It is widely accepted that the most important position in a team sport is the quarterback in American football. Taking the snap at the line of scrimmage, the fate of the team hinges on the decision making process of the QB.
If the final four left standing are any guide, then every outfit will walk out onto the field Monday AEST that little bit taller. Whether it be Aaron Rodgers for the Green Bay Packers, Matt Ryan’s Atlanta Falcons, Ben Roethlisberger and his Pittsburgh Steelers or the returning Tom Brady in New England – this is a battle of the elite.
That pass to win the Divisional Round at Dallas will go down in Aaron Rodgers folklore, forced back on his less favoured left hand side before threading the needle to get his team in field goal range. The term “clutch” is thrown around in US sport a lot, pointing to a match-winning act or display of brilliance when it matters most. That is A Rodgers.
Written off halfway through the campaign when the Green Bay Packers were a much maligned 4-6, it would be the talisman of the Wisconsin franchise who proclaimed they will go on a run all the way to Super Bowl LI. Well call this man Nostradamus, with the QB picking the side up from their 42-24 humbling at Washington to win 8 fixtures on the bounce.
According to CBS, Rodgers is on the hottest streak a quarterback has ever enjoyed for an 8-game run, throwing 42 touchdowns against a mere 2 picks for 4,768 yards. This pits him at a ranking of 118.5 – superior to Peyton Manning in 2013, Drew Brees in 2011 and Tom Brady’s stellar 2007.
His cocky proclamation during that baron spell might be a sign of greatness, yet he will have stiff competition at the Georgia Dome early Monday morning AEST. Whatever the result, 2016 has been a season of redemption for a man feared over the hill, tapping into that canny ability to find a green shirt when all else looked lost.
Matt Ryan does not have the Hollywood glitz and glamour attached to him like Rodgers or Brady. He doesn’t appear in blockbuster movies or date international supermodels or world-renowned actresses. His down time is spent on the golf course or helping create reading programs for children – just a down to earth character that happens to be a ridiculously good quarterback.
If his counterpart A Rod is in the most purple of purple patches, then Ryan has sustained his form across 2016 and into the playoffs. The Falcons have been unstoppable in possession this season to average over 33 points a contest – a feat that is staggering in an age of stringent tactical analysis where every play is dissected to the nth degree.
As Bleacher Report explain, the year starting 2016 started off poorly for the QB. Losing 7 of their final 8 before a defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Saints, Ryan was booed out of the stadium. Fast forward to today and on the back of 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, the 31-year old has catapulted himself and his franchise to the business end of the NFL.
Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan told the publication that this pain is the direct result of what he is producing now. “Things got pretty dark for him,” remarked the coach. “Either you were going to get stronger from it, or worse from it. Matt chose to get stronger.”
Aesthetically speaking, there has yet to be a more physically imposing figure at quarterback than Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Standing at 1.96m and a heavy 109kg, the 34-year old veteran is a monster of a man and a huge presence for a proud and historied franchise.
But unless you are a hardcore Steelers fan, there is some trepidation to heap praise on him unconditionally. Having been the figure of an alleged rape scandal and accusations of domestic abuse, Big Ben is something of a controversial figure away from the football field.
On it, the QB has dealt with peaks and troughs in form as well as a series of injuries that are not alleviating as he grows ever older. Throwing 29 touchdowns and 13 picks in 2016 for 3,819 yards, this is not the 2014 Roethlisberger that threw close to 5,000 yards and 32 TDs.
The local press at Foxborough already think they have Ben’s number, if The Boston Globe are to be believed. Second only to Brady for post-season playoff wins, the publication points to his record of 9 TD passes and 8 picks on the road in 2016 to make him a vulnerable target in the cauldron of New England. Can he produce when it matters most to silence the doubters and his greatest rival?
The Deflategate scandal would have crushed lesser characters than Tom Brady, but rather than stew over the saga that forced his suspension from the start of the season, the quarterback used it as fuel for the fire – he would not allow Roger Goodell to dictate the fate of his campaign.
4 games shorter than his counterparts, Brady has gone 3,554 yards for 28 touchdowns and 2 picks in 2016. Despite some rocky moments at home to the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round, he never appeared flustered or out of control against a terrific defensive unit.
Reportedly receiving a phone call from President Trump upon his Inauguration, Brady did what he always does when he senses an attack (even from the media) – ducks and weaves to control the message and control his preparation. Nothing deviates the three-time Super Bowl winner.
There is an extra edge to the 39-year old in the wake of the suspension, firing up his teammates at every opportunity to ensure Bill Belichick’s outfit is focused on following through on their mantra – “Do your job.” When the Steelers come to town on Monday AEST, that will be the ultimate test of the man who helps drive a culture of selflessness.