Should you trust QBs making 1st career playoff start?
It's been 20 years since Tom Brady made his first career postseason start against the Raiders on that famed snowy field at Foxboro Stadium. That instant classic marked the first of his record 45 playoff starts and 34 wins, and it sparked the Patriots' first Super Bowl run and subsequent dynasty.
It's also the last time a quarterback led his team to a title in the same year as his postseason debut. Since then, 65 quarterbacks have tried (and failed) to emulate Brady's epic run. The majority haven't made it past their first start, which is bad news for this year's class of playoff newcomers.
Since the NFL changed its postseason format in 2002, quarterbacks making their first career playoff start are 25-40 against the spread (38.5%), winning just 35.4% of those games outright. The first-year playoff curse has afflicted QBs of all statures, too, from future Hall of Famers Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers to journeymen Matt Moore and Matt Cassel, and dozens in between.
Five of the 12 starting quarterbacks in the wild-card round - Joe Burrow, Derek Carr, Jalen Hurts, Mac Jones, and Kyler Murray - will be making their postseason debuts this weekend. That is tied for the most in one weekend since that 2002 realignment. With Burrow and Carr facing off on Saturday, we're guaranteed at least one win from this group, but history suggests that could be the only one.
A harsh welcome
No matter how you slice it, quarterbacks have traditionally struggled in their first taste of postseason football - much to the delight of those betting against them.
As mentioned above, first-time playoff starters have covered the spread just 38.5% of the time, with identical hit rates in the wild-card round (20-32 ATS) and divisional round (5-8 ATS). And while those passers have actually been a better bet on the road (11-15 ATS) than at home (14-25 ATS), both have been a losing bet overall and own an outright win percentage of roughly 35%.
Here's a look at how quarterbacks have performed in their first playoff start, broken down by four traditional betting spots:
Unsurprisingly, none of the four spots netted better than a 50% success rate - with most falling well short of that - and all were littered with brutal performances through the air. Even in the case of home favorites, those teams often won in spite of their inexperienced signal-caller; two of those four QBs finished with fewer than 10 completions and 150 passing yards, and three completed fewer than 60% of their passes.
The most relevant takeaway might be the performance of road underdogs, which will apply for four of the five starters this weekend. In short, the numbers aren't pretty. Fifteen of those 21 quarterbacks at the helm finished with a passer rating below that season's league average, and 11 of those 21 teams lost by double digits.
First-time playoff starters were particularly dreadful in the mid-2010s, managing a 6-14 ATS record from 2013-18 with a paltry 16.2 points per contest. Recent history has been more favorable: Over the past two seasons, such passers are 5-2 ATS - including 3-0 ATS a year ago - and have led their teams to nearly 10 points more per game (25.1) and four outright wins.
Will 2022 be different?
This year's group of postseason rookies - and one actual rookie - presents one of the more fascinating crops we've seen in recent years. Three of the five played in the national championship game in college, while the other two have played at an MVP level for stretches of their NFL careers. If any collection of postseason novices can rise to the occasion, it's this one.
Still, this is a new stage for all five quarterbacks this weekend, and each has historical trends working against him.
Carr will be just the seventh 30-year-old to make his playoff debut in the last two decades; the previous six went 2-4 ATS and were outscored by 10.5 points per game. Former No. 1 picks, like Burrow and Murray, have gone 3-6 ATS in that stretch with six losses by at least 13 points. Rookies have managed a 5-8 ATS record, while first-time playoff starters aged 23 or younger have gone 5-11 ATS, which is bad news for youngsters Jones (23) and Hurts (23).
We've seen newcomers succeed before, but even the best quarterbacks of the past 20 years have succumbed to the pressure of their postseason debut. And if tradition holds, these passers' first stints may not last for long.
C Jackson Cowart is a sports betting writer at theScore. You can follow him on Twitter (@CJacksonCowart) or email him at email@example.com.
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