There is something a little bit strange about the final four teams left standing in the NFL. The Jets, Steelers, Packers, and Bears all have quarterbacks under 30, and three of these teams play a 3-4 defence while the Bears play a Cover 2. Most teams in the NFL stick to the popular 4-3 but more and more teams are using the 3-4. The 3-4 is strongest when the team has a great Nose Tackle that can dominate the interior run game and is most successful when the linebackers can apply pressure to the quarterback but also drop back and play pass coverage. The Cover 2 is a little more complex; the two safeties on the field play further back in the secondary than usual, allowing the corners to have more freedom defending the run and short pass. Cover 2 relies heavily on pressure on the QB and covering the big play. Think of them as a “bend but not break” defence. Both styles of defences have their weaknesses, but these teams have fortunately been able to find their way to the big dance.
What might be more surprising about these four teams is that Ben Roethlisberger, who was born in 1982, is the veteran of the remaining quarterbacks. Chicago’s Jay Cutler, who is a year younger, had never started a playoff game since his senior year in high school; Mark Sanchez, a second-year quarterback out of USC, is already going to his second AFC title game. Sanchez gets ripped on a lot for his poor rookie season statistics, which improved drastically this year; also, Sanchez is not taken seriously because smart marks (including myself) have said that Sanchez has been blessed with a great defence and a great run game. Sanchez is now tied for first—yes, I said first—in NFL history, with four playoff road wins. Whether or not you’re a Sanchez-hater, you have to be impressed by that. Matt Ryan has no playoff wins, and neither do Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, or Tony Romo. Not bad at all.
The most intriguing of the four quarterbacks left playing this season is the new “A-Rod”, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers has also set records this postseason. In his first three playoff games—including last year’s Wild Card Bonanza vs. the Cardinals and the first two games of this postseason—Rodgers had 10 touchdown passes as well as the highest QB rating in playoff history. It might be only three games, but it’s very remarkable nonetheless. Rodgers made the number-one seed, Atlanta, look like a CFL defence, completing 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards and also chalked up a rushing touchdown for fun. I see big things coming for A-Rod in years to come. Think about this: he’s doing this without his starting tight end, JerMichael Finley, who was poised to have a breakout year, and without the services of running back Ryan Grant, who only ran for 1,200 yards last year. Absolutely frightening stats!
There seems to be a change of the guard in the NFL. Last year, the veteran QBs were in the spotlight, as Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, and Drew Brees were all in this position last year; now they’re all at home watching the young guns take over. This NFL season has been a wacky one, for lack of a better term, and the playoffs are no different. The Jets and Packers were the lowest seeds in their respective conferences and are now the probable teams to play in the Super Bowl.
But… what do we know? Even the Seahawks won a playoff game… Football fans rejoice!