Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers gives Bucs-Packers the chance to be the best NFC title game ever

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It’s too early to call this the greatest NFC championship game of all time.

But with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers making their way to the playoffs for the first time next weekend, there’s a strong possibility. The magnitude of Sunday’s clash between the Buccaneers and Packers (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox) means there will be an overload of hype that will make it nearly impossible for the game to live up to expectations.

BRADY vs. RODGERS: Inside the numbers

What do these quarterbacks have to prove? It’s just that: there is always something to prove when it comes to the all-time greats in the post.

Brady and Rodgers are two of 12 quarterbacks who have made at least five conference championship appearances since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Brady, of course, leads that group with 14 conference championship appearances. Rodgers became the latest quarterback to accomplish this feat, leading the Packers past the Rams in the NFC Division playoffs.

QB with the most conference championship appearances

A closer look at those 12 quarterbacks with five or more Super Bowl-era conference championship appearances:

Tom brady 14 9 4 0.692
Joe montana seven 4 3 0.571
John elway 6 5 1 0.833
Terry bradshaw 6 4 2 0.667
Roger staubach 6 4 2 0.667
Jim kelly 5 4 1 0.800
Peyton Manning 5 4 1 0.800
Brett Favre 5 3 2 .600
Ben roethlisberger 5 3 2 .600
Donovan McNabb 5 1 4 .200
Ken stabler 5 1 4 .200
Aaron Rodgers 5 1 3 .250

Brady has twice as many appearances as Montana, but he tries to add another notch to his legacy in his first NFC Championship appearance.

Craig Morton led the Cowboys (1970) and Broncos (1977) to the Super Bowl. Montana nearly became the second quarterback to reach the Super Bowl in both conferences when he led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship game in the 1993 season. The Chiefs lost 30-13 to the Bills.

Manning won the Super Bowls with the Colts and Broncos. Brady can become the first quarterback to win the Super Bowls in every conference. It would also be a categorical closing argument as to whether Brady could win without Bill Belichick in New England.

Rodgers, of course, stands in the way. Remember, Manning beat Brady three out of four times in the AFC Championship game.

Rodgers will begin an NFC Championship game for the first time at Lambeau Field. It’s a chance for the two-time NFL MVP (maybe three times) to reach the Super Bowl for the second time – which would equal his predecessor Brett Favre’s total – and lead the Packers to a fifth Super Bowl Championship.

BENDER: Packers show why Super Bowl road ‘runs through’ Lambeau

Six quarterbacks on this conference championship list – Brady, Montana, Elway, Staubach, Bradshaw, Manning – have won multiple Super Bowls. This is the group Rodgers has sought to join since winning the 2011 Super Bowl.

The Packers were underdogs on the road in their last three all-losing NFC Championship games. They are the home favorites this time around, but of course Brady stands in the way.

These are all footnotes in the long resumes of two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

This marks the fourth one-on-one meeting between the two. Brady is 2-1 in those clashes, including Tampa Bay’s 38-10 victory over Green Bay on October 18. Rodgers won the only head-to-head meeting at Lambeau Field in 2014.

The planned Super Bowl game between New England and Green Bay this season never came to fruition, but the NFC title game offers the next best thing. Brady and Rodgers combined for 88 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions in the 2020 regular season, and they’re on top of their games heading into their biggest head-to-head showdown.

IYER: How Rodgers and Packers made the Rams’ defensive stars unnecessary

Of course, Bucs at Packers is more than Brady and Rodgers. Tampa Bay is loaded on the receiver and enjoys solid defense, but Lambeau Field offers one of the NFL’s biggest home ground advantages. Green Bay are loaded up in attack with Aaron Jones, Davante Adams and an offensive line that will need to be better than they were in the first meeting.

It has the makings of being one of the best conference championship games of all time. If it’s a late scoring game, which quarterback would you want with the ball?

If that happens, then it could be the greatest NFC Championship of all time. Given who’s involved and what’s at stake, we wouldn’t be surprised if it lives up to the hype.


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