Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will make his first playoff start on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. That got me thinking about what we might expect from Rodgers.
Sure, it’s reasonable to think Rodgers will go out, be his unflappable self and throw for 250 yards and two touchdowns. However, the real question is how far can we expect Rodgers to lead the Packers in the playoffs at this point in his career?
The question brought me back to the last time a young gunslinger lead the Packers into the playoffs. That guy, of course, was Brett Favre.
Favre’s first playoff appearance came in his second year as the Packers starting quarterback, just like Rodgers. It followed the 1993 season, where the Packers finished 9-7 and earned a wild card berth.
Rodgers, of course, led the Packers to a wild card berth this season, and the similarities don’t stop there. Both quarterbacks guided the Packers to 17 wins as a starter in their first two seasons. Favre’s record as a starter was 17-12. Rodgers’ is 17-15. Both quarterbacks made the Pro Bowl after their second season as a starter, although Favre also made it after his first (1992).
The reason I bring this up isn’t necessarily to point out the eerie similarities between the two quarterbacks, it’s to get a feeling for what we can expect in the playoffs.
Much like Favre’s Packers of the early 90s, Rodgers’ Packers of today are a young team on the ascent led by a quarterback with a similar career trajectory. So, while we’d all love for the Packers to win the Super Bowl this year, it stands to reason this year’s Packers will have a similar playoff showing to Favre’s first playoff team and Rodgers – getting his first taste of playoff action – will have a similar showing to Favre (with maybe a few less interceptions).
In the 1994 wild card game, the Packers faced the NFC Central champion Detroit Lions, who were 10-6. The Lions weren’t particularly outstanding in any facet of the game, but they did have Barry Sanders, who rushed for 1,115 yards that season. The Lions and the Packers split their season series.
When the two teams met in the playoffs, the Packers pulled out a 28-24 victory. Favre threw for 204 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. All three touchdowns went to Sterling Sharpe, who had 101 yards receiving on the day.
The Packers moved on to face the Dallas Cowboys, who won the NFC East at 12-4 and would go on to win the Super Bowl. Although the series would develop into one of the best rivalries of the 90s, this was, at the time, a Dallas team in its prime lead by Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.
While Favre threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns, he also tossed two interceptions and the Packers lost 27-17. In fact, Favre couldn’t get much done until the game was out of hand. The Packers first touchdown – a 13-yard toss to Robert Brooks – didn’t come until the third quarter. The score was 24-3 in favor of the Cowboys.
None of this is to suggest that Rodgers will mirror Favre’s performance. Hell, I doubt Rodgers will throw three interceptions if he plays four games in this postseason.
What I think can be taken from it is this. If Rodgers leads the Packers to a win in Arizona and the team plays a good game against the Saints or (gasp!) Vikings in the second round of the playoffs, this should be considered a good season and a building block for both the team and Rodgers.
In Favre’s tenure, it took the Packers two more seasons to reach the NFC Championship. The following season they won the Super Bowl.