As a rookie kick returner for the Buffalo Bills back in 1994, I remember sitting in the locker room and listening to Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith discuss the difference between the NFL playoffs and the regular season. Each pointed out how the game is much faster and more intense in the postseason, due to the urgency created by the "win or go home" implications of the single-elimination tournament. With the Bills coming off four straight Super Bowl losses when I joined the team, I could sense the pressure mounting on the four future Hall of Famers to finally give Buffalo a Lombardi Trophy.
They never did accomplish that goal, but their words of wisdom regarding the ramped-up atmosphere of the NFL playoffs always stuck with me. The postseason is indeed a whole different animal. That's what makes it so thrilling, for players and fans alike. With a searing national spotlight focused on every single playoff game, it's an electric environment featuring the highest of stakes. Legacies rise and fall over the span of one game -- or even one play.
Poring over the Divisional Round field, I see plenty of players, coaches and executives under immense pressure to perform. The race for the ring causes some to flourish, others to flatline. Having taken some time to assess each of the eight remaining teams, I'm ready to answer the following question:
Who needs a Super Bowl LVI win the MOST?
These are the six individuals who stand out to me ...
After creating a year-long soap opera in Green Bay with countless headlines, cryptic comments and controversial antics, Rodgers needs to cap off the 2021 season with a Super Bowl win to change the narrative surrounding his legacy. While the soon-to-be four-time MVP is a lock to wear a gold jacket down the road, Rodgers is viewed as a bit of an underachiever due to his individual accomplishments failing to translate into extraordinary team success. Yes, Rodgers has won a Super Bowl, but that occurred 11 years ago -- and it's the only time in his career that he's even made it to the Lombardi Trophy game. So, while many people tout Rodgers as one of the best to ever do it at the game's most important position, his ring count clearly pales in comparison to that of Tom Brady. Furthermore, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger are three other contemporaries with multiple titles, giving them more championship juice than Mr. Rodgers.
Now, Rodgers has guided the Packers to the past two NFC title games. In fact, he's reached Championship Sunday in four of the last seven seasons. But he just hasn't been able to get over the hump and return to the sport's biggest stage. Falling short once again would prompt critics to take a closer look at why he has been unable to get the job done in the playoffs despite his immense arm talent and savvy. Although Rodgers' supporters tend to pin the blame on others (the coaching staff, the front office, the supporting cast), the onus is on No. 12 to put the "title" back in Titletown. With Green Bay owning the NFC's No. 1 seed for the second consecutive season, Rodgers must deliver. If he falls short again, the postseason shortcomings will increasingly taint his overall legacy.