Cam Newton is very close to being only the second quarterback in NFL history to go 16-0 in a regular season with Greg Olsen, Ted Ginn and Jerricho Cotchery as his top passing targets.

Tom Brady continues to lose running back after running back, receiver after receiver, lineman after lineman, and it hasn’t mattered. New England is still tied for the second-best record in the NFL and streaking toward home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

Carson Palmer already has 4,000 yards passing for the Cardinals… after Week 14. And an NFC Championship shootout with Newton in Charlotte may be imminent.

The message out of Pittsburgh the last two weeks is clear: be afraid of Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Be very afraid.

Aaron Rodgers might not be the exact same Aaron Rodgers we’ve seen in recent years, but he’s remembering how to be that guy just in time for the Green Bay Packers to re-take the NFC North Division lead with a chance to clinch it at home against Minnesota New Year’s weekend.

Russell Wilson has won four straight games and may not lose again until January, perhaps longer unless Palmer and Co. have anything to say about it during Week 17 in Arizona.

Are you sensing the pattern yet?

The name of this year’s playoff game will be quarterbacks: who is healthy, who is competent under the brightest lights, and — most importantly — who is hot at the right time?

The AFC playoff race will not be sorted out by A.J. McCarron, Matt Hasselbeck, Brian Hoyer or Brock Osweiler. Cincinnati and Denver were move viable options to survive the gauntlet in the first half of the season because their starting quarterbacks were healthy and their defenses were good enough to cover up any hiccups. Houston and Indianapolis are only alive because, unfortunately, someone HAS to win the compellingly below average AFC South, whether we all like it or not.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has been good, even really good the past few weeks, but look at the Jets wins (Cleveland, at Indianapolis, at Miami, Washington, Jacksonville, Miami, Giants, Tennessee) and it’s easy to tell how they got to 8-5. They still may not survive New England and the Buffalo Bills in back-to-back meetings to end the season.

Oh, and then there’s Alex Smith, who is leading the Chiefs on a seven-game win streak by simply not being worse than the other guy. Hard to go 10 games between interceptions without anything to show for it. And don’t rule out three more wins (at Baltimore, Cleveland, Oakland) to push the Broncos and maybe steal the AFC West from under their noses.

By the way, did you notice I said nothing about Sam Bradford, Kirk Cousins or Eli Manning? Because none of them matter. The NFC East division winner is merely a lamb that will be led to slaughter on their own home field in the Wild Card round.

The old adage of “defense wins championships” hasn’t changed in decades. This playoff race will be easier than ever for the better defense that can pressure, better and confuse the opposing quarterbacks into submission.

But the teams that survive and advance will be the ones whose signal callers aren’t fazed by the same three elements of opposition.

If I’m picking my Wild Card teams, I’m foregoing teams and just picking these four names: Ben, Alex, Teddy (Bridgewater) and Russell. That’s all you’ll need to sort it all out. But once those four are finally on the other side of the gate, the last man standing is anyone’s guess.

That’s today’s modern NFL: your quarterback gets you in the dance, but then you need to keep going until the music stops.

Only six more weeks until we see the final two left to tango.

Posted in Pittsburgh Steelers