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Which epic QB-WR pairing that never happened would you rather have?

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Tom Brady and Antonio Brown? Brett Favre and Randy Moss? Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson?

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The never-ending moving parts of professional football have created an infinite number of “what if?” universes. In various alternate realities, the Texans and Matt Schaub have a Super Bowl victory, the Jaguars played for a world championship in 2017, and Andrew Luck has guided the Colts to prosperity while starting every game of his budding career.

But the best “what ifs” involve the trades and draft picks that never happened — the missed opportunities that dashed dream pairings between Hall of Famers and turned potential juggernauts into doormats.

One scuttled trade between the Packers and Raiders cost Oakland a shot at a dynasty and the league two electric offenses that could have challenged the 2007 Patriots’ reign as the best ever. Green Bay nearly shipped then-backup Aaron Rodgers to the Raiders in ‘07 in exchange for a disgruntled Randy Moss, bringing him to a Lambeau Field lineup that already featured Donald Driver and Greg Jennings.

That high-powered offense would be rivaled by the Raiders’ hypothetical lineup, as a rebuilding Oakland team without a need for JaMarcus Russell would have given Rodgers some immediate support in the form of future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson.

The Patriots lost out on Moss and his record-setting offense in that scenario, but they’d profit from another “what if” further down the line. Antonio Brown neglected a phone call from the Buffalo Bills on draft day in 2010, clearing a path to wind up with the Steelers as a sixth-round pick. If he hadn’t — and if he’d be forced to languish with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Trent Edwards, and Brian Brohn at quarterback — there’s a chance he would have been one of Bill Belichick’s targets as an in-division free agent acquisition in 2013.

A Tom Brady-Antonio Brown pairing ranks up there with the results of the Packers-Raiders non-trade. So we’ve got to ask ...

Which legendary ‘what if’ QB-WR pairing would you roll with: Brett Favre and Randy Moss (2007 version), Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson, or Tom Brady and Antonio Brown?

There’s no wrong answer to this question. These are six current or future Hall of Famers at play. And yes, technically Favre and Moss did play with each other — for four games in 2010 with the Vikings.

But for argument’s sake, let’s say you’re taking one season of both players at their primes. Do you opt for Favre’s freewheeling style and Moss’s uncoverable deep ball? Rodgers’ rocket arm and Johnson’s absurd combination of size, speed, and strength? Or Brady’s unflappable winning ways and Brown’s ability to create big plays out of thin air?

The case for: Brett Favre and Randy Moss

If you ask me, Moss is the best receiver in NFL history. Many would say Jerry Rice, and there are plenty of numbers to back that up. Rice dominates every receiving record in the books. But hurl a ball into double coverage and there’s absolutely no receiver I’d trust more than Moss to go up and get it.

He’s so synonymous with catches over helpless defensive backs that the NFL’s equivalent to getting dunked on is getting “Moss-ed.”

During the best season of his career — the Patriots’ 16-0 regular season in 2007 — Moss caught an NFL-record 23 touchdowns in a New England offense that threw deep often.

Now imagine Moss being paired with the guy who immediately pops into your head when someone says a quarterback is a “gunslinger.”

Favre was a three-time NFL MVP and easily a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He also is the all-time leader in interceptions thrown, and frankly, probably always will be. His 336 career interceptions are 59 more than any other player, and over 100 more than the closest active players (Eli Manning and Drew Brees are tied with 228).

The point being Favre loves to lob balls into traffic, and Moss is the best ever at coming down with those kind of throws. At their primes, there’s no receiver in NFL history who would’ve complemented Favre better, and there’s no quarterback better for Moss. We’re talking a macaroni and cheese level pairing. Sign me all the way up. — Adam Stites

The case for: Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson

On Dec. 3, 2015, Aaron Rodgers did this to Calvin Johnson:

It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen on a football field, and I’ve watched more than one Rutgers games. I’d do almost anything to make sure Megatron never had to melt into a puddle of tears before our very eyes.

That play never should have happened, and time and again, the Lions found ways to break him.

It’s not that Johnson didn’t have a good quarterback in Detroit (Matthew Stafford came along in his third season). And it’s not like Johnson needed a good quarterback to produce — in his final season in college, he had 1,202 receiving yards and that was at Georgia Tech with Reggie Ball as his quarterback. In 2008, he totaled 1,331 receiving yards in a league-high 12 touchdown catches from the winless quintuple of Dan Orlovsky, Jon Kitna, Daunte Culpepper, and Drews Stanton and Henson.

He could also make plays like this:

But he never had an Aaron Rodgers, and you know what they say: if you can’t beat ‘em, Kevin Durant ‘em. Rodgers performs acts of football legerdemain on the regular, and with the 6’5 Johnson to the throw the ball to, the two could headline their own Vegas magic show.

Rodgers is currently the most decorated quarterback in the NFL aside from Brady. A two-time NFL MVP. Super Bowl champ. Celebrity Jeopardy champ. Hail Mary virtuoso, as Johnson knows all too well. And coincidentally, he’s never had a superstar wide receiver at his disposal. The best he played with was probably Greg Jennings, while everyone else was either good, not great (like Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson) or forgettable (a bunch of other guys whose names I can’t recall).

Rodgers could also help Johnson find something that eluded him, and everyone else who has worn a Lions uniform in the last 26 years: postseason success. With Rodgers at the helm, Green Bay has missed the playoffs just twice — in his first season as the starting quarterback in 2008, and in 2017, when he played in just seven games. He’s won nine playoff games.

Johnson made it to the postseason just twice, and despite nearly 300 yards combined in those two games, the Lions lost both of them.

He deserved better than the Lions were able to give him. Rodgers deserves not to have to do all the heavy lifting. So I would have loved to see these two team up for empathetic reasons, but also because I think together, they could’ve been fire. — Sarah Hardy

The case for: Tom Brady and Antonio Brown

When Brady has an elite receiving talent at his disposal, magic happens. We saw it with Moss in 2007, and we’ve been watching it unfold with Rob Gronkowski, when healthy, over the past seven years. When there’s a true No. 1 receiver on the roster, Brady will go to him over and over, trusting in his ability to shed double coverage when his team needs big plays the most.

Enter Brown. Over the course of his career, he’s averaged 86.2 receiving yards per game — significantly more than Moss (70.1) and a hair better than Johnson (86.1). While he lacks the frame either of those two do at 5‘10, he‘s been the more consistent scorer in his career. His five straight seasons with 8+ touchdown catches is more than either Moss (four) or Johnson (three). He can extend that lead with another big year in 2018.

His biggest strength is his versatility, which is the kind of trait that‘s been rewarded in Brady‘s offenses. Brown’s had 31 carries for the Steelers, and the biggest “what if” in this scenario may not involve Brady’s deep balls to Brown, but all the different ways Bill Belichick would deploy him. He’d come up with formations the rules committee would later have to declare illegal just to get the ball in Brown’s hands 20 times per game.

So you’ve got the winningest quarterback in league history and a wide receiver who can do everything except be tall. Brady is the guy who turned guys like David Patten and David Givens into multi-millionaires and turned Chris Hogan from Bills’ afterthought to the league’s yards-per-catch leader in a single season. When he had Moss, he piloted the greatest scoring offense the NFL had ever seen. Give him Brown and watch the fireworks. — Christian D’Andrea

Which of the three is would you choose?

Poll

Which legendary ‘what-if?’ QB-WR combination would you pick?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Brett Favre and Randy Moss
    (178 votes)
  • 45%
    Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson
    (315 votes)
  • 28%
    Tom Brady and Antonio Brown
    (193 votes)
686 votes total Vote Now