Monday, July 14, 2008

“Of Course, The Packers Are Clearly Better With Brett Favre As Their Quarterback”

Just about everyone who has had anything to say about the Brett Favre situation has made some form of the preceding statement as part of their analysis. Sometimes they claim that Favre gives them their best shot at the Super Bowl. Often they claim that while they do not approve of Favre’s conduct, he is still their best shot at a winner. Well, let’s have a look, shall we?

1. Tee Martin, Peyton Manning

In many ways, Peyton Manning’s college career mirrors Brett Favre’s professional career. He won a ton of games, he set a lot of records, and he suffered from the occasional complete meltdown. His “can’t win the big game” reputation was always underserved, as the Vol defense would frequently put pressure on Manning to put up more and more points. That said, Manning was occasionally not up to the task.

The year after Manning graduated, the less-heralded Tee Martin would lead the Vols to a National Championship; something that the more talented Manning was never able to accomplish.

2. Joe Montana, Steve Young

First of all, to get some perspective on how good Joe Montana was, and wasn’t, I highly recommend Michael Lewis’s book The Blind Side.

After suffering an injury in a playoff game in 1990, Joe Montana saw Steves Young and Bono play all of 1991, with the Stormin’ Mormon eventually winning the Job. Young proved so impressive that before the start of the 1993 season, the 49ers traded their legendary QB to the Kansas City Chiefs. Young lived up to all of the hype, but was foiled on consecutive occasions by the Dallas Dynasty of the early 90s.

In 1994 Young finally pulled a few golden plates out of his hat, completing over 70 percent of his passes, winning the NFL MVP award, defeating the Cowboys and eventually winning the Super Bowl in a game in which he threw 6 TD passes.

Joe Montana still had a productive season in him, but no one questions that keeping Young was the right call.


3. Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady

In 1996, New England Patriot QB Drew Bledsoe passed for over 4000 yards, 27 TDs against only 15 picks, while completing 60% of his passes. When the Denver Broncos were upset at home by the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars it opened the door for Bledsoe’s Patriots to face the Packers in the Super Bowl. Alas, Bledsoe played poorly down the stretch, eventually throwing 4 picks against a tough Packer defense.

Bledsoe continued to play fairly well for the Patriots, never putting up a passer rating under 75.6 and reaching as high as 87.7, until he suffered and injury in early 2001.

The rest, as they say, is history.

4. Don Majkowski, Brett Favre

Donald Vincent Majkowski’s excellent 1989 campaign bought him time with many a long-suffering Packer fan, as they were just barely eliminated from the playoffs on the last day of the season when the Vikings beat the Bengals. After 1989, Majkowski still played well in spurts, but frequent injuries led to many spot starts by the likes of Anthony Dilweg and Blair Kiel. Majkowski relied on scrambling, good decision making, and an adequate arm to be productive but as his skills started to erode he was knocked to the pine more and more.

That said, Majkowski’s job was secure until that fateful day in 1992 when was knocked out with an injured ankle. How many people thought Favre was the answer at the time? How many of you were genuinely worried about Donny Majik’s health, and figured the season was over without him?

5. Dan Marino, Jay Fiedler

You’re probably thinking that this one is going to be kind of stupid, and that I’m wrong about it. Here are a few numbers:

1. 55.3, 2448, 12, 17
2. 57.1, 2024, 14, 14

The first are Dan Marino’s 1999 stats for completion percentage, yards, TDs, and INTs respectively. The second are Jay Fiedler’s 2000 stats. By 1999 the great Dan Marino wasn’t the same player any more, but had you asked almost anyone if they would rather have had a 39-year-old Dan Marino or a 29-year-old career backup and Dartmouth alum named Jay Fiedler, most would have opted for Marino.

Fiedler was certainly not as flashy, but he was consistent, slightly more accurate, and in the end led the Dolphins to an 11-5 record (a two-win improvement) and an AFC East division championship.

6. Tommy Maddox, Ben Roethlisberger

In hindsight you might not remember just how valuable Tommy Maddox was. The former XFL MVP put up respectable numbers in both 2002 (62.1, 2836, 20, 16) and 2003 (57.4, 3414, 18, 17).

The young Ben Roethlisberger entered the 2004 season behind both Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch on the depth chart, but injuries to Batch, and ineffectiveness and injuries to Maddox thrust Roethlisberger into the spotlight. There were the usual media clichés about Roethlisberger’s inexperience holding him back, however he went on to lead the Steelers to a 15-1 record while completing 66.4% of his passes, and throwing 17 TDs against just 11 picks. In 2005 Big Ben would lead the Steelers to the Super Bowl, where the Steelers would win even though he played like shit.

7. Troy Aikman, Quincy Carter, Anthony Wright, Clint Stoerner, and Ryan Leaf

A few people remember that Troy Aikman sucked for a brief period at the end of his career, but only a very few remember just how bad he was. Aikman never put up huge numbers like Young or Favre, largely due to their reliance on Emmitt Smith, but he was always efficient, accurate, and threw one of the nicer deep balls that you will see.

By 2000 Aikman had been beaten around quite a bit, and had suffered a number of concussions. The final concussion, caused on a vicious hit by LaVarr Arrington, ended his career, but Aikman may have been washed up anyway. In his final season he completed 59.5%, but his 6.2 yards per attempt were the lowest since his atrocious rookie year. Aikman also fired up an uncharacteristic 2 picks for every TD

You won’t find a quartet of QBs more pathetic than Anthony Wright, Quincy Carter, Clint Stoerner and Ryan Leaf, but if you pro-rate Troy Aikman’s injury-plagued final season to a full 16 games, you will see 59.5, 2374, 10 TDs, 20 INTs. The quartet managed a line of 50.8, 2408, 14, and 20. They certainly aren’t good, but they also did not play worse in 2001 than did Troy Aikman in 2000. Both teams went 5-11. Sometimes legends fade away, and sometimes they have their brains beaten in.

8. Hypothetical: Brett Favre, Matt Hasselbeck

Brett Favre is a legend, but what if he had been slightly less legendary and the Packers had opted to keep Matt Hasselbeck from 2002 onward? (Note, I am cheating a bit here by leaving out Matt’s somewhat injury plagued 2001 season, but this is a hypothetical, so I can do whatever I want. Consider this a disclosure.)

Matt Hasselbeck

2002 – 63.7, 3075, 15, 10
2003 – 61.0, 3841, 26, 15
2004 – 58.9, 3382, 22, 15
2005 – 65.5, 3459, 24, 9
2006 – 56.6, 2442, 18, 15 (12 games)
2007 - 62.6, 3966, 28, 12

Brett Favre

2002 – 61.9, 3658, 27, 16
2003 – 65.4, 3361, 32, 21
2004 – 64.1, 4088, 30, 17
2005 – 61.3, 3881, 20, 29
2006 – 56.0, 3885, 18, 18
2007 – 66.5, 4155, 28, 15

Would they have been much worse? Would they have been worse at all? Keep in mind that between 2001 and 2005 Shaun Alexander never rushed for fewer than 14 TDs and in 2005 rushed for 27 TDs, which depresses Hasselbeck’s raw totals. I am not saying that the Packers would have been better with Hasselbeck. Favre’s numbers are impressive in their own right. What I am saying is that had they discarded the legend, even a few years ago, they would not necessarily have been any worse off. It is also worth pointing out that Matt Hasselbeck’s Seahawks did make it to a Super Bowl in 2005 where Matt outplayed his counterpart Ben Roethlisberger in a losing effort. Also, the officials were terrible in that game.

It is not a given that the post-Favre era will be worse than the recent Favre era. Aaron Rodgers is unproven, but that does not mean that he is bad. The rest of the team is still very good and even if he’s only average this year they can still be a threat. The fact is that you don’t know what you’re getting in Rodgers, but anyone who says that Favre definitively gives the Packers their best chance doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

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