Page 2 staff

OK, so we don't have Vinny Testaverde, Aaron Brooks and Eli Manning to kick around anymore.

We're going to keep on having fun, anyway.

In fact, now that we've done away with the regular-season preliminaries and the first-round playoff matchups are set, the fun gets serious. Like, that seriously tasty matchup next Sunday afternoon between Mr. Reliable (that'd be Peyton Manning) and Mr. Inexplicable (uhh, no names, but his initials are Jake the Flake ... er, Snake).

Yes, it's time for a little game of Wheel of Playoff Fortune with Snap Judgment's favorite quarterbacks. So buckle up. The spin we put on the next five weeks of football is going to be so fast and so furious that Vanna White and her vowels will be begging for mercy by the time we get to the Super Bowl.

So which quarterback will walk off the field on Feb. 6 as the next Super Bowl winner? Snap Judgment's experts think they know.


AUDIBLES FROM OUR QBS
 
Patrick
Hruby

Alan
Grant

Jeff
Merron

Eric
Neel

Skip
Bayless
QB most likely to be Super Bowl MVP: Tom Brady Ben Roethlisberger Tom Brady Tom Brady Tom Brady, again
QB who will throw the most INTs in a playoff game: Matt Hasselbeck/Marc Bulger Michael Vick Jake Plummer Matt Hasselbeck Marc Bulger
Stay-at-home QB you'd have liked to watch in the playoffs: Trent Green Drew Bledsoe. Was in the act of redeeming himself Byron Leftwich Drew Bledsoe, because he came packaged with Willis McGahee Jake Delhomme
Favre or Culpepper: Culpepper indoors; Favre out Culpepper Favre Favre Favre, by a field goal
Hasslebeck or Bulger: Second-round pick and a conditional six-pack of Corona Bulger Bulger Bulger Hasselbeck at home
Brees or Pennington: Pennington, and the privilege is all mine Chad "this-is-not-a-right" Pennington Brees Brees Brees by a monsoon
Jake Plummer's stats against the Colts: Zero wins, one loss. The rest is irrelevant 4 bootlegs, 3 picks, 1 middle finger, $25,000 in fines. 23-46, 340, 2 TD, 3 INT One behind-the-back pass for six yards 300-plus yards, three TDs, one killer interception
Number of TDs Manning throws in the playoffs: Six (four vs. Broncos) Nine Six, in two games Five Four vs. Denver, two in second-round loss
Jim Sorgi, Matt Schaub or Sage Rosenfels: I'll take Jim J. Bullock to block! Matt Schaub. Sounds like a good dependable accountant Sage. Sounds wise. I saw Sage Rosenfels open for Pete Seeger once. He rocked Schaub


First down: Tell us why or why not we'll be seeing Peyton Manning playing in the Super Bowl this season.

Eric Neel: We won't see him there, I'm afraid. It's not because he dreams horrid, surreal dreams about the evil Dr. Belichick and his cyborg army of eight-armed defenders, though it's probably true that he does. It's not because it'll be cold and windy outside in New England, though it probably will be and that won't help. And it's not because the Colts don't defend well enough, though they don't. It's because the Patriots do. Defend well enough. Defend real well, in fact. And that'll be the difference.

Alan Grant: We won't be seeing Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl because the Colts have a poor defense. I'm sorry. I know I'm supposed to say something along the lines of this: Manning doesn't have what it takes to win the one that counts. Perhaps that's true for Greg Norman or the Democrats, but not Peyton Manning. The guy is a great quarterback. But the Colts defense, though immensely improved, is neither swift, nor deep enough, to be a Super Bowl team.

Patrick Hruby: You'll see Manning in the Super Bowl because the Colts are averaging 56 points a game and the only combinations more dangerous than Peyton-to-Marvin are Peyton-to-Randy and Peyton-to-Terrell. Of course, I'm referring to my ESPN NFL 2k5 franchise (fleecing the CPU on trades never gets old. Owens for Brandon Stokley and a third-round pick? Uh, yes).

In the real world, Manning will be hard-pressed to reach the perennial advertising extravaganza -- and by hard-pressed, I mean Wile E. Coyote, flattened by an anvil. Why? Soft defense. New England and Pittsburgh aren't as explosive as Indy, but they're far more balanced. Both clubs can win by shutting opponents down; the Colts, to put it in basketball terms, want to run the other guys out of the gym. And we all saw what happened when the Phoenix Suns ran into the San Antonio Spurs last week. (OK, in case you were watching the Insight Bowl, and if you were, our condolences: the defense-minded Spurs crushed the run n' gun Suns). Until proven otherwise, the Colts are a one-trick pony. And I will never, ever resort to such eye-bleedingly bad punnery again, particularly since Mike Mularkey won't be coaching in the playoffs. Sniff.

Skip Bayless: Peyton won't be playing in the Super Bowl because he and his team will not be able to win at New England and/or Pittsburgh. He'll survive a shootout at home against Denver, but his defense isn't strong enough to keep New England or Pittsburgh from keeping Peyton on the sideline by playing keepaway and controlling the clock. That defense could camouflage its flaws against mediocre teams by making interceptions and fumble recoveries, which led to an NFL-leading plus-19 turnover ratio. But the two teams blocking Indy's road to the Super Bowl are too efficient with their power running games and ball-control passing to fall into that trap.

And smart, physical defenses can knock Peyton's receivers off their routes and disrupt timing, especially outdoors in the cold. No defense disguises its pre-snap intentions more craftily than Belichick's Patriots. The Patriots and Steelers will also be able to explose Peyton's one weakness by generating constant pressure with blitzing or penetrating. He isn't even as athletic as his little brother. Hence, he won't be able to buy time or scramble and make The Play with a road playoff game on the line.

Aaron Schatz: I actually do think the Colts have a good enough defense to make the Super Bowl. It isn't the best defense in the league; it isn't as good as the defenses in Pittsburgh or New England or even San Diego. But it is good enough to win a Super Bowl when combined with the awesome power of the Colts offense. Or it would be good enough if they managed to play the entire playoffs indoors.

That's the reason the Colts won't make it all the way. Unless the Jets or Chargers can shock Pittsburgh, the Colts are going to have to overcome the bye week advantage and two games in cold weather against teams built to play in cold weather. Remember last year's playoffs?

How about last year's narrow 17-14 victory against a Buffalo team that finished 6-10? Or Jets 41, Colts 0 from the 2001 playoffs? The Colts could overcome the weather against a team that was clearly inferior, but I just don't see them doing it two straight weeks against two teams that are just as good as they are, if not better.


Second down: Aside from McNabb, which NFC QB is most likely to carry his mediocre team all the way to the Super Bowl?

Skip Bayless: I'm not sure Atlanta qualifies as mediocre in the embarrassingly mediocre NFC. But without Michael Vick making video-game escapes, the Falcons would have looked seriously mediocre this season and would have no Super Bowl shot.

That's why it made no sense for Jim Mora to play Vick in Seattle -- and why it was no surprise that Vick soon complained of numbness in his left arm and hand. He took some of the worst spills this season that you'll ever see a quarterback take, and he took as much punishment at home against Carolina as I've seen a quarterback withstand in a long while. Though he pulled off the score-or-else, 12-yard scramble that won the game, he banged up his left shoulder. It needed three full weeks of healing. Without Vick, this is just another No Factor Conference team.

Alan Grant: The one who's been there and done that is the man most likely to lead. And this is a pleasure for him because it is a game. And all games are meant to be fun. So he enjoys plying those around him with both evidence of his observations and ample portions of his knowledge -- even those who dare not ask him for it. As a result, his teammates are made better, and he is secure in his role, regardless how small. He's secure because he's been hit, and hit hard by the cycle of life. This, coupled with an array of skills, grants him perspective and makes the game, even a pressure-packed playoff game, an oddly sweet distraction. I'm talking about Brett Favre.

Jeff Merron: Literally speaking, Vick is the only QB that can carry his team to the Super Bowl. But that's not what you mean, is it? Favre can lead the Packers to the Super Bowl, because he's got Ahman Green and Javon Walker and Minnie Driver and a slew of other options. Simply put, even at 35, Favre at his best is better than Vick or Culpepper at their best.

Patrick Hruby: Time out. I'm throwing a flag. This has to be the most irrelevant, least-compelling question of the year. Why not just have a Snap Judgment celebrity who-will-say-something-stupid pool while we're at it? (Dibs on Nicole Richie).

Speaking of Richie, why not ask if Kobe Bryant will somehow guide the Los Angeles Lakers to a No. 8 playoff seed, just so we can watch him take 35 stupid, triple-teamed shots a game in a first-round sweep? To put things more succinctly: Who cares?

The NFC is dreadful. Just dreadful. As bad as the late '80s-early '90s AFC, when Denver seemingly got punked in every other Super Bowl. In college football, a .500 record won't even get you into the Continental Tire Bowl. No way it should get you into the NFL playoffs, especially if you can't top the oh-so-toppable Washington Redskins on the final day of the season.

I guess I'll go with Brett Favre on experience and Mike Vick on game-breaking talent. But I'm holding my nose as I type this, which is no mean feat since it takes two hands to punch a keyboard. (That said, you should definitely tune in to the St. Louis-Seattle wild-card game on ABC, ESPN's mother network and home to quality, must-watch hits like "According to Jim." Pay extra-close attention to the commercials; if you're a Nielsen household, make sure your ratings box is in good working order. Personally, I wouldn't miss Rams-Seahawks for a month's worth of freelance checks. And whaddya know? I think there's one in my mailbox right now.)

Aaron Schatz: Ugh. After all the bad stuff I said about his passing last week, this will sound strange, but the answer is Michael Vick. You never know when he'll just pull off that crazy scramble to win a close contest, and the Packers and Eagles have major issues taking down runners who get past the front seven.


2004 FINAL RANKINGS:
By Aaron Schatz, footballoutsiders.com

Click here for Aaron's complete season rankings for all the QBs.

The QB rankings now include adjustments for the quality of defense faced. (DPAR = Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement that each QB was responsible for.)

2004 SEASON: TOP THREE QUARTERBACKS
Quarterback Skinny DPAR
1. Peyton Manning
336/497, 4557 yards
9.2 YPA, 49 TDs, 10 INT
Without a doubt, the MVP. Just remember: the Lombardi goes to the most valuable 45 players, not the most valuable single player. 170.9
2. Daunte Culpepper
379/548, 4717 yards
8.6 YPA, 39 TDs, 11 INT
The biggest difference between Manning and Culpepper was not the touchdowns but sacks. Both play behind strong lines, but Culpepper was sacked 45 times, Manning only 13. 148.1
3. Donovan McNabb
300/469, 3875 yards
8.3 YPA, 31 TDs, 8 INT
In the playoffs, will his performance return to pre-T.O. levels, when only his scrambling made him more valuable than Tommy Maddox or Brad Johnson? 115.8

2004 SEASON: BOTTOM THREE QUARTERBACKS
40. Jay Fiedler
101/190, 1186 yards
6.2 YPA, 7 TDs, 8 INT
Red zone: 11/25 (and two of those completions lost yardage) plus four sacks, two interceptions, only two TDs. -24.4
41. Chad Hutchinson
92/161, 903 yards
5.6 YPA, 4 TDs, 3 INT
Moles don't sniff as much dirt as this guy. Sacked 23 times in only five games, including NINE yesterday. -27.5
42. Craig Krenzel
59/127, 718 yards
5.7 YPA, 3 TDs, 6 INT
Most statistically similar QBs: Cody Carlson 1988, Steve Pisarkiewicz 1979, Gus Frerotte 1994, Danny Wuerffel 1997. Parade of quality! -42.1


Third down: Of the four first-round games (Broncos at Colts, Jets at Chargers, Vikings at Packers, Rams at Seahawks), which QB matchup most intrigues you?

Alan Grant: Manning vs. Plummer intrigues me because it's the do-everything-by-the-book young white professional against the thin, scruffy white kid who, though he's now techically "mature," has a game that just can't escape the word precocious. Strangely enough, Manning's pre-snap antics are almost as enjoyable as Plummer's post-snap escapades.I like Manning's passion. I appreciate his intense focus on the details and his unwavering sight of the big picture. I like how he gets everyone lined up. I also like Plummer's scrappy hubris. I like how mistakes of the past haven't retarded his swerve. These two are about as different as can be. And difference is a good thing for the NFL. They want everyone and everything to be the same. But variety is good for any product..

Eric Neel: I like the "showtime" pressure surrounding the Pennington-Brees matchup, but the Plummer-Manning meeting is even more intriguing. Peyton is so polished, so proficient. Jake is so unpredictable (I think even to himself). The contrast between them is appealing no matter how the game turns out. But what really appeals to me is the chance that Jake will harness some of his wacky genius and find the soft spots in the Colts D and go, if only for a little while, toe-to-toe with the King. I see Peyton walking off victorious, but I have a sneaking suspicion he'll be whispering, like Apollo, "ain't gone be no rematch."

Jeff Merron: The Vikings and Packers have already played two 34-31 games this season, and there's no reason to believe their first-round matchup will shape up any differently. It's going to be even more of a shootout in Green Bay than in Indy. I always find Manning interesting to watch -- I think T.O. picked up his Eagles' TD dance after he watched Peyton at the line of scrimmage. But Plummer is a roll of the dice, and about as intriguing. With Favre and Culpepper you get two greats; and in the fourth quarter, either one could pull it out even if they're down by two TDs.

Patrick Hruby: Bulger-Hasselbeck. I'm also intrigued by battery plant explosions and clubbed baby seals. Seriously, though, I'm equally interested in Jets-Chargers and Vikings-Packers. Regarding the former, I want to see how Drew Brees handles the first playoff game of his exhumed career, one with serious potential free-agent dollars hanging in the balance. Moreover, watching Chad Pennington just makes me feel lucky, as if I've been handed the keys to the executive washroom, or maybe a private audience with the Dali Lama. Think about it: Every NFL reporter on the Eastern seaboard -- verily, every football fan on Earth -- truly has been blessed to watch a large man throw a ball while other large men try to knock him senseless. Enjoy Pennington while you can; we may never see his likes again.

Anyway, I digress. The Green Bay-Minnesota contest ought to be entertaining in that both teams can score, neither team consistently can stop anyone and both Brett Favre and Daunte Culpepper like to gamble. Translation? Six-to-eight touchdowns between the two of them, with the game decided by one or two boneheaded throws. Good football? Meh. Good TV? Probably.

Aaron Schatz: It has to be Manning vs. Plummer. Trying to figure out what you are going to get out of Plummer is like throwing darts at a dartboard, except the dartboard is sitting somewhere in the middle of the Rockies and you are dropping the darts from an airplane. And you have to be intrigued by Manning's quest to remove the asterisk from his new title of "Greatest Passing Season of All Time"*

(*regular season only)

Skip Bayless: I most like to watch Favre vs. Culpepper, but you get the feeling they could play eight more quarters and Favre would still win on a last-second field goal. Hasselbeck and Bulger quarterback two oncoming trains without engineers. Denver has a chance if Plummer doesn't throw an interception, but you know he will. So the most intriguing matchup has to be Brees vs. Pennington, just to see how bad Pennington can get.

For his sake, I hope Pennington's arm is hurt. If it isn't, he has turned into nothing but a soft ice-cream machine. It's ironic that Jets fans and media condemn coordinator Paul Hackett for being too conservative. The Jets would have won at St. Louis in regulation if Hackett had continued feeding the ball to Curtis Martin. At San Diego, though, the Chargers' run defense is too stout. Pennington will have to "throw." Honestly, the Jets would have a better shot with Quincy Carter at quarterback. At least he can run.


Fourth down: Does Brett Favre need another Super Bowl trip to solidify (or earn) status alongside Montana, Unitas and Elway as one of the top three or four QBs of all time?

Eric Neel: The short answer? No. The slightly longer answer? Getting there is a team thing. If he makes it there, it won't just be because of how good he was. And if he doesn't make it there again, it won't be because he wasn't good enough. Elway's back-to-backs came courtesy of Terrell Davis, remember. The idea that Favre's status hinges on another Super Bowl trip is illogical. Look at the numbers, look at the longevity, look at the heart, look at the creativity, cunning, and courage. The status is set. He's one of the all-time greats. Period.

Alan Grant: In my opinion (that is the one you're asking for, right?) the man has nothing left to prove. In fact, he didn't really need that Super Bowl to make him great. I've already told you that much of the reason I hold him in such high regard goes beyond his obvious mastery of the game. The creativity of his play fakes make him a Picasso. I admire the gift he gave Michael Strahan while Strahan pursued the single-season sack record. Favre knows that, by nature of his position, he is "the chosen," and thus protected by others. But Strahan, by nature of his position, works alone. So Favre, an actual team player, honored Strahan's singular position by helping him out. Perhaps the act somewhat diminshes the sack record (and trust me, I know how folks can get about freakin' records!), but in terms of visionary acts among competitive men, it was a pretty cool gesture. He's the best in my book.

Jeff Merron: No. He's there, and nothing he does (or doesn't do) going forward will change that.

Patrick Hruby: Not really. It would help -- Denver's back-to-back titles cemented Elway's rep, even though Terrell Davis did the heavy offensive lifting -- but I think Favre's bust is already bronzed. From production to leadership, toughness to longevity, Favre has few quarterbacking peers, even if he's "only" 1-1 in the big game. Think of it this way: Jim Kelly went to four Super Bowls. Doesn't make him a part of this discussion.

Aaron Schatz: If Favre somehow managed to win another Super Bowl, I think he would stand alongside Elway. There are so many ways to rank quarterbacks that nobody can agree on who is the best of all time. But wherever you personally rank Elway -- ahead of Montana or Unitas, or behind both -- you would have to rank Favre in that same place. Still, with only one Super Bowl title, Favre will always stand behind Elway, who has a very similar resume except for that second Lombardi trophy.

And let's be clear: Favre doesn't need another Super Bowl trip to earn status alongside Montana, Unitas, and Elway as one of the top four quarterbacks of all time. He needs another Super Bowl trip to earn status alongside Montana, Unitas, Elway, and OTTO GRAHAM as one of the top FIVE quarterbacks of all time. Give the late Mr. Graham his propers.

Skip Bayless: Favre needs more than another trip. He needs another ring. It wouldn't be shocking if the Packers won an NFC title game at Philadelphia -- not after Eagles coach Andy Reid left his team with a post-T.O. identity crisis by not playing his offensive regulars much the last two games. Now who's the go-to guy? The Eagles have lost momentum, confidence and rhythm.

But if Favre beat the AFC champ in the Super Bowl, that would shock and impress even the biggest Montana or Elway fans. Green Bay's pass defense can be so pathetic that it's hard to believe the Packers could hold, say, Tom Brady's offense under 40 points. And it's even harder to imagine Favre scoring 41 on Belichick's defense. But if he wants to rise into the top echelon, now is his chance.


Best Throw of The Year:
Skip Bayless:In honor of Peyton Manning, it had to be his record-breaker, touchdown pass No. 49. This was a checkoff route that he and Brandon Stokley had discussed on the sideline and in the huddle. This audible required only eye contact. As Stokley broke from the slot, Manning gave no more than a flinch of a pump fake to Reggie Wayne, running an out, then cut loose over the middle before Stokley had even come out of his break on a skinny post. The safety knew he had been had, but his feet flew out from under him as he tried to slam on the brakes. The pass almost telepathically hit Stokley right in the numbers. A work of art.

Alan Grant: The one Tom Brady threw from the back of the end zone against the Bengals.

Aaron Schatz: Peyton Manning to Brandon Stokley to tie the Chargers in Week 16. Stokley faked out the defender, Manning made a perfect throw to hit a moving receiver, it broke the all-time passing touchdown record and it completed a 15-point fourth quarter comeback in a game with important playoff implications. What more can you ask from a pass?


Worst Throw of The Year:
Alan Grant: Aaron Brooks' lateral to his tackle.

Aaron Schatz: It was bad when Lamont Jordan couldn't figure out how to throw the ball away on the halfback option and tossed it right into double coverage. It was worse four weeks later when the Vikings made the same ridiculous mistake, calling a wideout option in the red zone only to discover Randy Moss had no idea how to throw the ball away (he tossed it right into double coverage). But nothing this year was as bad as the Aaron Brooks backwards lateral to maybe an offensive lineman kinda sorta.

Skip Bayless: This had to be the kind of pass that kept New Orleans -- as talented as any NFC team -- out of the playoffs. Somehow, Aaron Brooks got so discombulated in the pocket that he thought he was facing downfield when he was looking backward. He glimpsed a Saints jersey -- unfortunately, that of an offensive lineman -- and fired a pass that was actually a lateral. About 40 yards later, the Saints recovered for what had to be the biggest loss of the year. Only Jim Marshall could have understood.