This year’s NFL Divisional Round shows how improbable the Broncos’ Super Bowl run was

This year’s Divisional Round, which features the Patriots vs. the Steelers and the Falcons vs. Packers, serves as a good reminder of just how difficult it is to win without excellent QB play in the NFL postseason.

CHRISTIAN-lighter
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) during first quarter action against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, February 7, 2016. Photo by Ben Hays.

The Broncos won Super Bowl 50 despite getting poor QB play. That doesn't happen often. (Photo by Ben Hays/Denver Broncos)

If you were trying to predict which teams would advance to the NFL Divisional Round, professional football’s final four, which is set to take place this Sunday, a good way to do so would have been to simply identify the best quarterbacks.

The Patriots’ Tom Brady, the Falcons’ Matt Ryan and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers were the three best quarterbacks in football this season. The Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, who wasn’t quite in that trio’s stratosphere, was a very good one.

This year’s Divisional Round, which features the Patriots vs. the Steelers and the Falcons vs. Packers, serves as a good reminder of just how difficult it is to win without excellent QB play in the NFL postseason.

What the Denver Broncos accomplished last year with an aging and ineffective Peyton Manning under center was an anomaly. Denver knocked off Pittsburgh, New England and Carolina on its way to a Super Bowl 50 victory, despite its quarterback throwing for 539 yards, two touchdowns and 5.9 yards per attempt in those three games.

Just how unlikely was that? Well…

A) Manning’s completion percentage (55.4%) in last year’s playoffs was the worst of any Super Bowl-winning QB since Brad Johnson completed 54.1 percent of his passes in the 2002 playoffs.

B) Manning’s 5.9 yards per attempt in last year’s playoffs was the worst of any Super Bowl-winning QB since Brady threw for 5.9 yards per attempt in the 2001 playoffs.

C) Manning’s two touchdown passes in last year’s playoffs were the fewest of any Super Bowl-winning QB since Brady threw one in the 2001 playoffs.

It’s extremely difficult for a team to make the Super Bowl, let alone win it, without superb QB play. As one ESPN graphic pointed out, the AFC teams who have employed Brady, Manning and Roethlisberger have advanced in the Super Bowl every season but once since 2003.

There are rare occasions when a team can ride its defense to a Super Bowl win. The Ravens, quarterbacked by Trent Dilfer, did it in 2000. The Buccaneers, quarterbacked by Johnson, did it in 2001. The Patriots did it when Brady was still figuring things out in 2001. The Broncos, led by Manning, accomplished that feat last year. It doesn’t happen often, though.

Top to bottom, the Broncos have one of the better rosters in football. What they didn’t have last year was an offensive line or a quarterback capable of masking those flaws. It’s not as if Trevor Siemian was bad. His 2016 numbers look almost identical to those Chiefs’ Game Manager™️ Alex Smith put up.

But the easiest way to make the playoffs — and win once you’re there — is to find one of those great QBs and ride him. Trying to win any other way means the deck is stacked heavily against you.

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