By Chris Wimmer, Mostly Sports contributor — Twitter: @cdwimmer13
FACT: In the last 15 years, the NFL has amended and at times completely rewritten its rulebook to favor the offense.
RESULTS: Scoring has gone up. Viewership has gone up. Ratings have gone up. And most of all, revenue has gone up. All these things have increased as steadily as the blood clot racing toward Rob Ryan’s heart during the third hour of an all-you-can-eat gumbo buffet at Ed Orgeron’s family “estate” deep in the Louisiana bayou.
All these things are exactly what the NFL wanted.
But one of the unintended consequences became a glaring reality during the 2015-16 Wild Card playoff weekend. Pundits across the country have been talking about it for the last few years as the NFL has transitioned into a league that now revolves around the passing attack.
A team without an elite quarterback has virtually no chance of winning a Super Bowl.
A team with a “good” or even “average” QB can still win the big one but it is required to have two things to compensate for the lack of an elite passer: an outstanding running game and the best defense in the league. Finding that combination is just as difficult as finding a quarterback who is good enough to win a Super Bowl.
Attempts to categorize quarterbacks and label as them as average, good, great or elite is difficult at best — but sometimes we don’t need to make the discussion so complicated.
Here are the quarterbacks who won in the Wild Card round:
Here are the quarterbacks who lost in the Wild Card round:
By the time teams reach the Divisional round, all the QBs are either in the upper echelons of the NFL or they have the aforementioned complementary pieces around them: good running game, good defense.
Here they are:
Obviously, four of them had to lose. Just as obvious should be which name was first off the list.
Quarterbacks grow into elite status. Very, very few step into the league on day one with a near-consensus assumption that they will be great. Peyton Manning is the only example in the last 20 years, and even then, at least one team thought another QB would be better.
Andrew Luck was probably a safe bet but we’ll wait to accumulate more data before making a final judgment.
Arguments can easily be made that Wilson and Newton have reached the upper echelons. They may not be truly elite yet but they are absolutely good enough to play for and win a championship.
The elite clubhouse is reserved for those quarterbacks who have proven they can win without being surrounded by top-tier pieces. Tom Brady is the obvious example. Rodgers, Brees and Manning have never had first-rate defenses but they led their teams to Super Bowl victories despite those deficiencies.
The 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers team that won the Super Bowl had an elite defense but an average running game. The offense relied on Roethlisberger and the passing attack to win games.
Palmer is not an elite QB but he has a current surrounding cast that can help the team make up for his shortcomings.
So, where does that leave us now?
For all the parity that the NFL loves to advertise, the parity that the league wants is not the kind it has. The NFL wants fans to believe that every team has a chance to win the Super Bowl every year. That is the kind of parity it WANTS.
The kind of parity it has is that most teams will finish within a game or two of 8-8. The teams with consistently good quarterbacks will rise to the top. The teams with decent quarterbacks will tease and frustrate their fans by staying decent but never achieving greatness. And the teams with below average quarterbacks will remain irrelevant.
Therefore, fans know exactly which teams will have legitimate chances at a Super Bowl before the season even begins. As many as 10 teams have realistic opportunities to advance to the season finale, which means fully two-thirds of the teams in the league have virtually no chance.
And we all know it in August. You can list them without even trying.
If further proof is needed, all seven head coaching vacancies in the NFL were filled with offensive-minded coaches. Six of the seven were offensive coordinators who were promoted to head coach in the hopes they would both elevate the team and their quarterbacks to championship levels.
The seventh was Chip Kelly.
So, if you’re a fan of one of the unfortunate franchises that have had quarterback, um, difficulties over the years — sorry, Cleveland — there is only one line to keep in mind:
“Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.” — John Milton