Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL, so it’s no surprise that of the four teams left in the 2020 playoffs, not a single one lacks a top-tier signal-caller. The Chiefs have the reigning Super Bowl MVP in Patrick Mahomes. The Bills have a current MVP candidate in Josh Allen. The Packers have the current MVP favorite in Aaron Rodgers. And the Buccaneers have the most successful Super Bowl QB in NFL history in Tom Brady.
But injuries can change a QB situation in a heartbeat, as evidenced multiple times just this postseason: Alex Smith’s absence from Washington’s wild-card game paved the way for an emergency start by Taylor Heinicke, Lamar Jackson’s hard landing against the Bills all but erased the Ravens’ comeback changes in the divisional round, and Mahomes’ early exit against the Browns forced Kansas City to win without its best superstar.
With that in mind, here’s a rundown of each backup QB set to grace the sidelines in the conference championships. Should they be forced into duty, here’s how we’d rank their ability to step in and help their squad to the Super Bowl:
1. Chad Henne (Chiefs)
NFL experience: 13th season
Career starts: 54
Henne is easily the most experienced of the No. 2 QBs still alive, and he’s also the most reliable. He hasn’t started a meaningful game since 2014, when he opened the year as the Jaguars’ QB, but he’s now spent three full years under Andy Reid’s tutelage and filled in for Mahomes on four occasions. Originally a second-round pick by the Dolphins in 2008, Henne’s never been a particularly “safe” QB as a full-timer, throwing at least 10 interceptions in every season as a starter, but he knows how to play conservatively at this stage of his career. In the confines of Reid’s loaded offense, his experience makes him plenty capable of managing a game. He also showed some fight after replacing Mahomes against Cleveland, notably barreling into potential contact en route to a late first down.
2. Matt Barkley (Bills)
NFL experience: 8th season
Career starts: 7
What Barkley lacks in starting experience he makes up for with recent action for the Bills, appearing in eight games in relief of Josh Allen since late 2018 — and five games just this year. Stylistically, he’s much different than Allen, preferring a more traditional pocket passing approach. He’s also not particularly accurate, posting a career completion percentage of under 59. And yet his time in the Bills’ system, along with a few promising stretches of starting experience, make him relatively reliable in a pinch. Originally a second-round pick by the Eagles in 2013, Barkley’s best performances came in 2016, as a scrappy six-game starter for the Bears; and 2018, when he replaced Nathan Peterman and an injured Allen to lead Buffalo to a 41-10 victory and end a four-game losing streak.
3. Blaine Gabbert (Buccaneers)
NFL experience: 10th season
Career starts: 48
Technically, he’s far more experienced than Barkley in terms of career starts. But his production has been similarly middling at every turn. Less accurate than both Barkley and Henne over the course of his NFL tenure, the former 10th overall pick of the Jaguars flashed as a replacement for Colin Kaepernick back in 2015 with the 49ers, throwing 10 touchdowns and rushing for 185 yards in eight starts. But he’s otherwise been hit or miss. He looked just fine running up the score as Tom Brady’s reliever in 2020, but given anything close to a full game of action, he’d be a serious turnover risk, with 47 interceptions and 33 fumbles in 60 career games.
4. Tim Boyle (Packers)
College: Eastern Kentucky
NFL experience: 3rd season
Career starts: 0
The good thing for Boyle is that no one has any film on him. The guy has appeared in just three career games and thrown just four career passes, mostly appearing as the kneel-down specialist at the end of Rodgers’ victories. But let’s not kid ourselves here: In the event A-Rod goes down, Green Bay will be in trouble. A UConn transfer who struggled mightily in college, throwing 12 touchdowns to 26 interceptions, Boyle can at least say he’s spent three years watching Rodgers. The real X-factor with the Packers’ backup spot, of course, probably lies behind him on the depth chart, where big-armed first-round rookie Jordan Love remains the No. 3.
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