The Atlanta Falcons traveled across the country to Los Angeles last week where they pulled off a road upset of the NFC West champions to advance to the Divisional Round with a 26-13 win.
On paper, it shouldn’t have been that easy for the Falcons. The team’s good, but not great; its defense held the Rams to just 13 points after LA averaged nearly 30 points in the regular season. And Atlanta managed 26 points — a number it hadn’t reached since November.
The most logical explanation for the Falcons’ performance was the difference in experience between the two squads. One was in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years with a first-year coach and second-year quarterback at the helm. The other was in the Super Bowl a year ago with an offense led by a 32-year-old quarterback in the postseason for the sixth time in his career.
“I think having gone through these situations, understanding what it’s like, the atmosphere, those kinds of things, knowing that it’s going to be tough, all those things kind of carry forward,” Ryan told reporters, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But at the end of the day, experience or no experience, you’ve got to execute.”
But the veterans conquering the newbies wasn’t the narrative in the other three Wild Card matchups. One featured two teams — the Jaguars and Bills — which hadn’t been in the postseason in a decade, and another — the Panthers vs. the Saints — pitted a pair of battle-tested teams against each other.
So that makes it 1-1 in the battle of established quarterbacks vs. new kids on the block so far in the 2018 NFL playoffs. But that factor will be tested in all four Divisional Round games.
Career playoff starts for the 8 QB starting next week:— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 8, 2018
Marcus Mariota 1
Tom Brady 34
Blake Bortles 1
Ben Roethlisberger 20
Matt Ryan 9
Nick Foles 1
Drew Brees 12
Case Keenum 0
When Ryan plays in his 10th postseason game Saturday, he’ll become one of eight active quarterbacks — along with Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Brees, Eli Manning and Russell Wilson — with double-digit starts in the playoffs. Four of those players led teams to the Divisional Round this year, and each has played in at least one Super Bowl. This weekend they’ll each face quarterbacks who are brand new to playing in January.
Blake Bortles and Marcus Mariota played in their first playoff games a week ago, Nick Foles played in just one four years ago, and Case Keenum will make his debut Sunday.
Bortles, in particular, struggled in a 10-3 win over the Buffalo Bills. The Jaguars quarterback finished with just 87 passing yards and avoided being a total dud by rumbling his way to 88 rushing yards.
“I would imagine your first time, your first experience playing in a playoff game is going to be a little bit more difficult,” Bortles told reporters Wednesday. “I think the further you go and the more you get to do it, it’s just like anything else the more acclimated you get to it.”
If experience really is an X-factor and makes a world of difference, it could be a good weekend for the Patriots, Steelers, Falcons, and Saints. But that will be put to the test in the Divisional Round.