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NFL Power Rankings: Week 5, 2019

Does quarterback play even matter?

Original image from AP Photo/Bill Feig

Just a few weeks ago, the conversation around the NFL was dominated by just how many teams were already using backup quarterbacks. Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Sam Darnold, Nick Foles, and Cam Newton all found themselves injured, while longtime veterans Eli Manning and Ryan Fitzpatrick were benched for a pair of 22-year olds looking to make a name for themselves in the league.

Teams never want to go to their backups QBs — they’re backups for a reason. Yet, in what usually results in an unfortunate situation, several teams have found success, and when combined, it creates a remarkable statistic.

So far this season, quarterbacks who entered the season as backups have an impressive 9–6 record. Take out the Jets and Dolphins, floundering in the AFC East, and that mark becomes 9–2.

Daniel Jones and Gardner Minshew have taken the league by storm, Teddy Bridgewater’s career has been revived, and Kyle Allen might even remain the Panthers’ starter when Cam Newton is healthy. Even Mason Rudolph has stabilized the Steelers, giving them hope in a division where no one is above .500.

And with Chase Daniel, who performed well for the Bears following Mitch Trubisky’s injury during the team’s Week 4 game, getting a start against the Raiders in Week 5, the number of backups winning games could continue to rise.

This has led some to ask, “does it even matter who your quarterback is anymore?”

Backup quarterbacks have a higher winning percentage than starters this year. Still, the answer, of course, is yes — your quarterback does matter. Patrick Mahomes proves that fact on a weekly basis, even if he did go without a touchdown pass last week for the first time since his NFL debut in Week 17 of 2017.

Still, an NFL team is more than just a quarterback. If the rest of the roster is strong, a team can be successful even with a weaker QB. The way the NFL has evolved has also aided the passing game, making it easier for quarterbacks in some systems who are given time to throw to put up numbers.

But it’s also worth noting that part of the reason why we’ve seen backups perform well is that they shouldn’t have been backups in the first place. Daniel Jones probably should have started for the Giants from Week 1. Teddy Bridgewater is an overqualified backup only forced down the pecking order due to his previous injury. The 32 best QBs in the league don’t play for 32 different teams.

So while we’ve seen a surge in strong backup performances, the value of an elite quarterback is still huge, and judging by some of the recent contracts signed, teams seem to agree.

Here are my Power Rankings for Week 5.

Now that we’re a quarter of the way through the season, let’s take a look at the teams in tiers representative of where they stand thus far.

Tier 7: They Which Shall Not be Named

32. Miami Dolphins (0–4, Last Week: 32)

Alright, I named them. The Dolphins have been historically terrible. I wrote about this two weeks ago, and since, Miami has proceeded to lose another two games by a combined score of 61–16. Through four games, the Dolphins are historically bad on both offense and defense and have been outscored by 137 points, 34.25 per game. It’s going to be a long season.

Tier 6: The Island of Misfit Toys

31. Washington Redskins (0–4, LW: 30)
30. New York Jets (0–3, LW: 31)
29. Cincinnati Bengals (0–4, LW: 29)
28. Arizona Cardinals (0–3–1, LW: 28)
27. Denver Broncos (0–4, LW: 27)

This comment by Redskins coach Jay Gruden sets the tone for all of these winless teams.

Dianna Russini tweeted before Washington’s Week 4 duel with the Giants that she would be shocked if the team’s first-round pick Dwayne Haskins played.

However, after Case Keenum’s poor start (6/11, 37yds, INT in roughly 1.5 quarters of play) and with the team down 14–0, they trotted the rookie quarterback in for his NFL debut. Haskins proceeded to throw three interceptions. Just like everyone around the team seemed to think, he wasn’t ready.

Colt McCoy might get the Week 5 start, but (and I’m being somewhat serious here), I wonder if they’d be better off going with no quarterback at all and running Chris Thompson in the wildcat. At least it’d be more interesting.

Elsewhere in this group, it’s looking likelier that Sam Darnold will return in Week 5, which should save the Jets from total embarrassment. The Bengals reached that “total embarrassment” category by losing 24–3 to another previously winless team in the Steelers. The Cardinals have stopped keeping games close, and the Broncos, while being the best team in this group, are also the most boring. They’ll try to avoid the first 0–5 start in franchise history.

Tier 5: Reason to Believe

26. Atlanta Falcons (1–3, LW: 17)
25. Oakland Raiders (2–2, LW: 25)
24. New York Giants (2–2, LW: 24)
23. Pittsburgh Steelers (1–3, LW: 23)

Remarkably, the Falcons and Steelers are the only 1–3 teams in the league after four weeks. Atlanta’s offense has yet to show its true potential — Matt Ryan has thrown for over 300 yards in each game, but that hasn’t translated into points. The Falcons are averaging just 17.5 per game and haven’t topped 24. For comparison, the team averaged just under 26 points in 2018. If they can finish drives, they still have a chance to compete.

The Raiders exceeded early expectations and have two wins to their name. In a weak AFC, that means they’re currently tied for a playoff spot. However, they play a difficult schedule, including the NFC North, possibly the best division in the league. If its worst team, the Vikings, beat the Raiders 34–14, they better say their prayers before facing the Bears, Packers, and Lions, all by November 3rd.

Saquon Barkley might return way sooner than expected for the Giants, and if that is indeed the case, New York will have a chance to make some noise this season. Daniel Jones will need to take better control of the ball, but what looked like a very poor defense in the first three weeks of the season excelled against the Redskins.

And finally, the Steelers find themselves just a game out of first in the AFC North after picking up their first win of the season. The Browns and Ravens have both been blown out this season, meaning Pittsburgh could still find a way to compete in 2019.

Tier 4: Inconsistent Playoff Hopefuls, featuring the AFC South

22. Jacksonville Jaguars (2–2, LW: 20)
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2–2, LW: 26)
20. Tennessee Titans (2–2, LW: 22)
19. Indianapolis Colts (2–2, LW: 13)
18. Carolina Panthers (2–2, LW: 19)
17. Minnesota Vikings (2–2, LW: 9)
16. Cleveland Browns (2–2, LW: 21)
15. Houston Texans (2–2, LW: 8)

Yeah, that’s right. The entire AFC South is in this group, and they’re all 2–2.

Talk about parity. (Image from Google)

Theoretically, the Texans should be the strongest team here, but their offensive struggles at home in games against the Jaguars and Panthers leave plenty cause for concern. The Colts have been on both sides of close games, while the Titans have seen both sides of blowouts. I still see the Jaguars as the weakest of the bunch, although it’s clearly a four-team race.

Overreactions about the Browns following their Week 1 disaster have been proved wrong as the team now owns the tiebreaker with the Ravens for the AFC North lead.

Another team coming off a huge Week 4 victory is the Bucs, who dropped 55 against the Rams in Los Angeles, setting a franchise record for most points scored in a game. We’re still trying to figure out what type of team the Bucs are, but after playing the Panthers on Sunday, one of those squads will be 3–2.

And finally, the Vikings. Oh, the Vikings. They can beat all the bad teams they want, but until Minnesota wins a game that matters, I suspect they’ll be stranded in the middle of the pack, the asteroid belt of the football solar system.

Tier 3: Solid Playoff Contenders

14. Buffalo Bills (3–1, LW: 18)
13. Detroit Lions (2–1–1, LW: 16)
12. Los Angeles Chargers (2–2, LW: 15)
11. Baltimore Ravens (2–2, LW: 6)
10. San Francisco 49ers (3–0, LW: 11)
9. Seattle Seahawks (3–1, LW: 14)
8. Philadelphia Eagles (2–2, LW: 12)
7. Chicago Bears (3–1, LW: 10)

Coming into Week 4, I wasn’t completely sold on the Bills and Lions. The Bills were 3–0, sure, but their wins had come against the Jets, Giants, Bengals. The Lions had beaten the Chargers and Eagles, but both of those teams looked much weaker than we had expected going into the season.

However, the Bills and Lions played the Patriots and Chiefs tough. Buffalo’s defense forced Tom Brady to have an abysmal performance, and if not for an early punt blocked and returned for a New England touchdown, Buffalo could have won that game. Similarly, the Lions had a great chance at taking down the Chiefs but lost to a game-winning drive. Despite losses, these teams move up, and I now see both of them as playoff contenders.

Speaking of the Eagles and Chargers, they both had big wins to get back to 2–2, although the caliber of opponent (Packers for the Eagles, Dolphins for the Chargers) was drastically different in both cases.

The Bears’ defense looks unstoppable as ever, the Ravens’ early-season flame is starting to burn out, and the Seahawks bounced back from their first loss of the season nicely against the Cardinals.

Tier 2: Top NFC Contenders

6. Green Bay Packers (3–1, LW: 5)
5. Los Angeles Rams (3–1, LW: 3)
4. Dallas Cowboys (3–1, LW: 4)
3. New Orleans Saints (3–1, LW: 5)

I’ll be honest — this group feels very beatable. Credit where credit is due for the Saints beating both the Seahawks and Cowboys over the last two weeks, but they’re still without Drew Brees, so placing them third feels crazy. The Cowboys’ best win is home against the Eli Manning Giants, the Rams just gave up 55 points at home to a Bucs team we weren’t expecting much from coming in, and the Packers lost last week as well.

Over the course of the season, the Packers have probably looked strongest out of this group — they just entered with the lowest expectations. Green Bay’s home loss to the Eagles looked every bit like it could have been an NFC Championship Game. The Packers could have won it, too, had they been able to score from the goal line on their last two possessions. Still, they won’t be punished too hard for such a slugfest.

Did you realize Jared Goff had such a huge fumbling problem? This number is staggering.

Goff had over 500 yards passing for the Rams last week but turned the ball over four times. Obviously, when you give up 55 points, the fault isn’t all on the quarterback, but ball security hurt the Rams in a big way in that game, and that’s an area where Goff has to improve.

Tier 1: The Top Two

2. Kansas City Chiefs (4–0, LW: 2)
1. New England Patriots (4–0, LW: 1)

Both the Chiefs and Patriots had their closest calls of the season in Week 4 to remain the only undefeated teams along with the 49ers (yes, the 49ers). But as long as they don’t suffer any hugely significant injuries (no, Stephen Gostkowski does not count), these teams should have little trouble coasting to first-round playoff byes. No other AFC teams even crack the top 10 of this week’s rankings.

Connor Groel is a writer who studies sport management at the University of Texas at Austin. He also serves as editor of the Top Level Sports publication on Medium, and the host of the Connor Groel Sports podcast. You can follow Connor on Medium, Facebook, and Twitter, and view his archives at toplevelsports.net.

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