Could Saints vs Rams be as simple as Brees vs Goff?

Big games often come down to who has the best quarterback

Seth Dunlap
January 18, 2019 - 7:56 pm

Sometimes life isn't so complicated.

The handsome boys get to dance with the prom queen. Eating healthy and exercising is the easiest way to lose weight, not the fad diets you've seen promoted in the countless barrage of ads since the new year.  Giving Drake a verse on your latest track is a pretty surefire way to land a Top-40 hit.

Sometimes football isn't so complicated either.

The world has spent countless hours, words, and social media posts dissecting the nuance of the NFL's upcoming conference championship games.   The New Orleans Saints vs. Los Angeles Rams NFC title match-up has been looked at through the lens of crowd noise, offensive line injuries, potent rushing attacks, and star receivers against star cornerbacks, just to name a few.  

Yet, it's often in the NFL that these critical games are decided by something incredibly simple -- who has the better quarterback.  In the Saints-Rams game that means it's future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees against third-year signal-caller Jared Goff.   That's a match-up that certainly favors the Saints.

Look at the past 10 NFC championships and, with a couple exceptions, the team with the best quarterback won the game and advanced to the Super Bowl.

Last year Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles faced off against Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings.  That tilt certainly favored the Eagles and Foles, who was playing the best football of his professional life and would go on to win Super Bowl MVP in one of the best championship game performances NFL history.

In 2017 you had that year's MVP quarterback, Matt Ryan, defeating Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.  In all due respect to Rodgers, who will be judged through a more historically favorable lens than Ryan, the Atlanta quarterback was in the midst of one of the best seasons compiled by any quarterback in NFL history.  That year, Ryan was the best quarterback.

Similarly, it was Cam Newton in 2016, that year's NFL MVP, helping the Panthers blow out the overmatched Arizona Cardinals and an aging Carson Palmer, who was in the twilight of his career.

Russell Wilson out-dueled Colin Kaepernick in one of the more memorable NFC title games in history in 2014, lifting Seattle to the Super Bowl they'd eventually win.  Nobody is going to argue that Wilson wasn't the better quarterback that season than Kaepernick.

Eli Manning lifted the New York Giants over Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers in 2012.  Manning, who will likely have a statue in Canton one day, would win almost any straw pole against Smith about who was the better quarterback that season, or historically.

Aaron Rodgers lifted the Green Bay Packers over Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears in 2011.  Brees, who had just entered the prime of his amazing career, defeated and old Brett Favre the previous year.  Rodgers and Brees were clearly the two best quarterbacks those two seasons, regardless of Favre's historical standing.  

The glaring exception to this trend was in 2015 when Rodgers lost a conference title game in Seattle to Wilson.  Rodgers, who was the NFL's MVP that season, was done in by the Seattle noise and some late game heroics from Wilson and punter Jon Ryan.  Wilson will eventually join Rodgers in the Hall of Fame, but that year he was clearly the inferior quarterback to his Green Bay counterpart.

There's also the 2013 NFC Championship game that featured Kaepernick and the 49ers against Ryan and the Falcons.  Casting aside any debate on Kaepernick's career as a whole, there's a pretty good case to be made that he was playing as well as Ryan entering the playoffs that season.  In taking over for Alex Smith at mid-season, Kaepernick averaged an impressive 8.2 yards per attempt, had 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions, and boasted a 98.3 quarterback rating.   When you factored in his running ability, it was Kaepernick, not Ryan, who was the more dangerous and highly-regarded quarterback entering that championship game.  Just ask Ron Jaworski.  

This year we get Brees against Goff in the NFC Championship game.  Goff, who has posted career-best numbers in numerous statistical categories, isn't some second-rate quarterback.  He may well spend the next decade being discussed among the league's best quarterbacks.  There's little debate, however, who the best quarterback was this season.  Brees is likely to finish second in MVP voting and posted career-highs in completion percentage (74.4%) and quarterback rating (115.7).  He's also played in this spot before, and is 6-0 lifetime in playoff games in the Superdome. 

If history is any indication, the Saints should feel pretty comfortable about their chances with #9 under center on Sunday.


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