AFC's murky QB situation a major plus for Patriots

AFC's murky QB situation a major plus for Patriots

The NFL postseason is where quarterbacks’ legacies are built. Though those reputations often become overstated, once you’ve solidified yourself as a “winner” or “loser,” those tags are hard to shake.

By the looks of it, this postseason might see a few guys trying to build their playoff names from scratch, and those guys might have to do it in Foxboro. 

This has been a weird year for quarterbacks. Between the six playoff teams in the AFC, 13 different starting QBs will have been used by the time Oakland’s Matt McGloin starts Week 17 for the injured Derek Carr. Surprisingly, that’s actually as many as were used between last season’s AFC playoff teams. 

None of the AFC playoff teams have had the same quarterback start every game. The Patriots have led the way with three, though that’s partially due to suspension. 

Depending on whether Ryan Tannehill (sprained ACL) is good to go next week for the Dolphins, the AFC’s starting quarterbacks in the postseason could be the following: Tom Brady, Matt Moore, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Savage, Matt McGloin and Alex Smith. Half of those guys have postseason experience. The other three don’t. 

Even if Tannehill does play for the Dolphins, and even if the recently supplanted Brock Osweiler does reclaim his job in Houston, neither of those guys have taken a playoff snap either. If experience under center is as important in the playoffs as everyone makes it out to be, the Patriots, presuming they take the No. 1 seed, could get a crack or two at toying with inexperienced postseason quarterbacks on their home field. 

It’s not like green postseason quarterbacks can’t get far. Tom Brady, Jake Delhomme and Ben Roethlisberger are at least semi-recent examples that they can go to a conference championship (Roethlisberger), the Super Bowl (Jake Delhomme) or even win it all (Brady). 

This might not surprise you, but the Patriots have never lost to a quarterback playing in his first postseason. They’ve played six of them, beaten them all and only allowed a passing touchdown to half of them. 

Here’s a quick run-through: 

  • 2012, Matt Schaub: The Pats may have been more worried about Arian Foster, but Schaub wasn’t bad in his second-career postseason start. He completed 34 of 51 passes for 343 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. The Pats sacked him once. 
  • 2011, Tim Tebow: The divisional round saw the Patriots sack Tebow five times and hold him to 136 yards on 9-of-26 passing with no touchdowns or picks in his second and final postseason game. He’ll always have the previous week’s OT winner against Pittsburgh. 
  • 2006, Philip Rivers: The Patriots went into San Diego and upset the No. 1 seed (and 14-2) Chargers in Rivers’ first career postseason start. Rivers, who was sacked three times, was 14-of-32 for 230 yards with no touchdowns and a pick. He may have yelled a bit about Ellis Hobbs after the game. 
  • 2005, Byron Leftwich: In the lone postseason start of Leftwich’s career, the Patriots sacked the Marshall product four times and held him to 18-of-31 passing for 179 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He did have an 18-yard run, though. Man, Byron Leftwich ruled. 
  • 2004, Ben Roethlisberger: Then a rookie, Roethlisberger had the pleasure of the AFC championship being his second career playoff game. Unfortunately for him, it was against a powerhouse Patriots team and he got picked three times. He also threw a pair of touchdowns on 14-of-24 passing for 226 yards. 
  • 2003, Jake Delhomme: The Pats had their way with most of these other guys, but Jake Delhomme was damn good for the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, throwing for 323 yards with three touchdowns and no picks. This Panthers loss certainly wasn’t on the quarterback (*cough John Kasay cough*). 

Given the landscape of the AFC, it should be smooth sailing for the Patriots as they aim to reach their seventh Super Bowl under Bill Belichick. History says these inexperienced playoff quarterbacks some of their opponents might throw out there won’t make big names for themselves against the Pats. 

Curran: Patriots are likely to finish unbeaten this season

Curran: Patriots are likely to finish unbeaten this season

FOXBORO -- Resistance is futile. 

You see this team out there scampering around from drill to drill on a cloudy, late-July day, not a lollygagger to be seen, everything moving with military precision, and you know what it looks like? 

It looks like 80-something players and a coaching staff starting NFL training camp. 

What is it really? It's the first day of work for the NFL's greatest dynasty as it embarks on what will likely be a historic campaign. 

Never mind "may." Never mind "has a chance." It is LIKELY the Patriots will be the first team to ever win 19 games in a single NFL season. 

They don't want to hear that and are already dousing the thought of perfection by labeling it stupid, ridiculous, or disrespectful.

Between now and the start of the season, a parade of indignant former players, coaches and executives will snort and chortle at how absurd the conversation is. 

Frankly, they don't know what the hell they're talking about. 

That won't stop all of them from scoffing at the prospect of 19-0 the same way Curtis Strange scoffed at Tiger Woods back in 1996 when Woods said coming in "second sucks and third is worse." You'll learn, Strange said. 

Strange learned. Everybody learned. Maybe the experts should have seen it coming with Tiger. Maybe not. 

But with the 2017 Patriots, a failing to see what's likely to happen means willfully ignoring facts to do it. The Patriots went 17-2 last year. They lost to Buffalo because their third-string quarterback's thumb was dangling. They lost to Seattle on a night they handed the ball to the Seahawks repeatedly and still were at the Seattle 1-yard line with 30 seconds left with a chance to send the game to overtime but came away with nothing. 
 
They played poorly in the AFC Divisional Playoff against Houston and won by 18. They played "meh" against the Steelers in the AFC Championship and led 33-9 after three quarters. (Don't "But Le'Veon Bell" me. Would Le'Veon Bell have been covering Chris Hogan? No? Okay. Pay attention). 

In the Super Bowl, they spotted Atlanta -- a team being favorably compared to the Greatest Show on Turf Rams -- 25 points, and they wiped out that 25-point deficit in 23 minutes of play. 

Since they walked off the field in Houston, they added a Pro Bowl corner named Stephon Gilmore to play opposite their other Pro Bowl corner, Malcolm Butler. They added a wide receiver named Brandin Cooks, who caught 162 passes the past two seasons for 2,311 yards and 17 touchdowns. And they will also unveil once again the best tight end of his generation, Rob Gronkowski. 

They have a head coach who is definitely the best of the free agency era, probably the best of the Super Bowl era and arguably the best of all time. Their quarterback has even fewer qualifiers around his greatness and legacy. 

The crème de la crème of the rest of the league is sludge. Smug Aaron Rodgers is tethered to the moon-faced buffoon in Green Bay, Mike McCarthy, a head coach who could overcomplicate ordering coffee. In Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger is fat and fresh off an offseason spent contemplating retirement and Ring Dings. The Cowboys' maturity issues start with their 70-something owner and cascade right down to their enabled superstars Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant. Denver? Trevor Simien. Atlanta? Their motto this year is "Embrace the Suck." What does that even mean? That they enjoyed the Red Wedding that was the second half of the Super Bowl so much, they just want to roll around in humiliation for another year? Dear God. 

My point with all that is that there is no Peyton Manning out there to be the Frazier to Brady's Ali. And while there may be a coach out there with gray matter who could battle Belichick, that coach hasn't spent 18 seasons collecting assistants and coordinators and creating a program where they can tell a player to shit in the corner and the player asks, "What color?"

Don't fight it. Don't scoff at it. Don't be like those people who, in 2001 and 2002 were still saying Tom Brady was a product of the system and that the Patriots would rue the day they traded Drew Bledsoe within the division. Open your eyes. Think critically. What do you see.