NFL quarterbacks have two choices when it comes to the spotlight, either get used to it, or look for another line of work. While analysts and savvy fans like to talk-the-talk about the importance of a strong offensive line and a quick pass rush on the outside edge, at the end of the day, win or lose, we point the finger at the guy whose hands are all too familiar with the center’s 300lb. gluteus maximum.
The QB is the hero or the goat, period, the end.
So this weekend, when the Eagles meet the Cowboys for the NFC East and the Packers travel to Chicago to face the Bears for the NFC North, it will not only be two division crowns on the line, but a sort of judgment day for four signal callers.
When Chip Kelly finally announced that he’d be leaving Oregon and making the jump to the NFL, the talk of the town was focused around how the once superman-like Michael Vick would handle the up tempo run-and-gun offense. Here, in week 17, Vick has since been relegated to the clipboard holding stage of his career and Nick Foles has Eagles fans forgetting all about Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb.
Since taking over the first team reps from Vick, Foles has shined in every facet of the game. He’s thrown 25 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions and he leads the league in passer rating. He’s got everyone wondering what he’ll be capable of heading into a full season as the starter.
If Foles can pull out a win this weekend in Dallas, the Eagles will soar into the playoffs on quite the hot streak and with their offense putting up huge numbers they could make some noise in the postseason and upset one of the NFC juggernauts.
Midway through the 2013 campaign the NFC East looked like a division without a true frontrunner, and while Dallas has hung in there (somehow) the Eagles look like a team ready to make the leap from mediocre to contender. Without a doubt, making the switch to Foles has been a huge part of this transition.
Across the field from the Eagles will be a quarterback who hasn’t started a game all season.
Cowboys’ coach Jason Garrett only recently announced that Tony Romo will undergo back surgery to repair a herniated disk and therefore the team will place him on the season ending Injured Reserve.
It’s never easy coming in off the bench in relief of the star QB, but Orton has been here before. And while Orton has done the old starter to back-up flip flop for most of his career, there were times that he looked like a legitimate top 15 QB. He’s thrown for 81 touchdowns with nearly 15,000 yards and 35 NFL victories over his years with the Bears and Broncos. To make a long story short, he gives Dallas a real chance to pull off the win and kick Philly out of the playoffs.
Out of the four QBs facing the immense pressure of the “one game playoff” atmosphere, Orton will surely be the most relaxed. Realistically, the journeyman has nothing to lose. We’ll just have to see if he can make good on the $5 million signing bonus check he cashed this past off-season from Jerry Jones.
There are people who call Jay Cutler a waste of talent, and others who think he is a massive underachiever. Of course both of these people are spot on. At times Cutler showcases an arm reminiscent of Chargers’ great Dan Fouts, but at other times he makes poor decisions, lacks leadership, and seems to play without enough fire and emotion.
It will be interesting to see what the Bears do this off-season, but my guess is that a victory on Sunday against Green Bay will all but cement Cutler into the 2014 roster. Sure, he’s far too unpolished for how many years he’s spent in the league, but there is simply too much of a deficiency of franchise quarterback talent out there to let a man with all the tools walk. Then again, patience wears thin quickly in the “win or else” National Football League.
Going up head-to-head against the former league and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers will be a great barometer for Cutler. With the division crown on the line, it’s time for Jay to either put up or shut up. Chicago brought him in to win these big games in the clutch.
The last time Rodgers suited up on a Sunday it was on November 4th against the same Chicago Bears that he’ll face this weekend at Soldier Field for the NFC North crown. And while the injury was purely incidental, there’s no question that he’ll come into the match-up with a little bit extra motivation.
For all intents and purposes the Packers have had a disappointing season. Sure, they’ve won enough games to be in the playoff hunt, but realistically if it weren’t for Eddie Lacy they’d be looking at a losing season and quite a few of their victories were less than pretty. All that being said, the current face of the franchise is back, and if you’ve ever seen Rodgers play you know that he brings a passion to football and would love nothing more than to salvage 2013 with a win of their division rivals.
Rodgers has the ability to take control of this game, and he could completely dominate against a weak Chicago defense. But we’ll have to wait and see how his collarbone holds up and how much pain affects his accuracy.
Win & You’re In
Regardless of the fact that all four quarterbacks heading into Sunday’s division championship games are in completely different stages of their career, this is the stuff that dreams are made of. Young boys toss their pigskin through tire swings with the hope that one day they’ll get the chance on the big stage to toss that game winning touchdown. Both of these games are going to be awesome, and kick-off just can’t get here soon enough.