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NFL’s 100th season has quickly become the year of the backup quarterback

New Orleans Saints v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

What in the world is going on in the NFL right now?

As of this moment, there are six teams rolling with backup QBs, and two of them are testing out a third string slinger. The Colts, Jaguars, Saints, Steelers, Jets, and Dolphins have all employed something other than a QB1, and it’s only week two of the 2019 season. Daniel Jones now takes over for the NY Giants, and it remains to be seen whether that means Eli Manning is now a permanent backup, or if Jones will return to the bench. It also looks as if Cam Newton’s status with the Panthers is uncertain after re-aggravating his foot injury. Kyle Allen would replace him if he can’t go starting this weekend. That’s 25% of NFL teams already (8), and 31% of meaningful quarterback play this season will have come from backups (10 different QBs). *Not including things like the few plays that Carson Wentz sat out this week. These are entire NFL games placed in the hands of an unexpected QB.

In comparison, last year’s week two saw backup quarterbacks starting in… anybody?

One game.

Blaine Gabbert started week two for the Tennessee Titans in place of the oft-injured Marcus Mariota. Additionally, two quarterbacks filled in for top 2018 selections Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen, while Nick Foles was leading the Philadelphia Eagles. But Nick Foles won a Super Bowl, so for all intents and purposes he doesn’t count.

Seattle has already benefited directly from this plethora of unforeseen roster changes. In week two the Seahawks took down Mason Rudolph in place of Ben Roethlisburger, and in week three they’ll get a Drew Brees-less New Orleans team manned by Teddy Bridgewater.

USA Today, who infamously predicted a 4-12 record for last year’s Seahawks, thought Seattle would be on the losing side of both the Steelers and Saints games. They weren’t alone, as ESPN had the Seahawks starting this year 0-3. Sitting at 2-0, with 70-30 odds to beat the Saints, they’re once again far apace of national opinion.

Before, Seattle fans get too excited about Sunday, these backups (for the most part) are an impressive bunch, and Teddy Bridgewater is potentially the best of the lot.

Here’s all the replacement QBs out to prove their worth with some quality games based on quarterback rating:

Jacoby Brissett120.7, 95.2
Gardner Minshew – 122.5, 97.2
Teddy Bridgewater72.2
Mason Rudolph – 92.4
Trevor Siemian56.3
Luke Falk99.7
Timeshare with Josh Rosen / Ryan Fitzpatrick – both under 35

What does all this mean? Well for starters (pun very intended) those teams are a combined 1-8 so far. If we consider that the Giants have been employing a backup this entire time, that number jumps to 1-10.

A short-sighted view says that the Seahawks have taken down one backup QB and are set to face another, potentially gaining two wins they weren’t in line for in most predictions.

A slightly bigger view notices that while Seattle won’t play many of these teams this season, there’s a ripple effect on the league one shouldn’t miss. Wins are being handed out to opponents like ninety-nine cent tacos on a Tuesday. The potential destruction of the Saints means that the NFC South is now wide open, and while the Steelers plod on without Roethlisberger that division sends Baltimore into the playoffs virtually guaranteed and significantly improves the chances for the unpredictable Cleveland Browns.

But there’s something else going on here, and it’s definitely worth noting – though it’s far too early to tell what effect this will have on the league moving forward.

If we remove the atrocities of the Miami Dolphins and their equally painful QB play, the cumulative average rating per game of Brissett, Minshew, Bridgewater, Rudolph, Siemian, and Falk is 107.7

Is that any good?

Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are the only two quarterbacks in NFL history with a career average rating of over 100, and they sit at 103.1 and 100.9, respectively. Many of these 2019 QBs have had games in the mid 90s. Philip Rivers’ career average is 95.6

So these six backup quarterbacks have had one or two games at the average QB rating of hall of fame starters. They’ve thrown a combined 10 TD and 3 INT this season. It’s been, for the most part, pretty interesting football.

So why do they keep losing? I would have counted the Steelers, Saints, and Jaguars as playoff contenders if not favorites. The Colts were a playoff team last year. Some thought the Jets deserved a look this season. Yet here we stand, rapidly approaching a quarter of the league using their second or third quarterback, all playing well (with the three aforementioned exceptions), all losing games.

In short, I think this only serves to highlight what separates the good quarterbacks from the great ones. Minshew and the Jaguars have lost to two recent playoff teams (KC and Houston). Bridgewater lost to the Super Bowl runner-up Rams. Rudolph lost to our undefeated Seahawks. Brissett beat the Titans but lost to the playoff darling LA Chargers. And the Jets… just might not actually be very good. Plus they’re very injured.

It’s actually a bit astonishing how many top-10 teams these backups have played, and how well they’ve performed, all things considered. But the biggest difference between a $30 million contract and all these guys, is the ability to beat another playoff-caliber franchise. Which still proves to be one of the hardest thing to do in all of sports.

In the meantime, enjoy it while it lasts, Seattle, because odds are looking really good for a 4-0 matchup against a 4-0 Rams team in three weeks.

For some bonus enjoyment, if you’re a Washington state local, I’m enjoying two WSU quarterbacks in the NFL way more than I should.