From Prescott to Purdy: The Kids are Alright?
NFL Divisional - We have covered this before this season, but my favorite genre of stat is the one that makes you go "wow!" and then "Wait, what?" These stats look impressive and interesting on first glance, and then you stop and think and realize you have no context for them—is it something actually cool, or just noise? And we have a great example for the divisional round, a stat that falls into an ever-increasing category of "is this a thing, or is Tom Brady just old?"
Here we go: This is the first divisional round since 2004 where every starting quarterback remaining is under the age of 30.
Considering how worried we were earlier in the year about scoring being down in part because of a quarterback shortage, that's great news, right? Dak Prescott, at 29 years and 177 days old on Sunday, is the dean of the group. Stetson Bennett, who just won the college championship with Georgia, is older than three quarterbacks who will be starting this weekend: Brock Purdy (23 years, 26 days), Trevor Lawrence (23 years, 108 days), and Jalen Hurts (24 years, 168 days). This is the next generation of quarterbacks getting their chance to shine, helping step up to fill the void left by the retirements or aging out of the last generation of passers. It's an opportunity for quarterbacks we could be seeing for the next decade, replacing thirtysomethings we dealt with last year such as Jimmy Garoppolo, Ryan Tannehill, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and … Tom Brady.
OK, so, "every quarterback under the age of 30" obviously hasn't happened for a long time, because Tom Brady is old. Like, very old. The man's career predates the Houston Texans … and Football Outsiders, for that matter. And since he always makes the divisional round, of course it has been ages and ages since we last had a group entirely under 30. Is this stat just another roundabout way of pointing out that Brady lost? Brady has, after all, been the oldest quarterback standing in the divisional round six times, yet another one of the many, many, many records the man holds.
|Multiple Seasons as the Oldest Divisional Round QB|
|Tom Brady||NE/TB||2011, 2016-2018, 2020-2021||6|
|Peyton Manning||IND/DEN||2004, 2012-2015||5|
|Billy Kilmer||WAS||1973-1974, 1976||3|
|Jim Plunkett||LARD||1980, 1982-193||3|
|Dan Marino||MIA||1992, 1994, 1999||3|
|Brett Favre||GB/MIN||2003, 2007, 2009||3|
|Fran Tarkenton||MIN||1975, 1978||2|
|Roger Staubach||DAL||1977, 1979||2|
|Joe Montana||SF||1988, 1990||2|
|Phil Simms||NYG||1989, 1993||2|
Right. So. We have three related questions to answer:
- Is it rare for the divisional round to have no one over 30, or is just in the modern era of extended careers that it has become a novelty?
- Is this year's class anything special, or is it only notable because they squeeze in under a nice, round number?
- Does having a particularly young final eight mean anything going forward, or is it just a neat thing that happens sometimes?
To the database!
No Adults Allowed
Most playoff teams are led by good quarterbacks (citation needed). Most good quarterbacks play for a long time (citation needed). Players who play for a long time age (citation needed). So it may not surprise you that, yes, most divisional-round starting quarterbacks are older than the average NFL player.
Including this year, there have been 424 starting quarterbacks since the NFL introduced the divisional round in 1970. The average age of those starting quarterbacks? 29 years and 354 days old, which is about as bang-on close to 30 as you could possibly hope to get. For the oldest quarterback in this year's group, Prescott, to be younger than the average is unusual, to say the least!
The only other time that has ever happened was the aforementioned 2004 divisional round, where old man Peyton Manning was limping around at the ripe old age of 28 years and 298 days. It's amazing he could move his creaking old-man bones; probably explains why he lost 20-3 to the Patriots and young, baby-faced, 27-year-old Tom Brady that year.
2004 and 2022 are the only seasons with all eight quarterbacks under the age of 30, so no, this isn't just "Tom Brady is old." In fact, there haven't even been that many close calls. There have only been two other seasons where we have seen only one thirtysomething in the divisional round: 1984 (Joe Theismann) and 2000 (Rich Gannon). We have never gone eight-for-eight, but it's more common to see six thirtysomethings than it is to see none at all—as recently in 2015, we had matchups between Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, Brady and Alex Smith, and Carson Palmer and Aaron Rodgers, thirtysomethings all.
So this is no novelty. When it hasn't been Brady blocking someone younger from competing, it has been somebody. Dak may not be able to take the title of youngest dean ever, but everyone getting here before their 30th birthday is still worthy of note!
Youngest Class Ever
2022 may not be able to boast the youngest oldest quarterback in divisional round history. But thanks to Purdy, Lawrence, and Hurts, it can take another title: the youngest octet we have ever seen in a divisional round. And not just by a little, either.
|Average Age of Divisional Round Quarterbacks|
|2022||25.8||Dak Prescott||29.5||Brock Purdy||23.1|
|2004||27.0||Peyton Manning||28.8||Ben Roethlisberger||22.9|
|1986||27.5||Pat Ryan||31.3||Bernie Kosar||23.1|
|1984||27.6||Joe Theismann||35.3||Dan Marino||23.3|
|2000||27.7||Rich Gannon||35.0||Daunte Culpepper||23.9|
|1981||28.1||Ken Anderson||32.9||David Woodley||23.2|
|1985||28.4||Dieter Brock||34.9||Bernie Kosar||22.1|
|2010||28.5||Matt Hasselbeck||35.3||Mark Sanchez||24.2|
|1987||28.7||Doug Williams||32.4||Bernie Kosar||24.1|
|2019||28.7||Aaron Rodgers||36.1||Lamar Jackson||23.0|
|2011||28.8||Tom Brady||34.4||Tim Tebow||24.4|
|1999||29.1||Dan Marino||38.3||Shaun King||22.6|
|1988||29.2||Joe Montana||32.6||Randall Cunningham||25.8|
|1992||29.3||Dan Marino||31.3||Troy Aikman||26.1|
|1975||29.3||Fran Tarkenton||35.9||Bert Jones||24.3|
|1970||29.4||Johnny Unitas||37.6||Greg Landry||24.0|
|2005||29.4||Mark Brunell||35.3||Ben Roethlisberger||23.9|
|2003||29.5||Brett Favre||34.3||Tom Brady||26.4|
|1983||29.5||Jim Plunkett||36.1||Dan Marino||22.3|
|1979||29.6||Roger Staubach||37.9||Doug Williams||24.4|
|1980||29.7||Jim Plunkett||33.1||Tommy Kramer||25.8|
|1994||29.7||Dan Marino||33.3||Brett Favre||25.2|
|2012||29.7||Peyton Manning||36.8||Russell Wilson||24.1|
|1974||29.8||Billy Kilmer||35.3||Joe Ferguson||24.7|
|1996||29.8||John Elway||36.5||Kerry Collins||24.0|
|1989||29.8||Phil Simms||34.2||Bernie Kosar||26.1|
|1977||29.9||Roger Staubach||35.9||Bob Avellini||24.3|
|2001||30.0||Rich Gannon||36.1||Tom Brady||24.5|
|1990||30.0||Joe Montana||34.6||Mike Tomczak||28.2|
|2002||30.1||Rich Gannon||37.1||Michael Vick||22.5|
|1976||30.1||Billy Kilmer||37.3||Steve Grogan||23.4|
|1973||30.1||Billy Kilmer||34.3||Ken Anderson||24.9|
|1997||30.1||John Elway||37.5||Kordell Stewart||25.2|
|2013||30.2||Peyton Manning||37.8||Andrew Luck||24.3|
|2006||30.2||Jeff Garcia||36.9||Philip Rivers||25.1|
|2007||30.4||Brett Favre||38.3||Philip Rivers||26.1|
|1972||30.6||Earl Morrall||38.6||Terry Bradshaw||24.3|
|1982||30.7||Jim Plunkett||35.1||David Woodley||24.2|
|2008||30.7||Kurt Warner||37.6||Joe Flacco||24.0|
|1991||30.8||Steve DeBerg||38.0||Chris Miller||26.4|
|2020||31.1||Tom Brady||43.5||Lamar Jackson||24.0|
|1978||31.1||Fran Tarkenton||38.9||Steve Grogan||25.4|
|2014||31.1||Peyton Manning||38.8||Andrew Luck||25.3|
|2016||31.2||Tom Brady||39.4||Dak Prescott||23.5|
|2009||31.2||Brett Favre||40.3||Mark Sanchez||23.2|
|1995||31.3||Jim Kelly||35.9||Brett Favre||26.2|
|2018||31.4||Tom Brady||41.4||Patrick Mahomes||23.3|
|2017||32.1||Tom Brady||40.4||Marcus Mariota||24.2|
|1971||32.1||Johnny Unitas||38.6||Bob Lee||25.4|
|2021||32.2||Tom Brady||44.5||Joe Burrow||25.1|
|1993||32.9||Phil Simms||38.2||Brett Favre||24.3|
|2015||33.2||Peyton Manning||39.8||Cam Newton||26.7|
|1998||33.7||John Elway||38.5||Jake Plummer||24.1|
This season's group breaks the record by over a year—a year and 94 days, to be precise. If the same eight quarterbacks start again next season, they would still be younger than the 2004 set. This year's class is over six years younger than 2021's group, which again is over a year bigger than any other drop-off in NFL history. That one is an artifact of Brady Methuselahing his way through his 40s; cut him and 2021's average age drops from 32.2 to 30.4. Even without him, though, replacing four 30-year-olds with rookies and sophomores makes for a dramatically different feel than we had at this point last year. We were talking about potential Brady retirements and Rodgers' last rides; we were expecting Garoppolo to be replaced by a rookie and Tannehill to have someone drafted to groom behind him. This year? The only one of the eight starters whose future is at all in question is Purdy, and honestly? You could probably get even odds about whether or not he'll start for the 2023 49ers. This set is set up for long-term future success.
But has that historically been the case?
Fates of the Young
Let's look at the previous super-young playoff fields, and see if they were harbingers for future success or just a blip caused by injuries and other chaos.
1. 2022: 25.8 years old
Dak Prescott (29.5), Patrick Mahomes (27.3), Josh Allen (26.7), Joe Burrow (26.1), Daniel Jones (25.7), Jalen Hurts (24.5), Trevor Lawrence (23.3), Brock Purdy (23.1)
Now one of the older quality quarterbacks in the NFL, is Patrick Mahomes beginning to look towards retirement? In this column…
2. 2004: 27.0 years old
Peyton Manning (28.8), Chad Pennington (28.6), Donovan McNabb (28.1), Daunte Culpepper (28.0), Marc Bulger (27.8), Tom Brady (27.5), Michael Vick (24.6), Ben Roethlisberger (22.9)
This was the year after Brett Favre's first career renaissance ended, but before his second career renaissance, giving a nice gap for some younger players in the NFC to step up. Steve McNair was knocked out for half the year with a knee injury, and the Chiefs' horrendous defense kept Trent Green from making a repeat appearance. And so there was room for Big Ben to make his postseason debut as a rookie, after starting the season 13-0—the only rookie quarterback with a longer winning streak to start his career than Purdy.
It's a pretty fantastic list of quarterbacks, too. One Hall of Famer and another who will join him immediately when eligible in Manning and Brady. Roethlisberger, with a very good shot of his own. Vick, who was one of the most dynamic players in the history of the game. And then, y'know—Pennington had a couple of Comeback Player of the Year awards, and even Bulger made his way back to the playoffs eventually. But this was it for Culpepper—after one of the best seasons in DVOA history in 2004, injuries soon knocked him out and he was never able to recover.
3. 1986: 27.5 years old
Pat Ryan (31.3), Phil Simms (31.2), Joe Montana (30.6), Tony Eason (27.2), John Elway (26.5), Jay Schroeder (25.5), Doug Flutie (24.2), Bernie Kosar (23.1)
The collapse of the Cowboys dynasty (so long, Danny White) and an injury to 34-year-old rookie Dieter Brock opened up the door for a couple of first-time playoff starters in the NFC. Flutie, after hanging out in the USFL for a few years, happened to top the 1986 Bears game of quarterback musical chairs just in time to lose to Washington and Schroeder, who had gotten his starting job when Joe Theismann shattered his leg the year before. Each player had a couple more playoff appearances in them, though neither would come to exactly dominate the quarterback leaderboards in years to come.
This was also the last playoff appearance for Tony Eason at the ripe old age of 27, following up his terrible performance in Super Bowl XX with a loss to Elway and the Broncos in the divisional round, and then a short career of not being a starting quarterback anymore. Multiple playoff appearances do not a long starting career guarantee; we call that the Sanchez Clause.
4. 1984: 27.6 years old
Joe Thiesmann (35.3), Phil Simms (29.2), Joe Montana (28.6), Steve Fuller (28.0), Dave Krieg (26.2), Mark Malone (26.1), John Elway (24.5), Dan Marino (23.3)
Hey, wait a minute, this is just 1986 with extra steps! Simms, Montana, Elway? Check, check, check. Quarterbacks du jour for Washington and Chicago? Check and check. Amazing; the league didn't dramatically change in just two years.
This was actually the postseason debut for Simms. That's pretty rare; he's one of the 50 oldest first-time playoff quarterbacks since the merger, and one of the very, very few who was a first-time starter while also being older than both of his playoff opponents, Montana and Jeff Kemp. It was also the debut for Fuller, as "the "Bears," "success," and "quarterback health" so rarely have gone together over the years; he replaced an injured Jim McMahon here. And it was the final appearance for Mark Malone, as a combination of injuries and the Steelers being bad for once kept him at home.
While not as good as the 2004 edition (you think?), I'd take this lot over the 1986 crew. Adding young Dan Marino certainly helps make that decision easier.
5. 2000: 27.7 years old
Rich Gannon (35.0), Jay Fielder (29.0), Trent Dilfer (28.8), Kerry Collins (28.0), Steve McNair (27.9), Aaron Brooks (24.8), Donovan McNabb (24.1), Daunte Culpepper (23.9)
Like 1984, we have one greybeard pumping up the average here, though Gannon had more successful years left in him than Theismann did. But the end of the era of the 1990s quarterbacks is really evident here—no Dan Marino, who retired the year before; no John Elway or Steve Young or even a Randall Cunningham in sight. We have talked in the past about this historic quarterback lull; we're in a bit of a similar one at the moment thanks to the paucity of the 2010-to-2015 grouping.
And just like this year, where the old aging out and the middle class not existing opened up room for the Purdys and Hurtses of the world to immediately make an impact, 2000 saw room for the postseason debuts of Daunte Culpepper and Donovan McNabb, not to mention the one and only playoff run from Aaron Brooks. While Brooks was far from terrible, at least in 2000, a playoff field open enough for Brooks to make it to the final eight does reflect a lack of quality starters available to fill those shoes.
To get a class this young, you typically need misfortune to fall on a string of veterans. It's not usually a set of young stars forcing their way onto the stage, but rather injuries, retirements, and maybe a year or two of bad drafting mixed in that creates the scenario for a bunch of young passers to bubble up to the top. Sure, there's no surprise that someone with the pedigree of Trevor Lawrence got here just two years after being the first overall pick, and guys such as Mahomes, Allen, and Burrow dominating their conferences in their 20s has plenty of historic precedent. But when you start squeezing through guys such as Daniel Jones or Brock Purdy, it's usually because someone broke their foot and someone else got old real fast.
That's not to say this group of eight won't follow in 2004's footsteps. It doesn't seem like much off a stretch at all to pluck a trio of Hall of Famers from this year's group, with a couple of franchise heroes and another fun memory or two. But sometimes, your young, ascending player ends up a Mark Malone.
Staff Fantasy Playoff Update
|2022 Staff Playoff Fantasy Challenge|
|QB||Josh Allen||25.6||Patrick Mahomes||0||Dak Prescott||39.65||Trevor Lawrence||25.2||Joe Burrow||23.35||Jalen Hurts||0||Brock Purdy||38.2|
|RB||Jerrick McKinnon||0||Joe Mixon||8.6||Christian McCaffrey||21.6||Miles Sanders||0||Ezekiel Elliott||4.6||Devin Singletary||4.8||Saquon Barkley||27.9|
|RB||Tony Pollard||11.9||12.1||18.3||Isiah Pacheco||0||James Cook||9.9||Travis Etienne||13.1||Elijah Mitchell||10.7|
|WR||CeeDee Lamb||16.8||11.6||Ja'Marr Chase||23.4||A.J. Brown||0||Deebo Samuel||28.5||DeVonta Smith||0||Stephon Diggs||18.4|
|WR||18.5||Gabe Davis||23.3||Tee Higgins||9.7||Christian Kirk||21.8||12.1||JuJu Smith-Schuster||0||Brandon Aiyuk||10.3|
|WR||Michael Gallup||15.6||Marquez Valdes-Scantling||0||0||Zay Jones||21.4||13.4||8||Mecole Hardman||0|
|TE||Dalton Schultz||28.5||22.9||Dawson Knox||11||Dallas Geodert||0||Travis Kelce||0||Evan Engram||22.3||George Kittle||7.7|
|K||Brett Maher||1||6||Evan McPherson||4||Harrison Butker||0||Tyler Bass||10||Jake Elliott||0||Robbie Gould||16|
Well, the week couldn't have gone much better for me.
An all-49ers strategy makes a lot of sense when San Francisco put up over 500 yards of offense and 41 offensive points, both in the top six in franchise history. Yes, I missed out on the big days from Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey, but I just had so much volume that I was bound to be the beneficiary of something, somewhere. Brock Purdy had the fifth-best fantasy day a 49ers quarterback has ever had in the postseason, surpassed by one game each from Colin Kaepernick (That Packers Game), Steve Young (the Super Bowl over the Chargers), Jeff Garcia (the comeback against the Giants), and Joe Montana (the Super Bowl over the Dolphins). That's a pretty nice thing to have in your pocket. Plus, my entire roster is intact going forwards, meaning I get a second game from Saquon Barkley. That was very much a 50/50 chance going in, so I'll take that. At this point, I'm essentially guaranteed a win if the 49ers make the Super Bowl, so that's a nice spot to be in. I have plenty of equity in Giants and Chiefs Super Bowl trips, too, so I feel I'm sitting fairly pretty.
It's far from a runaway, however. Jackson and Tom both rode Dallas' big Monday night to the 120-point club, putting them less than 10 points behind me as things stand. Tom is lucky that there is no penalty for missed extra points in this format, so Brett Maher gets him 1 point rather than, like, -19 or something. Jackson, meanwhile, rode the second of the three big fantasy days, as Dak Prescott's 39.65 points beat all other scorers in this format. I think both of them need Dallas to beat San Francisco this weekend; otherwise, there's not going to be enough juice left in their rosters to catch me. As for which one would be in better shape if Dallas does pull the upset? Watch the Bengals-Bills game for that; Tom stands to lose Josh Allen if the Bills lose, while Jackson would drop all his remaining receivers if the Bengals bow out. Suffice it to say, I suspect only one of the three of us will remain standing after the divisional round.
Below the three of us, I actually like Vince's position the best. Vince looked doomed at halftime on Saturday night, but his Jaguars roared back, giving him an extra week of Trevor Lawrence, Christian Kirk, and Zay Jones to go along with his Eagles stack. That gives him a leg-up over Aaron's Eagles stack, as he banked points this round Aaron simply didn't. Plus, just having a full roster going into the divisional round is a great place to be in, even if more than half his team haven't put up any points yet.
Everyone else is in a bit of trouble. Cale is in fourth place with over 100 points, but it's hard to see a path forward with Joe Burrow and Deebo Samuel as his top performers; he's somewhat stuck behind Jackson and me there. Losing Keenan Allen and Mike Evans knocked some outs free, too; it's hard to figure out exactly what combination of results he needs to actually gain ground. Aaron's situation is simpler; he needs the Eagles to roll to the Super Bowl and the 49ers to drop out before I can extend my lead any further; he's going to have trouble with Vince's Jacksonville start, but I could imagine Jalen Hurts erasing that lead despite Vince having so many of his targets.
And then there's Rivers. Live by the Vikings stack, die by the Vikings stack.
Best of the Rest
Your leader after the wild-card round is Eddo! Eddo nearly had the highest score of anyone, including the staff, putting up 131.9 points despite getting zero from his quarterback, Lamar Jackson. Eddo rode a 30-plus-point day from DK Metcalf (35.6), as well as big days from J.K. Dobbins (20.5), Gerald Everett (22.9), Tyreek Hill (16.4), and Kenneth Walker (13.6). He also had solid-enough performances from Tyler Lockett (9.9), Justin Tucker (5), and the Chargers defense (8)…
… and that's it. That's his entire roster, eliminated after the first round. Well. At least he gets a week in first place, with almost the best possible lineup for specifically the wild-card round. Obviously, you'd rather have a quarterback who played—and specifically, Daniel Jones, who had 30.85 points himself—but aside from that, that's close to an ideal lineup.
If you wanted a high score this week, DK Metcalf was pretty much a necessity—but his 35.6 points are done now. If you wanted a high chance to win going forward, you wanted the New York Football Giants. The highest-scoring team in the first round who is in good position going forward is Andrew. He lost Metcalf, Walker, Mike Gesicki, and Ryan Succop, but he still has the Jones-Isaiah Hodges-Darius Slayton-Giants D stack going forwards, plus Samaje Perine for taste. The Giants upsetting the Eagles wouldn't be the craziest thing in the world, and Andrew is well positioned for such an eventually … though he has to watch out for some teams that went even heavier on New York, like Dales' eight-player New York stack. What, was Gary Brightwell a step too far?
Of the 31 valid entries, 23 still have a chance to win, via a combination of points scored in the wild-card round and unique rosters, even if some are hanging on by the thread of "believing in Justin Watson."
Your current top 5:
1. Eddo: 131.9 (no players remaining)
2. Jackson Roberts: 129.25 (Samaje Perine remaining)
3. Andrew: 124.45 (Daniel Jones, Samaje Perine, Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, and Giants DEF remaining)
4. VikeDawg: 123.55 (Tyler Boyd remaining)
5. NYChem: 112.3 (Darious Slayton remaining)