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Ace of the Deck: The Quarterback

   by Bryan Leonard - 12/09/2007

There are all kinds of match-ups to examine in football, such as the running game, the defensive line, coaching, home field, hot streaks, and injuries. However, let's not overlook some of the most basic elements of football handicapping. Who met in the Super Bowl last year? The Bears and Colts. One team had a QB (the winning team) and the other one didn’t.

Two years ago? The Seahawks and Steelers, quarterbacked by Matt Hassellbeck and Ben Roethlisberger. They year before? It was Tom Brady against Donovan McNabb. Five years ago? Brady against two-time MVP QB Kurt Warner. And so on.

For the most part, it's still about the quarterback in pro football. That's not surprising, as the offense revolves around that pivotal position. Even teams with powerful running games need an above-average quarterback to keep defenses honest.

There was no better example than Monday night's battle between Patriots and Ravens. Baltimore outplayed the Patriots most of the night, winning the battle on both lines of scrimmage. Yet, the game turned on a few key plays, one of which was a bone headed pass by Boller in the fourth quarter, picked off in the end zone by James Sanders. The Ravens were trying to go up 27-17 or even 31-17 with a first down at the Patriots 26 after a long punt return. Other key plays were made by Brady on the last minute TD drive. Not only making key first downs but also NOT turning it over.

How about the stumbling Broncos the last two seasons? The biggest factor last season behind center was rookie QB Jay Cutler. If you watched his first start, in mid-season, you saw exactly why QB play is so important. Cutler played like a rookie, passing for under 80 yards if you take away one late 7-yard pass play that ended up a 71-yard TD. Cutler player poorly, looking nervous, uncertain, and confused, which is not surprising. It was unfortunate for Denver as they had a talented all-around team that hosted the AFC Championship game the previous year. Alas, they had a serious hole at the most important position on the gridiron.

Denver was hoping to do what the Patriots did six years ago, bypassing veteran QB Drew Bledsoe with a kid named Brady. However, that is extremely rare and difficult to do. Dallas has been able to do it, though, benching Bledsoe (how ironic) last season for Tony Romo, who has played very well. Romo has excellent mobility, a quick release and has shown good decision making overall. Dallas is on a 16-5 SU, 13-7 ATS run under Romo.

And speaking of QB play, the Chicago Bears are the poster child for not having a consistent QB. Young QB Rex Grossman struggled badly to start the season, veteran Brian Griese replaced him, and now Rex is running the erratic offense again. So as you begin to assess how prepared teams are for the stretch run and postseason, start with QB play.

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