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    Backup QBs (08/15/14)

    John Ewing, Director of Research and Analytics, @johnewing
    By John Ewing


    How would the NFL landscape shift if Brock Osweiler were the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos instead of Peyton Manning? What happens to the Packers' playoff chances if Aaron Rodgers isn't starting under center? Which rookie quarterbacks should get the starting nod in Week 1?

    To answer these questions we simulated what would happen if the backup for each NFL team started all sixteen games in a season.

    How This Works
    We simulated the regular season and playoffs 50,000 times, once with the current starter and then again for the projected backup. Using the power of the Predictalator, we are able to compute the likelihood of each team making the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl with the projected starter and backup allowing us to analyze the impact each player has on the team.

    A QB-Driven League

    Our most likely Super Bowl champion, the Denver Broncos, is led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Of the ten most likely Super Bowl champions, which combine to win 89.2 percent of all champions in our simulations, nine have a Pro Bowlquarterback under center. The NFL is a quarterback driven league, when you replace a starter with a backup the fortunes of a team swing dramatically.

    The Denver Broncos, our projected champion, go from the most likely team to reach the postseason (94.2 percent) with Manning as the starter to less than 50 percent likely with Osweiler calling the plays.

    Last season Aaron Rodgers missed eight games; I'm counting the Monday night game when the 2011 NFL MVP got hurt as a missed game because he only attempted two passes. The Packers were fortunate to reach the playoffs in 2013-14 but Green Bay wouldn't be so lucky if Rodgers missed an entire season. With a full season from Rodgers, the Cheeseheads are our most likely NFC North champions and reach the playoffs 61.8 percent of the time. If Matt Flynn were forced to start all sixteen games the Packers odds of reaching the playoffs decrease 36.9 percent.

    There are only six teams in the NFL where playing the backup quarterback would decrease the team's odds of making the playoffs by less than 10 percent. Most of those teams either are just bad (Cowboys) or have a replacement level quarterback (Rams).

    There are five teams (Vikings, Browns, Jets, Jaguars and Raiders) that would benefit from starting the backup.

    Rookie Quarterbacks

    Of those five teams just mentioned, four used a pick on a quarterback in this year's NFL Draft. Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr are embroiled in camp competitions to be the starter in Week 1.

    In our simulations, all four should start over the veteran quarterback on the team. The biggest impacts would be made by Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, the top ranked quarterbacks in our draft analysis.

    Neither the Vikings nor the Browns would be expected to seriously compete for a Super Bowl by starting the team's young passer; however, both organizations would see a double-digit improvement in the team's odds to make the playoffs.

    Playoff Projections: Starters and Backups

    Team Starter (S) Backup (B) (S) In Playoffs (B) In Playoffs DIFF % Change
    Broncos P. Manning B. Osweiler 94.2% 46.3% -47.9 -51%
    49ers C. Kaepernick B. Gabbert 47.9% 2.8% -45.1 -94%
    Patriots T. Brady R. Mallett 84.1% 40.2% -43.9 -52%
    Saints D. Brees L. McCown 89.6% 51.2% -38.4 -43%
    Packers A. Rodgers M. Flynn 61.8% 24.9% -36.9 -60%
    Chargers P. Rivers K. Clemens 46.6% 12.9% -33.7 -72%
    Seahawks R. Wilson T. Jackson 85.2% 52.2% -33.0 -39%
    Colts A. Luck M. Hasselbeck 68.6% 40.5% -28.1 -41%
    Steelers B. Roethlisberger B. Gradkowski 35.3% 10.4% -24.9 -71%
    Lions M. Stafford D. Orlovsky 33.3% 9.1% -24.2 -73%
    Eagles N. Foles M. Sanchez 46.5% 23.6% -22.9 -49%
    Giants E. Manning C. Painter 45.7% 28.0% -17.7 -39%
    Falcons M. Ryan TJ Yates 19.6% 4.4% -15.2 -78%
    Bears J. Cutler J. Palmer 18.1% 3.1% -15.0 -83%
    Bengals A. Dalton J. Campbell 55.2% 41.2% -14.0 -25%
    Panthers C. Newton D. Anderson 25.4% 13.9% -11.5 -45%
    Titans J. Locker C. Whitehurst 18.1% 6.9% -11.2 -62%
    Ravens J. Flacco T. Taylor 43.7% 32.6% -11.1 -25%
    Redskins R. Griffin K. Cousins 35.7% 24.8% -10.9 -31%
    Buccaneers J. McCown M. Glennon 16.5% 5.6% -10.9 -66%
    Dolphins R. Tannehill M. Moore 26.1% 17.4% -8.7 -33%
    Chiefs A. Smith C. Daniel 16.1% 8.4% -7.7 -48%
    Cowboys T. Romo B. Weeden 5.9% 0.7% -5.2 -88%
    Bills EJ Manuel T. Lewis 9.1% 5.7% -3.4 -37%
    Cardinals C. Palmer D. Stanton 27.7% 24.8% -2.9 -10%
    Texans R. Fitzpatrick C. Keenum 48.4% 46.5% -1.9 -4%
    Rams S. Bradford S. Hill 15.6% 15.6% 0.0 0%
    Raiders M. Schaub D. Carr 4.0% 4.9% +0.9 +23%
    Jaguars C. Henne B. Bortles 5.9% 10.7% +4.8 +81%
    Jets G. Smith M. Vick 12.2% 22.5% +10.3 +84%
    Browns B. Hoyer J. Manziel 22.0% 34.9% +12.9 +59%
    Vikings M. Cassel T. Bridgewater 25.6% 39.0% +13.4 +52%

    Additional Highlights (Super Bowl, Win Total, Points/Game)

    Manning makes the Broncos the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Substituting Osweiler for the rapping quarterback lowers Denver's Super Bowl odds by 60 percent. Yet, without one of the all-time greats under center, the Broncos are still the fourth most likely champions. Denver is a very talented team.

    San Francisco is the fifth most likely Super Bowl champion in our projections. If Blaine Gabbert, the former first round pick, were the starting quarterback, the 49ers would have just a 2.8 percent chance of reaching the playoffs. Those are worse odds than the Jaguars or Raiders have to make the playoffs.

    Three quarterbacks are worth a touchdown or more per game than the team's backup (Manning, Brees and Kaepernick). Manning is worth more than ten points over Osweiler.

    The best backup – Michael Vick. Starting Vick would be worth an extra field goal per game to the Jets. New York would go from 32nd in points per game to a tie for 25th in the league.

    Seven teams (Broncos, 49ers, Patriots, Saints, Packers, Seahawks and Chargers) would lose at least two additional games by starting the backup quarterback. All seven teams were in the playoffs last season.

    Team Starter (S) Backup (B) Win Super Bowl Diff Win Total Diff Pts/GM Diff
    Broncos P. Manning B. Osweiler -14.7 -3.4 -10.9
    49ers C. Kaepernick B. Gabbert -1.4 -3.1 -8.5
    Saints D. Brees L. McCown -10.1 -2.6 -8.2
    Packers A. Rodgers M. Flynn -2.1 -2.2 -6.7
    Chargers P. Rivers K. Clemens -0.7 -2.1 -6.1
    Patriots T. Brady R. Mallett -4.5 -2.9 -5.3
    Seahawks R. Wilson T. Jackson -1.2 -2.1 -5.3
    Bears J. Cutler J. Palmer -0.3 -1.8 -5.1
    Falcons M. Ryan TJ Yates 0.0 -1.4 -5.1
    Lions M. Stafford D. Orlovsky -0.3 -1.6 -5.0
    Steelers B. Roethlisberger B. Gradkowski -0.1 -1.8 -4.6
    Cowboys T. Romo B. Weeden -0.3 -1.4 -4.2
    Eagles N. Foles M. Sanchez -1.4 -0.7 -3.9
    Colts A. Luck M. Hasselbeck -2.1 -1.5 -3.8
    Titans J. Locker C. Whitehurst 0.1 -1.6 -3.4
    Cardinals C. Palmer D. Stanton -0.8 -0.7 -3.1
    Giants E. Manning C. Painter -1.2 -1.0 -3.1
    Bengals A. Dalton J. Campbell -1.9 -1.1 -2.8
    Panthers C. Newton D. Anderson -0.3 -0.9 -2.4
    Chiefs A. Smith C. Daniel 0.0 -0.6 -1.9
    Buccaneers J. McCown M. Glennon 0.0 -0.9 -1.8
    Bills EJ Manuel T. Lewis 0.0 -0.1 -1.7
    Ravens J. Flacco T. Taylor -0.2 -0.5 -1.4
    Dolphins R. Tannehill M. Moore -0.3 -0.6 -0.7
    Redskins R. Griffin K. Cousins -0.3 -0.9 -0.5
    Rams S. Bradford S. Hill 0.0 +0.1 -0.3
    Texans R. Fitzpatrick C. Keenum 0.0 -0.1 0.0
    Raiders M. Schaub D. Carr 0.0 +0.1 +0.2
    Vikings M. Cassel T. Bridgewater 0.0 +0.2 +0.2
    Jaguars C. Henne B. Bortles 0.0 +0.5 +1.0
    Browns B. Hoyer J. Manziel 0.0 +0.8 +1.8
    Jets G. Smith M. Vick 0.1 +1.2 +2.7
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