Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark recently said "there's nobody better" than Tom Brady. That's quite a statement to make in a league stacked with elite quarterback talent, from long-established vets like Brady and Peyton Manning to stars in their prime like Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan to up-and-comers like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III to game-changers like Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick. Which raises the question: If you needed to pick just one -- if you needed to win a game today -- which quarterback would you want leading your team?
Rodgers is the easy answerThe answer is Aaron Rodgers. The answer is always Aaron Rodgers. He is the best quarterback in the game, bar none. I want him in the first quarter, to get me on the scoreboard. I want him to be Mr. Clutch in the fourth quarter. And having Rodgers means my team is better than yours. I'm smarter than you. I won. You lost.
No one brings it quite like Big BenThe grass is always greener for Ryan Clark. How soon he seems to have forgotten that the shiny ring he owns is due to Ben Roethlisberger's heroics in Super Bowl XLIII. Big Ben threaded the needle on one of the most incredible drives in Super Bowl history.
There might be prettier quarterbacks, but if we're talking about winning one game, I don't want pretty, I want crafty. Simply put, no QB in the league can do more with less better than Roethlisberger. On any given play, Big Ben can turn nothing into something.
Brady has the track record -- and makes his teammates betterIf I had to win one game, I would want Tom Brady at the helm. The former league MVP has a proven track record of being outstanding in big games; he would be undaunted by such a "win or go home" scenario. Additionally, he is viewed as a clutch performer by his peers.
The presence of a proven winner in the huddle inspires the group and results in a better overall effort from the team. As a guy who has seen that effect first-hand, I would unquestionably want the best QB in the game to guide my team in this situation. Therefore, give me Brady -- and put our names on the trophy.
Rodgers is a proven winner who does everythingYou could certainly choose a number of signal-callers in the NFL to be your "one-game quarterback," but I'm going with Aaron Rodgers. He can make all the throws, truly stretching the field with his arm. He can make plays outside the pocket with his legs and through the air. He is better than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in all of those areas.
Rodgers has won games under pressure, including a Super Bowl. He has had to operate without much in the way of a running game or pass protection over the past few years. He does have a good group of receivers, but no Hall of Famers. He reads the defense very well, and he spreads the ball around. The bottom line is, he threatens all levels of the defense on every play.
When the pressure's on, Flacco's the manWhat kind of game do you want to win? If you want to dominate a low-stakes mid-October skirmish with an overmatched opponent, there is no better quarterback than Peyton Manning. Seriously, if we're going up against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 10, give me Manning. He'll toss six touchdown passes and look smashing doing it.
But if we're talking playoffs, Manning is not the guy.
In that scenario, the only choice would be Joe Flacco. It's not a sexy pick. He doesn't do commercials. His dad wasn't an NFL player. He's not going to help your fantasy team. Nobody will give him the respect he deserves. But I'll stand by the numbers, and they say "Flacco." He's posted a passer rating of 95 or better in seven of his past eight playoff games -- six of which were on the road. His run through the AFC last season speaks for itself. How can you go with anybody else?
No easy answer now -- but Luck might be the guy somedaySo wait, is Tom Brady the best, or does he see ghosts? While the former part of that question used to be accurate, the latter part has been more true about him since he hurt his knee. So let's end the drama early. There's no quarterback who we can say for certain will win a game today. Really, think about it. There's no solid answer, no player whose name you can say with confidence.
Three players are the candidates for this honor. Brady has lost a lot of big ones over the past four years. Peyton Manning continues to be "one win, one loss" when the playoffs start. Aaron Rodgers is the closest thing, but ever since he won the Super Bowl, he's been up-and-down in the playoffs -- which the Packers have been leaving early. If any of these players were in a home playoff game against Team X, could you say, "Oh, they win this game, easy"? Nope. As for the rest of the up-and-comers, no one else has a résumé that can be judged fairly yet. But there is a possibility on the horizon.
As a rookie, Andrew Luck brought the Indianapolis Colts back from behind numerous times last season, including an epic 35-33 win over the Detroit Lions during which he scored a touchdown on the final play of the game. He seems to have that end-of-game mojo that will see him landing atop lists like these for a long time. But can he win any one game right now? No.
If we were in a "Terminator 2"-style situation, with Schwarzenegger threatening me with a grenade over a vat of molten steel, and he were to ask me, "Vich quarterback can vin you vun game?" my answer would be "No one! But maybe in the future, Luck can be the kind of ..." And then he'd hit me with the grenade, drop me into the vat and start turning into a bunch of old Jets quarterbacks of the past before I melted away.