had two weeks to prep for this. I like them this weekend.