It's officially 'The year of the backup QB'

December 6, 2011

Though it was hyped as “The Year of the Quarterback” before the season started, it’s fair to say that 2011 has actually been the “Year of the Backup Quarterback, and oh, in certain cases, the Backup’s Backup Quarterback, Too”.

Last Sunday, Tyler Palko outlasted Caleb Hanie in Kansas City, Houston third-stringer T.J. Yates — the first quarterback out of North Carolina to ever start a game — got the best of Matt Ryan, and Tim Tebow — some guy who plays the position in Denver — improved to 6-1 as the QB for the first place Broncos.

We also had Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter sightings in Tampa Bay, a near-comeback win out of Colts' third-stringer Dan Orlovsky in New England and another Matt Moore-led win in Miami. Both Jake Delhomme and Jeff Garcia are on a 9-3 team's roster. People are talking about Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb as possibilities in Chicago, and no one's really saying either option is so absurd.

It’s truly the Year of the Backup. And the Backup’s Backup.

Unless, of course, you want to just call it “The Year of Aaron Rodgers”. In that case, you’d find no arguments, here.

I went on a limb and struck gold with the Texans-over-Falcons and Broncos-over-Vikings last week, but incorrectly thought the Redskins could beat the Jets, the Bengals could upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and the Eagles would show up for a big game in Seattle. I went 10-6 in Week 13, dipping just below the 70 perecent mark for the year (69.2 percent).

It's time to bounce back. Let’s dig into this week’s Cheat Sheet.

Week 13 Record: 10-6
Overall 2011 Record: 133-59

WeeK 14 Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week

With the Steelers’ 35-7 win over the Bengals on Sunday, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin became the sixth head coach to win at least nine games in each of his first five seasons as a head coach since 1970. Can you name three of the other five men to win 9 games in each their first five seasons as NFL head coaches since the AFL-NFL merger?

Week 14 Impress Your Colleagues Water Cooler Fact of the Week

Cam Newton threw for a score, ran for three, and had a pass reception in Sunday’s blowout win over the Buccaneers. He is just the third player in NFL history – joining running backs LaDainian Tomlinson (September 25, 2005) and Ronnie Brown (September 21, 2008) – to have at least three rushing touchdowns, a passing touchdown and a reception in a single game.

Now, on to the picks.

Thursday Night

Cleveland at Pittsburgh: Josh Cribbs has had great success against the Steelers over the course of his NFL career. "We've been dead Indians in his cowboy movie enough," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Monday in response to a reporter asking about Cribbs’ history of torching Pittsburgh in the return game. With a Cam Heyward blocked field goal, an Antonio Brown punt return for a TD, and a forced fumble on a Bengals' punt return in Sunday’s 35-7 win over Cincinatti—expect the Steelers' special teams to keep Cribbs quiet on Thursday. That Cleveland offense isn't scoring more than 10 points against the Steelers D.

The Pick: Steelers 24, Browns 7

Atlanta at Carolina: Winners of two straight on the road and playing their best football of the year, the Panthers are suddenly one of the scariest teams in league. Atlanta? In typical Falcons fashion, in a must-win game on the road against a third string quarterback making his first NFL start, Atlanta failed to return to the ATL with a victory. I’d love to see Matt Ryan and Mike Smith win a big game at some point. Just once. It'll be a first when they do. The Falcons haven’t played outdoors since Week 4, Newton is now playing at a Pro Bowl level, and the Panthers D is suddenly viable. Gimme Carolina.

The Pick: Panthers 27, Falcons 19

Tampa Bay at Jacksonville: Outside of the Colts, there may be no two worse teams in the game right now than the Bucs and Jags. Tampa’s lost six straight games, both the offense and defensive units are an utter mess, and a season after playing well beyond their years, the youngest team in the league is now playing like the youngest team in the league. Even Raheem Morris, known for being a calm and cool customer, lost it last Sunday, tossing out a four-letter word in his postgame press conference. The Jags didn’t look much better in their Monday night loss to the ‘Bolts, but I think they’ll find a way versus this putrid Bucs outfit. Warning — this one could be hazardous for your health.

The Pick: Jaguars 14, Buccaneers 10

Houston at Cincinnati: Though they’ve lost 3 of their last 4 and have sunk to 7-5 after a red hot 6-2 start to the year, the Bengals still currently hold tiebreakers over fellow 7-5 AFC squads New York, Tennessee, and Oakland. They’ll need to find a way to score against the number one ranked D in the league in what some are calling the “Johnathan Joseph Bowl”. (Okay, I have to admit, no one — not a soul on this earth — is calling this the Johnathan Joseph Bowl but me. But they should!) Embarrassed by their performance last week versus the Steelers, the Bengals find a way to protect their home turf and stay in the playoff picture.

The Pick: Bengals 17, Texans 16

Minnesota at Detroit: A date with the Vikings would appear to be just what the ailing Lions need. They just have to stop getting in the way of themselves. Detroit leads the league in personal foul penalties this year, totaling 26 such flags through just 12 games. Even without Ndamukong Suh stomping on innocent opponents’ legs, the Lions managed to get flagged three times for either personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct calls in Sunday night’s loss in New Orleans. It’s dumb football and shockingly, dumb football teams don’t tend to make the playoffs. Hopefully, they can course correct this thing before it’s too late.

The Pick: Lions 31, Vikings 23

New England at Washington: When the Patriots acquired Albert Haynesworth back in August, I got en email from my friend who is a Patriots fan saying — verbatim — “Just wait until he goes up against Shanahan in December. I can see a four sack, 12 tackle type game. He's going to destroy them.” Alas, Albert Haynesworth won’t be playing much of a role in this one. Nor will Chad Ochocinco. No matter. The Pats win big without either of their two offseason acquisitions contributing to the effort.

The Pick: Patriots 36, Redskins 17

Kansas City at New York Jets: Dexter McCluster’s grab off a deflected Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half marked the Chiefs’ first touchdown score in 56 offensive drives. This offense — at least while being helmed by Tyler Palko — is an absolute mess. In Sunday’s 10-3 win, Kansas City managed just 252 yards. The Chiefs had a fourth of that total — 60 yards — in penalties on Sunday. The Jets haven’t put it all together yet in a game this season, but they continue to find a way. They’ll do just that in this one.

The Pick: Jets 23, Chiefs 13

New Orleans at Tennessee: For as impressive as the Saints have been in their back-to-back nationally televised wins over New York and Detroit, New Orleans is still a pedestrian 3-3 in their six games played on the road. Tennessee, meanwhile, without any real national media buzz or the luxury of having Jon Gruden or Cris Collinsworth salivating over their every offensive play, is quietly 7-5 and still very much in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt. The running game — and Chris Johnson’s career, for that matter — suddenly woke up two weeks ago and appears to be sizzling like it was the past two years. I like the Titans, outdoors and in crummy weather, on a game won at the line of scrimmage in this one.

The Pick: Titans 33, Saints 24

Indianapolis at Baltimore: Though it’ll never be enough to make up for the Mayflower moving trucks leaving town in 1983, Ravens fans have to be taking at least some delight in seeing the Colts suffer through this horrid 0-12 campaign. On Sunday, they’ll get their yuks in person. The only other time the Ravens have been favored by more than 16 points over an opponent was during their 2000 Super Bowl campaign, in which they were 16.5 points over a struggling Spurgeon Wynn-led Browns squad. The Ravens covered on that Sunday afternoon (a 44-7 win). They’ll do the same, here. Easily.

The Pick: Ravens 34, Colts 6

Philadelphia at Miami: I’ve been wrong on the Eagles all year. When I pick them to lose, they win. When I think they’ll win, they lose. They gave zero effort and laid a massive egg in Seattle last Thursday night with their season on the line. Even with a long week to prepare, Andy Reid’s job in jeopardy, and a healthy Michael Vick back in the lineup, it’s hard to pick the Eagles with any sort of conviction. I think they find a way, here, but that’s a lot like saying “I think I’m going to like ‘The Office’ this week”. Everytime, I have this fleeting vision that they’re suddenly going to pull it all together and be as good as they should be, but they never deliver. That includes you, Ed Helms. MAKE ME LAUGH THIS SEASON. JUST ONCE. PLEASE.

The Pick: Eagles 28, Dolphins 20

Sunday 4 pm Games

Chicago at Denver: Like last week, this video is all I have to say: Watch it. Learn it. Love it. All he does is win, win, win.

The Pick: Broncos 23, Bears 18

San Francisco at Arizona: I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but this 49ers dream season could be in some trouble if Patrick Willis misses a considerable amount of time with his hamstring injury. For as good as San Francisco’s been — and yes, they’ve been very, very good — if the playoffs were to start this week, they’d only have one win over another team in the postseason. That squad? The 6th seed in the AFC, the skidding Cincinnati Bengals. Arizona’s D has risen to the occasion in recent weeks, with big performances against Philly and Dallas. Though I’m probably Kevin Kolb’s biggest critic and am convinced he got the most absurd veteran contract based on performance in NFL history back in July, I think he’s good for an upset win in this one.

The Pick: Cardinals 20, 49ers 17

Buffalo at San Diego: That Bills-to-the-playoffs thing was fun while it lasted. Alas, as losers of five straight contests with games against San Diego, Miami, Denver, and New England up ahead — it’s quite possible Buffalo finishes the year 5-11 with a top 10 pick in April’s NFL Draft. Again. The ol’ nine-game losing streak to end a season … Only the Bills, folks. Only the Bills.

The Pick: Chargers 31, Bills 17

Oakland at Green Bay: How about life as a Wisconsin sports fan right now? Your Badgers are going to their second Rose Bowl in as many years, Ryan Braun just won the National League MVP award, and even the Bucks are supposed to be kinda maybe good in the NBA. Oh, and the Packers happen to be 12-0, playing as entertaining a brand of football as any team in recent memory (including the ’07 Patriots and ’99 Rams), and are already champions of the NFC North by early December. They’ll win this one and every other game they’ve got left on their regular season schedule. Fun fact from Las Vegas? If the Super Bowl were today, no matter the opponent, the Packers would be favored by at least a field goal over their AFC foe.

The Pick: Packers 34, Raiders 20

Sunday night

New York Giants at Dallas: Aside from being more than somewhat responsible for costing the Cowboys wins against the Jets, Lions, Patriots, and Cardinals this year, Jason Garrett’s had an outstanding first full season as the head coach in Dallas. Bit harsh? No. Who ices their own kicker? Even LeBron James, the NBA’s Mr. Anything But Clutch, criticized Garrett on Twitter Sunday night. Dallas’ record got fat with four wins over mediocre teams in November. The Giants, meanwhile, have played four 2011 playoff teams in five weeks. Give me Big Blue in an “upset." They're ready for this one.

The Pick: Giants 27, Cowboys 23

Monday night

St. Louis at Seattle: Watching Tim Tebow connect with Demaryius Thomas for a game-saving touchdown in last Sunday’s thrilling victory over the Vikings, I couldn’t help but think of the man who drafted them last April — Josh McDaniels. As his two uber-controversial first round selections excelled, he must have been mumbling in that Rams locker room, wondering what could have been as he prepared A.J. Feeley for an eventual 26-0 loss in San Fran. Seemingly no one who’s met the guy has ever said the words, “Poor Josh McDaniels”. But damn, poor Josh McDaniels.

The Pick: Seahawks 23, Rams 16

Reader Email of the Week


The Heisman’s going to come down to Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck. Both guys should be in the NFL Draft and should end up being first round picks. I assume Matt Barkley and Landry Jones will come out, too. That makes four quarterbacks. With the new CBA, does a rookie wage scale encourage teams to take more risks on quarterbacks in the first round? If so, which I assume it does, are there any other first round guys to look for in bowl games this month?


New York, New York


Great questions, and yes, your assumption is right on the money. Whereas in the past, taking a risk and failing on a quarterback in the first round could set your team (and its salary cap) back several years, the new rookie wage scale in the latest CBA makes taking a first round quarterback a lot less dangerous a move. It also makes these guys a lot less untouchable. The Jaguars will have a new coach, new owner, and possibly a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in town next season. What if the new brass don’t like what they saw in Blaine Gabbert’s forgettable 2011 rookie year? What if Matt Barkley's sitting there, available on the top of their draft board? It’s entirely possible that the new hires come in, assess the situation, and draft a quarterback — say, Barkley or Jones — with that top 5 pick in April. Cutting Gabbert loose would make a minor dent in their wallets, but nothing in comparison to the hits they would have taken pre-2011. As for first round quarterbacks, I think the wild card is Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. A quarterback-turned receiver-turned quarterback, Tannehill has the size, skills, and athleticism to excel at the next level. The intangibles are what need to be examined. Despite being ranked No. 8 in the AP poll before the start of the season, A&M finished the year a disappointing 6-6. Was that reflection of Tannehill or the result of several factors outside his control? Teams are going to have to figure that out. The Aggies face Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas on New Year’s Eve at 11 am CST. All eyes — or at least those ones awake at that time — will be on Mr. Tannehill.

WEEK 14 CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER: The other five men to accomplish the feat were:
• George Seifert: 8 consecutive 9+ win seasons with the San Francisco 49ers
• Mike Holmgren: 8 consecutive 9+ win seasons with the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks
• Bill Cowher: 6 consecutive 9+ win seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers
• Chuck Knox: 5 consecutive 9+ win seasons with the Los Angeles Rams
• Mike Sherman: 5 consecutive 9+ win seasons with the Green Bay Packers