Ten rings, 107 playoff starts, one stage: Which ‘old guy’ QB has best shot at Super Bowl?
If Ben Roethlisberger says it’s OK to say it, then go ahead and call these NFL playoffs the year of the “old guys.”
And Big Ben isn’t even the oldest.
The NFL’s five oldest starting quarterbacks are all still playing, while some of the future stars, such as Kyler Murray and Deshaun Watson, are at home watching.
This postseason, which begins Saturday with wild-card weekend, marks the first time five quarterbacks age 37 or older will start in the same playoffs in NFL history. That’s Tom Brady (43), Drew Brees (41), Philip Rivers (39), Roethlisberger (38) and Aaron Rodgers (37).
“All the old guys,” Roethlisberger said this week. “I know you didn’t want to use those words. I’ll say it for you. It’s cool. It’s fun to be a part of it with them. If we were sitting at home and people were talking about the old guys that are still playing, why aren’t you a part of it, then you would be disappointed. To be a part of it, to be in this tournament as coach [Mike Tomlin] calls it, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be able to do it. I am hoping that it’s not one and done. We are going to give it everything we have so I can be the last old man standing.”
The five “old guys” have made a combined 107 playoff starts, but this is the first time all five have been in the playoffs in the same year.
One of those five has led the NFL in touchdown passes in 10 of the past 14 seasons, with Rodgers doing it this year (48). All five are in the top eight in all-time touchdown passes. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, not even four of the top 10 all-time leaders have ever started in the same postseason.
They have combined to win 10 of the past 20 Super Bowls, although other than Brady none have made it to the Super Bowl since Rodgers and Roethlisberger faced each other 10 years ago.
Here’s a look at the “old guy” quarterbacks’ greatest playoff moments, their paths to get here and what a Super Bowl would mean for each.
Greatest playoff moment
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Playoff record: 30-11, six Super Bowl wins in nine appearances
It’s hard to choose just one, but Brady’s comeback from being down 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons at halftime to win 34-28 in Super Bowl LI takes the cake. The runner-up has to be his 37-31 overtime win over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game following the 2018 season. — Jenna Laine
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Playoff record: 8-8, one Super Bowl win in one appearance
Brees’ run to Super Bowl MVP in 2009 was masterful: Eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions in three postseason games. And he capped it with a go-ahead TD drive for the ages in the fourth quarter of New Orleans’ 31-17 victory over the Colts. Brees completed all eight of his pass attempts to eight different receivers, including the TD to Jeremy Shockey and 2-point conversion to Lance Moore. — Mike Triplett
Philip Rivers, Indianapolis Colts
Playoff record: 5-6
Rivers earns a lot of respect for playing in the 2007 AFC Championship Game with a torn ACL, but it’s beating Peyton Manning and the Colts in a 2008 wild-card playoff matchup that tops the list. The 8-8 Chargers weren’t supposed to have a chance in that game. The Colts were the hottest team in the league at the time, and Manning had just won his third MVP award. It was the second straight year the Chargers sent the Colts home early from the playoffs. — Mike Wells
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Playoff record: 10-8, one Super Bowl win in one appearance
The easy answer is Super Bowl XLV. Rodgers was the MVP in the Packers’ 31-25 win over the Steelers, and his fourth-quarter throw to Greg Jennings for 31 yards was one of the most important in his career. But the Packers don’t get to that Super Bowl if not for the way Rodgers played against the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round. He completed 31 of 36 passes for three touchdowns in a road upset of the top seed. — Rob Demovsky
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Playoff record: 13-8, two Super Bowl wins in three appearances
Roethlisberger has a great offensive AND defensive moment in his career. Seriously. The winning drive against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009 capped with his touchdown throw to Santonio Holmes will live forever in the hearts of Steelers fans. But the Steelers might never have gotten there if not for his shoestring tackle of Nick Harper in the divisional round. Harper recovered Jerome Bettis’ fumble in the final minutes of the divisional round against the Colts, but Roethlisberger’s tackle saved the Steelers’ playoff fate and eventually led to the XLIII Super Bowl berth. — Brooke Pryor
How they got here
Brady: The Bucs got swept by the Saints, and lost by three points to the Los Angeles Rams and Chiefs, with their signature win coming in Week 6 against the Packers. It took winning their final four games to reach the playoffs and clinch the No. 5 seed, but it will be the first time Brady has ever been a wild card on the road in the postseason. — Laine
Brees: Brees and the Saints got off to a shaky 1-2 start. Then he missed four games in November and December because of a punctured lung and 11 broken ribs. But he bounced back in each case despite playing only 10 total quarters with leading receiver Michael Thomas. And New Orleans won its fourth straight NFC South title, thanks to one of the most talented and well-rounded rosters in the NFL. — Triplett
Rivers: You would think 11 victories and an additional playoff spot added would have easily earned the Colts a place in the playoffs. Nope. They had to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17 and get help from other teams to clinch just their second playoff spot since 2014. To add to the absurdness of the 2020 season, the Colts would have won the AFC South had the Houston Texans beaten the Tennessee Titans in Week 17. — Wells
Rodgers: He went from scuffling along in coach Matt LaFleur’s new offense in 2019 to owning it in 2020. Rodgers not only fully embraced the new system, he mastered it in Year 2. The likely NFL MVP led the league in touchdown passes (48) while throwing just five interceptions — all without the addition of any significant players at the receiver spot. — Demovsky
Roethlisberger: The Steelers have been most successful when Roethlisberger runs the no-huddle offense. But in a late-season, three-game skid, the offense got away from that and Roethlisberger often looked like the worst version of himself with off-target throws and tentativeness in the pocket as he anticipated contact. In the second half of the Week 16 Colts win, Roethlisberger looked like the quarterback who helped his team to an 11-0 start. He stretched the field with passes of 39 and 34 yards and threw for more than 200 yards in the second half. — Pryor
How he’s different at this age
Brady: Brady is defying his age in a system that asks him to take more deep shots than he ever has in his career. His 34 completions of 20-plus air yards were more than any other QB in the league this year and were a career high for him. His completion percentage on those throws was nearly identical to Mahomes’. — Laine
Brees: Brees’ arm strength and lack of downfield throws have been heavily scrutinized in recent years, and he no longer throws for 5,000 yards every season. But he has made up for any shortcomings in those areas by becoming even more efficient. Brees has posted the best passer rating, completion percentage and interception numbers of his career over the past four seasons. — Triplett
Rivers: Rivers doesn’t have the same arm strength as he did when he was younger, but he played some of the smartest football of his career this season. He went into Week 16 looking like he might finish with single-digit interceptions in a season for just the third time in his career. Rivers ended the regular season with 11 interceptions, down from 20 in 2019. He also had the third-highest completion percentage (68%) of his career. One thing that hasn’t changed is Rivers’ availability. He has started 240 straight games. — Wells
Rodgers: To say Rodgers is more intelligent now would be like suggesting Einstein got smarter after developing the theory of relatively. But Rodgers has become more willing to accept the check-downs instead of holding the ball and waiting for something to develop down the field. That has put him more in rhythm with the offense. — Demovsky
Roethlisberger: The 2020 Roethlisberger hasn’t been the gunslinger he was known to be earlier in his career. Instead, Roethlisberger spent most of the season throwing short slants and underneath passes, putting the burden on his offensive weapons to make the plays. But when he runs the no-huddle offense, Roethlisberger is quick to remind folks that his reconstructed elbow is perfectly capable of rifling the ball downfield with deep throws to players such as Chase Claypool and James Washington. Roethlisberger has never been a particularly mobile quarterback, but he has been even more stationary this season with his arthritic knees. — Pryor
What a Super Bowl would mean
Brady: The Bucs are a longshot, especially if it means getting past the Saints, who swept the Bucs in the regular season with a 38-3 pummeling in Week 10. It will also depend on their defense, which has been inconsistent and prone to giving up explosive pass plays. Still, you can never count Brady out because of his track record. — Laine
Brees: This could be Brees’ last chance to get back to the Super Bowl and cement his legacy as one of the all-time greats. Once again, the Saints are among the NFL’s top contenders after three straight years of devastating playoff exits. They are as deep and well-rounded as any team in the playoffs, with a top-four defense and a top-six rushing offense. — Triplett
Rivers: The road to reaching the Super Bowl in the AFC will go through Buffalo and then Kansas City, the top two teams in the conference. That’s going to be tough to accomplish for Rivers and the Colts. Rivers is in the top five in NFL history in touchdowns and passing yards, but he has yet to play in a Super Bowl. His teams have reached the conference championship game only twice in his career. — Wells
Rodgers: Brett Favre never won a second Super Bowl, but at least he got to a second. His appearances came in back-to-back seasons. Rodgers might tie Favre for MVPs, but surpassing him in Super Bowl titles could move him past Favre in the eyes of those who rank Packers quarterbacks, if he hasn’t already. — Demovsky
Roethlisberger: The Steelers have a 10% chance to make it to Tampa Bay, according to ESPN’s FPI. While it’s a longshot, it’s not out of the question — and this team will go as far as Roethlisberger takes it. He has three Super Bowl appearances and two wins, but he hasn’t been back in 10 years. Going out with one in the twilight of a storied career would further cement his Hall of Fame resume. He would become just the fifth QB to win three Super Bowl titles, joining Brady, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Troy Aikman. — Pryor
Brady: He is under contract with the Bucs for one more season and has given no indication that he wants to retire now, especially with the way he has played the past four weeks. This Brady-led offense can be scary with a full offseason to truly collaborate with coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and develop better chemistry with receivers, and if Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown return. — Laine
Brees: Brees has not announced whether he will retire after 20 seasons, although there has been heavy speculation inside and outside the building that he will. Either way, the Saints will have a hard time keeping the entire core of this team together after this season because of severe salary-cap constraints. So this playoff run definitely has a “Last Dance” feel to it. — Triplett
Rivers: Free agency or coaching high school football in Alabama. Rivers hasn’t decided whether he wants to play an 18th season. If he chooses to play, his performance in the playoffs likely will play a significant factor in whether the Colts want to re-sign him for the 2021 season. Rivers, who will be 40 in November, will become the head coach at St. Michael Catholic High School once he retires. — Wells
Rodgers: There’s no way the Packers could move on from Rodgers after a season like this, right? Jordan Love, a 2020 first-round pick, probably wouldn’t be ready to play next season anyway, but the way Rodgers has played should convince the Packers that the time to move on from Rodgers won’t come soon. — Demovsky
Roethlisberger: He is under contract through 2021 and carries a $41.2 million cap hit. It’s his intention to return next season, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, but Roethlisberger also said that if he’s not playing up to his standard, he won’t hesitate to “hang it up.” Roethlisberger has been adamant that he doesn’t want to be a detriment to his team, and his performance in the postseason could dictate his 2021 decision. — Pryor
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