The winners of playoff games in the NFL are often times determined by the team with the best quarterback, or the team with the quarterback playing the best down the stretch. No position impacts the game more, especially when talent level is mostly even among the league’s 12 playoff participants.
Here is a look at the quarterback matchup in all four of the NFL’s Wild Card Round games in 2015:
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
Brian Hoyer had a nice season for the Texans, throwing for 19 touchdowns with just seven interceptions over 11 games. He tallied five games with a passer rating over 100.0 and seven with two or more touchdowns. Still, the edge here goes to Alex Smith and the Chiefs. Smith completed a higher percentage of his passes, averaged more yards per attempt and finished with a higher passer rating than Hoyer. Smith also had just seven interceptions in 16 games. Maybe his biggest advantage over Hoyer is his experience in the postseason, where Smith has nine touchdowns and no interceptions over three playoff starts. Hoyer has never made a start in the postseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton vs. Ben Roethlisberger would have been a worthwhile discussion, especially with Dalton playing so well in 2015. But with Dalton likely out and AJ McCarron expected to start, the pick here is an easy one. Roethlisberger averaged a league-high 328 passing yards per game this season, and he’s about to make his 16th career playoff start. The Steelers are 10-5 when he starts in the postseason, although Pittsburgh hasn’t been victorious since 2010. McCarron won two National Championships as the starting quarterback at Alabama, but winning in the postseason—and snapping Cincinnati’s 25-year playoff win drought—is a much bigger task.
Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings
Teddy Bridgewater is a nice young quarterback for the Vikings, but he can’t match Russell Wilson and what he brings to the table for Seattle. After taking the Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowls, Wilson exploded in 2015, throwing for 4,024 yards and 34 touchdowns and registering the league’s top passer rating at 110.1. He also has eight playoff starts and a 97.8 career passer rating in the postseason. Bridgewater threw 14 touchdowns in 2015—becoming just the 12th quarterback to start 16 games and threw fewer than 15 in a single season since 2000—and he’ll be making his first career playoff start on Sunday. In the first meeting between these two back in Week 13, Wilson produced four touchdowns and over 300 yards of total offense, while Bridgewater was held to 118 yards passing.
Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins
There’s two ways to look at this quarterback matchup. You can take the long approach, in which Aaron Rodgers’ career—which includes two NFL MVPs, a Super Bowl MVP and a fair argument as the most efficient quarterback in NFL history—dwarfs what Kirk Cousins has accomplished in his four years in Washington. But there’s also the short view, which tells a different, more controversial story. The numbers say Cousins outplayed Rodgers in 2015. He posted a higher completion percentage, more yards per attempt and a higher passer rating. Cousins finished the season with six straight games with a passer rating over 100.0, while Rodgers had just four such games all year. Rodgers is the far more talented quarterback, but Cousins is the more likely quarterback to play well on Sunday.