The NFL Championship round is always fun to watch - the four best teams in the league (at least theoretically) playing for the highest possible stakes. The down side of this week of action, though, is that there are only two games to handicap. You can only spend so much time on two games no matter how hard you look at them, so there is more down time this week then we have been used to since the football season started.
That means that we need to come up with ways to fill that time while still thinking about football - because who would want to think about anything other than football? For example, one thing I have been doing this week is comparing the four remaining quarterbacks and ranking them based on their past history with the playoffs, their current performance, and how kind they have been to bettors. I don't know useful it has been, but it's been fun. Here's how I rank them:
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1. Peyton Manning - It was pretty clear that Manning had to be on top of the list, but I still debated about whether he belonged there because of his team's bad habit of underachieving in the playoffs. Six different times over the course of his career Manning has won 10 or more regular season games and then lost his first playoff game. Three times he has won 13 or more and then faltered early. Despite winning almost 11 games per year since entering the league, Manning only had seven playoff wins coming into this year, and just one Super Bowl appearance. there is no doubt that the Colts haven't accomplished what they should have in the Manning era given their regular season dominance.
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Still, Manning has a pretty impressive list of personal records in the playoffs - most 300+ and 400+ yard passing games, most yards in a half, biggest comeback in playoff history, and he's one of only four guys to have a perfect QB rating in a playoff game. For bettors Manning has been a bit of a mixed bag. Overall, he's just 8-8 ATS, so he has cost loyal backers a bit of money. He's 5-2 ATS in his last seven outings, though, so he's been pretty darned good recently.
2. Brett Favre - Favre has to be ranked second - he has played 23 playoff games, after all, and he does have that one Super Bowl win. Like Manning, Favre probably hasn't won as much as he should have given the teams he had in his prime at Green Bay. He also hasn't exactly dominated in the playoffs- he has just 13 wins in the 23 games. Those 10 losses tie him with Dan Marino for most in a career - a dubious honor to go along with his record 18 playoff interceptions. Favre has been slightly kinder to bettors over his long career than Manning has - he's 10-8 ATS, with an incredible five pushes in his 23 games. Favre gets full points for longevity, and earns points for the performance he had last week (I don't know about you, but I loved the late touchdown - nothing wrong with stepping on the throat of an opponent in a huge game). He'd have a shot at being first on this list if it weren't for one fact - he hasn't won two playoff games since 1997. In 1997 Manning was a senior at Tennessee, Drew Brees was a freshman at Purdue, and Mark Sanchez hadn't hit puberty.
3. Drew Brees - Brees means as much to his team as the two ahead of him, but there is no chance of him being higher than third on this this because he just doesn't have the playoff experience. His win last week, while incredibly impressive, was just his fourth start and second career win. Last week's game was also the first time that Brees had ever covered a playoff spread. Brees and the Saints only covered two of their last 10 regular season spreads, so it is hard to have a whole lot of faith in him from a betting perspective - no matter ow good he looked last week.
4. Mark Sanchez - What the Jets have pulled off this year is very impressive, and I'll be pulling for them like I do any Cinderella team. Make no mistake, though - this team has gotten as far as they have despite Sanchez, not because of him. Sanchez has gotten a lot of credit this year, but the fact is that despite some highlights his rookie season wasn't even as good as JaMarcus Russell's. That's really saying something. He's been a little better in the playoffs, but only because they have played two teams that they can exploit on the ground, and the coaching staff has created a game plan that asks Sanchez to do as little as possible. Sanchez needs to be considerably better next regular season than he was this season if he wants to have a long career, and he'll need to be better this week than he has been in his first two playoff games if they want to make the unlikely trip to Miami. The Jets are 2-0 ATS in the playoffs, but the credit for that has to go to the rookie running back, not the rookie quarterback.