And the judge might shoot back: Can you prove they’re all elite?
And the NFL would reply: Uh … well … on second thought, maybe we’ll call them something else. Thanks anyway for listening. Sorry to take up the court’s time.
Granted, the eight quarterbacks left in the NFL’s postseason tournament could all eventually prove to be elite. But that’s partly what this weekend is for. And there’s no guarantee that even the ones generally regarded as elite are going to play like it.
Super Bowl XLVII
In San Francisco, also on Saturday, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers has little to prove, and yet, he’ll be asked to prove himself yet again against Niners upstart Colin Kaepernick.
On Sunday in Atlanta, Matt Ryan of the Falcons will attempt to win his first playoff game since he came into the NFL in 2008 against rookie Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, who already posted one last week at Washington. Right now “Russell Ice” makes more sense.
Also on Sunday, another somewhat disappointing Matt — Schaub, of the Houston Texans — will seek to advance at New England against the Patriots’ Tom Brady, who has three Super Bowl rings, one Gisele, and a whole lot of respect.
So actually, the eight remaining quarterbacks can be broken down into three categories:
Let's look at their prospects this weekend.
No matter what they do Saturday and Sunday, Brady, Manning and Rodgers are secure in the pantheon because of their Super Bowl rings. But of the three, Rodgers is the one with the best chance of being an elite on vacation after the weekend.
It will be through no fault of his own, or even State Farm’s nifty “discount double check” program. When you add up the facts that the Niners are home, that they are exceptional at running the ball and stopping the run and that the Packers are not particularly good at either, and you have a San Francisco victory.
Manning will attempt on Saturday to end Ray Lewis’ career, and push his Denver brethren past Baltimore and into the following week’s AFC Championship Game. In a titanic clash between two proud, veteran-laden teams, mistakes usually cause the separation. And although Peyton is capable of tossing the occasional nightmare pick (see the 2010 Super Bowl) , Flacco is much more prone to the practice, and much more susceptible to having his confidence rattled as a result. Advantage, Broncos.
In Atlanta on Sunday, this just might be the year the Falcons shake off the label of “listless losers” and triumph over the visiting Seahawks. It’s imperative that Seattle puts pressure on Ryan, and yet the Seahawks will be without their sack leader, defensive end Chris Clemons, gone with an ACL tear. If Ryan has time, he’ll be able to find targets Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, no matter how formidable the Seattle secondary may be considered. Of course, the Seahawks have an outstanding shot if they can continue to run the ball successfully. Tough call, but in the end, it appears Ryan may finally bank some elite points.
Schaub, who completed 29 of 38 in last week’s wildcard win over Indy, nevertheless threw a pick-six and did not throw a touchdown pass. It’s nice that Schaub won his first postseason start against the Colts. But he’ll have to outduel one of the greatest quarterbacks in history, on Brady’s own turf, when Brady is playing at the top of his game. Seems that Schaub achieving elite status after this weekend is a reach wrapped in a fantasy inside a pipe dream.
Naturally, after this weekend’s four games play out, that will leave four teams with designs on Super Bowl berths. Only two can advance. That means two teams will be ousted, and two quarterbacks scrutinized yet again. The dance doesn’t stop until a champion is crowned. Elite evaluations will continue to be given.
Yet some – Brady, Manning, Rodgers – will emerge from the process relatively unscathed. Others will have to battle the elite demons next season, and beyond.
Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelVentre44
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