Today’s NFL is not the same as our parents’ NFL, and barely recognizable when compared to the NFL of our grandparents’ young adult lives. The game has shifted drastically from a hard-nosed, smash mouth, in-your-face, put-up-or-shut-up, insert any other cliché, violent game to one where tapping a quarterback on the helmet seconds after he has thrown an interception somehow completely negates said interception. New rules protecting QBs and other offensive players have made it difficult to play defense at the same speed or with the same inhibition as the past, which has made life significantly more favorable for NFL quarterbacks, especially the good ones.
With that said, the NFL has become more of a passing league than ever before, with teams leaning heavily on their signal-callers to win games. Thus, the teams with the better NFL QBs tend to be more successful year in and year out. Looking at list of active quarterbacks with the best win/loss percentage, there is a pretty direct correlation between win/loss percentage and QB rating. Said another way, the best quarterbacks tend to be part of the most successful teams.
QB Winning Percentage vs. QB Rating (Minimum of 32 Career Starts)
1. Tom Brady – .773 winning percentage / 97.0 career QB rating
2. Ben Roethlisberger – .701 / 92.8
3. Matt Ryan – .692 / 89.7
4. Aaron Rodgers – .675 / 104.4
5. Joe Flacco – .674 / 86.1
6. Peyton Manning – .667 / 95.4
7. Philip Rivers – .612 / 94.7
8. Vince Young – .608 / 74.4
9. Eli Manning – .594 / 82.3
10. Drew Brees – .585 / 94.4
(Source: The Football Database; http://www.footballdb.com)
While there are certainly other players that contribute to a team’s win/loss record, there is arguably none more important than the quarterback, especially given the recent rule changes made to prevent injuries and concussions. Aside from Vince Young, who helped win a lot of games with his feet, which helped compensate for his sub-par passing, almost every quarterback above is universally accepted as ‘elite’ or at least ‘borderline top 10’. Additionally, the absence of some up-and-coming QBs like Josh Freeman or Matthew Stafford are somewhat excusable, given they are early in their careers and were drafted onto bad teams when they entered the league and thrown into starting action early on, causing their stats and win/loss record to dip.
One notable exclusion to the above list is Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who ranks 15th in active QB win percentage and 15th in career QB rating among those still active (note: I removed Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb from this analysis because I don’t see them starting any more NFL games).
For the past few seasons, especially when the Bears have looked like legitimate playoff or even – in the eyes of some – Super Bowl contenders, Smokin’ Jay has received a lot of credit and praise for guiding his team to solid records. His impact has been further magnetized by the sharp drop-off in performance when QBs not named Jay Cutler are under center (see: Jason Campbell, Caleb Hanie, Todd Collins). Below are the Bears’ records since 2010 with / without Jay Cutler:
2010 – With Jay Cutler: 11-6 (includes the NFC Championship game where Cutler was knocked out at half time), Without: 0-1
2011 – With: 7-3, Without: 1-5
2012 – With: 8-4 (includes two losses vs. Houston and Minnesota where Cutler was knocked out before the 4th quarter), Without: 0-1
Another thing to consider is how dominant / dynamic the Chicago defense has been over the course of Cutler’s tenure. This season alone, the defense has returned seven (7) interceptions or fumbles for touchdowns. In games where the defense scores, Chicago is 6-1, compared to just 2-4 when they don’t. This stat isn’t that surprising, considering most teams will tend to win games when they score defense touchdowns. The fact that the Bears defense has found the end zone in over half the team’s games, however, might say more about Chicago’s record than Jay Cutler’s performance does.
To be fair, the Bears are roughly 26-13 with Jay Cutler and 1-7 without him. It’s obvious from these splits that the Bears are much better with Jay Cutler than they are without him. Does that mean he’s a top-tier NFL quarterback? Or are Bears fans, and the general media, quick to anoint Cutler as a superstar QB given the sad list of quarterbacks the Bears have fielded in the past 20 years? For comparison purposes, the division rival Green Bay Packers have started three quarterbacks since 1992 (Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Flynn).
Cutler’s season statistics since he joined the Bears in 2009 tell the story of a mediocre quarterback:
2009 – 336 / 555, 3,666 yards, 27 TD, 26 INT, 76.8 rating (21st in NFL)
2010 – 261 / 432, 3,274 yards, 23 TD, 16 INT, 86.3 rating (16th in NFL)
2011 – 182 / 314, 2,319 yards, 13 TD, 7 INT, 85.7 rating (13th in NFL)
2012 – 213 / 356, 2,495 yards, 16 TD, 13 INT, 80.9 rating (24th in NFL)
Based on stats alone, Cutler has struggled to crack the top half of all NFL QBs over the past four seasons. But maybe it’s not all about stats. Jay Cutler has been put in the same ‘gunslinger’ class as Brett Favre, a quarterback who will go down in history for his toughness and ability to bring his team back and win games in the clutch. Yet, Cutler has only played in all 16 games in a season three times in his career (2007 – 2009), missing one regular season game in 2010 (as well as the aforementioned NFC Championship game), six games last season, and about 1.5 games so far this season. At this point, Jay Cutler is more questioned for his toughness and fiery personality than just about any starting quarterback in football.
The Bears are a good team, and Cutler has been solid since taking the reigns in 2009. However, solid doesn’t win Super Bowls. Consistent greatness is needed for that, and nothing Cutler has done to date would be considered consistently great.
Following a Week 2 victory against Jay Cutler and the Bears, Green Bay Packers All-Pro cornerback / safety summed up Jay Cutler’s NFL legacy (to date): “We understand that Jay is excited about his new weapons, but it’s the same old Jay. We don’t need luck; Jay will throw us the ball.”
Same old Jay, indeed. At least until he proves otherwise. His next chance is this Sunday against Green Bay.
Thursday NFL Pick
Cincinnati (-4.5) over PHILADELPHIA
Nick Foles pulled a rabbit out of the hat last week to come back and shock the Buccaneers, effectively ending their playoff chances. He is clearly the Eagles’ number one QB going into the offseason, which begs the question of what will happen with Michael Vick. Some potential suitors for Vick could very well be:
(1) New York Jets – although Sanchez is scheduled to make $8M next season, Vick could provide some competition at QB and a seasoned backup in the event Sanchez wins the starting job once again.
(2) Kansas City Chiefs – with Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn entrenched in a season-long battle for the QB spot that neither is showing they want to fully win, Vick could provide some life and athleticism to an offense that has a foundation of weapons in RB Jamaal Charles and WR Dwayne Bowe.
(3) Arizona Cardinals – The Kevin Kolb / John Skelton / Ryan Lindley experiment is not working. Might as well through Vick’s hat into the ring.
(4) Washington Redskins – Vick could back up RG3 and provide a similar style of play in the event that Griffin gets injured.
Cincinnati brings its balanced offense into Philly in a must-win situation, where a win would inch the Bengals – who are deadlocked with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the final AFC playoff spot – closer to the post season. Philadelphia will be looking to play spoiler, but I think the Bengals are too desperate and will find a way to get the job done.