Patriots’ Potential Road to Fourth Super Bowl Relatively Easy, Based on Opposing Quarterbacks

Patriots' Potential Road to Fourth Super Bowl Relatively Easy, Based on Opposing QuarterbacksIf a tree falls in the woods, and nobody is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? That's a deep, deep philosophical question that's yet to be answered despite decades of contemplations, so here's a simpler one: If an NFL team faces a bunch of lousy quarterbacks in the playoffs, does the Super Bowl victory still count?

It sure does, and if the 2011 Patriots win their next two games, they'll get an idea of exactly what that feels like.

Unless you've been living under a rock on the planet Neptune with headphones in your ears bumping Wiz Khalifa as you stare at a blank wall with a blindfold tied around your head, you know that the Patriots hosted Tim Tebow last weekend. And unless you wear Florida Gator underpants every day, then you also know that Tebow is not the world's greatest quarterback.

With Joe Flacco (a mediocre quarterback on his best days) visiting Gillette Stadium on Sunday, and with either Alex Smith or Eli Manning awaiting in the Super Bowl, the Patriots could find themselves taking the easy road to their fourth Super Bowl title, strictly in terms of opposing quarterbacks. It's particularly noteworthy because all year, the question surrounding the Patriots was whether they could shut down an elite quarterback like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees with all the marbles on the line. As it turns out, they can win the Super Bowl without ever answering that question.

That's a long way off, of course, as 120 minutes of football separate such a scenario from actually taking place. But for the sake of conversation, let's look at where that scenario would place the Patriots among recent Super Bowl winners.

Because there are at least a half-dozen statistics we could use to evaluate quarterbacks, we'll settle on just one to keep things simple: quarterback rating. Admittedly, it's a somewhat flawed statistic, as it doesn't account for rushing quarterbacks (Michael Vick and Kordell Stewart pop up on the list), and it's far from a 100 percent accurate statistic in terms of evaluating a quarterback. However, it's the best we have.

This study also uses a quarterback's career rating, so how well or how poorly that quarterback may have been playing in that given year may not be exactly reflected in the stat. However, it does provide an accurate look at the caliber of opposing quarterback that Super Bowl-winning teams have had to face.

(You may be surprised to see last year's Packers going neck-and-neck with the potential of this year's Patriots. It's also interesting that the 2000 Ravens, known as a defensive juggernaut, were not challenged by any top-caliber quarterback.)

This research also stops around the turn of the century, as quarterback numbers have skyrocketed since the '90s, and comparing teams in 2011 to teams in 1996 is almost like comparing astronauts to cavemen.

Championship Team Opposing QBs Faced Opposing Career QB Rating (Average)
2011 Patriots (hypothetical) Tim Tebow, Joe Flacco, Alex Smith/Eli Manning With Smith: 79.2
With Manning: 81.1
2010 Packers Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler/Caleb Hanie, Ben Roethlisberger  81.1
2009 Saints Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning 91.5 
2008 Steelers Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Kurt Warner 91.7
2007 Giants Jeff Garcia, Tony Romo, Brett Favre, Tom Brady 91.7
2006 Colts Trent Green, Steve McNair, Tom Brady, Rex Grossman 84.2
2005 Steelers Jon Kitna, Peyton Manning, Jake Plummer, Matt Hasselbeck 82.3
2004 Patriots Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Donovan McNabb 90.9
2003 Patriots Steve McNair, Peyton Manning, Jake Delhomme 86.3
2002 Buccaneers Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, Rich Gannon 86.0
2001 Patriots Rich Gannon, Kordell Stewart, Kurt Warner 83.0
2000 Ravens Gus Frerotte, Steve McNair, Rich Gannon/Bobby Hoying, Kerry Collins 76.3

Note: In instances where two quarterbacks essentially received equal playing time, their QB ratings were averaged together. Carson Palmer's rating was not factored in to the '05 Steelers' opponents because he threw just one pass before leaving due to injury.

Ultimately, what does all of that mean? Well, absolutely nothing, particularly if Mediocre Joe and the Ravens take care of business on Sunday afternoon. It is, though, perhaps a much-deserved respite from the gauntlets the Patriots have had to run in their previous Super Bowl seasons. Even though that '03 number may be low at 86.3, McNair and Manning were co-MVPs that season, with McNair's rating at 100.4 and Manning's at 99.0.

And if the Patriots do pull out two more victories and achieve football's ultimate goal? Well, they don't put opposing quarterbacks' passer ratings on the banner.

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