Schlosser’s NFC Championship Spotlight
At the heart of every great playoff matchup is a quarterback competition. When you look back at the Super Bowl winners over the last 20 years, the vast majority of them had very good—if not elite—quarterbacks under center. In this part of the season, then, you run up against quality QB play at every turn. When looking at the matchup between Green Bay and Seattle, this is just as true as it is over in the AFC, with Tom Brady facing off against Andrew Luck.
Russell Wilson is a very interesting quarterback, one who is a bit hard to pin down. Is he great, or is he just a good QB on a very good team? When you look at his raw stats, he falls a bit short of that “elite” mark in almost every category. For example, he threw for 3,475 yards and 20 touchdowns this year. That’s not bad, but Peyton Manning just had what most fans would consider a pretty bad year, by his standards, and he had 4,700+ yards and 39 touchdowns.
However, there is more than just passing to Wilson’s game. He also ran for 900 yards, something a QB like Manning could never do, and he only threw seven interceptions all year. He’s smart with the ball, he’s good at moving the chains, and he fits perfectly into that offense. He’s rarely going to wow you with his arm, but he’s frequently going to do just what it takes to win. When you watch him play, he passes the eye test.
On the other side, we have Aaron Rodgers, the newly-crowned MVP of the league and perhaps the best quarterback in the world; many would give him that title, but I still put him and Brady on roughly equal ground. Regardless, he’s clearly one of the best, week in and week out. He threw for 4,381 yards and 38 touchdowns this year, blowing Wilson’s numbers out of the water. What’s more, he is one of the best at protecting the ball, with just five interceptions on the year.
Some quarterbacks throw more than that in one game.
While he’s not going to run for as many yards as Wilson, Rodgers is very mobile. He uses his feet well to extend plays and pick up yards. The Packers are never going to set up a designed run, but his mobility is part of his game.
As everyone has heard time and time again, he has a torn muscle in his leg that is hampering that mobility. We’ll get to that in a moment.
First, though, we have to look at QBR. This is a stat I love, a stat that digs deeper than a mere QB rating. It takes into account when certain plays are made and how they’re made. The problem with the old QB rating is that everything is taken at face value; an interception in the first quarter, with the game tied, is the same as an interception with 30 seconds left, down by three. Clearly, that second interception means more, so that’s where QBR takes that next step and gives us a real stat that reflects what the QB did in that game and how valuable he was.
On the year, Aaron Rodgers was second in QBR, with a rating of 82.6. It’s worth noting that the first-place quarterback, Tony Romo, only edged him out by 0.1, with an 82.7. Meanwhile, Wilson was not bad, but he came in 12th, with a QBR of 62.4. Yes, that’s better than half the league, but all of the best quarterbacks in the league—Roethlisberger, Romo, Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Luck, both Mannings—are ahead of him.
If this was an all-things-are-equal situation, it’s a no-brainer: Rodgers is far better than Wilson, and he has the clear edge. He throws way more touchdowns—almost twice as many—while still throwing for fewer picks. He’s the MVP for a reason. He brings the mobility that Wilson offers, with none of the drawbacks. He’s a better quarterback and it’s impossible to deny. If he had Seattle’s defense behind him, he would have won multiple Super Bowls by now.
But everything isn’t equal.
Rodger is hurt and it’s serious. Not that it’s going to keep him out of the game, but this isn’t something you can just ice up and play through. This is a tear, and that takes a long time—and a lot of rest—to heal. Rodgers can’t sit, so he basically has to wait until the season is over. He’s limped through like a champ, but he’s still limping.
It’s also not equal because these two guys don’t go against each other—they go against the opposing defenses. And Green Bay’s defense isn’t even in the same realm as Seattle’s. Rodgers can’t run out of the rush, so Seattle will pin their ears back and come hard at him all day. He can play through it, as his brilliant performance against Dallas showed, but it’s not going to be easy. Meanwhile, a healthy Wilson has to go against an average defense, that Seattle—not the most high-scoring offense in the league—put almost 40 points on back in September.
And so, almost grudgingly due to my admiration for Rodgers, I have to give the nod to Wilson. In a vacuum, Rodgers is a vastly superior talent, but, in this game, Wilson has a much better situation. He has his health, he has a weaker opponent, and he has the crowd at his back. To some degree, you have to throw the season stats out, because I just can’t expect Rodgers to be as good as his numbers show.
Call it poor timing. Call it bad luck. Call it whatever you want, but it means we’ll need a superhuman performance out of Rodgers to get the win, whereas Wilson won’t have to do more than play how he usually does, and that is enough to swing things in his favor.