Super Wild Card Weekend’s Fresh Faces

The burden of reaching the postseason is always heaviest at the most important position in football, and deep runs are often tied to experience. Since 2011, quarterbacks have gone a combined 12-22 in their first playoff start.

A year removed from a record–setting seven QBs under 27, this year features six — and this weekend alone, five passers are making their postseason debuts, with four of them 25 or younger.

Let’s take a closer look at this fresh crop of signal-callers.

– Chris Kuc

Joe Cool

After Joe Burrow’s rookie season was cut short by a knee injury, the Bengals surprisingly drafted an offensive weapon (Ja’Marr Chase) with the fifth pick instead of an interior lineman to protect him.

The dynamic duo led Cincinnati to its first division title since 2015, and Burrow became an MVP candidate.

  • The 25-year-old finished second in passer rating (108.3), sixth in yards (4,611), and eighth in TDs (34) — the latter two are franchise records.
  • The 2020 No. 1 pick threw for a franchise-record 525 yards — the fourth-most ever in a single game — in Cincinnati’s 41-21 Week 16 victory over the Ravens.

The Bengals look to snap their seven-game Wild Card losing skid when they host the Raiders (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET) — and ultimately vie for their first Super Bowl.

The ‘Elder’ Statesman

The Raiders’ season was an unmitigated disaster after losing Jon Gruden and Henry Ruggs. But this list’s oldest quarterback, Derek Carr, led them into their first playoffs since 2016 on the final day of the regular season — in overtime.

It capped off a quietly prolific season in his eighth year.

  • Carr set career highs in passing yards (4,804; 5th in NFL), attempts (626), and completions (428) — though also in interceptions (14) and fumbles (13).
  • He’s the fourth player ever with 3,000-plus passing yards in each of his first eight seasons and the fifth with 30,000-plus (31,700) during that span.

However, in Week 11 against Cincy, Carr went a dismal 19-for-27 for 215 yards, one touchdown, a pick, and a fumble in a 32-13 home loss.

The Rook

After two decades of Tom Brady, New England’s Cam Newton experiment failed. So Bill Belichick used his No. 15 pick on Mac Jones — who could win Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The 23-year-old not only put the Patriots back in the playoffs, but he also helped grab the AFC’s 1-seed momentarily and nearly won the division, recording 3,801 passing yards and 22 TDs.

  • He became the first rookie QB since Dak Prescott (and 13th all-time) to lead his team to the playoffs.
  • Jones tied the all-time rookie record with nine games in which he completed at least 70% of his passes.

Jones and the Pats head back to Buffalo (Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET), where they won a bad-weather game in Week 13, to take on Josh Allen, who is 2-2 in his postseason career.

Hurts So Good

Perhaps due to the uninspiring Eagles themselves — and their even less inspiring division — Jalen Hurts’ sophomore season was easy to overlook.

The 23-year-old quietly broke out behind chemistry with rookie receiver DeVonta Smith. He may not have earned “elite” quarterback status, but he was unmatched on the ground in 2021.

  • Hurts led all QBs in rushing yards (784) and rushing TDs (10), while passing for 3,144 yards and 16 TDs.
  • His five career games with at least two rushing TDs are the most by a QB in his first two seasons in the Super Bowl era, per the NFL.

Defeating Brady and the defending champions in Tampa on Sunday (1 p.m. ET) is a tall order — the Buccaneers are 8.5-point* favorites. Then again, over the past three seasons, road teams have won 10 of the last 14 Wild Card games.

Kyler, The Creator

Arizona was the last remaining undefeated team at 7-0, and Kyler Murray was headed for his first MVP. Then he got hurt in the final minute of Week 8, missed three games, and the Cardinals became the first team in league history to lose six games after a 7-0 start.

Arizona may have lost four of its last five, as well as the division, but the 24-year-old was still making history in the process.

  • He’s the first QB in NFL history with 70 career TD passes and 20 career rushing TDs in his first three seasons.
  • Murray is also the first QB in league history with 3,500 passing yards and 400 rushing yards in each of his first three seasons.

Murray will debut in the first-ever Monday night postseason game (8:15 p.m. ET) — at their rival Rams, where they won 37-20 in Week 4.

Thus far in their careers, the five QBs making their postseason debuts have earned a combined $180.4 million. Meanwhile, there’s Tom Brady, who in 18 playoffs has played in a record 45 games: He’s hauled in a record $291.1 million — and won a record seven Super Bowl rings.

Editor’s Note: Tomorrow, Sports Section is back with our first Sunday edition, a weekly interview series with top sports personalities and athletes.