Stop Believing These 3 Myths About Aaron Rodgers in the Playoffs
Sunday’s game will be Aaron Rodgers’ fifteenth career postseason start. From the first playoff appearance against Arizona in the 2009 Wild Card round to this week’s Divisional round versus Dallas, Rodgers has generally exceeded expectations when the lights are brightest.
Only, there are these rumblings. Rumblings that suggest Rodgers is not a great quarterback come postseason time. The narrative last week talked about Eli Manning’s success in Lambeau Field contrasted with Rodgers’ .500 record in the postseason in Green Bay.
There are three prevalent hypotheses about Aaron Rodgers in the postseason. First, he’s better in the regular season than in the playoffs. Second, the opposing quarterback in playoff games regularly outperforms Rodgers. Finally, he’s had poor performances in the NFC Championship.
Before we debunk these myths, you should understand how total quarterback rating works, as we’ll be using this metric as part of the defense against these claims.
A quick look at total quarterback rating (QBR)
ESPN’s QBR is an attempt to make a rating that encapsulates all aspects of a quarterback’s performance. Unlike passer rating, which only accounts for the passes a quarterback throws, QBR accounts for everything a quarterback does. This includes sacks taken, rushing yards, and whether or not his stats were accumulated during a pivotal portion of the game.
The closer a quarterback's QBR is to 100, the better the game. A score of 50 is considered average, and a score of 75 or better is considered Pro Bowl caliber.
Here’s an example: Last Sunday in the Wild Card, Aaron Rodgers had a QBR of 84.8 and Eli Manning had a QBR of 55.1. Rodgers' performance was one of the top of the 2016 season, while Manning had an average game.
Myth 1: Aaron Rodgers is a better regular season quarterback
Rodgers is one of the game’s best regular season quarterbacks. It’s a waste of digital ink to include his many regular season NFL records.
But the idea that he’s a better quarterback in September, October, November and December instead of January? The data disagrees.
Only twice has Rodgers’ postseason QBR failed to exceed his regular season QBR. In both instances, he was named the NFL MVP that season. In his career, he’s had a postseason QBR on average four points higher than his regular season QBR. When your regular season QBR is regularly in the top five, it’s difficult to make a drastic improvement in January. But Rodgers has done just that.
Experience in the postseason didn’t matter for him, either. He posted a 17 point improvement in 2009 and followed it up with a 14 point improvement in 2010 during the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV run. For the record, his QBR against the Giants this past Sunday was about 8 points higher than his regular season QBR.
Myth 2: Aaron Rodgers is outplayed in the playoffs
It’s hard to outplay an opposing quarterback when your defense allows your opponent to score points and rack up yardage at a record-breaking pace. The Packers defense has been on the wrong end of two of the NFL’s top 6 postseason performances by a quarterback – the Cardinals’ Kurt Warner in the 2009 Wild Card Round and the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick in the 2012 Divisional Round.
Despite both of those historic performances, across the entire postseason Rodgers produced QBR 13 points higher than Green Bay’s opponents, on average. If you discard both Warner and Kaepernick’s performances, Rodgers outperformed the Packers’ opponents by 22 points in Total QBR ratings.
There have been three games where Rodgers has had a significantly lower QBR than his counterpart. Two came at the hands of Colin Kaepernick, when defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ plans to stop the 49ers quarterback and the read option were non-existent. Take Kaepernick’s two playoff wins against Green Bay away, and Rodgers has put up a QBR 18 points greater than his counterpart.
Myth 3: Aaron Rodgers is bad in NFC Championship Games
While the NFC Championship Game has not been a collection of the finest performances from Aaron Rodgers, to say he’s played poorly in those contests is incorrect. His two NFC Championship appearances are the only playoff games in which Rodgers has thrown two interceptions.
It’s important to add context to both performances against the Bears and Seahawks. Evaluating Rodgers’ performance alone doesn’t tell the whole story.
In the 2010 postseason against the Bears, Jay Cutler continued his dreadful string of performances against the Packers until an injury knocked him out and backup Caleb Hanie played average.
The Seahawks’ Russell Wilson had the worst game of his career in the 2014 season’s NFC Championship. Wilson threw four interceptions and was sacked five times by the Packers defense.
His QBR in the NFC Championship is roughly 15 points lower than his QBR in both the Wild Card and Divisional Rounds, but that’s not including the other team’s quarterback. He may not have been perfect, but Rodgers has given the Packers a QBR 26 points higher than their opponents in his two NFC Championship appearances.
A 26 point margin is by far Rodgers’ largest advantage of any of the four rounds. Rodgers has a QBR 16 points higher than his opponents in the Wild Card and a 5 point advantage in the Divisional Round. Against Ben Roethlisberger in Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers outperformed the Steelers quarterback in QBR by 12 points.