01.12.13

Guide to NFL Divisional Round: Quarterbacks, Wives, and Girlfriends

Pro football’s playoffs hit the divisional do-or-die this weekend. A look at what the remaining teams bring to the games—including the all-important significant others in the stands.

The NFL divisional round is a nightmare for the football aficionado’s spouse. Marquee quarterback showdowns, the arrival of high-caliber teams who earned byes, the end of maniacal stats-driven fantasy-football watching, prime weekend time slots suddenly off-limits for dinner reservations. But there’s not a single minute of action to be missed.

As New England’s Tom Brady circa 2001 would attest, there's a Friday Night Lights Matt Saracen in every sorry backup left suited up and sitting on the bench. But conventional wisdom is that you need a star quarterback to win. An unscientific analysis of the last 10 Super Bowl champions reveals the importance of big-money, big-name men: they are good. On the list: Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Brady, and Brad Johnson. You probably recognize all but one of those names.

And, as an eager ESPN announcer pointed out about Alabama’s quarterback in the national championship game: “Wow, I’m tellin’ ya, you quarterbacks—you get all the good-lookin’ women. Wow! What a beautiful woman.”

Here, a preview of the quarterback matchups, and a brief and probably unnecessary history of the woman behind each guy.

Baltimore Ravens (10–6) @ Denver Broncos (13–3), Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS

NFL contrarians refer to the Ravens’ Joe Flacco (season: 3,817 passing yards, 22 touchdowns) as an elite quarterback who’s led Baltimore to winning seasons. This myth (explained by Grantland’s Bill Barnwell) hides the reality: Flacco’s a comically overrated player who hands off to talented running back Ray Rice. Flacco’s had some of the league’s best defenses, led by Ray Lewis, boosting his squad. He does have some momentum though: last week “Flacblow” (coined by the same people who brought you the Cincinnati “Bungles”) had a stellar game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Denver, of course, has Peyton Manning (4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns). He’s recovered from having two vertebrae in his neck fused together and missing the 2011 season to put up MVP numbers.

Significant others: Flacco’s wife, Dana, played the center position in this really sweet (and horribly awkward) football-themed photo of his wedding party. He has one daughter. Manning, 36, met his wife, Ashley, before his freshman year in college. They married in 2001, and they have twins.

What’ll probably happen: The last time these two teams met in December, the Broncos won pretty easily. Peyton’s too good. Look out, New England.

Some of the tweets: “Oh your chick is coming to town? Lol I can’t deal… done being the good guy” and “You want groupies rather than a true honest person hmmm interesting.”

Green Bay Packers (11–5) @ San Francisco 49ers (11–4–1), Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, Fox

You’d think a quarterback rating of 104.1, a league-best 70 percent completion percentage, and a 19–5–1 record under his head coach would secure Alex Smith’s (1,737 yards, 13 touchdowns) job in San Francisco. Not so much. A concussion in week six knocked out the starter and ushered in second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick (1,814 yards, 10 touchdowns). Kaepernick, apparently brimming with confidence since the fourth grade, is known for his tattoos and relatively infinite upside. Smith, meanwhile, usually finds himself on the sideline, and cameras tend to zoom in on his face when Kaepernick plays well—or when he plays poorly.

The Packers have the guy who was actually drafted after Smith: Aaron Rodgers (4,295 yards, 39 touchdowns), who has had another stellar year.

Significant others: Smith, 28, has a child with his wife, Elizabeth, a former Oakland Raiders cheerleader. It’s unclear if Rodgers, 29, who met his girlfriend Destiny at church camp 10 years ago, is or isn’t engaged.

The real story here is the drama for Kaepernick. Sketchy blogs, accusing the 25-year-old of an inflated ego after landing his starting gig, reported that his “now ex-girlfriend” took to Twitter in December after he dumped her (though it’s unclear when the break happened). Some of the tweets: “Oh your chick is coming to town? Lol I can’t deal… done being the good guy” and “You want groupies rather than a true honest person hmmm interesting.” It’s unclear when the relationship was though, but some pictures suggest that it did exist in some form.

What’ll probably happen: This is a rematch from week one, when the 49ers destroyed the Packers. But that was when the San Francisco was lead by Smith. New quarterback, same outcome. This isn’t Lambeau Field.

Seattle Seahawks (11–5) @ Atlanta Falcons (13–3), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Matt Ryan (4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns): one of the best in the league or classic choke artist? The Falcons’ quarterback is still looking for his first playoff win. Will the fourth time be the charm? If not, what’s arguably the best nickname in the NFL, “Matty Ice,” may just have to be revoked. Then again, it’s probably a bit unfair that his “legacy” may hinge on this one game.

Somehow, despite winning the game last week, the Seahawks’ rookie QB Russell Wilson (3,118 yards, 26 touchdowns) was still overshadowed by RG3 and his knee. After a slow start though, Wilson roared back, and the Seahawks just keep getting better.

Significant others: Ryan, 27, is about as apple pie as it gets. He’s been married to his wife, Sarah, since 2011. Meanwhile, Wilson, 24, tied the knot with wife Ashton last year (she’s featured in his Twitter picture). He’s a devout Christian who posts a daily Bible verse on the microblogging site as well. Bet you didn’t know that.

What’ll probably happen: The Seahawks are good, but it’s time for the iceman to make a splash.

Houston Texans  (12–4) @ New England Patriots (12–4), Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Matt Schaub (4,008 yards, 22 touchdowns) torched the Cincinnati Bengals last week for ... zero touchdowns. This just can’t go on. It’s been more than a month since Schaub threw a score into the end zone. For what seemed like the first time in months, he smiled last week after throwing for a first down that would ultimately end the game.

On the other end of the spectrum is New England’s Tom Brady (4,827 yards, 34 touchdowns). Despite having two Super Bowls taken away by the Giants, he’s still a monster.

Significant others: Schaub, 31, may be limping into the postseason, but his wife, Laurie, a former cheerleader, has been honored on many “hottest” lists.  Now 35, Brady famously dated actress Bridget Moynahan for more than two years until their relationship ended in 2006, just as she discovered she was pregnant—and shortly after Brady started dating his now wife, Gisele Bündchen. That didn’t win him too many fans. He has two kids with Gisele.

What’ll probably happen: The Patriots blew out the Texans earlier this season. Get ready for a Brady-versus-Manning showdown again.