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NFC Title Game Showed Why Teams Should Choose Backup QBs Wisely

January 24, 2018
The NFC Championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles highlighted the need for a capable backup quarterback, as neither team would have reached the conference championship if it had a backup passer who simply filled a roster spot.

Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, who replaced injured starter Sam Bradford, started 14 regular-season games and helped propel his team to heights the Vikings hadn't seen in nearly a decade. His season reached an incredible crescendo with the "Minneapolis Miracle" during the divisional playoffs against the New Orleans Saints.

The fact that the Eagles' Super Bowl-bound defense bottled up Keenum and the Vikings' offense really isn't the point -- the Eagles' defense was capable of doing that to any No. 1 signal caller in the league.  

What it comes down to is that for $2 million, the Vikings had the right man at the throttle when the oft-injured Bradford went down.

Switching gears to the Eagles, who will be making the franchise's third Super Bowl appearance, their fate also rests in the hands of a capable backup -- Nick Foles.

Foles, who in a prior Eagles incarnation from 2012-2014 looked to be a budding superstar under both Andy Reid and Chip Kelly, was quickly jettisoned by Kelly to the Los Angeles Rams for Bradford. After one miserable season under Kelly, Bradford was shipped to the Vikings.

Meanwhile, Foles' journey was filled with disappointment as well, as he had one year, 2015, in the Rams' system before he was let go. He spent the 2016 season as Alex Smith's backup under Reid in Kansas City.

Philadelphia has a brand new on-field regime in head coach Doug Pederson and an up-and-coming No. 1 quarterback in Carson Wentz. But that didn't stop the Eagles' brass from investing a two-year, $11 million contract for Foles.

With Wentz well on his way to an MVP-caliber season and the Eagles flying high going into their Week 14 matchup at the Rams, the Foles contract may have seemed an excessive waste of $5.5 million dollars in 2018. 

All that changed in one harrowing minute as Wentz ran for a touchdown and got hit hard as he crossed the goal line, tearing his ACL an ending his spectacular season.

All Foles has done since being thrust back in the brightest of spotlights is engineer back-to-back playoff wins at home against the Atlanta Falcons and Vikings. And now, he is just a game away from taking the franchise to its first Super Bowl title.

When watching these backup quarterbacks, I can't help but think about the Baltimore Ravens, who were one play away from advancing to the playoffs after facing a myriad of backup quarterbacks all season long.

They faced a backup passer against the Houston Texans (Tom Savage) Green Bay Packers (Brett Hundley), Miami Dolphins (Matt Moore) and Oakland Raiders (EJ Manuel).

It's not hard to imagine that if Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Derek Carr had played in those four games, the Ravens' 9-7 record might just as easily have been 7-9 or even 6-10.

So, how about the Ravens' choice of a backup in Ryan Mallett? I know it's a hard equation to get right -- just how much is an insurance policy worth when you hope you are paying a backup not to play a single down? 

Throughout quarterback Joe Flacco's 10-year career that started, ahem, due to injuries to Kyle Boller and former Heisman Trophy Award-winning quarterback Troy Smith, the Ravens have pretty much used the position of backup signal caller as a throw-away, having the likes of a young Tyrod Taylor and now Mallett as the guy who is one play away from needing to save the season.

It's an industry-wide problem, but all I really care about is how foolish it seems for the Ravens. Given Flacco's age (33), how could the team not put some thought into a backup who could be capable of stepping in and winning a key game, yet alone engineering a playoff run?