Two of the finest quarterbacks of this generation will face off in the NFC Championship Game. Tom Brady leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into Lambeau Field to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Between them, they have previously appeared in a whopping 17 conference championship games.
There’s just one problem. Throughout their careers, neither quarterback has been at their best on championship weekend.
Aaron Rodgers has struggled in the NFC Championship
Rodgers led the Packers to victory in his first NFC Championship appearance in 2010 at Chicago, on the way to his only Super Bowl win to date. He has lost in all three of his subsequent appearances, all of which have also been on the road.
Most heartbreaking was the 2014 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, a game which Green Bay led 16-0 at one point. The Packers may have iced that game were it not for a fumbled onside kick with just over two minutes left. Seattle punched their ticket to Super Bowl XLIX with a Russell Wilson touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse in overtime.
Rodgers’ own play has been one reason for the Packers’ recent struggles on championship weekend. Although his average yardage output across the four games is a strong 258.8 per game, he has also thrown seven interceptions to his six touchdowns. His passer rating across the four games is a mere 78.0.
The silver lining for Rodgers is that Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay will be the first NFC Championship he will start on his home turf at Lambeau Field. He will therefore have the advantage of the home crowd (what little there is) and the Wisconsin winter.
Tom Brady has a mixed record in conference championships
No quarterback has appeared more in the conference championship round than Tom Brady. Though this will be his first NFC Championship game appearance, he has amassed a 9-4 record in AFC title games. Throughout the 2010s, his Patriots appeared in eight consecutive AFC Championship Games, winning five of those.
Naturally, with the sheer number of times he’s appeared in the conference championship, his record isn’t completely spotless. In his 13 title-game appearances, he has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 18-14 and a passer rating of 83.3. These are the lowest of these statistics he has accumulated for each playoff round throughout Brady’s long career.
Most glaring were two consecutive underwhelming outings against the Baltimore Ravens in January 2012 and 2013. Across those two games, Brady averaged a quarterback rating of 59.9, and was outplayed by the Ravens’ Joe Flacco on both occasions. The Patriots survived to win that first game as the Ravens’ Billy Cundiff missed a field goal that would have sent the game to overtime. They were not so lucky the second time around, as the Ravens won the rematch.
Someone has to win, right?
Even though both quarterbacks have had their struggles in the conference championship round, they obviously can’t both lose.
Both teams are coming off red-hot offensive performances in the divisional playoffs. Aaron Rodgers looked impressive in his dismantling of the Los Angeles Rams, who came into the game as the NFL’s best defense. (Granted, the Packers were helped by the absence of Rams defensive end Aaron Donald, but still…)
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers put the whole NFL on notice by pulling away from the New Orleans Saints. Not only did Brady and the Buccaneers’ offense step up in a big way, but the defense stepped up with two crucial late-game interceptions of the legendary Drew Brees.
While the quarterback is the most important man on the field, there are 21 other men on the field at any given time. Any one of them could turn the tide of this NFC Championship.
Statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference.