Tom Brady and the New England Patriots currently have a 40-44 percent chance to win Super Bowl LII according to the slightly varying advanced metrics at Football Outsiders, ESPN and FiveThirtyEight. So, one of the three aforementioned quarterbacks, all targets for scorn throughout their respective careers, could soon be awkwardly staring into a camera to reveal his plans to go to Disney World.
Below is a look at how each non-GOAT quarterback left in the playoffs can make it happen:
The case for Blake Bortles, Super Bowl champion
His performance in Pittsburgh was not a fluke: The condescending reaction to Bortles' crisp outing against the Steelers was partly a reflection of how the 25-year-old looked in his two previous rough efforts against the Titansand Bills. Yet last Sunday's 45-point explosion by the Jaguars was absolutely in line with the team's makeup.
Jacksonville has scored 30-plus points in five of its last seven games, with Bortles making a number of high-level throws during a three-game hot streak to start December. He has shown repeatedly that he's capable of a big performance in any given week. (He had five regular-season games that I graded out higher than the Steelers win.) Bortles' streakiness mirrors the offense around him. When he's good, like his play-caller and offensive line, he tends to be very good. He only needs to stay hot for two more games to join Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson as unlikely champions.
His coaches know when to be aggressive: There was understandable concern after Bortles couldn't hit a simple screen pass against the Bills. Jacksonville coaches barely allowed him to throw the ball down the field in that game, but the Jaguars didn't need to do much on offense against Buffalo. That was reflected in the game plan.
After offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett helped Bortles get comfortable in Pittsburgh with max protection and early throws to wide-open receivers, the Jaguars did an excellent job allowing Bortles to let it rip.
In a game of dramatic swings, there was no bigger play than Bortles' pretty, 45-yard toss to Keelan Cole early in the fourth quarter, a purposeful haymaker that Bortles landed. It was so telling that Bortles made this throw just two plays after trying to hit Marqise Lee on a similar bomb. In the biggest moments of their season, Jaguars coaches understood they were in a shootout and asked Bortles to win the game. He responded with an excellent fourth quarter.
He's the most athletic quarterback left: When Bortles couldn't shoot straight against the Bills, he out-rushed LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette. Bortles rushed for 35 yards more against the Steelers. He's the least refined of the remaining quarterbacks, but his legs and big arm give him a chance if the rest of the team helps out ...
His teammates lift him up: This is true of any quarterback, but especially of this rag-tag trio trying to steal Brady's sunshine. Bortles only had to throw one moderately difficult pass before the Jaguars led 14-0 in Pittsburgh on the strength of their running game, defense and play-calling. Jacksonville's ferocious defensive front has given Bortles extra possessions and points all season. The Jaguars' erratic offensive line allowed Bortles to get to his fourth read on a crucial third-down swing pass to T.J. Yeldon late against Pittsburgh.
Giving all the credit to the line, however, doesn't recognize how Bortles did get to his fourth read while staying calm in the pocket. How he looked off a safety on a critical third-and-long connection to Lee. How he threw to Dede Westbrook's back shoulder in the red zone, away from coverage and potential trouble. None of those plays would have happened a year ago.
The case for Case Keenum, Super Bowl champion
There are pots of gold at the end of his rainbows: NFL Network's Bucky Brooks warned me last week that eventually a leprechaun would come to steal the gold that has come at the end of Keenum's trademark rainbow touch passes. I thought of Bucky after Saints rookie Marcus Williams picked off Keenum's ill-considered eephus in the third quarter, kick-starting the Saints' comeback.
Keenum's willingness to make such unconventional throws has ultimately been an asset. His very next throw after the ugly pick was a gorgeous teardrop pass to Jarius Wright for 27 yards that set up a field goal. He completed one red-zone pass that had Troy Aikman namechecking Brett Favre. With under two minutes left, Keenum threw a preposterous 24-yard toss over Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore's head to Adam Thielen to set up a go-ahead field goal. Keenum did two hop-steps to the right on the throw and took the shot like a fall-away jumper for no particular reason, the type of throw that drives ex-scouts like Bucky -- and probably some of Keenum's coaches -- insane. But he completed the pass and showed no hesitation in making it. What has occasionally made Keenum a liability as a pro is also what makes him great.
There are no 50-50 balls with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen: There are few low-percentage throws when Keenum looks to the best starting wideout tandem in football. Throwing jump balls on the 2013 Texans or 2015 Rams doesn't necessarily work, but giving Thielen and Diggs a chance to make a play is smart business. Sunday's win highlighted just how much this receiving duo can tilt a game. One high-pointed beauty on third-and-long by Thielen over Lattimore led to a touchdown against New Orleans. (Thielen was the first receiver to make Lattimore look mortal all season.)
Keenum buys time with the best of them: NFL scouts underrated Keenum's pocket movement when they allowed him to go undrafted in 2012. When analysts credit Keenum's "moxie," I think they are really crediting his ability to sense pressure and create space to throw in the pocket. This is especially crucial for a player who was measured at under 6-foot-1 at the NFL Scouting Combine. Keenum's ability to buy time is a skill that many quarterbacks never develop. He has done an excellent job all season stepping up in the pocket -- or to the side -- to find throwing lanes.
Shurmur displays a great feel of when to stay conservative, like when the Vikings rode their running game to an early lead against New Orleans. Minnesota has adjusted its scheme significantly since Sam Bradford's run in 2016 because of Keenum and a vastly improved offensive line. Keenum is a key part, but still just a part of an incredibly balanced team that also includes one of the best, most cohesive defenses in football.
The Minnesota Miracle was just the beginning: What happened Sunday in U.S. Bank Stadium was inexplicable and beautiful. It was a reminder of why we watch sports. It made a VikingsSuper Bowl appearance with Keenum as the unlikely centerpiece almost feel like an inevitability. A moment like that couldn't possibly be a prelude to losing to Nick Foles' Eagles. Could it?
The case for Nick Foles, Super Bowl champion
He should be protected: Give any NFL quarterback a clean pocket with little pressure and he can complete passes. Foles' arm is not the reason he was a backup this season. It's his often-deliberate decision-making process and movement in the pocket, two weaknesses that can be covered up by great pass protection and defined reads.
He's getting great coaching: Doug Pederson leaned on some of Foles' success in Kelly's offense by using run-pass options to effectively move the ball in the second half against Atlanta. The Eagles also expertly used screen passes and short throws near the line of scrimmage to stay in manageable down-and-distance situations, as Danny Kelly (No relation to Chip, probably) noted in a smart column on The Ringer this week.
The same exact conservative approach likely won't work against the Vikings this week, but Pederson has belief as an excellent weekly game plan coach, like his mentor Andy Reid. Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is so respected for his work that he's getting head-coaching interviews. Philadelphia's offense quietly shape-shifted on a weekly basis with Carson Wentz behind center, highlighting different strengths depending on the vulnerabilities of each opponent. Foles might just be a "system" QB, but it's a great system that only needs one more home win to make the Super Bowl.
Because it's so unlikely: When I thought of this column, Foles was easily the most difficult quarterback to imagine on a podium with confetti stuck in his hair, accepting a trophy from Roger Goodell. But maybe that's the point.
Despite the title of this weekly column, the quarterback is only a part of the ultimate team sport. This happens to be a season where three top-five defenses have made the final four, and that's largely why these teams are still playing.
Absolutely no one predicted Foles, Keenum and Bortles starting games at this advanced stage of the season. Trying to predict what will happen in the NFL is an endlessly humbling process that appears to barely humble anyone in a football cognoscenti built on misplaced certainty. In this NFL season of upheaval defined by the missing players, perhaps the Eagles winning their first Super BowlwithoutCarson Wentz is the ending we deserve.
Check the Air Index each week to see which quarterbacks are delivering at the top of their game, just like FedEx Ground delivers with fast and affordable shipping.