- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Earlier Wednesday, I ran my weekly league-wide QB Watch column. This week, I focused on how the Bears and Texans still can make the playoffs even though they’ve lost their starting quarterbacks to injury.
My point on this was the Bears and Texans are good teams. They’re both 7-3. Even with Caleb Hanie and Matt Leinart now moving into starting roles, it’s not a given that the Bears and Texans suddenly will fall apart. If Hanie and Leinart simply can be adequate, the players around them are good enough to get those teams to the playoffs.
But let’s take the time to get NFC South specific now. Let’s take a look at the backup quarterback situation for each team and think about what would happen right now if Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman or Cam Newton went down with an injury.
Saints. There's no question Brees is the most important player on the Saints. He’s on pace for record numbers and he’s well on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Backup Chase Daniel has been in the NFL for three seasons and has attempted precisely three passes. But I don’t think the Saints would simply crumble if Daniel suddenly had to play. Just like the Bears and Texans, the Saints are 7-3. They might not have a defense as good as the Saints or the Bears. But I think you could plug Daniel into New Orleans’ system and the Saints still could win enough to get into the playoffs. Sean Payton’s offense is mapped out so well that Daniel wouldn’t have much of a problem getting the ball into the hands of someone who can make a big play at any time.
Falcons. Chris Redman is – by far – the division’s most seasoned backup. He’s 34 and first arrived in the league in 2000. Redman is not Ryan. But the Falcons are 6-4 and the rest of their schedule isn’t that difficult. If Redman had to play, he could hand the ball to Michael Turner and occasionally find Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez enough to keep the offense moving. I could see the Falcons getting to 10 wins if Redman had to step in.
Buccaneers. Let’s be clear that Tampa Bay isn’t in the same situation as the Texans, Bears, Saints and Falcons. At 4-6, the Bucs probably aren’t going to make the playoffs even if Freeman stays healthy. They’d suddenly have to instantly fix a lot of flaws that have held them back all season and run the table. During Tampa Bay’s current four-game losing streak, I’ve had readers suggest the Bucs should turn to backup Josh Johnson. Really? Trust me, that’s not the answer. Johnson’s very athletic. He throws the ball better than Tim Tebow and can run pretty well. But the Bucs have so many other issues that they probably wouldn’t win again this season if Johnson had to play the rest of the way. That’s saying a lot because Carolina’s on the schedule twice.
Panthers. Like the Bucs, the Panthers aren’t in a situation where a backup could step in, play reasonably well, get some significant help from his team and still make the playoffs. But let’s say the Panthers were 7-3 right now and Cam Newton couldn’t play. In that scenario, the Panthers wouldn’t necessarily be headed for disaster. They’ve got Derek Anderson, a relatively experienced backup, and he might be able to get them a few wins in a pinch. But, at this point in the season, I doubt the Panthers would turn to Anderson if Newton couldn’t play. In their current situation, it would make more sense to take one last look at Jimmy Clausen, just to see if there’s even a remote chance he can figure into the team’s future plans. I’m thinking the team already feels Clausen won’t be around long and it’s significant to note that he can collect a roster bonus of nearly $1 million if he’s still with Carolina in March. But, right now, it would make more sense to play Clausen than Anderson.