Posted: Wednesday January 12, 2005 12:07PM; Updated: Thursday January 13, 2005 5:53PM
1. How do the NFL playoffs' eight remaining quarterbacks stack up?
Peyton Manning set an NFL record with 49 touchdowns this season.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
If we had to rate them 1-8 in terms of how they played from the season's second half on and their postseason track record, it would look like this:
1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis -- Really doesn't require much explanation, does it? He's the game's preeminent passer and he's performing at the height of his powers. Not a bad playoff opener against Denver the other day, either. He had quite a season -- in the first half alone.
2. Tom Brady, New England -- His numbers (28 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, career high 92.6 passer rating) don't wow you like Manning's -- at least until you come to his won-loss record. The guy is 6-0 as a starter in the postseason, with a pair of Super Bowl MVPs to his credit, and 48-14 (.774) in the regular season. That's 54-14, and winning at a .794 clip overall.
3. Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota -- It was Culpepper's misfortune to have had his career year eclipsed by the Manning-palooza (think Baltimore's Jim Gentile hitting 46 home runs and driving in 141 in '61, the same year Roger Maris topped BabeRuth's 60.) But at least Culpepper showed everyone what he's been doing all season with that first-round four-TD performance at Green Bay.
4. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia -- Remember when we harped on McNabb's accuracy? Well, he completed a career high 64 percent of his passes this season, with just eight interceptions. He had 31 scoring passes, and blew away his personal best passer rating, finishing with an FM station-like 104.7. All that's left now is for him to prove he can win the biggest of big games in the postseason.
5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh -- Too high for the Steelers rookie? How so when he won all 13 of his regular-season starts, completed 66.4 percent of his passes, had a 98.1 passer rating and made all the plays in every key situation he was in? He didn't just manage games, relying on the Steelers rushing attack and defense. When required, he made the plays that made the difference between winning and losing.
6. Marc Bulger, St. Louis -- Don't overlook the Rams' quiet-as-a-mouse quarterback. Nothing rattles this kid and he can pick you apart when given the time. Guarantee you this: He'll be the most efficient and productive quarterback on the field Saturday night against Atlanta in the Georgia Dome. Bulger never looks like he's even sweating, but if the Rams' season ends this week, it won't be because No. 10 lets them down.
7. Michael Vick, Atlanta -- You can't discount the unique threat that Vick and his 900-plus yards of rushing brings to every game, but obviously his passing statistics (14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 56.4 completion percentage, 78.1 rating) are of the middle-of-road variety at best. But if Brady gets credit for just winning, so too must Vick. The Falcons were 11-5 this year and Vick found ways to win even on those days when he didn't have his A game going.
8. Chad Pennington, N.Y. Jets -- Shut more than a few of us up with a strong showing at San Diego in the first round. His passes often arrive as soft as cotton swabs, but the ball generally goes exactly where he wants it to go (witness his 65.4 completion rate and 91.0 passer rating). Pennington is firmly in the middle tier of NFL quarterbacks, and the Jets probably overpaid him in his last contract. But then again, we could be wrong. One more big playoff win and we'll be forced to reconsider.
2. Who will Paul Tagliabue be rooting for this weekend?
Michael Vick's statistics were down this season, but the Falcons still finished 11-5.
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
Let's be real. There is a potential Super Bowl dream matchup out there that would send all the league suits in the Park Avenue office over the moon. At night, when they hit their knees and pray to the gods of both TV ratings and post-Janet Jackson public relation bonanzas, the NFL secretly invokes just two names: Peyton Manning and Michael Vick.
Think about it. It would be the hype-fest of all time. The super-est Super Bowl in NFL history. Manning versus Vick. The two poster children for all the NFL hopes it stands for. The league's marketing bell cows. The quintessential passing quarterback versus the quintessential running quarterback. One white superstar, one black, with both players possessing incredible cross-over appeal. And yet they couldn't be more opposite in many ways.
Manning would take the Super Bowl podium every day wearing the perfect suit and tie, representing a good deal of the corporate America that the NFL loves to appeal to. Vick by comparison would fashion a far edgier look, and flash some of the bling-bling that he favors, proving irresistible to the younger demographic that the league courts heavily. Old school, new school. The perfect contrast of both cultures and approaches to the game's most high-profile position.
Indy-Atlanta. Manning versus Vick. That's who the NFL would love to see in Jacksonville.
3. Will Randy Moss be a Viking next season?
Randy Moss pulls in one of his two TDs in the Vikings' wild-card game win over the Packers.
If the Vikings go deep into the playoffs this month, and Moss leads the way, the equation could change in Minnesota. But for now, No. 84 is dangerously close to wearing out his welcome in the Twin Cities. The reality is this: After campaigning for the Vikings head coaching job in late 2001 on the premise that he was uniquely qualified to control the uncontrollable Moss, Minnesota head coach Mike Tice now realizes that was folly. No one in the organization has the ability to keep Moss from starting his annual series of brush fires, and never have. Former head coach Dennis Green included.
Both Green and Tice have instead coddled Moss far too much, and then sat back and watched in dismay as he has grown into a monster at least partly of their own making. Don't kid yourself: Lots of teams have two sets of rules, one for their superstars and one for everyone else. But Moss is so above the law in Minnesota that it perpetually creates problems for Tice, and by extension, the rest of the locker room. He's a play-maker, so the Vikings put up with it. But at some point, the trouble-making is going to outweigh the play-making,and Minnesota is at least nearing that moment of decision.
Tice and the Vikings front office doesn't yet feel forced to trade the team's most talented player, but let's just say that any and all offers that might come their way this offseason will be entertained. They're not going to put out the Moss-available sign and overtly lower his market value, but Minnesota's brain trust is eager to cultivate potential suitors and find out what kind of package he might bring. For a team that has developed quite an array of offensive talent, including another big-play receiver in Nate Burleson, losing Moss is no longer unthinkable.