Take a moment to think about the teams still alive in the NFL playoffs.
Those squads are the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers. These eight teams, which will compete this weekend in the divisional round of the postseason, all have something in common.
And the link is something the majority of squads that are out of the playoffs lack.
A franchise quarterback.
Peyton Manning (Broncos), Tom Brady (Patriots), Andrew Luck (Colts), Philip Rivers (Chargers), Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Cam Newton (Panthers), Drew Brees (Saints) and Colin Kaepernick (49ers) are among the NFL’s top quarterbacks. Each QB is also the undeniable leader of their team. Each organization’s ability to land a franchise quarterback, whether it was in free agency or the draft, explains why they are still in the playoffs.
“Let’s be realistic,” CBS Sports analyst Dan Dierdorf said on Tuesday. “The rules of the National Football League have steadily been changing to make it easier to throw the football. The passing game is what you have to have, and let’s be realistic. There are 32 teams in the National Football League. There are probably only 20 quarterbacks.
“You can see where those 12 teams are now that don’t have it. They’re not in the playoffs. What’s the common thread? It’s excellence at the quarterbacking position. Much less win in the NFL, you can’t even compete in the NFL without very good quarterback play.”
Having a great quarterback doesn't necessarily guarantee a spot in the NFL's elite eight. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is great, and the Packers struggled while he was recovering from a collarbone injury. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles is young, but it appears he will lead the team next season and beyond.
Some teams are committed to their quarterback, even if they are not elite passers, like Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. Those quarterbacks are a notch below the passers still alive in the playoffs.
How important is having a franchise quarterback?
Just ask the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that is stuck with Andy Dalton. Bengals owner Mike Brown recently admitted he liked Kaepernick more than Dalton prior to the 2011 NFL draft. However, the Bengals drafted Dalton instead.
Three seasons later, Kaepernick has a chance to make his second straight Super Bowl appearance, while Dalton is 0-3 in the playoffs and many NFL observers are questioning if the Bengals should replace him this offseason.
Meanwhile, the Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will probably continue searching for a franchise quarterback this offseason.
“I was watching Andrew Luck,” CBS Sports analyst Phil Simms said. “When he dropped back to throw in that game [against Kansas City], I was sitting on the edge of my seat going, 'What is going to happen?' because his ability to rip it down the field. I had the same feeling watching the Green Bay-San Fran game in the airport as I was leaving my game and just going, ‘When they drop back, anything can happen.’ It was like anticipating Babe Ruth hitting a home run.
“These big-armed quarterbacks, we saw it last year, and we’re seeing it already this year, it’s a big deal in the NFL. People overlook that and keep looking for all these magical things. Oh, he’s just got ‘it’, and he’s a ‘winner’. Man, I’m looking for big guy that can physically get it done, and we’re seeing that in the NFL right now.”
It is hard to argue against Simms.
Manning set NFL records in touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477) during the regular season. Wilson led his team to the NFC’s best record. Luck staged a miraculous comeback during a wild-card win against Kansas City. Newton’s team is in the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. Rivers’ squad is currently on a five-game winning streak.
Having a franchise quarterback is the common thread among the eight teams still alive in the playoffs.
Many other NFL teams are watching the playoffs from home, wondering how they solve that problem.
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