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Will Aaron Rodgers finally return to the Super Bowl?

He’s perhaps the most talented quarterback ever, but not the most successful when it comes to the games that matter most

Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers smiles as he leaves the field after a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oct. 3, 2021.
Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers smiles as he leaves the field after a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis.
Mike Roemer, Associated Press

As the NFL playoffs begin, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are again ranked among the favorites. Will they be foiled once more?

It’s tempting to say the Packers have a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback, except they’ve had two of them, consecutively — Brett Favre being the other — and they won only one Super Bowl with each of them.

Will Rodgers win another one? He and the Packers haven’t returned to the Super Bowl since 2010, when they manhandled the Steelers. They lost in the conference championship game four times — 2014, 2016, 2019 and 2020.

At 38 years old, Rodgers is still on top of his game and should claim his fourth MVP trophy this season. He has the second highest career pass efficiency mark in history (No. 1 for anyone who has played longer than five seasons). He is perhaps the single-most talented quarterback ever — even more talented than Tom Brady — but he is not the most successful. He has gone 11 years without returning to the Super Bowl stage.

The popular notion is to blame Rodgers’ supporting cast for the team’s failure to win another title — the same thing fans and media tend to do when LeBron James strikes out — but the numbers don’t support it.

Rodgers has been a different quarterback in the big postseason games (let’s define “big” as the conference championship and Super Bowl). He has appeared in five conference championships and won one of them — the first one, in 2010. Rodgers’ performance in those games has rarely been even close to his performance in the regular season — his passer rating: 83.7 (the NFL average is 88.8).

In five conference championship games he has thrown a total of nine touchdown passes and eight interceptions — this from a quarterback who hasn’t topped eight interceptions for an entire 16-game regular season for 11 years. He is one loss away from setting the record for most losses by a quarterback in the conference title game.

Donovan McNabb and Ken Stabler were also 1-4 in such games. Favre was 2-3, Joe Montana 4-3, Drew Brees 1-2, Dan Marino 1-2, Dan Fouts 0-2. (Steve Young is listed as having a 3-4 record in the NFC championship game, but he started only four of those games and won three of them.)

The postseason is a different animal than the regular season. It can crush some of the game’s best quarterbacks. Peyton Manning and John Elway are considered among the best quarterbacks of all time (it’s a complete mystery why Elway is rated so highly, as you’ll see), but they stumbled in the playoffs.

Elway, the most overrated quarterback this side of Joe Namath, threw 27 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions in 22 playoff games and had a passer rating of only 79.7 (his overall career rating was only 79.9). He was even worse in the five Super Bowls in which he played, throwing for a total of 1,128 yards, three touchdowns and eight interceptions, which added up to a pass efficiency rating of 59.3 (remember, an average rating is 88.8).

Peyton Manning produced similar results. He played in 27 playoff games (winning 14) and threw 40 touchdown passes and 25 interceptions for a passer rating of 87.4. In four Super Bowl appearances, he threw for a modest 1,001 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. He had a fine career passer rating of 96.5, but his Super Bowl rating was 77.4. He lost his first two Super Bowls and won the last two, thanks to defense and a running game.

Rodgers is surrounded by a strong team this season, as he was a year ago. The Packers boast two superb running backs, a great receiver, a stout offensive line and finally a strong defense. Is this the year he finally returns to the Super Bowl?