NFL teams count on star quarterbacks, such as Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, to get them to the playoffs. Brees is 40, which is old for a football player, but ESPN ranked him the second-best quarterback in the NFL. (Jacob Kupferman/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

There’s an old riddle: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

In the past, the riddle for National Football League (NFL) teams appeared to be: Which comes first, the good quarterback or the playoff team?

Now, the NFL is a passer’s league, and it’s clear that a team has to have a good quarterback to make it to the playoffs. Take a look at this year’s crop of playoff teams.

Nine of the starting quarterbacks on the 12 teams that made the playoffs are rated among the top dozen NFL passers, according to ESPN. Number 1 is Ryan Tannehill of the Tennessee Titans. Second is Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints); third is Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens); fourth, Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings); fifth, Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks); seventh, Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs); eighth, Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco 49ers); 11th, Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans); and 12th, Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers).

One of the playoff quarterbacks who did not finish in ESPN’s top 12 is Tom Brady (Rated Number 19) of the New England Patriots. Most experts would agree he is a pretty good NFL quarterback.

The opposite is true, too. If your quarterback does not play well, it’s tough to make it to the postseason. The Cleveland Browns were early-season favorites. But their quarterback — Baker Mayfield (Rated Number 31) — flopped, and so did the Browns.


Lamar Jackson (Number 8) helped get the Baltimore Ravens into the playoffs. He started in the first 15 games of the regular season. Jackson didn’t start the final game because he was battling the flu, his coach said. Keeping quarterbacks healthy is very important for NFL teams. (Jason Miller/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Another key to making the playoffs is to keep the quarterback healthy. Nine of the 12 playoff quarterbacks played at least 15 of the 16 regular season games.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had high hopes for the 2019 season. But their star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, got hurt in the second game, and the Steelers missed the playoffs.

Age doesn’t seem to be as important for a playoff quarterback. Most of the playoff quarterbacks are in their 20s — Jackson is the youngest at 22. But two — Brees and Brady — are the two “old men” at 40 and 42.

So why are the quarterbacks so important? Playing quarterback is the most difficult position in football and maybe in all of sports. Think of what a quarterback has to do.

He has to memorize hundreds of plays and know where every player is supposed to be at all times. He has to read the opposing team’s defense and sometimes change the play at the line of scrimmage. He has to throw passes — long, short and in between — on target with 280-pound defensive linemen breathing down his neck.

That’s a lot for one player. No wonder it’s so hard to find a good quarterback and why teams will do almost anything to keep one.

So watch the NFL playoffs for the next few weeks. You will see exciting games with the top teams playing for a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

And you will see the best quarterbacks.