Playoff Performance: The Quarterbacks
With the Wild Card round out of the way, we move onto the Divisional round weekend, with just eight teams, and eight quarterbacks left in the running to be crowned Super Bowl Champions. With so much talk pointing to the importance of a quality QB to playoff chances, it seemed like as good a time as any to take a look back at how the remaining signal-callers have fared in their previous playoff experience.
Conveniently, the eight remaining are split when it comes to experience, with four veterans and four relative newcomers, including one quarterback getting set for his first ever playoff game this weekend. With PFF beginning grading every player on every play back in 2008, we don’t have every playoff game from the vets of the group, but with six years of analysis available to us, they do have the largest sample size of the eight.
Taken together, the remaining eight have combined for 32 playoff appearances since 2008. Among those games, twice we’ve seen head-to-head matchups; Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV and Manning vs. Rivers in the 2008 AFC Wild Card Round — Manning’s two lowest-rated performances.
So here it is, a look at the postseason play of each of the quarterbacks still standing:
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
PFF Grade: +13.3 (+11.2 Passing)
Best Game: +4.6 (+3.9 Passing), [email protected], 2009 Divisional
Worst Game: -0.3 (-0.5 Passing), [email protected], 2008 Wild Card
Our 2013 PFF MVP often gets a lot of criticism for how he has performed in the playoffs. Understandable given how good he has been for so long, but he does have just one Super Bowl ring to show for it. It’s important to remember that it’s a team sport, however, and Manning wasn’t the only one to blame for many of those playoff disappointments in Indianapolis. He was somewhat unfortunate that some of his biggest mistakes were punished heavily. That includes Corey Graham’s overtime interception for the Baltimore Ravens at this stage last year, and Tracy Porter’s interception returned for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIV for the New Orleans Saints. Those have only compounded the narrative that Manning can’t get it done. When you look back over his body of work in the postseason — where he has had just one game with a negative grade — and his play this year, is there anyone you would really rather have at quarterback in the playoffs this year?
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
PFF Grade: +1.6 (+1.9 Passing)
Best Game: +2.9 (+3.1 Passing), [email protected], 2013 Wild Card
Worst Game: -1.5 (-1.9 Passing), [email protected], 2008 Wild Card
Finishing in the Top 5 at the position in five of the six seasons since we began grading back in 2008, it’s somewhat surprising that he has played just four playoff games in that span. His overall grade in the playoffs doesn’t inspire much excitement, with Rivers the lowest graded on all those left who have playoff experience (and, interestingly, his worst playoff grade came in the same game as Manning’s worst when the two met in 2008). Yet, in a league that it is very much “What have you done for me lately?”, Rivers is coming off the best playoff performance of his career in Sunday’s win in Cincinnati, where he completed four of the five passes he attempted beyond 10 yards. Heading into Sunday’s showdown with Manning in Denver, Chargers fans will have faith that Rivers can carry the team once again, with the Thursday Night Football win on the road against the Broncos serving as his third-highest grade of the year.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots
PFF Grade: +2.2 (+4.1 Passing)
Best Game: +4.7 (+4.9 Passing),[email protected], 2011 Divisional
Worst Game: -5.3 (-5.0 Passing), [email protected], 2009 Wild Card
Perhaps the biggest surprise of delving into the PFF archive to look back at how these quarterbacks have performed in the postseason was the fact that Brady didn’t grade out higher. His grade is brought down heavily due to one game, though, with the loss at home to the Ravens in the 2009 Wild Card round serving as his lowest-graded game since we began grading, postseason or otherwise. In recent times he has been much better, with the loss in the AFC Championship game last year his only negatively graded game from his past five playoff efforts. The Houston Texans paid the price for not getting enough pressure to him at this stage a year ago, with Brady completing 70.6% of his throws without pressure, something the Indianapolis Colts would be wise to keep in mind ahead of Saturday night’s visit to Gillette Stadium.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
PFF Grade: +4.7 (+1.5 Passing)
Best Game: +3.4 (+1.3 Passing), [email protected], 2013 Wild Card
Worst Game: +1.3 (+0.2 Passing), [email protected], 2012 Wild Card
The youngster of the AFC’s group of quarterbacks, Luck has graded positively in both of his playoff games so far in his career. It took an incredible second half comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night to set up the showdown with Brady and the Patriots. The way in which he lead the Colts back from the brink though should serve to put the rest of the AFC on notice. In the playoffs it’s often the quarterback who elevates his play for a small stretch that winds up raising the Lombardi Trophy aloft as the confetti drops (see Flacco, Joe and Manning, Eli). That’s the way Luck played in the second half and, if he can continue that level of play there’s a very real possibility that the Colts leave New England with a win on Saturday night.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
PFF Grade: +16.6 (+17.0 Passing)
Best Grade: +6.6 (+6.5 Passing), [email protected], 2011 Wild Card
Worst Grade: -2.9 (-2.5 Passing), [email protected], 2009 Conference Championship
The highest playoff grade of all the remaining quarterbacks, Brees has had just one poor game from his playoff outings in the PFF era, the 2008 NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings. His 2011 playoffs were something to behold, with an Accuracy Percentage of 81.1% in the two games against the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers. Were it not for Alex Smith’s late-game heroics in the latter, it’s not unreasonable to think that Brees would have gone on to lead the Saints to a Super Bowl win and had a playoff run for the ages. This year he was our second-highest graded QB behind Manning, though the win over the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t see him soar to the heights we’ve seen before. The Saints were still victorious, of course, but you have to think they’ll need a better performance from their signal caller if they are to leave Seattle with a win on Saturday night.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
PFF Grade: +11.3 (+6.0 Passing)
Best Grade: +4.5 (+2.9 Passing), BALvs.SF, Super Bowl XLVII
Worst Grade: +1.0 (-1.2 Passing), [email protected], 2013 Wild Card
Few will forget Kaepernick’s run after taking over as the 49ers’ starter in Week 11 of last year, with the first-year QB making plays with his legs and his arm to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl. He ultimately came up short at the final hurdle, but his performance in the big game, and in particular the second half, is not to be ignored. This year he has struggled more as a passer, where he ranked as our 19th quarterback. He has still managed to make plays with his legs, though, and finished the year as our eighth-highest graded player at the position in that regard. That was the case in Sunday’s win in Green Bay, with the best of his play coming as a runner. When the Packers were able to get pressure on him (which happened on 10 of his 37 drop-backs) he struggled, completing just two of seven passes for 23 yards and being sacked three times. The key for the Carolina Panthers will be making sure he can’t get to the edge as a runner, something that is often easier said than done.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
PFF Grade: +8.3 (+4.5 Passing)
Best Grade: +7.2 (+4.0 Passing), [email protected], 2012 Divisional
Worst Grade: +1.1 (+0.5 Passing), [email protected], 2012 Wild Card
Another of the young arms in this year’s playoffs, Wilson certainly hasn’t played like he lacks experience, finishing the year as our fourth-highest graded quarterback. With just two playoff games under his belt we don’t have a huge sample size to work with, but you only need to look back at how he played in the loss at this stage a year ago in Atlanta to see how good he is. With an Accuracy Percentage of 78.1%, including 50% on throws 20 yards or more downfield, he was able to make big plays with his arm. The 58 rushing yards, a touchdown, and pair of missed tackles forced from six quarterback scrambles show the same when depending on his legs, he just couldn’t quite lead the Seahawks past the Falcons. Still, with the third highest grade ever from a quarterback in the post season, beat out by the ridiculous Super Bowl performances by Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning, there’s plenty of reasons to expect him to perform well again.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
PFF Grade: N/A
Best Grade: N/A
Worst Grade: N/A
The only quarterback left who has yet to start a playoff game in his career, the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft has had a similar year to that of Kaepernick, though he’s taken it to extremes. Finishing the year as our 30th ranked passer, but our highest-graded runner, it’s obvious that Newton is much more dangerous on the ground than he is through the air. It sometimes hard to know what you’re going to get from the former Auburn Tiger with plenty of throws at both ends of the spectrum, but if this season has taught us anything about Newton, it should be exciting either way. Something to keep in mind, however, is that with just 10 yards on the ground and a fumble, the Week 10 encounter with the 49ers marked his worst game as a runner all year.
Follow Gordon on Twitter.