What Does NFL History Tell Us About Rookie QBs in the Divisional Round?
According to NFL.com, just rookie 11 quarterbacks had led their teams to the playoffs since the NFL-AFL merger prior to the 2012 season. Add in Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III and that number increases to 14. Only seven rookie quarterbacks have played in the Divisional Round before Wilson.
Wilson and the Seahawks take on the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round this year. Let's take a moment to examine how each rookie has performed in the Divisional Round in the past and determine what it means for Wilson.
Dan Marino, Miami Dolpins (1983)
Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins welcomed the Seattle Seahawks to Miami in Marino's rookie year of 1983. It was a Divisional Round game in which the Dolphins would end up losing, 27-20.
Marino completed just 60 percent of his passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns, bringing his rating to 77.6. He tossed two touchdowns in the second quarter to give the Dolphins a nice lead.
The biggest negative of Marino's performance was his two interceptions, one of which he threw in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks would then score to take the lead, and they never looked back.
Marino was far from the only reason the Dolphins wound up losing, but his inexperience at the wrong times certainly did not help matters.
Bernie Kosar, Cleveland Browns (1985)
Bernie Kosar's rookie season with the Cleveland Browns resulted in a mediocre season that surprising led to a postseason appearance.
Kosar and the Browns put up a fight against the Miami Dolphins, but Kosar's inexperience wound up costing Cleveland the game. The Browns lost the contest 24-21.
Kosar was horrific, completing just under 53 percent of his passes. He threw for only 66 yards, one touchdown and one interception, bringing his awful day to an end with a quarterback rating of 56.
While he was not the only reason for the loss, a more experienced quarterback may have led the Browns to victory.
Shaun King, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1999)
King eventually took control of the game in the fourth quarter by throwing a touchdowns pass to John Davis. The touchdown and ensuing extra point gave the Bucs a 14-13 lead, which was the final.
Outside of throwing a touchdown late to win the game, King was plain awful all day long. He threw for only 157 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He completed a laughably bad 47 percent of his passes. In total, he ended the game with a 49 rating.
King and his Buccaneers would go on to lose in the next round.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (2004)
Roethlisberger reverted to playing like a rookie in the Divisional Round against the New York Jets. He would throw two costly interceptions—one that was returned for a touchdown and one in overtime that should have cost Pittsburgh the game had the opposing kicker been able to connect.
Thanks to luck and a great defense, the Steelers were able to avoid losing despite Roethlisberger's 181 yards and 58 quarterback rating. Pittsburgh won on a field goal in overtime.
Roethlisberger and Co. went on to lose the following week.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens (2008)
After being carried by an elite defense in the Wild Card round back in the 2008 season, Joe Flacco managed the game to perfection in the Divisional Round against the Tennessee Titans.
Flacco and the Ravens would defeat the Titans 13-10. He did not make a bunch of big plays, but he did exactly what he needed to do—take care of the football and not make any crucial mistakes.
Flacco would finish the contest with a completion percentage of only 50 for 161 yards and one touchdown. However, his rating was a solid 89.4.
Look no further than Flacco in against the Titans as an example of how a rookie should carry himself in the playoffs.
Mark Sanchez, New York Jets (2009)
The Jets beat the San Diego Chargers in spite of Sanchez.
Sanchez was horrific against the Chargers, throwing for exactly 100 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He completed only 52 percent of his passes and finished the game with a 60 rating overall.
It is true Sanchez was the starter for the Jets in the 2009 season, but it was other components of the team that allowed it to make it all the way to the AFC Championship before losing.
T.J. Yates, Houston Texans (2011)
T.J. Yates, a fifth-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft, was forced to play in the postseason thanks to an injury to starter Matt Schaub.
Yates responded by leading the team to a Wild Card Game victory over the Cincinnati Bengals before self-destructing in the Divisional Round against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens outstanding defense took advantage of the inexperienced Yates, intercepting him three times. He completed 48 percent of his passes for 184 yards and ended the game with an awful rating of 28.8.
Yates was never intended to be a starter in Houston, but given the circumstances, he performed about as expected in the Divisional Round.
What Does This Mean for Russell Wilson?
The Russell Wilson story is well-known now. Wilson, a third-round pick, earned the starting job in the preseason and led the Seattle Seahawks to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth.
In the regular season Wilson was spectacular, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns while ending up with a quarterback rating of 100.
Wilson was above average in his playoff debut against the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card Round. He threw for 127 yards and a touchdown while leading the team to a 24-14 victory.
Now Wilson and the Seahawks have an encounter with the explosive Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round. The good news is, when looking at past quarterbacks in the same situation, Wilson bodes well.
The seven quarterbacks to make it this far since the merger have a 4-3 record in the Divisional Round. Wilson shares many similarities with the winning quarterbacks.
He is surrounded by an elite team. Wilson has an elite defense backing him that only surrenders 15 points per game. He is the leader of an offense that scores 26 points on average and touts a running back in Marshawn Lynch that contributes to the No. 3 ranked rushing attack in the NFL.
The difference between Wilson and the rookies that came before him is simple—Wilson is a dynamic athlete in an offense perfectly suited to his abilities and is part of what is perhaps the most well-rounded team in the NFL today.
While the rookies that preceded him were a liability, Wilson is a leader with the ability to take games over on his own. He has proven that.
NFL history has not seen many quarterbacks in the Divisional Round since the merger, and it potentially has not seen one as good as Wilson until now.