Backup QBs (08/13/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
How would starting the second quarterback on the roster change an NFL season?



Jimmy Garoppolo is slated to start the first four games of the season for the New England Patriots as Tom Brady serves his four-game suspension for Deflate-Gate. Ryan Fitzpatrick will start Week 1 for the Jets after Geno Smith suffered a broken jaw that will sideline him for six to ten weeks. You never know when or for what reason a backup quarterback's services will be called upon.

Patriots' fans are lucky, they know Tom Brady is coming back but what if he wasn't? How would the Packers season change if Aaron Rodgers were not under center? Could the Broncos make the playoffs if Brock Osweiler was starting instead of Peyton Manning?

To find out, 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.

The backup plan

Assuming Brady misses the first four games of the season, the defending Super Bowl Champions still win their division and are the second seed in the AFC. However, if Garoppolo started a full season the Patriots' playoff chances would decrease from 79.0 percent to 24.6 percent.

The Green Bay Packers are the most likely Super Bowl Champions, winning it all a league-high 17.1 percent of the time. The Packers, with Rodgers reach the postseason an NFL-best 86.8 percent of the time. If Scott Tolzien were calling the plays, instead of the 2014 MVP, the Packs' playoff chances decrease by 48.0 percent.

Some think that Father Time is catching up with Peyton Manning, for fantasy purposes, the future Hall of Famer has bust potential. Still, the Broncos best chance of making the playoffs is with Manning starting a full season. If Brock Osweiler were to start, Denver's playoff probability decreases from 70.8 percent to 24.3 percent.

There are twelve teams in the NFL that could start the backup and the team's playoff odds would decrease by less than 10 percent. Most of those teams are either just bad (like the Jets) or have replacement level quarterbacks on the depth chart (like the Eagles).

There is only one team that would benefit from starting its backup. Jacksonville invested the third overall pick in the draft on Blake Bortles a year ago but after a disastrous rookie campaign the Jaguars would be better off handing the ball over to Chad Henne.

Matt Hasselbeck, Mark Sanchez and Tarvaris Jackson, if they were starters, would all be greater than 50 percent likely to lead their teams to the postseason. That is more of an endorsement of the Colts, Eagles and Seahawks, than of the quarterbacks themselves.

Playoff Projections: Starters and Backups

Team Starter (S) Backup (B) (S) In Playoffs (B) In Playoffs DIFF % Change
Patriots T. Brady J. Garoppolo 79.0 24.6 -54.4 -68.9%
Packers A. Rodgers S. Tolzien 86.8 38.8 -48.0 -55.3%
Broncos P. Manning B. Osweiler 70.8 24.3 -46.5 -65.7%
Steelers B. Roethlisberger B. Gradkowski 42.9 6.6 -36.3 -84.6%
Cowboys T. Romo B. Weeden 43.4 10.7 -32.7 -75.3%
Falcons M. Ryan T.J. Yates 32.0 4.7 -27.3 -85.3%
Giants E. Manning R. Nassib 31.9 5.2 -26.7 -83.7%
Panthers C. Newton D. Anderson 64.0 41.9 -22.1 -34.5%
Colts A. Luck M. Hasselbeck 85.3 63.3 -22.0 -25.8%
Saints D. Brees L. McCown 24.9 4.9 -20.0 -80.3%
Bengals A. Dalton AJ McCarron 42.4 25.5 -16.9 -39.9%
Chiefs A. Smith C. Daniel 35.7 19.5 -16.2 -45.4%
Ravens J. Flacco M. Schaub 42.1 27.3 -14.8 -35.2%
Seahawks R. Wilson T. Jackson 83.3 69.9 -13.4 -16.1%
Lions M. Stafford D. Orlovsky 22.9 10.2 -12.7 -55.5%
Chargers P. Rivers K. Clemens 27.5 15.5 -12.0 -43.6%
Vikings T. Bridgewater S. Hill 51.2 39.4 -11.8 -23.0%
Dolphins R. Tannehill M. Moore 52.7 41.3 -11.4 -21.6%
49ers C. Kaepernick B. Gabbert 13.1 2.2 -10.9 -83.2%
Bills EJ Manuel M. Cassel 28.7 20.0 -8.7 -30.3%
Bears J. Cutler J. Clausen 11.3 3.3 -8.0 -70.8%
Browns J. McCown J. Manziel 20.9 14.0 -6.9 -33.0%
Cardinals C. Palmer D. Stanton 18.4 11.5 -6.9 -37.5%
Titans M. Mariota Z. Mettenberger 15.2 9.4 -5.8 -38.2%
Buccaneers J. Winston M. Glennon 11.3 7.2 -4.1 -36.3%
Raiders D. Carr C. Ponder 16.9 13.1 -3.8 -22.5%
Eagles S. Bradford M. Sanchez 57.5 53.9 -3.6 -6.3%
Rams N. Foles A. Davis 27.4 23.8 -3.6 -13.1%
Texans B. Hoyer R. Mallett 33.2 32.3 -0.9 -2.7%
Jets R. Fitzpatrick G. Smith 13.8 12.9 -0.9 -6.5%
Redskins R. Griffin K. Cousins 22.6 22.0 -0.6 -2.7%
Jaguars B. Bortles C. Henne +2.3 +4.6 +2.3 100.0%

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



Aaron Rodgers makes the Packers the favorites to win the Super Bowl (17.1 percent). Green Bay is so talented that if you replaced Rodgers with Tolzien, the Cheeseheads would still be the fourth (5.9 percent) most likely championship team.

Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning are worth more than seven points per game than their backup. Brady is worth nearly nine points over Garoppolo.

Seven teams (Patriots, Packers, Broncos, Steelers, Giants, Falcons and Cowboys) would lose at least two additional games by starting their second string quarterback. Five of the seven teams were in the playoffs a season ago.

Team Starter (S) Backup (B) Win Super Bowl Diff Win Total Diff Pts/GM Diff
Patriots T. Brady J. Garoppolo -2.8 -3.0 -8.6
Packers A. Rodgers S. Tolzien -11.2 -2.8 -7.7
Broncos P. Manning B. Osweiler -8.1 -2.6 -7.0
Falcons M. Ryan T.J. Yates -0.7 -2.4 -6.6
Cowboys T. Romo B. Weeden -3.2 -2.2 -6.6
Steelers B. Roethlisberger B. Gradkowski -1.8 -2.6 -6.4
Giants E. Manning R. Nassib -1.3 -2.4 -6.3
Saints D. Brees L. McCown -0.4 -1.9 -5.6
49ers C. Kaepernick B. Gabbert -0.3 -1.8 -4.3
Colts A. Luck M. Hasselbeck -5.1 -1.4 -4.1
Panthers C. Newton D. Anderson -1.7 -1.2 -3.4
Bears J. Cutler J. Clausen -0.1 -1.2 -3.0
Bengals A. Dalton AJ McCarron -1.0 -1.1 -2.8
Lions M. Stafford D. Orlovsky -0.4 -1.0 -2.8
Chiefs A. Smith C. Daniel -1.1 -1.1 -2.7
Seahawks R. Wilson T. Jackson -3.7 -1.0 -2.7
Vikings T. Bridgewater S. Hill -0.9 -0.6 -2.5
Ravens J. Flacco M. Schaub -0.8 -0.9 -2.3
Chargers P. Rivers K. Clemens -0.7 -0.9 -2.1
Cardinals C. Palmer D. Stanton -0.3 -0.6 -1.9
Bills EJ Manuel M. Cassel -0.4 -0.5 -1.6
Dolphins R. Tannehill M. Moore -1.5 -0.6 -1.5
Browns J. McCown J. Manziel -0.2 -0.6 -1.4
Buccaneers J. Winston M. Glennon -0.1 -0.6 -1.4
Raiders D. Carr C. Ponder -0.2 -0.5 -1.3
Titans M. Mariota Z. Mettenberger -0.1 -0.5 -1.1
Eagles S. Bradford M. Sanchez -1.1 -0.2 -1.1
Texans B. Hoyer R. Mallett -0.2 -0.1 -0.9
Rams N. Foles A. Davis -0.2 -0.4 -0.7
Redskins R. Griffin K. Cousins -0.1 -0.2 -0.6
Jets R. Fitzpatrick G. Smith 0.0 -0.1 -0.2
Jaguars B. Bortles C. Henne 0.0 +0.2 +0.3