Week 1 of the NFL season is upon us, and it brings all the things that we love about football. We can revel in the return of our favorite teams; we can soak in seven straight hours of the NFL RedZone channel. But what excites me most is the ability to witness horrendous quarterbacks in action: There is something delicious about seeing a full team of exceptional athletes derailed by one player’s inabilities—and this year, we’ll get to see egregiously bad quarterback play even earlier than usual.
Normally, we have to wait until deep in the season before quarterback tomfoolery gets out of hand. But a few training-camp injuries and poor roster-management decisions have led to some awful Week 1 starters, and all of them are playing each other. That’s right: Three games threaten to contain six of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
I don’t care who wins these games; that would involve thinking about things other than bad quarterback play, and why would I ever want to do that? Instead, I’ll go matchup by matchup and determine which team has the more tragic quarterback situation.
Jared Goff (Rams) vs. Scott Tolzien (Colts)
Goff was the no. 1 overall pick in the draft just over a year ago, and he still has plenty of time to grow as a player. But his last 14 months have been brutal. Last fall I wondered why the Rams were waiting so long to play Goff, and the answer was revealed when he took the field: He was painfully unready to be an NFL quarterback and became one of the worst rookie signal-callers in recent memory. As Bleacher Report’s Doug Farrar put it in his ranking of the NFL’s 32 starting quarterbacks—the bottom four of whom will be in these three games—Goff struggled “under pressure,” “with a clean pocket,” and on plays ranging “from simple screens to deep out patterns.” So, basically everything. Maybe some of that was a byproduct of playing under noted mediocrity expert Jeff Fisher. Hopefully, he’ll improve in 2017 under new offensive-minded head coach Sean McVay.
For the Colts, Tolzien is starting because Andrew Luck is still recovering from January shoulder surgery. I’d elaborate more, but there’s nothing to elaborate about. The Colts never explained the cause for Luck’s surgery and have yet to provide a timeline for his return. The most elaborate update we’ve gotten to date was a loopy Colts owner Jim Irsay telling reporters that Luck’s return “is more on the football gods” and “Andrew’s gut feeling.” In other words: Luck might be back Week 2, or he might be back next season.
This lack of clarity is a problem, because Luck is as important to his team’s success as any player in football. Tolzien is virtually useless—the Colts scored one touchdown on 12 Tolzien drives in the preseason, and he’s thrown two touchdowns against seven interceptions in his career. The Colts traded a decent wide receiver in Phillip Dorsett to acquire preseason legend Jacoby Brissett, which seems like a sign Luck that will be out for a while. Either the Colts need a solid backup, or they think Brissett can push Tolzien as the starter.
It’s hard to be sadder than a team that might have picked a historic bust with the no. 1 overall pick. But somehow, the Colts’ awkwardness around the status of their star—and total lack of a Plan B—worries me more than the shaky future of a young prospect.
Sadness champion: Colts
Blake Bortles (Jaguars) vs. Tom Savage (Texans)
Bork Bootums has not improved over his three seasons as Jacksonville’s starter, as Bittles’s 35-touchdown 2015 campaign appears to have been a flash in the pan. The same problems that’ve plagued Brook Booples his whole career are still there: the broken mechanics, the inaccuracy that stems from them, the interceptions, and the interceptions that follow those interceptions. This preseason has been particularly humliating for Brick Bipples: Bumples nearly lost his starting job to career backup Chad Henne and was not named a captain, as starting quarterbacks often are. The Jags desperately wanted Belk Bloopus to emerge as a franchise player, but he hasn’t earned it. Black Beatles in the building.
Savage—who, like Nathan Peterman, at one time went to school at Pitt—is the Texans’ placeholder starting quarterback until rookie Deshaun Watson is deemed ready. I’ve always appreciated that Savage is named “Savage,” a moniker that denotes extreme viciousness and doesn’t at all describe an extremely average passer who’s thrown 92 career regular-season attempts for zero touchdowns and one interception. He’s perfectly bland. Savage played decently well during the preseason—he was 27-for-36 for 246 yards with a score—but the Texans would not have traded up to draft a college football hero if Savage was the long-term answer.
It’s not good that Savage is starting an NFL game, but at least the Texans have a plan. The Jaguars have Bleak Bumphis.
Sadness champion: Jaguars
Nathan Peterman (Bills) vs. Josh McCown (Jets)
Peterman might start Sunday because both Buffalo’s starter, Tyrod Taylor, and primary backup, T.J. Yates, sustained concussions during the preseason. (Taylor has been cleared, and the Bills are treating him as their starter.) If Peterman starts in Week 1, the fifth-round pick will become the second-lowest drafted player ever to start a season opener as a rookie quarterback. (The lowest-drafted player? Randy Hedberg, a former eighth-round pick whose 1977 Buccaneers did not score a touchdown while he played. It’s not always that bad; Dak Prescott is second in this category.)
According to Peterman’s NFL.com draft profile, the 6-foot-2, 226-pound passer is a “late-round developmental signal-caller.” The pivotal word there is “developmental,” meaning that he needs to develop. Peterman’s regular NFL.com bio page currently lacks a photograph. The Bills brought in Keith Wenning in training camp to back up Peterman, but have since cut him and added part-time wide receiver Joe Webb to the roster.
The Bills were struck by bad luck that turned a reasonable roster situation into a tricky one. The Jets, meanwhile, are voluntarily starting Josh McCown, a 38-year-old journeyman whose teams are 18-42 in his previous starts. It’s telling that McCown has started in Week 1 only four times in his 14 NFL seasons. He’s had one average campaign in his entire career—2013, when he started five games for the Bears after Jay Cutler got injured. The Jets’ other options are Bryce Petty, who threw three touchdowns against seven interceptions last year and hurt his knee in the preseason, and Christian Hackenberg, who might not know how to play football.
Taylor’s availability might save this game, but McCown’s presence alone makes it a matchup worth mentioning.
Sadness champion: Jets, by far, forever and always