Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Assessing QB situations from NFL Wild Card Weekend: Packers in great hands; time for total Steelers makeover?

The NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend is in the books, with six different teams advancing on Saturday and Sunday, including the upstart Detroit Lions and Houston Texans. Whether close games or blowouts, each contest added some important context to quarterback situations around the league. Who’s upped their stock? Whose future is muddier than before?

Here’s our instant assessment of each QB situation from this week’s wild-card playoff games:

Buffalo Bills

This just might be Josh Allen’s year. Easy does it, you say, he’s still gotta outduel Patrick Mahomes. Sure, but the dual-threat superstar did the one thing he absolutely had to do in the wild-card round: control the ball. Allen’s superpower is playing old-fashioned gunslinger, but when he can also make smart decisions, he’s darn near unstoppable.

Cleveland Browns

The Joe Flacco experience is over, probably for good. Magical as his fearless gunslinging may have been late in the year, the 38-year-old effectively reaffirmed his backup status with a multi-turnover dud against Houston, hence coach Kevin Stefanski talking up Deshaun Watson’s rehab in post-game media availability. Watson has plenty of his own questions, but unless he has significant physical setbacks this offseason, you can forget about any kind of Flacco encore, at least in a starting role.

Dallas Cowboys

Jerry Jones is due to pay a bittersweet price for Dak PrescottThere are two realities at play here: 1.) Prescott was thoroughly outplayed by Jordan Love in yet another embarrassing playoff loss Sunday, exacerbating questions about his big-stage effectiveness; 2.) Prescott showcased MVP-caliber play for much of 2023, and his contract — with a ridiculous $59.5 million 2024 salary-cap hit, and a future no-tag clause — all but guarantees he’ll be extended again, unless Jones gets wild and shops him.

Detroit Lions

Jared Goff is a local hero, for now. Matthew Stafford spent 12 years gutting it out for Detroit. He’ll always be a Lion, in many fans’ eyes. But Goff needed just three seasons to do what Stafford never could: lead a playoff victory as the Lions’ QB. That’s a testament to Detroit’s roster construction and coaching, but it also speaks to Goff’s resilience, sharpening his already-accurate arm even after arriving as a perceived throwaway for a rebuilding lineup. Let’s see how far he can take this.

Green Bay Packers

They’ve done it again. OK, so one playoff game isn’t enough to crown Jordan Love the next homegrown Hall of Famer under center, but boy did he look like the NFL’s next big thing, slinging the ball from every angle and posture in a rout of Dallas. This kid is just 24, fresh off his first full year as Aaron Rodgers‘ successor, but his gifts promise top-10, maybe top-five, production. No matter what happens against the San Francisco 49ers, Love’s already locked himself in as the face and future of Green Bay.

Houston Texans

C.J. Stroud has already made 2023 a success. And maybe he’ll go further, adding to a Rookie of the Year campaign. But like Jordan Love in Green Bay, his All-Pro-caliber touch and poise ensure Texans fans can leave the playoffs with a smile on their faces, no matter the next-round results. The first-rounder has looked the part all year, especially in the team’s playoff win over the Browns, and he figures to have Houston in the mix out of the AFC South for years to come.

Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes is getting his groove back. It’s the playoffs; what else did you expect? He wasn’t lights out against the Dolphins, completing just 56% of his throws. But with steady ground-game support from Isiah Pacheco, plus an emerging No. 1 downfield target in Rashee Rice, there’s reason to believe he and the Chiefs should be feared once again. That 12-3 career playoff record looms large over the rest of the AFC field.

Los Angeles Rams

Matthew Stafford bought himself more time. A year ago at this time, it wouldn’t have been crazy if the Rams had unloaded Stafford in a “salary dump,” just two years after doing the same thing to Jared Goff. The former Super Bowl champ was aging quickly and battered all over, it seemed. But then 2023 happened, and he overcame a slow start to rediscover that laser arm, going blow for blow with the Lions in his anticipated return to Detroit. Suddenly, going on 36, he doesn’t feel so old.

Miami Dolphins

Tua Tagovailoa may have played himself out of an extension. To be fair, Miami’s shortcomings against elite opponents go well beyond the QB. Mike McDaniel’s had precious few in-game adjustments to help. The O-line battled injuries all year. But Tagovailoa, for all his improvement as a confident, downfield thrower in recent years, once again proved to be a lesser point guard when pressured in a high-stakes environment. Miami may prefer to give him a final audition before paying top dollar.

Philadelphia Eagles

It’s time to get Jalen Hurts a better support staff. Hurts shouldn’t totally avoid blame for Philly’s late-year collapse; he was loose with the ball all year, and also had no answers for the blitz, often choosing — or refusing — to run at the wrong times. But even more problematic this year? His coaches. His play calls. His options, or lack thereof. His contract dictates he won’t be going anywhere, nor should he. But now it’s up to team brass to figure out how to maximize his talent.

Pittsburgh Steelers

It may be time for a total makeover. Kenny Pickett isn’t going anywhere as a 2022 first-rounder, but if this team didn’t trust him to start a playoff game, it’s foolish to think he will — or should — be an unquestioned starter for 2024. Mitch Trubisky is a surefire cut candidate after losing the No. 2 job. Mike Tomlin may be returning, but he’ll be hard-pressed not to add at least one legitimate veteran or rookie to compete for time under center.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Baker Mayfield continues to entrench himself. Getting the Bucs to the playoffs was enough to justify another short-term deal for the journeyman. After routing the Eagles, pulling within one win of the NFC title game (!), Mayfield may have already locked up Tampa Bay’s QB1 job for 2024. Good for him, truly making the most of this opportunity.

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