By Steve Keating
(Reuters) - Defense wins championships, or so the saying goes, but high-flying offences look set to unleash a bombs-away spectacle led by elite quarterbacks that may be the best quartet to ever reach the conference championships.
Following a thrilling divisional round of playoff action, the bar has been set high for Sunday when the Green Bay Packers visit the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers with Super Bowl berths on the line.
The Patriots' Tom Brady, Packers' Aaron Rodgers, Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger and Falcons' Matt Ryan, who could all one day reach the Hall of Fame, boast experience and panache.
Brady (4), Roethlisberger (2) and Rodgers (1) have all led their teams to Super Bowl titles. Brady and Rodgers also have league most valuable player honors and Super Bowl MVP awards in their trophy cases.
Ryan would seem to be the odd man out in this group but the Falcons quarterback is a frontrunner for MVP honors for the 2016 season and has his team two wins away from their maiden Super Bowl title.
At the end of the regular season the New England defense, at number eight, was the only one of the four teams standing ranked in the top 10 having allowed an average of 326 yards per game. Pittsburgh were 12th, Green Bay 22nd and Atlanta 25th.
Offensively the numbers sparkle.
Atlanta has been an offensive juggernaut since the opening snap last September and averaged a NFL-best 33.8 points per game. New England (27.5) were third, followed by Green Bay (27) in fourth place and Pittsburgh (24.9) in 10th.
The NFC Championship could be a shootout of the highest caliber with Rodgers, who led the league with 40 touchdown passes and Ryan, second with 38, at the controls of two high-powered attacks going against leaky defenses.
Rodgers' play in particular has left fans and pundits scrambling to find superlatives to describe his performance which has some, including Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, rating him among the greatest of all-time.
"At the end of the day they're going talk about (Rodgers) as one of the top three quarterbacks who ever laced them up," said Garrett, after watching Rodgers lead the Packers to a 33-32 win over the Cowboys on Sunday.
One of those other two quarterbacks could be Brady, who will be playing in a sixth straight AFC title game trying to take his team to the Super Bowl for the seventh time in 16 years.
With four Super Bowl rings and two Super Bowl MVP awards, Brady has proven his worth as a quarterback who can deliver when it matters most but with two Super Bowl titles Roethlisberger also knows his way to the winner's circle.
"It's definitely going to be a showdown playing in New England," said Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell. "It will be another hostile environment, going against Tom Brady, one of the best quarterbacks to ever play this game."