That was assured on Saturday, when Brady’s Patriots beat the Chiefs to advance to the AFC Championship Game for the 10th time since Brady became the Patriots’ starting quarterback. The only other teams remaining in the AFC are Roethlisberger’s Steelers and Manning’s Broncos, who meet today in Denver, with the winner facing Brady’s Patriots next week.
Brady has played in a record six Super Bowls, Manning has played in three and Roethlisberger has played in three. The only other quarterback to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl in the last 13 years was Joe Flacco, whose team topped Roethlisberger’s Steelers to win the AFC North in 2012, then beat Manning’s Broncos in the divisional playoffs and Brady’s Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Before that, the last other quarterback to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl was Rich Gannon, whose 2002 Raiders dethroned Brady’s 2001 Patriots as reigning AFC champions.
Roethlisberger and Manning have each played in four AFC Championship Games, with today’s winner advancing to his fifth. Since 2001, the Patriots have advanced to 10 AFC Championship Games, the Steelers have played in five, the Colts have played in four (three with Manning, one without) and the Broncos have played in two (one with Manning, one without). So counting this year, those four teams will have accounted for 22 AFC Championship Game appearances since 2001, with the other 12 AFC teams accounting for a combined eight AFC Championship Game appearances.
The NFL is designed for parity, but it’s also designed to be a passing league. And parity is trumped by a franchise quarterback.