Christmas Eve was a rough one for two of the league’s most promising young quarterbacks. The Raiders’ Derek Carr and the Titans’ Marcus Mariota each left the second halves of their Week 16 games on carts thanks to a pair of broken fibulas.
Mariota’s injury closed the door on an uneven playoff push in Nashville. Carr’s bum wheel likely razed his MVP chances and puts his team’s first postseason appearance since Nickelback was an emerging young talent in the hands of a backup.
Other teams have had their postseason fates altered by the fickle hands of the injury gods. Thanks to the stretch run of the 2016 season, and Ryan Tannehill’s sprained ACL, NFL fans may be treated to a showdown between Matt McGloin and Matt Moore.
It hardly seems fair when the other starting quarterbacks in the AFC playoffs include a four-time Super Bowl winner (Tom Brady) and a two-time Super Bowl winner (Ben Roethlisberger).
There’s more playoff experience among the starter quarterbacks in the NFC. Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, and (if the Packers clinch a spot) Aaron Rodgers all have Super Bowl rings. Depending on if the Lions or Washington lock down a playoff berth, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins have both played in the postseason. So has Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
For four of the 10 teams already officially in the playoffs, they’ll be trotting out a quarterback who has zero experience on this big of a stage.
Matt McGloin, the Phantom Menace to Derek Carr’s Empire Strikes Back
The Raiders have plenty of talent; Amari Cooper, Donald Penn, and all 265 pounds and 57 years of Sebastian Janikowski rank among the team’s standouts. But despite placing seven players on the AFC Pro Bowl team, Oakland’s success rises and falls on two men — and one of them won’t return this season.
Derek Carr was one of the league’s best quarterbacks before a broken leg ended his season. His passer rating of 96.7, 3,933 passing yards, and a 28:6 TD:INT ratio ranked him among the NFL’s top 10 alongside future Hall of Famers like Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers.
McGloin, meanwhile, has shown up on an NFL leaderboard just once in his career — for falling on his own fumbles three times in six starts (10th in 2013). His all-time passer rating makes him the rough equivalent of 2016 Case Keenum. He’s 1-5 as a starter.
It’s difficult to translate’s McGloin’s past work with a hapless 4-12 Raiders team to his future with a dynamic 12-3 club. He’ll have all the tools he needs to succeed, but there aren’t any easy games on the schedule to allow for a tuneup. He won’t have to be Carr to help Oakland win, but he can’t be Keenum if the Raiders are going to make this rare trip to the postseason last.
Panic index: The second important player in the Raiders’ postseason equation is Khalil Mack, and he can do just about everything. If McGloin reverts to his 2013 form, why not let the uber-athletic pass rusher see how things look on the other side of the ball?
Or see what you’ve got with Big Ten champion Connor Cook, I guess. Yeah, that’s probably better.
Tom Savage lacks *any* experience
The Houston Texans could theoretically go back to Brock Osweiler for the postseason, but it’s unlikely.
Tom Savage is coming off of his first start for Houston, and although he completed just two passes for 13 yards in the first half, head coach Bill O’Brien told ESPN’s Sarah Barshop that he believed Savage got into a rhythm in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Savage finished the day 18 of 29 for 176 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He also played the week before, filling in after Osweiler was benched and completing 63.9 percent of his passes for 260 yards, no touchdowns, and no picks.
Amid reports that O’Brien risked losing the Texans’ locker room if he chose to stick with Osweiler, the team has announced that Savage will start in Week 17 against the Tennessee Titans. It will be valuable NFL experience for Savage as the playoffs loom.
Savage has played in just four NFL games in his three-year career, and Houston will want to avoid getting bounced in the first round in embarrassing fashion, like they did last season in a 30-0 shutout by the Chiefs.
Panic index: The Texans don’t really know what they have in Savage at this point. They’ve only seen him throw 65 passes over two games. But can it really be worse than what Brian Hoyer did against the Chiefs last January? So, Texans fans, your team may not win with Savage, but they probably wouldn’t have won with Osweiler, either.
Matt Moore’s going to be as ready as any backup can be
The Miami Dolphins masterfully turned their season around after a 1-4 start, where it looked like things were getting worse before they were getting better. Since then, they found some continuity on the offensive line, and Jay Ajayi emerged as a great young running back, now with three 200-yard games under his belt this season.
Moore came in for Tannehill against the Arizona Cardinals, and was able to finish the game for the Dolphins. In his two starts since then, he’s played well, throwing for six touchdowns and two interceptions, along with 469 yards. For most NFL teams, if they are told that’s the production they’re going to get out of their backup, they’d definitely take it.
It’s worth mentioning that those two games came against the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. The playoffs are going to be another beast, but Moore has shown he can (at the very least!) manage a game.
Panic index: The Dolphins are still holding out hope that Ryan Tannehill can make a comeback, so don’t panic quite just yet.
Dak Prescott’s postseason wins to date came over Rice and NC State
First things first: Dak Prescott is a legitimate MVP candidate. The rookie has one of the league’s top passer ratings and has been a driving force behind the Cowboys’ resurgence. With a 23:4 TD:INT ratio, he looks like a young, mobile Tom Brady.
But he’s also only 15 games into his professional career.
Prescott has an NCAA resume that includes back-to-back-to-back wins over top 10 teams while scoring 40 points per game, but finished his career without beating a ranked team in his final 20 contests as an amateur. As a Cowboy, he’s beaten only two probable playoff teams — the Packers (or Lions) and the Steelers. When the postseason rolls around, he’s likely to be .500 against potential opponents.
The Mississippi State’s NFL career thus far has been a case study in “prove-it.” He’s killed it thus far, emerging as one of the league’s top quarterbacks. But those questions won’t die down in the postseason, no matter how good he’s been. If Prescott puts together a subpar performance and the Cowboys lose before the Super Bowl, he’ll get slapped back under a microscope for 2017 despite his monster rookie campaign.
Panic index: The sins of the Bulldogs aren’t on Dak. Playing in a bowl game is certainly different than playing in the NFL playoffs, but if any rookie can make the leap, it’s the one who has gone 13-2 against pro competition so far.