As the good teams in the NFL continue to distance themselves from the bad teams, one thing is very apparent: you cannot win in this league without an above average starting quarterback. The Bills, Raiders, Lions, Browns, Titans, Redskins, 49ers and Buccaneers all lack a clear number one QB and they have combined to go 12-41 this season. None of them are serious contenders and only the 49ers have a realistic chance of making the postseason from this group. Here’s a look at the best option for each of these struggling teams.
Buffalo Bills: Trent Edwards came into the season as the starter but injuries have given Harvard alum Ryan Fitzpatrick a chance to step in. Fitzpatrick has been mediocre at best in the two games he has played, but the Bills did win both of them. In the games that Edwards started before his injury, the Bills went 1-4 beating only the lowly Buccaneers and losing to the Cleveland Browns. If not for a blown lead against the Patriots and an embarrassing loss to the Browns, the Bills could be 5-2. Instead they are 3-4 and fighting to stay relevant.
Solution: Fitzpatrick seems like a slightly better option at this point. He won’t completely self-destruct the way Edwards does and can help the team finish close to .500.
Oakland Raiders: The problem for the Raiders is not just how bad their quarterbacks are, it is how much they have invested in them. JaMarcus Russell is exhibit A as to why the NFL needs a rookie pay scale. Russell is in the third year of a six-year deal worth over $60 million. He has never completed more than 54% of his passes and this season his QB rating is an embarrassing 47.2. Unfortunately, the Raiders backup is Bruce Gradkowski, who doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses. He has shown an ability to manage games better than Russell though.
Solution: With how much the Raiders have invested in Russell, they have little choice but to stick with him and hope for the best.
Detroit Lions: When you draft a QB number one overall and you pay him more than Tom Brady, you better hope he can turn your franchise around. The Lions made Matthew Stafford their starter to open the season but injuries forced them to start veteran Duante Culpepper in their last two games. Detroit ended their historic losing streak with Stafford running the offense and they will have a great chance to double their win total this week when they host the winless Rams.
Solution: Stafford is clearly the future and the present in Detroit. Assuming he is healthy, he should start.
Cleveland Browns: It’ s hard not to wonder if Eric Mangini is competent enough to be a head coach in the NFL. No coach has mismanaged their QB situation more than the “Man-genius.” The Browns are a pathetic organization and they have never looked worse than this year. Their reason for keeping Brady Quinn on the bench seems to be soley financial. Quinn would be due two bonuses worth close to $11 million if he took 70% of Cleveland’s offensive snaps this season and at this point, that is nearly impossible. The Browns clearly care more about saving money than winning football games.
Solution: So long as the front office and ownership will let him, Mangini should start Quinn. Derek Anderson has given them no reason to believe he can perform on a consistent basis. Quinn still gives them a sliver of hope.
Tennessee Titans: After going 13-3 last season, the Titans have fallen off the face of the earth this year. The game that signified the end of the Kerry Collins era was the 59-0 loss against the Patriots and that was confirmed when Jeff Fisher named Vince Young the starter for this week’s game against the Jaguars. What’s hard to believe is that Fisher reportedly wanted to keep Collins as the starter, but made the switch under heavy pressure from owner Bud Adams. Fisher will be lucky to have a job by seasons end and Collins and Young may both be in the same boat.
Solution: The Titans have little choice but to see what Young can do. They need to make him the starter for the rest of the season so they can determine if they should move in a new direction this off-season. It wouldn’t be surprising if this team takes a long hard look at another University of Texas QB when the 2010 draft rolls around.
Washington Redskins: The only thing worse than a terrible football team is a terrible football team with an extremely high payroll and an owner who can’t seem to do anything right. Jason Campbell has remained the starter by default because the Redskins don’t have a lot of options. As little faith that Jim Zorn and company have in Campbell, they seem to have less in backup Todd Collins. If second-year man Colt Brennan hadn’t been placed on injured reserve prior to the start of the season, he may have had a realistic chance at becoming the starter.
Solution: The Redskins first need to address their head coaching situation, but once they do, it would appear they will be looking for a new leader either in the draft or via trade/free agency. For now, there is really no point in making any changes. This franchise has become their own worst enemy.
San Francisco 49ers- Despite the uncertainty as to who should be the 49ers QB, they are 3-3 and only one game behind the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West Division. In order to make the playoffs with Shaun Hill as their starter, they would need brilliant performances from their running game and defense. Alex Smith on the other hand, has show sparks of brilliance (or maybe averageness).
Solution: Like the Titans, the 49ers need to find out if their former first round pick is a serviceable starter or if they need to move in another direction this off-season. Smith should get one more chance to prove himself.
Tamp Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs started the season with Byron Leftwich at the helm and quickly made the move to Josh Johnson after just three games. Johnson struggled mightily in his four starts and now Josh Freeman will get the nod. It seemed like a veteran like Leftwich was a perfect fit for this team until one of their youngsters was ready to take over, but the Bucs have gotten antsy and have turned to a rookie to break out of their 0-7 slump to start the season.
Solution: Starting Freeman may just be throwing the rookie to the wolves, but if he handles it well they will know they have something to build on. Still, a veteran QB, even if that means bringing back Jeff Garcia, seems like a better option for this team.