NFL Reality Check: No Telling Who Will Start, or Star, at QB This Crazy Season

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NFL Reality Check: No Telling Who Will Start, or Star, at QB This Crazy Season
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There have been 44 different quarterbacks to begin an NFL game this season—45 after Josh McCown officially gets the nod for the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.

Through nine weeks of the NFL season, nearly one-third of the league doesn't even know who is going to start at quarterback each week. Nobody has any clue who is going to star.

Nick Foles had the game of his short career against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, throwing for 406 yards and seven touchdowns in a laugher for Philadelphia. Last week, Foles was out with a concussion he suffered against Dallas in a game where he looked like a college freshman playing against an NFL defense.

The week before that? Foles had another game of his career against Tampa Bay.

Through three starts, a strong relief appearance in a win over the New York Giants and a cameo against the Denver Broncos, Foles has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns with zero interceptions.

Nobody saw this coming. Nobody.

Foles was so bad against Dallas that the prevailing sentiment heading into Sunday's game was that he only got the start against Oakland because Chip Kelly felt he was a better option than Matt Barkley with Michael Vick still hurt.

After that historic performance, people in Philadelphia have gone from speculating who Kelly will draft next year to run his elaborate offense to debating—for the second time in three weeks—if Foles can be the franchise quarterback Kelly needs.

Nobody has any idea. Nobody.

 

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Multiple QB Starters

During the telecast, the announcing crew debated what everyone in Philadelphia is thinking on Monday: Foles has to be the starter the rest of the season, even if Vick is healthy, right? Nobody imagined that conversation a few days ago.

Vick narrowly won the Eagles' starting job over Foles in training camp, but outside of the first half of the season-opening victory over Washington, Vick has run an utterly pedestrian Eagles attack. That's when he can manage to stay on the field.

Vick is 2-4 as a starter this season, but one of those wins came in a game Foles entered in the second quarter. While the Eagles did have the lead at the time Vick got injured, they lost the advantage before Foles brought them back to win.

Philly is now 2-1 in games Foles started and 3-1 in games in which he played a significant role. Philly is 1-3 in games Vick was actually able to finish. It's less of a quarterback controversy than one might think. It's more quarterback...confusion.

It's not just Philly. This kind of quarterback carousel is happening across the league, with backups stepping in for starters and, in some cases, completely outplaying them.

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The Cleveland Browns are in a similar situation to the Eagles (which, given the connection between front office personnel in Philadelphia and Cleveland and the public courtship of Chip Kelly, is incredibly hilarious) in that the season starter has been far less productive than his backups.

Just look at Cleveland's record this year: The Browns are a surprising 4-5 after many thought they had given up on the season after two weeks. Cleveland is 0-4 in games started by Brandon Weeden and 4-1 in games helmed by Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell. With Philadelphia and Minnesota, the Browns are one of the three teams this season who have better records with their backup quarterbacks than the season starter.

(Granted, the Vikings are just 1-2 in games started by Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman, but that's been a lot better than the 0-5 mark with Christian Ponder.)

Admittedly, there is more nuance to an NFL team's record than who started at quarterback in a given game.

Matt Ryan, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, for example, are a combined 6-18 this year, and each of their respective teams has been decimated by injuries to the offense.

Matt Schaub presided over the only two wins for Houston, but he struggled mightily this season before being injured. Case Keenum has yet to win a game for the Texans but looks more adept at the position this year.

So, no, team wins don't always say much about a quarterback, but a quarterback can say a lot about his team's wins.

 

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One QB vs. Multiple QBs in the Standings

Through nine weeks, there have been 10 teams to start more than one quarterback this season. Only one, the Tennessee Titans, is .500 or better. (Chicago will be added to this list and, win or lose on MNF, will be at worst .500 with two quarterbacks.)

Conversely, of the 22 teams in the NFL that have started just one quarterback this season, 17 of them are .500 or better.

Heading into Monday night's game between Chicago and Green Bay, teams with one starter all season at quarterback are 108-72 (.600), and those with more than one starter under center are 24-60* (.286).

(* The numbers reflect teams with multiple starters, not teams with multiple quarterbacks playing significant time in a game in which someone else started. Chicago, for example, still only had one starter heading into MNF, despite McCown playing significant minutes in Chicago's 45-41 loss to Washington in Week 7.)

Six of the eight teams currently in last place in their respective divisions have started multiple quarterbacks this season, five of which were replaced at some point due to injury.

Every first-place team and five of the eight second-place teams have started just one quarterback all season.

 

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Week-to-Week Wackiness

Of course, in this season, all of that means a whole big pile of nothing when looking at the quarterbacks week to week.

Even for the 20-something teams that have survived thus far without QB tumult from a personnel standpoint, many of those teams have struggled to find consistency from a production standpoint.

Look at some of the passer ratings over the last five weeks—yes, I know passer ratings are sometimes as misleading as team wins, but bear with the comparison—and you can find some of the same names near the top and bottom of the list from week to week.

It's impossible to know how a quarterback might play in a given game.

The highest-rated quarterbacks of Week 8 were a who's who of NFL names, including Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. A week later, the top five names (with one game to play) are...Nick Foles, Tom Brady, Case Keenum, Mike Glennon and Jason Campbell. Who's...? Who?!?

Brady, in Week 7, was one of the lowest-rated quarterbacks in the entire league. So was Foles. Two weeks later, they're both the tops.

Geno Smith was the league's top-rated passer in Week 5. The following week, he was the second-worst.

Tony Romo had the game of his career against Denver in a Week 5 loss, and the following week he was the 22nd-rated passer in the league. Of course, Dallas won that game. A week after that, he was 26th. Yep, another Dallas win.

Dalton was a star for Cincinnati in both Week 7 and Week 8 but had one of the worst games of any quarterback in football in a loss to Miami on Thursday.

(To illustrate yet another point against counting QB wins or QB rating, Alex Smith was one of the lowest-rated quarterbacks in football in both Week 5 and 6, and his team won those games by two scores. Jake Locker and Geno Smith were two of the lowest-rated quarterbacks this week, and of course, both of their teams won.)

Nothing about this season's quarterback play makes any sense.

 

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Predicting the Future

Nothing about this season's quarterback play makes any sense, except the fact that winning teams have been able to keep their quarterbacks healthy, and teams that have struggled to keep their quarterback healthy have had very little success.

Frankly, there are not enough good quarterbacks in the NFL, especially for a position with so much importance. It's the one position on the field that rarely, if ever, gets substituted, so an immense amount of pressure and responsibility falls on the starting quarterback. When he's healthy—even if he's not terribly effective—teams have a tendency to play better. When a quarterback is hurt, or so bad he warrants removal, it's no surprise a team will struggle.

And still, with that obvious football fact, the rest is absolutely bonkers this year. Great quarterbacks are inconsistent. Young quarterbacks are breaking records. None of it makes any sense.

Except, perhaps, Peyton Manning. He always makes sense, even on a bye week.

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