Memo to NFL teams: Want to get to the Super Bowl?
Get a good quarterback.
That might be ridiculously obvious, but seldom has the power of the passer been more on display than this postseason.
Six of the eight remaining quarterbacks finished the regular season ranked among the top 10 in passer rating: New Orleans' Drew Brees, Minnesota's Brett Favre, San Diego's Philip Rivers, Indianapolis' Peyton Manning, Dallas' Tony Romo and Arizona's Kurt Warner.
Today's divisional playoff games feature two quarterbacks with Hall of Fame credentials (Manning and Warner), one headed that way (Brees), and Baltimore's Joe Flacco, who last season became the only rookie quarterback to win two playoff games.
"At one time, and it wasn't so long ago, I was being asked, 'Hey, where have all the great quarterbacks gone?' " said Troy Aikman, Hall of Fame quarterback for the Cowboys and now a Fox analyst. "Now, you say, 'Man, there are a lot of them out there, and they're playing at a high level.' "
* Prior to this season, the record for 4,000-yard passers in a season was seven. There were 10 this season, and half of those are still playing -- Brees, Manning, Favre, Rivers and Romo.
* Three of the remaining quarterbacks -- Manning, Favre and Warner -- have won both a most-valuable-player award and Super Bowl MVP.
* Six of the NFL-record 12 quarterbacks to throw for at least 25 touchdowns in a season are still playing: Brees, Manning, Favre, Rivers, Romo and Warner.
* Only four rookie quarterbacks have won a playoff game in the Super Bowl era, and two of them are currently playing in this postseason -- Flacco and Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets. Of course, both of those players have benefited from outstanding defenses.
Statisticians might tell you that the NFL is a passing league, quarterback is the most important position on the field, and it's only natural that the best quarterbacks would still be around. It's also notable that the original field of 12 playoff teams also included New England's Tom Brady, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, Cincinnati's Carson Palmer and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb.
"The world keeps spinning in the NFL, but it always rotates around the quarterback position," NBC's Cris Collinsworth said.
"You couldn't put a price on Peyton. What would it take to give up Peyton Manning? It's almost laughable to even consider that. There's just no other position like it."
Warner and Rodgers reminded people of that last Sunday, each lighting up the opposing defense in a 51-45 overtime shootout, the highest-scoring playoff game in history.
The two offenses combined for 1,024 yards (tied for third most in postseason history) and 62 first downs (Green Bay 32, Arizona 30), breaking the record of 59 set in a 1981 divisional game between San Diego and Miami.
Today's first game features the 38-year-old Warner, who last week further strengthened his case for Canton. He said after the Green Bay game that he thinks about retirement all the time but won't make that decision until after the season, when he can be more clinical and less emotional about it.
"The one thing I can say is, come playoffs I always have a lot more fun," he told New Orleans reporters in a conference call.
"There's something special about it. It's really the reason you play the game -- or that I play the game. I could care less about the first 16 [games] as long as you'd let me in the playoffs. It's the ultimate competition and to me, that's fun; that's what this game is all about."
The Saints have a star of their own in Brees, who set an NFL single-season record by completing 70.6% of his passes. He led the Saints to a franchise-record 13 victories, throwing for 4,388 yards and more than three times as many touchdowns (34) as interceptions (11).
In the night game, the Colts play host to Baltimore, and fans in Indianapolis have pinned their hopes on Manning. It will be the Colts' first home game since pulling a healthy Manning in the third quarter of a game against the Jets. To the anger and frustration of their fans, the Colts -- who were 14-0 at the time -- passed on the chance for a perfect season in hopes of keeping Manning healthy for the playoffs.
Their rationale? Without a great quarterback, they're just another team.