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A Look At The Quarterback Matchups For The NFL Conference Championship Games


On Sunday, Tom Brady will step onto a football field for yet another shot at taking his team, the New England Patriots, to the Super Bowl. Pretty remarkable that a 41-year-old quarterback is still playing at Super Bowl-quality level, especially in a sport as physically demanding and damaging as pro football. Yet on the other side of the bracket is another quarterback, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, who turned 40 just this week. Happy birthday, Drew.

Well, adding to the intrigue, these two veterans are facing off against two quarterbacks young enough to, well, to be their sons. Will experience win out or will this weekend mark a passing of the torch?

Robert Mays of The Ringer joins us via Skype to help us break this down. Hey, Robert.

ROBERT MAYS: How are you?

KELLY: I am well, thank you. So what does it say about Tom Brady and Drew Brees that they are still making it into the championship round in their 40s?

MAYS: I think it says a lot just about how historic their talent is. I mean, they are two of the better quarterbacks to ever come along just from a skill perspective. But it also says a lot about the infrastructure of the two organizations they play for. Drew Brees has spent 13 seasons with his head coach, Sean Payton. Tom Brady's spent his entire career with Bill Belichick. And I think that their ability to adapt to new versions of the game, both on a coaching level and a quarterback level, has allowed them to withstand.

KELLY: All right. So just to lay out the landscape for people who are not fully immersed in this. We've got Tom Brady and the Patriots who will be playing the Kansas City Chiefs. Their quarterback is Patrick Mahomes. Meanwhile, the Saints are playing the LA Rams with quarterback Jared Goff. Both Goff and Mahomes are in their early 20s, we should say. And they have both been exceptional all season long. Do you think we're looking at heirs to the throne?

MAYS: I think with Mahomes, we absolutely are. In my opinion, he is the most talented quarterback outside of maybe Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre, both of whom played for the Packers, that I have seen in my lifetime. His arm strength, his accuracy, his ability to create plays when they don't seem to be there. On Jared Goff's side, he was the No. 1 pick in the draft for a reason. His ability to throw the ball accurately down the field is very impressive.

KELLY: May I point out that a lot of people, frankly, are tired of watching the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl, win the Super Bowl. Tom Brady's going for his sixth Super Bowl ring here. What are the chances he'll get there?

MAYS: I think they're very good. And the Chiefs are a phenomenal team, and they have just been a blast to watch all season. I feel like they've injected life into the sport. In a weird way, the Patriots kind of suck life out of it because people do have that fatigue. But they are so good at understanding different situations, their ability to hone in on high-leverage spots in the game, whether it's close to the goal line or late in the half, they're just so good at execution.

KELLY: These are both games that are rematches of games we saw play out in a regular season, really good, really interesting games from the regular season. Is that right? Does that inform how you think they might go this weekend?

MAYS: Patriots knocked off the Chiefs in what might have been the most exciting game in the NFL outside of the Chiefs-Rams game a couple weeks later. And that game was in New England, where the Patriots have been historically effective. Now they travel to a hostile environment. The Chiefs defense plays much, much better at home. They seem energized by that crowd. So I think they're going to have a much easier time stopping the Patriots than they did earlier this season.

With the Saints and the Rams, it's in the same setting. We're back in New Orleans. We're back in that dome where the Saints play so well. So I feel like the Saints are going to have that same advantage they had earlier in the season. I think the result there is going to be pretty similar.

KELLY: So I got to ask, who's your money on - to win the Super Bowl?

MAYS: I think it's the Saints and the Chiefs are going to get there. And I just feel like, right now, the Saints are complete. They have a much better defense than the Chiefs do. In the end, I think that Drew Brees gets his second one. He was remarkable all season. And I feel like after this game ends, we'll talk about him in the same breath that we talk about Peyton Manning, Tom Brady as the best two or three, four quarterbacks to ever play the game.

KELLY: Thank you, Robert.

MAYS: Thank you.

KELLY: That's Robert Mays with some predictions for the Super Bowl, which will be played on February 3. Mays writes about football for the website The Ringer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.