Every team and fanbase has different expectations at the season's start, middle, and end. For some, an opportunity to be in a playoff game is good enough - a welcomed surprise and something to build on for the future. For others, it’s Super Bowl or Bust.
After first-round exits by Miami and Dallas, the narrative surrounding their franchise quarterbacks dramatically shifted. To some, Tua Tagovailoa’s future with the Dolphins may be murky despite a season with over 4,600 passing yards and nearly 30 touchdowns. “But can he do it in the playoffs? Can he do it in the cold? Can he get past the other quarterbacks in the AFC?”
Dak Prescott was, at one point, the MVP favorite and led the league in passing touchdowns. But after an uninspiring Wild Card performance, the fanbases’ focus is replacing the Cowboys head coach and finding a potential exit from the Prescott era.
The playoffs are truly what separates good from great and great from elite. The pressure on quarterbacks in the playoffs is immeasurable but varies based on circumstances and expectations. Here is how the remaining eight playoff quarterbacks rank in terms of pressure to win.
TIER 1 - NOTHING TO LOSE
8. C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans
Stroud is 22 years old and led the league in yards per game and touchdown-to-interception ratio as a rookie. The fact that the Texans even made the playoffs was a rare feat after securing only three victories in 2022. On top of that, the fact that they won a Wild Card game? Sweetness.
Houston fans have a lot to be excited about for the future of their franchise, from Stroud to our buddy Demeco Ryans at the helm. If they can’t pull off the upset this weekend over the AFC #1 seed, no one is putting the blame solely on Stroud, who put together an expectation-shattering season.
7. Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers
In his first season as a starter, Love replaced a future Hall-of-Famer and was surrounded by the youngest team in the league. He responded to that pressure by throwing 32 touchdowns, second in the NFL.
Despite a rocky start to the season, Love and his youthful group of pass catchers found real rhythm in the year's second half. With their upset in Dallas last week, Love cemented his status as the Packer's long-term solution to the position and made Cheeseheads forget about that other guy.
Green Bay, like Houston, faces the #1 seed in the Divisional round, so this isn’t a make-or-break matchup. But Love slightly edges out Stroud in the “nothing to lose” category due to his age and looming contract extension.
TIER 2 - SOMETHING TO PLAY FOR
6. Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While it didn’t set the league on fire, Mayfield quietly put up personal bests in yards and touchdowns in his first year as the Bucs quarterback. It’s been a rough road to the start of Mayfield’s career, playing for eight head coaches in six seasons. But it’s easy to see why he has found a home in Tampa Bay, and the fanbase has embraced him as more than just a veteran stopgap following the Brady era.
Mayfield was stellar against the Eagles in the Wild Card, posting over 300 yards and three touchdowns through the air. The upset was a welcomed surprise and confidence booster for a franchise that ‘snuck’ into the playoffs. But Mayfield’s contract will expire at the end of this season, meaning he benefits from ending on a high note, even in a potential loss. They’ll be underdogs again this week in Detroit, but Mayfield could make more money if the Buccaneers steal one in the Motor City.
5. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
How could a two-time MVP and Super Bowl champion have anything more to prove to the nation? Mahomes has yet to play a road playoff game. Everyone knows how special he is as a player, but there’s no question that playing on your home field, especially in the playoffs, provides a unique, well, advantage.
For the first time in his illustrious career, Mahomes will try to prove that he can get the job done away from Arrowhead. Even if the Chiefs lose, much of the criticism will likely get shifted to the subpar receiving corps Mahomes is throwing to. But there will be some doubt that creeps up in the national spotlight.
4. Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
The NFL’s feel-good story climaxed last week as Detroit ended their playoff-win drought after 32 years. It’s hard not to be happy for many players and coaches who have worked hard to get to this point. Winning in the NFL is not guaranteed, and it is anything but easy. Goff has been reclaimed by the Lions after the Rams felt there was an obvious upgrade to be had in trading for Matthew Stafford.
Goff had been blamed for plenty of Detroit’s recent woes, but Head Coach Dan Campbell’s instilled confidence in the rejected first-overall pick, as well as the brilliant game planning from offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, has rejuvenated a career that looked to be headed for the ‘bust’ bin. Goff has played in a Super Bowl before, but as 49ers fans know, that doesn’t necessarily make you an elite quarterback.
After being carried by Sean McVay’s dynamic offensive scheme all season, Goff's underwhelming play in that game still looms large over the Goff narrative. Winning a few more playoff games this postseason could change that.
TIER 3 - EVERYTHING TO PROVE
3. Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers
From a 49ers fan perspective, it's hard to say that Purdy needs to prove anything else. I have seen enough. He put together an MVP season; voters be damned.
The circular arguments around Purdy’s status as a top-tier quarterback are nauseating, and we all wish they could stop. The best way to do that is for Purdy to be perfect en route to hoisting the Lombardi.
Is it fair that Purdy is given higher expectations than Love despite being younger (24) and having only four more regular season starts? No, no, it is not. But that’s what happens when you are the franchise quarterback with the best offensive playcaller and best group of offensive weapons in recent history.
But meeting expectations in the biggest moments makes you great. Exceeding them makes you elite. Even if the 49ers win the NFC handily, the two-week hiatus before the Super Bowl will be must-not-watch television. I don’t want to hear radio row’s talking heads debate the same points about the catalyst behind Purdy’s success and historic season that we have heard every week. Put it to rest. Win it all.
2. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
This isn’t the best Buffalo team Allen led to the postseason. Their injury report is a mile long. In 2021, the Bills seemed destined to make it over the Mahomes hump but failed to get a stop at the end of regulation. The Super Bowl has avoided the Bills since their notorious four-straight losses at the start of ‘the '90s.
For Allen, reaching that point must keep him up at night. Taking over control of the AFC after falling to his counterparts year after year is enough pressure to make most players snap. But Allen has put together epic performances several times in the playoffs and will be expected to do so again this Sunday night. Allen will have the home crowd behind him in his first playoff matchup with the Chiefs since their heart-breaking ‘21 debacle.
1. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
If you are going to give away Purdy’s MVP trophy, fine. But the winner better show out in the playoffs. Lamar didn’t set the record books on fire this year, but with the state of quarterback play around the league being ‘down,’ it looks like he will be rushing to the podium at the NFL Awards ceremony.
Jackson is 27 now and will have two most valuable player titles, joining a very small list of celebrated athletes in the league’s history. But his presence in the playoffs has been unidentifiable. Jackson is 1-3 in postseason contests with three passing touchdowns and five interceptions.
In the Ravens lone victory (2020 Wildcard against Tennessee) since he was drafted, Jackson ran for over 100 yards and a score but threw a pick and no touchdowns. To give some flowers - Jackson has shown significant improvement as a passer, especially in his first year with OC Todd Monken. But this is a guy who has thrown for 3,000 yards only twice in his first six seasons.
There is no question the pressure is on the Ravens and their franchise quarterback to prove he has what it takes to rise above the other juggernauts in the AFC. If Baltimore is as good of a team as they have claimed to be this season, there are no excuses for Lamar Jackson. His time must be now.
How would you rank the remaining playoff quarterbacks and the pressure to win? Tell me below