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Jerry Sullivan: At title time, only elite QBs need apply

Column as I see 'em, divisional round:

Over the years, it has become a January ritual. As the NFL playoffs unfold, with the Bills once again not among the participants, there's a tendency to see events through a Buffalo perspective.

During last week's rousing divisional round, I had this thought at some point during all four games: You wouldn't win this game with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. This is what we mean when we say his passing skills don't measure up.

That's no great insult. The four winning teams were quarterbacked by three likely Hall of Famers (Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger) and the probable MVP (Matt Ryan), who is also building a solid case for Canton.

The game isn't all that complicated. When in doubt, go with the team with the elite quarterback. If you looked at the 12 teams before the playoffs began and picked the four best quarterbacks to reach next weekend's conference championship games, you would have been right.

All four of the remaining QBs rank among the top 12  in CAREER passer rating and passing yards per game. They finished second (Ryan), fourth (Brady), fifth (Rodgers) and seventh (Roethlisberger) in yards per game this season.

The four combined for 135 touchdown passes and just 29 interceptions this year. Experience matters. They're all at least 31 years old, and three of them (Brady, Rodgers, Roethlisberger) have won the Super Bowl.

I still hear arguments from people who claim you don't need a great quarterback to win the Super Bowl. OK, so there's more than one winning model. Running and defense are vital. But the teams that win the most consistently at this time usually have dynamic passing attacks.

Rodgers threw 43 times in a 34-31 win over Dallas. Dak Prescott, who was terrific in defeat, passed it 38 times. Brady threw 38 times against a ferocious Houston defense. Ryan had 37 pass attempts. Ben Roethlisberger, who handed off to Le'veon Bell 30 times, still threw it 31 times.

The Steelers had Roethlisberger throw twice from deep in his own territory (from the 7- and 12-yard line) with a two-point lead in the final 2:32. You need to have a great deal of trust in your quarterback to take that sort of risk. Big Ben completed both and the Chiefs never got the ball back.

Rex Ryan's model called for his quarterback to throw the football as little as possible. In two seasons as the Buffalo starter, Taylor is 1-10 when he had to put it up 30 times or more. The lone victory was against a third-string rookie, the Patriots' Jacoby Brissett.

The NFL is a passing league, and the quarterbacks are the biggest stars. After a season in which a plunge in TV  ratings was a big story early on, league honchos have to be giddy about these title games matchups.

In the AFC game, it'll be New England vs. Pittsburgh. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick against Pittsburgh's Killer B's -- Ben Big, Bell and Antonio Brown.

For the NFC crown, the Falcons' Ryan leads the eighth-highest scoring team in history against the Packers and Rodgers, the top-rated quarterback of all time.

Bills fans, meanwhile, can only sit and wonder when their next franchise quarterback will arrive. By the way, two weeks from this Tuesday it will be 20 years since Jim Kelly announced his retirement.

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Before the playoffs, Roethlisberger told Bell he could go on a post-season run similar to what Terrell Davis did for the Broncos teams that won Super Bowls after the 1997 and '98 seasons. Big Ben had recently seen an NFL Network documentary on those Denver team and saw parallels between Davis and his star tailback.

Bell must have paid attention. In his first two playoff games, he has rushed for 337 yards. He broke Franco Harris's team playoff record with 167 rushing yards in the Steelers' wild-card win over Miami and topped it by rushing for 170 yards against the Chiefs in the divisional round.

Bell set an NFL record for rushing yards in a player's first two career playoff games, summoning memories of Davis's epic run two decades ago. Davis rushed for 366 yards in the Broncos' first two playoff games after the 1998 season, still a record for rushing yards in consecutive playoff games.

Marcus Allen had 345 yards in back-to-back games after the 1983 season, including 191 yards in the Raiders' win over Washington in the Super Bowl.

Davis rushed for 102 yards in Denver's win over Atlanta in the 1999 Super Bowl, giving him 468 yards in three post-season games that year. It was his record seventh straight 100-yard game in the playoffs, an NFL record.

It was also the last playoff game of Davis's career, which was cut short by knee injuries. Davis averaged 142.5 yards rushing in eight playoff games and 97.5 a game in the regular season, third all-time among players with at least 75 games. He belongs in the Hall of Fame.

* * *

Robert Woods led the Bills in receiving yards this season with 613. That was good for 71st in the NFL and was the fewest yards by a Bills yardage leader since Joe Cribbs led the team with 524 receiving yards in 1983.

There were 25 receivers with at least 1,000 yards this season. Only one other NFL team -- San Francisco -- did not have a receiver with 800 yards. Jeremy Kerley led the Niners with 667 yards through the air.

Tight end Charles Clay led the Bills with 57 receptions. That was tied for 64th in the league.

* * *

Talk about shooting high. Colts owner Jim Irsay is reportedly trying to convince Jon Gruden to give up his cozy broadcasting job and come back to coach Indy. Word is that Gruden, who hasn't coached since leaving the Buccaneers after the 2008 season, isn't interested.

According to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, Irsay also wants to hire former Colts great Peyton Manning to run his football operation. Hey, it worked for the Broncos with John Elway.

* * *

Atlanta's defense continues to get better. After giving up 26 points or more eight times in their first nine games, the Falcons have allowed only 20.9 points a game in their last eight. Experience helps.

Seven of the Falcons' top 12 defenders (the starters plus nickel back Brian Poole) are in their first or second season. To win big in today's NFL, you need a lot of contribution from "value" players in their first contracts.

Doug Whaley, take note.

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Rex Ryan was awaiting a second interview with the Falcons two years ago when he knocked the socks off the Pegulas and wound up in Buffalo. I'm guessing the Falcons aren't sorry they wound up with Dan Quinn.

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Todd Downing, who coached the Bills' quarterbacks in 2014, is the new offensive coordinator in Oakland. Downing is probably more optimistic about working with Derek Carr than he was about trying to coach up EJ Manuel.

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Next season, the Bills will travel to Carson, Calif., to play the transplanted LA Chargers in a matchup of first-year head coaches Sean McDermott and Anthony Lynn. It'll be at StubHub Stadium, which seats 27,000. I'm not sure they need a place that big.

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