– Jim Bearor
There are three starting quarterbacks in the playoffs that aren’t like the others, and they’re all in the AFC. Matt Moore is Ryan Tannehill’s backup, Connor Cook is a third string quarterback for the Raiders, and Brock Osweiler is a a 72 million dollar meme who lost his job to Tom Savage, yet finds himself starting a playoff game at home against Cook and company.
The Patriots had their way with the Dolphins in the final game of the regular season, and Pittsburgh seems to be hitting its stride at the perfect time, so it’s easy for Miami fans to lose hope before Sunday’s game at inhospitable Heinz Field.
Nothing took the wind out of the sails of a season more than when Oakland’s Carr broke down in Week 16. Matt McGloin’s subsequent injury was salt in the wound, and nobody can say for sure what to expect from them from this point forward.
Houston finished 30th out of 32 teams in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings and by that same metric, they are the third worst team to make the playoffs in the modern era. The only other quarterback on their roster is Brandon Weeden.
Maybe I’m intrigued by these three teams for the same reason that it’s hard to look away from a train wreck. Maybe I’ve watched too many sports movies and I’m waiting for one of these quarterbacks to turn into Shane Falco or Johnny Moxon. Maybe it’s because at this dance party that is the playoffs, these three look like they can’t dance as well as the others, and they tripped on their way in, so everyone is looking at them.
Keeping with the dance party analogy, Houston is the absolute weakest link of the group. They’re frequently the butt of jokes, they smell kinda bad, and they always seem to pop up when you don’t want to see any more of them. They’re like Newman from Seinfeld, but less menacing. In a perfect world, they would realize that were out of their element, and they would leave quietly. Unfortunately, that’s not how the NFL Playoffs work. Instead, they’ve locked eyes with the recently-mangled Raiders from across the room, and the two are about to meet at the center of the dance floor to get the party started.
As far as “setting the tone” goes, this is probably the worst duo you could pick to kick off Wild Card Weekend. On the other hand, it’s probably in everyone’s best interests to get this one out of the way early, and it might set such a low bar that the other three games this weekend will seem better by comparison. You can approach this matchup with as much disdain or false hope as you’d like, and that makes it oddly special.
Connor Cook is about to become the only quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first professional start in a playoff game. He’s got a killer (though banged-up) offensive line, and an above-average cast of skill players to work with. Brock Osweiler has some experience, but it’s bad experience. This will be his first action in a playoff game. Lamar Miller – coming back from injury – is also set to make his postseason debut. Cook will be facing a stouter defense, led by Jadaveon Clowney. Osweiler faces what has been a below-average defense for the majority of the year, but Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin can make their presences felt. Brandon Weeden will be waiting in the wings in case Osweiler gets a quick hook, and it sounds like Michael Crabtree might be the emergency quarterback for Oakland. We’ve got BlackJack Del Rio versus Bill O’Brien, and O’Brien’s job may be on the line.
This showdown on Saturday afternoon has the feeling of an entry-round matchup in the NCAA tournament, where the stakes are high for the teams involved, but none of us on the outside are under any illusion that the outcome of this game matters. Go ahead, enjoy it, the Patriots and Chiefs are waiting, we’re all going to die someday.
“But Jeff Hostetler did it”
Yes, Jeff Hostetler took over for Phil Simms late in the 1990 season and led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl Victory over the Buffalo Bills. That was 27 years ago, and we have seen countless John Kitnas, Todd Collinses, Ryan Lindleys, Tarvaris Jacksons, Drew Stantons, and Joe Webbs fail since then. That’s just the way it is, the way it should be. Parity is fun, but if backup quarterbacks could be counted on to come in and regularly win games: 1. They wouldn’t be backups. 2. Everybody would give up trying to understand football.
That being said, yeah it would be awesome if one of these backup quarterbacks took his team deep into the playoffs, and there’s always a chance. Connor Cook seems to be in the best position to make a run, considering the talent around him and the positioning of the Raiders in general. Brock Osweiler is the quarterback with the most meaningful recent reps. Veteran backup Matt Moore might not be a drastic drop-off from Ryan Tannehill, and he’s the surest bet of the three, in my opinion.
Moore also is facing a fiercer opponent than Osweiler or Cook. Even if Miami does manage to upset Pittsburgh, they’ll have to go through New England to reach the AFC Championship Game. Then maybe the Chiefs.
I guess what I’m working towards here is that there is a clear divide between the top three and the bottom three teams. The Steelers have Ben, the Patriots have Brady, and the Chiefs have Alex Smith. These are all real quarterbacks. The Dolphins have Matt Moore, the Raiders have Connor Cook, and the Texans have Osweiler and Weeden. These are not real quarterbacks.
Even if Savage and Tannehill were healthy, their teams would still be write-offs. The same can’t be said for the Raiders, who lost an MVP candidate and their leader. Oakland was a real contender before Carr went down, and I think they’re the best of the worst. I can imagine a world where Jarvis Landry and Jay Ajayi take over against the Steelers. I can’t see much past that, but that’s more than I can say for Osweiler and/or Weeden – and it’s not all because I think they’re dogshit. Fuller and Hopkins and Miller are nice players, but I think there are almost certainly deeper problems with the offense, ones that go beyond the guy taking snaps.
All I know about Cook is that he’s 23, he went to Michigan State, and he supposedly has boatloads of confidence. He could fall roughly in line with the generic story of a backup coming in and stealing the show. Cook is an easy name to play with, and I’m sure it would make for great meme-ery. I can see it happening with him in almost the same way I can imagine Kirk Cousins leading a deep playoff run (same alma mater coincidently).
“Raiders Cook Up An Upset”
“Oakland Offense Cook-ing with Gas”
“Short-Order Cook BBQs Houston”
None of these would surprise me. If Donald Penn comes back and Kelechi Osemele can avoid major injury this week, it also wouldn’t come as a shock if the Raiders go into Kansas City and win. I don’t think they can beat the Patriots, but if somehow Oakland manages to win two playoff games on the road, there will be hype, and maybe some “team of destiny” talk starts getting thrown around.
I know, this is blasphemy. I’m not quite kidding, but the idea of a third-stringer going into Foxborough in the year after Deflategate and outdueling the greatest quarterback of all time in a year where he threw two interceptions is fantastical. Brady is currently the football equivalent of Denzel in “Man On Fire” and will vanquish anything between him and the Lombardi trophy, then possibly Goodell (I’m picturing a video game type of scenario where the Pats win the Super Bowl and are transported to a realm where they will do battle with the final boss that is Roger Goodell and the league officials). All jokes aside, Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. and the hooded man behind him are out for blood, and I think the Chiefs are the only team in the AFC that have a realistic chance to stop them.
But playoff football is playoff football I guess, and if the first round of games is a little whacky, all the better. Tom Brady isn’t here yet, so there’s hope.
– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)