Although the importance of the quarterback as the leader and driver of team success has long been acknowledged, now more than ever a franchise’s mere relevance is determined by the competence of the individual tasked with running the teams offense. While a few exceptions exist in the Ravens and Jaguars due to their extraordinary defenses as well as their luck in playing in the weaker AFC, all teams considered major contenders for this year’s ultimate prize either have quarterbacks who are known stars or who have played like it this year.
A simple look at the stat Total Quarterback Rating, or QBR, (a composite stat created by ESPN which essentially looks at a quarterback’s points added compared to an average quarterback and adjusts for opponent quality) matches up relatively accurately with team performance in the NFL standings. Case Keenum, Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Alex Smith, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Marcus Mariota and Jared Goff are the leaders of nine of the 12 teams currently in playoff positions and lead all eight teams currently winning their divisions. These quarterbacks also make up nine of the top 14 quarterbacks currently active in Total QBR.
Conversely, with the exception of the Jaguars and Ravens who have been able to remain in playoff contention despite poor play from Blake Bortles and Joe Flacco, dismal play from a franchise’s quarterback has doomed many a fan base this year. The bottom 13 quarterbacks by Total QBR have a win-loss record of 33-85 and only one, the aforementioned Flacco, has a significant chance of leading his team to the playoffs. These numbers indicate that without a viable quarterback at the helm, the playoffs are an unattainable dream for most teams.
Unfortunately, in what is widely viewed as the most difficult position in team sports, there are only give or take a dozen individuals in the world whose combination of intelligence and physical ability allow their teams to compete, particularly in the long-term. While the Ravens and Jaguars may offer hope that with great defense teams are able to make the playoffs without that elite quarterback, the current Vegas Westgate Super Bowl odds, 25-1 for the Ravens and 80-1 for the Jaguars, indicate a lack in faith in either team to win it all. In a league where success on offense has become more and more pass-dependent, the haves have distanced themselves further and further from the have nots.