Matt Ryan will be playing for more than a Super Bowl berth on Sunday as his performance in the NFC Championship will go a long way in determining if the Atlanta Falcons quarterback can be rated among the game's greats.
The other three quarterbacks competing in Sunday's two NFL conference championships -- New England's Tom Brady, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger -- all possess undisputed Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials.
The trio have combined to win seven Super Bowl titles with Brady and Rodgers having also been named Most Valuable Player of the NFL's regular season and championship game.
Ryan, well, there is plenty of space in his trophy case.
Taken with the third pick in the 2008 draft, Ryan has spent his entire NFL career with Atlanta putting up numbers that place him in the upper echelon of those who play the position.
But the player known as "Matty Ice" has tended to melt in the most pressurized games and has just two victories in five trips to the postseason.
"We have come to the day and age when it is all about how many Super Bowls have you been in, how you play in the so-called big game," former quarterback-turned TV analyst Phil Simms, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants who was named MVP of the championship game in 1987, told a conference call on Wednesday.
"It is really big for his (Ryan's) legacy, that's just the way it is, he needs playoff victories, probably Super Bowl victories, to get the praise he deserves for what he has done in his career."
A win over Rodgers's Packers would send Atlanta through to the Super Bowl in Houston on Feb. 5 to face either New England or Pittsburgh.
If Super Bowl titles and MVP awards are the currency for greatness then Ryan placed a small down payment on Wednesday as he was voted MVP by Pro Football Writers of America, making him the favourite for the league honours announced on Feb. 4.
The 31-year-old led all quarterbacks with a 117.1 passer rating this season and was second in both passing yards and touchdowns while guiding Atlanta to an 11-5 record.
"Matt Ryan may well have had the best season of anybody but as we all talk about it's getting a championship that would validate the season he has had," said former Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher, who led the Steelers to a pair of Super Bowl titles. "He has a lot to gain in this."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)
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