Paul Bessire and John Ewing of PredictionMachine.com simulated how the NFL season would turn out differently if each team’s projected backup quarterback started all 16 games. It’s an interesting and useful exercise because unforeseen things occasionally happen to starting quarterbacks — things such as a teammate’s jaw-breaking punch or Roger Goodell.
Bessire and Ewing simulated the regular season and playoffs 50,000 times, once with every team’s projected starter and once with every team’s projected backup, and then compared the likelihood of those teams making the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl.
The Patriots stand to suffer the most if Goodell inexplicably lengthens Tom Brady’s DeflateGate suspension to a full season (hey, you never know). If Jimmy Garoppolo starts every game for New England, the Patriots’ playoff chances drop from 79.0 percent to 24.6 percent. The Packers’ playoff chances suffer the second-largest drop (from a league-high 86.8 percent to 38.8 percent) when Aaron Rodgers is replaced by Scott Tolzien. And at the other end of the spectrum are teams like the Redskins, whose playoff odds don’t change much depending on the quarterback.
With Robert Griffin III as the starter, Prediction Machine puts the Redskins’ playoff chances at 22.6 percent. Running 50,000 simulations with preseason star Kirk Cousins as the starter drops the Redskins’ playoff odds to 22 percent. The Redskins are projected to win 0.1 fewer games with Cousins as the starter and to score 0.6 fewer points per game.
The only team whose playoff odds are less negatively affected by the change from starter to backup is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who the Prediction Machine suggests would actually benefit from starting projected backup Chad Henne over projected starter Blake Bortles. The other teams whose playoff odds are least affected by swapping the starting and backup QB are the Jets, Texans, Rams and Eagles.
Full results of the simulations are available here.