Experience makes the difference when it comes to backups in the NFL playoffs


As we race towards the final week of the 2016 NFL regular season, there is still a bunch of intrigue. The NFC playoff teams aren’t completely set yet, and the seedings are in flux. The AFC seedings are largely in flux as well, though the six teams going to the playoffs are set.

The AFC is also facing another bit of chaos as three of six playoff teams now have backup quarterbacks as starters.

The Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, and Oakland Raiders have all changed starters in the past few weeks—the Dolphins and Raiders due to injury and the Texans due to incompetence. This is never an optimal situation.

Still, all hope is not lost. While these are backups, they are still NFL quarterbacks and if the coaching staff manages them right, and the rest of the team executes as they should, they can still advance in the playoffs.

There’s a thin line between success and failure in the playoffs, though. Which has the best chance to succeed?

The Dolphins’ Matt Moore, the Raiders’ Matt McGloin, and the Texans’ Tom Savage have some advantages in common. All three teams have decent defenses. Naturally, Houston’s is the best by quite a stretch, but the Raiders have been stingy with passing touchdowns the last few weeks and Miami has heated up as well.

That means all three quarterbacks have defenses that shouldn’t put them in the hole early. They also have solid running backs and Lamar Miller, Latavious Murray, and Jay Ajayi should help take some of the load off the backs of these quarterbacks.

All three also have some very good weapons to pass to in the forms of DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Devante Parker.

And all three teams feature solid—or in the case of Oakland, excellent (just 16 sacks and 36 quarterback hits allowed)—offensive lines.

What’s going to make the difference here will likely be experience.

Oakland’s Matt McGloin has thrown just 266 passes for 155 completions in four years. None of them have been in playoff games.

Houston’s Tom Savage has only appeared in four games, going 51-for-84 with no touchdowns during his brief two-year career.

Of the three, Miami’s Matt Moore has had the longest career (nine years), and the most game experience (485-of-823 for 5,885 yards, 39 touchdowns, and 30 interceptions). On the downside, he has been largely riding the pine the last five years behind Tannehill and missed his one chance at being on the sideline for a playoff game with a broken tibula in 2008.

Still, all other things being equal, experience is a huge advantage, even if it’s been mostly on the bench.  While McGloin and Savage both have the better receivers—you have to like Landry and company but you also have to admit they aren’t in the same league as Cooper and Hopkins—you have to know how to get the ball to those guys.

A disguised defense, a shift in coverage, a late blitz—Moore has seen much more of those things both on the field and in the film room than either of the other quarterbacks. He’s going to be able to adjust more fluidly and accurately at the line. He’s should make smarter decisions and that could give him the edge.

Sure, changing quarterbacks just before the playoffs isn’t an optimal situation. The Dolphins have an experienced quarterback, though, and that could make a huge difference.

About Andrew Garda


Andrew Garda is a freelance writer primarily covering NFL football, with frequent side trips to everything else. A member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he is a contributing writer for Sports on Earth and Pro Football Weekly. He also covers fantasy for Garda is the host of the At the Whistle podcast and has been credentialed for many NFL drafts, Senior Bowls, pro days and various NFL events.