Perhaps one of the most stressful positions in the game of football, much is expected of an NFL quarterbacks. They tend to get all the credit when things go right and all the backlash when things go wrong. But hey, that’s why they get the huge contracts. When things look bleak and your team needs someone to turn things around, people look to the quarterback. They’re expected to lead their team to success. But as we all know, that isn’t the case for a majority of signal callers who enter the league. There are only a handful of quarterbacks right now that are considered elite. What separates them from their peers is not just their high level of play but their ability to march a team into the playoffs. Naturally not all QBs can do this on a regular basis and some have yet to do this at all.
There are a number of quarterbacks currently in the NFL who have either failed to win a playoff game in their career or have yet to lead their team to a playoff berth. In most cases those who fail to rally their team beyond the regular season don’t tend to stay in that uniform very long. And while it does take an entire team, not one man, to get to the playoffs, the quarterback – along with the head coach – will almost always take the brunt of the blame in these situations. Some of these players are aging veterans with limited windows of opportunity, others are young talents with bright futures and some are backups who’ve lost their starting jobs years ago. Nonetheless they all share one thing in common. That elusive first playoff win.
* We're looking at QBs who have extensive starting experience (more than a couple of games) and have more than two years experience.
While he might’ve been considered to be a reach by some experts, the Minnesota Vikings took Christian Ponder in the first round with the hopes that he’d provide stability for the franchise at the quarterback position. That didn’t work out very well, as any Vikings fan will tell you. Despite having shown moments of brilliance under center in Minnesota, Ponder never showed the consistency needed to start in the NFL. He did lead the Vikings to a playoff berth in his career (well it was more Adrian Peterson than anyone else) but he was held out of the game due to injury and had to watch as back up Joe Webb struggled against a tough Green Bay Packers defense. Now with Oakland, Ponder is currently serving as an insurance policy should Derek Carr go down sometime during the season.
Most back up QBs dream of stepping in and making a big enough impact that the rest of the league begins to take notice. That’s exactly what happened with Matt Cassel when he stepped in for an injured Tom Brady after the future Hall of Famer was lost for the entire 2008 season. Despite Cassel’s best efforts, the Patriots barely missed the playoffs but his impressive play was enough to earn him a starting job with the Chiefs. He had his best year in 2010 and led the team to the playoffs. However, Cassel couldn’t do anything against the Ravens blitz and contributed a good deal to the team’s five turnovers that day. After failing to win in Minnesota, Cassel is currently with the Bills in the midst of what looks to be an awful quarterback competition.
New York is a tough market to play in, especially if you don’t win. Quarterback is one of the most popular positions in the game of football but it’s also the most scrutinized when a team fails to find success. Now entering his third year as a starter, Geno Smith is walking a very fine line with the Jets. In two seasons as a starter, Smith has turned the ball over 42 times. He seems to have the potential to be a solid starter, maybe more, but the problem with Smith is he hasn’t shown that he’s consistent enough with his decision making to lead a winning team for an entire season. This could very well be his last year in New York unless he – and the team – show some wild improvement.
The pressure put on a number one overall pick is incredible. They have the burden of having to resurrect a franchise and while no one expects them to do it singlehandedly, they are expected to develop into that X-factor that helps their team reach greatness. All this was expected of Sam Bradford when he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2010. But injuries have set the young signal caller's career back a great deal. Though he has the talent, he’s had limited success due to his inability to stay on the field. Now with the Eagles, Bradford will look to put Philadelphia back in the hunt this coming fall.
A 28 year old first round pick is pretty unorthodox. A team has to be pretty desperate to spend something that valuable on an unexperienced signal caller already nearing the end of their prime. That’s just what the Cleveland Browns were, desperate. By the time Brandon Weeden took his first career snap, he was only weeks away from his 29th birthday. The Browns weren’t some powerhouse missing a few key pieces. They had a lot of other holes they could’ve used a first round choice on. Weeden was a short term gamble at best and he didn’t pan out. Now with Dallas, he serves as Tony Romo’s back up.
For a time, Mike Glennon was considered to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ QB of the future when he was drafted in the third round in 2013. With Josh Freeman’s career slowly coming to an end, the Bucs hoped that Glennon could develop into a solid signal caller if given the time. Sadly, Glennon quickly fell out of favor with the team’s brass and actually started more games his rookie campaign than his sophomore season in the NFL. Now with Jameis Winston at the helm, Glennon is no more than a number two option, at least in Tampa.
EJ Manuel’s career might very well be over as he’s currently stuck in a three way quarterback competition that has no clear favorite as teams work their way into training camp. But Manuel is still young. He’s entering his third season in Buffalo but is under a new regime. Speaking strictly long term, if there’s anyone on the Bills roster who can end their long playoff drought it’s him. He’s got a higher pedigree and more upside than Tyrod Taylor, Matt Simms and Matt Cassel. But he was benched last year in favor of an aged Kyle Orton. This doesn’t bode well for him in the long run and failing to secure a starting job this pre-season pretty much means the end of his career with the Bills.
Things looked good last year as Brian Hoyer led the Browns to what was looking like a respectable season with what could’ve possibly been their first playoff berth in years. However, the team couldn’t stay consistent for 16 games and a terrible – and short lived – debut for rookie Johnny Manziel only made things worse. Hoyer is out of Cleveland and is once again fighting for a starting job this off season. This time it’s against fellow former Patriot back up Ryan Mallett. Both have looked good in off season drills thus far, but there’s plenty of time left till the regular season kicks off and still more questions than answers in Houston.
In a draft class that included Andrew Luck, Russel Wilson and Robert Griffin III, it might be easy for some fans to overlook Ryan Tannehill’s development over his career. The Dolphins passer has grown steadily since his rookie year and is among the upper echelon of the league's young passers. The only thing he doesn’t have going for him is a playoff berth, but the Dolphins are optimistic he’s the guy who can do it. If he continues to develop as he has been over the last few years, Tannehill might easily secure a spot among the league’s top 15 passers with a playoff run with Miami.
Moving on from one guy who’s got the entire franchise behind him, to one whose future is still up in smoke. Unlike Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III has actually led his team to the playoffs. In his rookie year believe it or not. However, nothing’s been going his way since. Perhaps it’s because of that gruesome knee injury suffered against the Seattle Seahawks in the 2013 wild card loss, but he just hasn’t looked like the same threat he was coming out of college. He regressed terribly in his second year and lost his job last season due to both nagging injury and bad play. Now plugged in as the starter, Griffin will need to show that he’s able to replicate his rookie success on a consistent basis if the Redskins have any hope of fighting their way through the NFC East.
Carson Palmer is an aging veteran who might not have much left in the tank. But he the Cardinals seem to believe that he’s got just enough to help the team make another playoff push. If he can stay healthy, their faith might be rewarded. Having somewhat resurrected his career with the Cardinals, Palmer’s career in Oakland was a regrettable mess. Before that he was the Cincinnati Bengals’ starting qb and looked to be their best shot at winning a Super Bowl. After being knocked out of a 2006 playoff match up against the Steelers – an injury some doctors saw as possibly being career ending – Palmer once again led the Bengals to the playoffs only to fall short once again. Injuries held him back in 2014 and thus kept him out of most of the season, including Arizona’s playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers, where they needed a veteran signal caller under center.
After some success in Chicago replacing the abysmal Jay Cutler, Josh McCown went on to the Buccaneers in 2014. The hope was that he could lead the team the way he did the Bears with consistent play at key moments in the game. It didn’t go that way. Despite having started 11 games for Tampa in 2014, McCown’s stats were terrible and, in this case,stats did tell the whole story. He’s now with the Browns and should be their starting quarterback once the season rolls around. Can he lead them to the playoffs? Who knows? He’s got as much of a shot as any other 36 year old journeyman with limited playing experience in the league does.
Just a few years removed from his jaw dropping campaign which saw him turn the ball over twice, Nick Foles will be wearing a new uniform come fall. The former Eagle is now a member of the St. Louis Rams after he and Sam Bradford evidentially swapped jerseys. Though his career in Philly didn’t last long, it did see him lead the team into the playoffs. A last second field goal caused them to lose to the Saints in a wild card match but Foles himself was spot on throughout the game. If he can find his way in the Rams’ offense then there’s a good chance he’ll be back in the hunt for that Lombardi soon.
Though his career started off rather slowly, Matthew Stafford has established himself as a reliable quarterback and true difference maker for the Detroit Lions franchise. Now entering year seven, Stafford still has to prove that he can lead the Lions deep into the playoffs. He’s so far failed to get them past the wild card round, though that loss to the Cowboys last season is still somewhat controversial. However, with the slew of weapons at his disposal, Stafford is quickly running out of excuses as to why he’s yet to win a playoff game. If things don’t change soon, he’ll have even more critics to deal with and maybe some more question marks as well.
While he has led the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs in each of his four years in the league, Andy Dalton has failed to win a single one of those games. The former second round pick has been a godsend for the franchise, rejuvenating the team and quickly helping them find success. The offense is high powered and the defense is incredibly stingy, yet every time they get into the playoffs, Dalton folds. He’s not had one playoff game where he’s thrown more touchdowns than interceptions. He just doesn’t seem to handle the pressure well. That needs to change quickly. Regular season play is one thing, but it’s in the playoffs that these guys earn their money.