Quarterback play in the NFL in general is on a nice little uptick, which only makes sense. In a nation of 325 million, there should be at least a dozen souls who can make running an offense look somewhat less daunting than captaining a nuclear sub.
It should always surprise and sadden you when that position goes begging because given the money to be made and the quality of athlete out there on the open market, there should be no excuse for any epidemic of bad quarterbacking. Thankfully, none is needed now.
“I think it’s in a good place right now in this league – there’s a lot of talented quarterbacks both younger and veteran that are playing at high levels,” noted one highly-placed observer, Matt Ryan.
But why, then, does so much of this talent have to tilt to the south?
For here is the Falcons’ Ryan playing every bit at the level he was two years ago when he took the Falcons to the Super Bowl and won the MVP, and he is having trouble separating himself in just his own division.
In quarterback rating, among those who are regular starters, all four in the NFC South are in the top 10. These are: Drew Brees, New Orleans (1); Ryan (4); Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay (6) and Cam Newton, Carolina (10).
The Falcons have games remaining against all three divisional rivals and their big-producing quarterbacks (assuming Tampa Bay doesn’t do something foolish and put Jameis Winston back behind the wheel – but, then, they are the Bucs). Therein lies the greatest reason to believe they already are out of the NFC South race and must scuttle around for a wild card in the second half.
This is, of course, a quarterback’s league – which is why they are protected like heads of state. Expect the red velvet ropes and at least one member of the Secret Service to be deployed in each backfield any time now.
It’s just that an inordinate amount of the real difference-making ones cohabit the Falcons neighborhood. Theirs is a quarterback division, wherein lives two of the past three MVPs (Ryan and Newton).
“The division we play is tough and we certainly understand where we’re at in the division,” Ryan said. That would be 4-4, in third place behind the 7-1 Saints and 6-2 Panthers. Blame Brees and Newton for this predicament.
Here is Ryan through the first half of the season throwing for more yards, as many touchdowns and fewer interceptions than through eight games of his MVP season. And yet, while part of this season’s MVP discussion, he is not the most obvious choice.
One running back (Todd Gurley) is interloping, but otherwise those who are front-running for the MVP are the usual assortment of those who touch the ball on every offensive play. There is the scattering of Next Gen quarterbacks in the mix, in 23-year-old Patrick Mahomes and 24-year-old Jared Goff. Mahomes looks scarcely old enough to play Madden NFL let alone the real thing, but that doesn’t seem to matter now.
And then there are the old-timers. Tom Brady refuses to confess his age. Aaron Rodgers (whom the Falcons face Dec. 9, if he is still standing) is wounded but proud, in the face of an offensive line that he really should sue at season’s end.
Yet it’s the 39-year-old Brees who has to be the sentimental MVP favorite. The guy just threw his first and only interception of the season. He doesn’t take sacks, getting rid of the ball so quickly it must be radioactive. And at his size, he’ll get all votes from the averaged-sized.
More than competing with Brees for the random big award, Ryan and the Falcons face the far grimmer task of trying to beat him in an upcoming very big game (Thanksgiving night). A road game against the Carolina Newtons looms in the penultimate week of the season. Neither is likely to be released by their teams beforehand, so these figure to be the toughest tests to come.
It’s no coincidence they are the only two teams left on the Falcons schedule with winning records here at the turn. It’s the one with the quarterback who has won a MVP and the one whose quarterback appears next in line.
Ryan has thrown more yards and more touchdowns so far this year than either Brees or Newton. That he has been very good is indisputable. Yet here in a division that really has embraced the theme of Season of the Quarterback, Ryan will only need to get better in the second half.