One thing became clear last Sunday – the Cincinnati Bengals Super Bowl chances took a major hit.
Of course, depending on who you ask, some think the Bengals still have a fighting chance to have some playoff success for the first time in more or less forever, while others think they have a little more than a prayer at this point in their season.
Obviously no one is expecting AJ McCarron to replace Andy Dalton’s production this year, but he will need to replace at least some of it in order for the Bengals to go very far in January.
However, Dalton’s injury does put the AFC in a bit of a unique situation in that going into week 15 of the NFL season, three of the AFC’s top four seeded teams (Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, and the Denver Broncos) are currently playing with backup quarterbacks. Additionally, the current sixth-seeded New York Jets have had the same quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick) start every game this season, but he only solidified the starting position following Geno Smith’s freak preseason injury.
Even if Andy Dalton and Peyton Manning had not gotten hurt this season, it is still likely that the Patriots would be the current favorites to win the AFC championship. At the same time, not even the Patriots are a sure thing in the playoffs every year, and even if the Bengals and Broncos start the playoffs with McCarron and Brock Osweiler taking snaps, may not be completely unheard of for one of those teams to sneak their way into the Super Bowl (especially given how closely the air pressure of game balls will be monitored should the AFC championship game again take place in Foxboro).
Going back the last twenty years, exactly how many teams have reached the Super Bowl with the same quarterback starting each game in the regular season?
Twenty six out of forty teams (65%) made it through the whole season with just a single quarterback starting all sixteen games. Of course, that excludes three teams in which they rested their starting quarterback in Week 17 with nothing to play for:
- 2010 Green Bay Packers (Matt Flynn starting for Aaron Rodgers)
- 2009 New Orleans Saints (Mark Brunell starting for Drew Brees)
- 2004 Philadelphia Eagles (Koy Detmer starting for Donovan McNabb)
So in reality, twenty nine of forty teams (73%) have made it to the Super Bowl with the same starting quarterback throughout the regular season. Looking back at all teams in the regular season from 1995 to 2014, just 261 out of 602 teams (43%) have made it through a season with every quarterback starting all 16 games.
Of course, the remaining eleven teams show that it’s possible to play in the final game after having gone through multiple quarterbacks. In fact, of those eleven teams, five went on to win the Super Bowl:
- 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger twice made it to the Super Bowl after missing some games earlier in the season. He won this year but lost the Super Bowl to the Packers in the 2010 season after having missed 4 regular season games due to suspension.
- 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Brad Johnson helped lead the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl title, though the team was known more for its defense in helping bring the first Super Bowl title to Tampa Bay
- 2001 New England Patriots – the birth of the legend of Tom Brady. After replacing Drew Bledsoe in Week 2 following an injury, Brady would go on to do what Brady does.
- 2000 Baltimore Ravens – Trent Dilfer took over for the ineffective Tony Banks, and was asked to do little more than not screw up and instead let a dominating defense go to work.
- 1998 Denver Broncos – fortunately for Denver, John Elway only missed time in the early part of the year and was surrounded by offensive weapons who were able to help lead the team to their second straight Super Bowl title.
Going back to the Bengals, in theory they still stand a chance to win the Super Bowl, and perhaps even win. At the same time, according to some projections 25 teams still stand a chance to win the Super Bowl. In reality, the Bengals chances took a huge hit with Dalton’s injury, as the teams listed above who won either had a dominating defense or a quarterback who missed time early in the year. While the Patriots shouldn’t consider the rest of the regular season and AFC playoffs a cakewalk, their path to the Super Bowl this year appears to have fewer obstacles than most years.