It's time to resurrect Who Do You Trust? Only this time, there is no game show host, no audience and no contestants. This time there is only you, me and the four quarterbacks left in the NFL playoffs.
The question is: Which one of them do you trust most this weekend? I think we all agree on whom we trust least, and my apologies, Mark Sanchez -- that happens when you're a rookie.
But which two survive the weekend? Let's get on with it.
What's to like: Everything. He's accurate, smart, productive and he wins. And he's not facing San Diego, the team that squeezed the Colts out of the playoffs the last two years. Manning is 131-61 during the regular season and 89-23 the past seven years, including two seasons with 14 victories. Jets linebacker Bart Scott called him "maybe the best quarterback ever," which shows you how much the Jets respect him. But Manning must win more than one Super Bowl before that conversation takes place. Nevertheless, he's one of the best ever and has a place in Canton waiting after retirement.
|Manning has a 1-1 record in conference championship games. (US Presswire)|
Why you should trust him: Because he knows how to win, and he does more with less than almost any quarterback out there. Lose Marvin Harrison? No problem. Plug in Austin Collie. Lose Anthony Gonzalez? No problem. Plug in Pierre Garcon. With anyone else, Collie and Garcon are nobodies. With Manning, they're touchdowns waiting to happen.
Why you should not: It's the playoffs, and his record is positively ordinary this time of year. Not only has he lost as many as he's won, he has only a few more touchdown passes (24) than interceptions (18).
Bottom line: Forget the stats, Manning is numero uno. He is so smart, so shrewd, so patient and so accurate that he will ferret out the enemy's weakness, then exploit it. Plus, he hasn't lost this season. Yeah, he takes the hit for that Dec. 27 setback to the Jets, but the Colts lost only after he was pulled. The Colts fell to Buffalo, too, but only after they rested their starters again. When they tried to win, they did -- with a streak of 23 regular-season victories that extended back to November, 2008. Let me put it another way: When Manning played a complete game, they never lost. And he plays Sunday -- every snap.
What's to like: He just finished off one of the best seasons of his life. Not only did he throw 30-plus touchdown passes for the ninth time in his career, he produced only seven interceptions –-- and that never happened after he became a full-time starter. In short, Favre is not the turnover machine that used to keep both teams in a game. Now look what happened last weekend: He had four more touchdown passes as Minnesota crushed Dallas. Over the last 10 quarters, he has 10 TDs and no interceptions, and he finished the season with a career-best passer rating of 107.2. Maybe life does begin at 40.
|Favre finished the season with a career-best passer rating of 107.2. (US Presswire)|
Why you should trust him: Because he's been on this stage before and won. Of course, that was over a decade ago, but Favre of this season looks like Favre of over a decade ago. With Green Bay, he had to carry the team. With Adrian Peterson in the huddle, he does not. Nevertheless, Favre's doing it anyway and doing it as few anticipated -- by almost never screwing up. Now, Favre seems driven to do what he could not two years ago, and that's close the season as a winner.
Why you should not: Because he hasn't won a conference championship game since the 1997 playoffs and because he's in foreign territory where he did nothing more than split this season.
Bottom line: I'm not sure what to make of Favre anymore. He wasn't just good last week -- he was extraordinary, placing the ball in tight windows and rarely committing a mistake. Of course, that's the Favre we've seen almost all of this season, with that late-season meltdown I expected never materializing. In fact, the last 2½ games we've seen the best of Favre, maybe ever. Now the question: Does he have an encore left in him? I've learned never to underestimate the guy -- especially in a nationally televised primetime showdown.
What's to like: He's accurate, productive and seldom gets sacked. Three times Brees had four or more touchdown passes in a game this season, including one with six. Plus, he's home, and, that is to his advantage. Not only has no NFC team lost a home playoff game, but Brees is almost as bulletproof there as Favre was in the Metrodome, with 25 touchdown passes and four interceptions. Oh, yeah, he's also 7-2 at the Superdome this season and 2-0 in his playoff history.
|Brees is 7-2 at the Superdome this season and 2-0 in his playoff history. (US Presswire)|
Why you should trust him: Because he's home, and his numbers there are off the charts, with 10 touchdowns and one interception his last four games there. Now, throw out the Dallas game, and he's been sacked five times in eight games at the Superdome -- including none in four starts. If you don't pressure Brees, you have no chance.
Why you should not: He doesn't have the big-game experience of Favre. He is 2-2 in the playoffs and 0-1 in conference championship games.
Bottom line: This is Brees' chance to prove he's one of the game's elite quarterbacks. He hasn't been to a Super Bowl, and he was blown out of his only conference championship game. But that was in Chicago where the temperature was 13 degrees, and the Saints offense went in the freezer -- they were outscored by 25. They don't get outscored by 25 here, but they could lose, basically because there is a quarterback as hot -- no, hotter -- than Brees on the opposite sidelines. Nevertheless, it was Brees, not Favre, who finished second to Manning in this season's MVP voting, and here's his chance to prove the people got it right.
What's to like: For a rookie, he is remarkably poised -- refusing to get overwhelmed by what he has achieved and may be about to achieve. Plus, he's a quick study. Since the Jets started asking less of him, he started producing more -- with the last four games as evidence. So he produced only two touchdown passes, big deal. But he threw only one interception. Basically, the Jets have asked Sanchez not to win games as much as they demand he not lose them. And he succeeded, winning his last four -- including a 29-15 defeat of the Colts at their stadium.
|Sanchez, the lone rookie of the group, has improved down the stretch. (US Presswire)|
Why you should trust him: Because he's grown up the last month and is doing exactly what the Jets want -- no, what they need -- to win, which is not commit stupid mistakes. When you have the league's best rushing attack and a defense second to none, you can afford to make an end-run around your quarterback. The Jets are hot, loose and confident, and tell me they don't remind you of the 2008 Baltimore Ravens -- a club that rode rookie Joe Flacco, a solid running game and the league's No. 2 ranked defense to the conference championship game. Flacco improved down the stretch, and so has Sanchez.
Why you should not: He can make crippling mistakes, with more interceptions this year than everyone but Jay Cutler. That happens with rookies, but getting this far generally does not. Flacco made it this far, so did Ben Roethlisberger but they were the exceptions. The rule is that if the bandwagon hasn't unloaded by now, it does at this stop. Rookie quarterbacks do not graduate to the Super Bowl.
Bottom line: Sanchez is the easiest call of all. Of the four quarterbacks left, he's the one you least trust. That's not a knock on his ability; it's a knock on his experience. The guy has done a remarkable job of doing exactly what the Jets ask of him, but what happens if -- no, when -- he has to play tennis with Manning? Ah, then he must throw, and the Jets don't want to get in that game.