There are a lot of ways you could define an “elite” quarterback, but none better than this: a quarterback who can get his team to the playoffs without the accomplishment requiring a slew of lucky breaks.
Because of the parity in the NFL, more and more games are decided by a narrow margin, at which point the final outcome becomes a bit of a toss up. In other words, these nail-biter games routinely come down to good old-fashioned luck. For instance, take a look at the Cleveland Browns this season.
If you’re a Browns fan, you can take some solace in the fact that six of the Browns' 12 losses were decided by a touchdown or less. So that automatically enables us to say that if a few things would have played out in the Browns' favor, this team could have easily went 8-8 or even 10-6. Funny enough, we were saying the exact same thing about the Browns after the 2010 season when they lost seven games by seven points or less.
In fact, we’re always saying this after every Browns season.
What can you say, the Browns are an unlucky bunch, right? Wrong.
It’s actually quite easy to see why the Browns were in so many games this year. Other than facing Joe Flacco and a crippled Ben Roethlisberger twice, you could make the argument the Browns did not face a single team with an elite quarterback. So perhaps Browns fans are overstating the whole “we lost six games by seven points or less” thing. After all, with the entire division playing the same easy schedule, the Browns were the only team to miss the playoffs. Not to mention, three of their four wins were by four points or less, so this team could have easily been 1-15.
Newsflash: This is what happens in the NFL in the year 2012. There are a lot of close games where, looking back on it, the outcome could have gone either way. That’s how it is for every team.
Every year there is a team or two that plays in a lot of these types of games and always seems to escape with a win (Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos). Those teams are usually the ones who surprise everyone by going from a 4-12 record to a 10-6 record and making the playoffs. Those teams are also the ones who end up firing their head coach after the team goes 5-11 the next season (see: Raheem Morris, Todd Haley).
Afterward, those teams successfully learned the hardships of what the NFL is like when you experience a below-average amount of luck without a legitimate quarterback under center. They learn their team isn’t as good as it once appeared to be.
So about Colt McCoy...
You know how we’ve been telling ourselves that San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith was reborn this year? Well, Smith wasn’t reborn. Smith's stats weren’t anything spectacular. They were actually comparable to McCoy’s—not a lot of touchdowns (17), but not a lot of interceptions (five), and low yards-per-attempt average (7.07).
So who’s to say McCoy can’t be the Browns' quarterback of the future? They just need to surround him with some talent, right?
Yes, that is 100 percent right.
Smith and the 2011 49ers are exactly what the 2012 or 2013 Browns could be with McCoy at quarterback. Like the Niners, the Browns can get to the playoffs with McCoy. They can even win a game or two in the playoffs as well. So why am I not in support of McCoy? Because when someone like McCoy or Smith is your quarterback, you’re allowing far too many other variables decide your win total. In this league, where anything can happen on any given Sunday, that is never a good thing.
The Browns (with McCoy as their quarterback) would essentially be in the exact same position as a small-market baseball team—you know, like the Indians. Meaning, yes, it’s possible the Browns can win with McCoy just as it’s possible the Indians can win with a $40 million payroll.
What I’m attempting to say is with McCoy under center, the Browns relegate themselves to a small-market, baseball-like “window of opportunity.” That’s because the Browns would have to wait for the perfect storm when their defense, special team, and running game all came to blossom. That’s what any team without a game changing quarterback is doing—waiting for everything around the position to materialize, hoping the quarterback it has can manage the games and hoping for some fortune along the way.
Like the 2008 Tennessee Titans and countless others, the 2011 49ers are one of those teams that supports the argument that says, “You don’t need a Tom Brady at quarterback, you can find success the old-fashioned way by running the ball, managing the game and playing stout defense.”
Yes, this season the Niners did a lot to pad the psyche of hopeful Browns fans everywhere, but they also added to the distortion of the big picture.
What’s the big picture?
That nowadays, that particular type of winning formula is hard to successfully sustain, let alone attain in the first place. That a team of that makeup can win anything from three to 12 games. That for any team built around a mediocre quarterback, the odds aren’t in their favor.
Players come and go, injuries happen, refs botch calls, coaches make dumb decisions, kickers miss crucial kicks. All of these things are what make the NFL such an even playing field. The only true way to separate yourself from being in the pack of teams that can win anywhere from four to 11 games is if you have a special quarterback.
Nothing Colt McCoy has shown indicates he can be that type of quarterback who gives his team a distinct advantage.
It’s just a fact: The quarterback is the largest variable in the final outcome of a game, and now more than ever. While I may be stating the obvious there, it’s still something a lot of us fail to fully consider.
A lot of us forget that, on paper, the Browns have improved every year over the last four seasons, yet the team has been stuck trying to break the five-win mark.
A lot of us forget we’re not the only ones who are able to look back on every season and decipher that four or five losses could have easily been wins.
A lot of us forget that, at the end of the day, this truly is a quarterback-driven league, and Colt McCoy behind center, whether he is surrounded by better offensive weapons or not, does not give his team any significant advantage whatsoever.