Pressure Meter Heading Into the NFL Regular Season: QB Edition

I know you’ve heard it before (yes, probably quite a few times from me), but regular season football is so close to returning. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second: we’re getting there. Although it’s been fun watching second and third-string players battle it out for roster spots this preseason, I bet everyone is ready for the finished product. The drought ends on September 6 when the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles host the Atlanta Falcons to kick off the 2018-19 campaign.

With each season of football comes both old and new faces at all positions. The most important position on the field – and the one that receives the most praise/criticism depending on performance – is a quarterback. Every year, we see 32 (ish) signal-callers take the field as the starter for their respective teams and every year, we see expectations change (for better or worse). I thought it would be fun to check in with each team and see where its QB is in terms of feeling the heat heading into the regular season. Our “pressure meter” is described below:

Low-pressure (0-4): Job is secure, expectations are fair. If the player fails to succeed in 2018, he’s not viewed as a failure overall.

Medium-pressure (5-7): Likely a young quarterback or a veteran in desperate need of a trip to the postseason. The pressure is on, but not as much as a a player facing…

High-pressure (8-10): Stakes are high, very slim margin of error. If this year fails, it’s very possible a change is made at the QB position ahead of 2018.

Well, without further adieu, let’s play Pressure Meter!

Arizona Cardinals: Sam Bradford

When he’s on the field, Sam Bradford can be a very efficient and effective starting quarterback. He may never live up to the potential that factored in him being the number one overall pick in 2010’s NFL draft, and that’s okay. At this point in his career, health is about the only thing Bradford should be worrying about. Having tossed 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions while completing a whopping 71.6% of his passes in his last healthy season, the Oklahoma product is good when he’s on the field. In 2017, 14 missed games put injury concerns front and center for the time being. Yes, Josh Rosen is a first-round pick. Yes, he’s eager to play. The only way he’ll get on the field is if Bradford is forced off it, though.

Pressure Meter: Low (4)

Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan

This will be short and sweet. Matt Ryan is one of the better QBs in this league and despite seeing most of his numbers dip last season, expect a bounce back in year two under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Ryan doesn’t have a history of bad play and has an impeccable bill of health throughout his career. Nothing Ryan does on the field will cause him to lose Atlanta’s starting QB gig. Nothing.

Pressure Meter: Low (0)

Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco

The pressure is definitely on for now 11-year veteran Joe Flacco in Baltimore. If selecting Lamar Jackson with the final pick in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft wasn’t an indication that Flacco needs to improve, I’m not sure what would suffice as one. “January Joe” tends to improve a bit as the season progresses, but hasn’t had a chance to live up to his nickname since 2014. Reports of the 33-year-old having his best training camp ever are encouraging, but seeing on-field results is a completely different monster. Patience is running low within the Ravens organization, and it starts at the quarterback position.

Pressure Meter: High (8)

Buffalo Bills: Nathan Peterman/Josh Allen

This battle has yet to be decided. With AJ McCarron now with the Oakland Raiders, the QB battle comes down to 2018 first-rounder Josh Allen and 2017 fifth-round selection Nathan Peterman. Although Allen undoubtedly possesses more upside and a cannon for an arm, Peterman is entering his second year in the system and might get the first crack at starting. The Bills find themselves in a precarious position right now. If Peterman begins the season as the starter and the team flops, is it time to move to Allen? If Allen starts the season and struggles, how long do you give him before pulling the plug on his season? No matter how you slice it, the pressure is more so on the organization than the quarterbacks within it.

Pressure Meter: Medium (5)

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton

Cam Newton is in a position similar to Matt Ryan. MVP-caliber at his peak, but can look a bit lost when he’s off. Also like Ryan, though, nothing Newton does on the field will lead to him being benched. The Panthers’ offense runs through Newton. 2018 is a relatively low-pressure situation for Cam, even after factoring in the 16 interceptions he threw last season. This year should be a bit smoother.

Pressure Meter: Low (1)

Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky

Fresh off the heels of a 5-11 season and the acquisition of Khalil Mack from the Oakland Raiders, expectations are rising a bit in Chi-Town. Nothing too crazy, but a .500 record shouldn’t be unreasonable. Defensively, Chicago should be set. On the other side of the ball, now second-year QB Mitch Trubisky is asked to build off his mixed bag that was 2017. A TD:INT ratio of 1:1 isn’t ideal, so expect first-year head coach Matt Nagy to make that an area of focus for his young QB. The Bears have made it clear that Trubisky is their franchise quarterback, so the only pressure he’ll feel in 2018 is living up to that tag.

Pressure Meter: Low (2)

Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton

Yes, Marvin Lewis is still the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. He’ll hold that title through the 2019 season. Andy Dalton’s contract not only runs through that timeframe, but the year after it as well. The Bengals hold one of the more frustrated fanbases and front offices in the league, but moving on from the solid-but-unspectacular Dalton with a few years still left on his contract just isn’t in the cards. Another year, another chance for Dalton to either separate himself from the middle of the pack, or prove why he belongs there in every season’s QB rankings.

Pressure Meter: Low (4)

Cleveland Browns: Tyrod Taylor

Taylor may be the best quarterback the Browns have had in a decade. Many have proclaimed the Browns as the biggest winners of this year’s offseason, and much of the supporting evidence for those cases comes from the acquisition of Taylor. Although Baker Mayfield is a very fun player to watch and is likely the QB of the future in Cleveland, Taylor is an efficient, effective option who has a lot more to work with than he did in Buffalo. He’s under a microscope, but for all the right reasons. Don’t expect his leash to be as short as most are predicting.

Pressure Meter: Low (4)

Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott

Dak Prescott is not in danger of getting his job taken. I understand his numbers across the board declined from his epic rookie campaign, but it’s not like he was a bad QB in 2017. The return of one of the best running backs in the entire league, Ezekiel Elliot, will help take some pressure off Prescott’s shoulders. Whatever expectations Prescott puts on himself will not carry as much weight as those of his front office, coaching staff and fanbase. Having lost some weapons and possibly a bit of confidence this offseason, it’s going to be up to Prescott to right the ship in Big D. I nearly gave him a 5 score but because he’s only a third-year QB, I’ll go with a…

Pressure Meter: Low (4)

Denver Broncos: Case Keenum

If you watched any of the Broncos’ quarterbacks play last season, I’m sorry. Case Keenum, whether his play last year is viewed as a fluke or the benefit of Minnesota’s system in your eyes, is an upgrade at the position. Leading his then-Vikings to an NFC Championship appearance shows Keenum can take control of a team and get it where it needs to be. With no immediate heir to his throne, another year on his deal after 2018 and the full support of John Elway on his side, 2018 will not see Keenum’s name placed on the hot seat.

Pressure Meter: Low (2)

Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford

Matthew Stafford has quietly built a very high reputation for himself in the NFL. Yes, I understand he has yet to win a playoff game. We’ve got to keep in mind Stafford pretty much is the definition of offense for the Lions. The offseason addition of running back LeGarrette Blount should help improve what’s perennially one of, if not the worst, rushing attacks in the league. In Matt Patricia’s first year as head coach of the team, expect Stafford to pick up where he left off in 2017.

Pressure Meter: Low (0)

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers, injury concerns and newly-signed mega-deal aside, is a top-two quarterback in the NFL. Making up for both a subpar running game and struggling defense seemingly every year, the load might be a tad lighter for Rodgers in 2018. Defensive improvements won’t change his pressure score, though. I think you can guess what it is.

Pressure Meter: Low (0)

Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson

Watson took the league by storm before tearing his ACL in his rookie season, throwing 19 touchdowns in just 7 games and posting what would’ve qualified as the third-best passer rating in the NFL. Heading into 2018, the only pressure Watson faces will be to prove his seven-game stretch wasn’t a fluke. It will be easier said than done: which is why although I’m not giving him a medium score, he’s receiving the next-closest thing.

Pressure Meter: Low (4)

Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck

We all know how good Andrew Luck is when healthy. The only issue there is, well… Luck hasn’t played a down of NFL football since the 2016 season. Much like his play specifically is well-documented for being good, the play of the rest of his team is well-documented for being… not so good. Like his AFC South rival Watson, Luck will have to prove he’s the same player after injury than he was before.

Pressure Meter: Low (4) 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles

To the surprise of some – and to the dismay of others – the Jaguars signed Blake Bortles to a three-year, $54 million contract as soon as they could following the end of the season. Getting to the AFC Championship and being a quarter away from the Super Bowl tends to work in your favor at the negotiation table. Bortles’ numbers aren’t always the prettiest and many are projecting a Jaguar regression in 2018, but there is very little pressure resting on Bortles.

Pressure Meter: Low (2)

Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes II

Alex Smith has been shipped out of town. The keys to Andy Reid’s offensive Ferrari have been handed to second-year QB Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs are hoping they see more breathtaking deep balls than puzzling interceptions from their newly-appointed franchise guy in 2018. Mahomes is must-see football – for better or worse. Taking over a playoff team that was already one of the best offenses in football last season is risky. His pressure doesn’t come from fear of losing his job, but proving he was the right man to take Smith’s.

Pressure Meter: Medium (5)

Los Angeles Chargers: Philip Rivers

I’m still getting used to referring to the Chargers as being located in Los Angeles. Every once in a while I catch myself saying San Di- see, I almost did it again. The 36-year-old Rivers is under contract for this year and next, so his place as the starting QB for the Chargers won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Throwing just 10 interceptions last season (a figure that hadn’t been that low since 2009), it appears that father time will have to wait a bit before knocking on Rivers’ door. As long as he’s able to play at a high level, Rivers is the guy in LA.

Pressure Meter: Low (0)

Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff

What a difference a year makes. Coming off a rookie season in which he threw two more interceptions than he did touchdowns, Jared Goff needed at least a solid sophomore campaign to win over the trust of his organization. Well, to say he had a solid year two would be selling him way short. 28 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions will usually get the job done. An offseason to scheme with Sean McVay and build more chemistry with his receiving corps should only help. I gave Goff a point because of his team’s astronomical expectations, but that’s as far as I’ll go.

Pressure Meter: Low (1)

Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill

Ryan Tannehill’s record as a starter is 37-40. He hasn’t played football in two years. He’s not viewed as a franchise QB in the eyes of some, but absolutely is in the eyes of the Miami Dolphins. With that said, this year is a big one for both Tannehill and the rest of the Dolphins. Predictions for the team are all over the place, so it’s hard to get a read on what’s a fair expectation in 2018. Playoffs? Early struggles, then never being able to dig out of the hole? I doubt the team wants to see Brock Osweiler take the field at any point this season, so it’ll be up to Tannehill to stay healthy and pick up where he left off in 2016.

Pressure Meter: Medium (6)

Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins

Minnesota was an NFC Championship team last year with Case Keenum, but spent a boatload of money to acquire Cousins in the offseason. He naturally faces pressure simply because the team was so good last year. Cousins has little trouble putting up big numbers, but struggles at times to translate them into wins. He has all the weapons in the world (on both sides of the ball, even), so there’s little reason to expect a dip in production from the 30-year-old Michigan State product in year one with a new squad.

Pressure Meter: Low (2)

New England Patriots: Tom Brady

There are a handful of QBs on this whom I don’t have much to say about. The only pressure Brady faces is proving he can still play at a high level at the age of 41. If he can do that, there’s nothing else to see here.

Pressure Meter: Low (1)

New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees

See above, but change age to 39. With possibly the most dynamic running game in the league and a revamped defense, the sky is the limit in the Big Easy.

Pressure Meter: Low (1)

New York Giants: Eli Manning

Instead of drafting his potential replacement this year, the Giants decided to put off thinking about life after Eli Manning for another year. Due to turn 38 by playoff time, it’ll be interesting to see if Manning still has it in him to get his team there. The return of Odell Beckham Jr. will help a ton this season. Adding rookie RB Saquon Barkley in the backfield as a workhorse also takes a lot of weight off the veteran’s shoulders. It was hard to watch Manning drop back last season: I’m surprised he threw just 13 picks on the year. The overall workload on offense is now more evenly distributed, but Manning faces a bit more pressure than his also-aging counterparts due to the fact that his team is desperate for a playoff berth.

Pressure Meter: Low (3)

New York Jets: Sam Darnold

Recently named the youngest starting quarterback of the modern era, Sam Darnold has been making national headlines all preseason. Shipping Teddy Bridgewater out of town cleared the way for the former USC Trojan to take the starting job in New York and run with it. The Jets don’t (or at least shouldn’t) have playoff aspirations this year, so that will extend Darnold’s leash quite a bit. Letting him ride out this season and play a full slate of games should benefit his development.

Pressure Meter: Low (3)

Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr

Entering year one of his five-year, $125 million contract extension with the Raiders, Derek Carr is the future of this team. Oakland took a huge step back last season after many expected it to become an AFC powerhouse. Carr saw his numbers drop as he played through a back injury en route to a 6-9 record as the starter. With a new head coach in the fold and a new mentality overall heading into the season, many are expecting a rebound in 2018. We’ll see if it happens, but more are looking at coach Jon Gruden than Carr.

Pressure Meter: Low (2)

Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz

Nick Foles will start for the Eagles in this year’s season opener. No, that absolutely does not imply there’s a quarterback controversy in Philly. Carson Wentz is still finishing up rehab from his knee injury last season, so the team is simply playing it safe with one of the most promising young talents in the league. Returns from ACL tears are almost taken for granted in today’s league, with many players returning to form despite the brutal nature of the injury. Wentz was an MVP candidate before going down in 2017, so the only thing he has to prove is that he’s that same guy in 2018.

Pressure Meter: Low (2) 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger

36 years old and with still two years left on his deal, Ben Roethlisberger has a spot among the better QBs in the league as long as he doesn’t retire. Speaking of that, it looks like Big Ben isn’t thinking about that option much these days after it crossed his mind quite a bit in recent years. If Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and JuJu Smith-Schuster are on the field, Roethlisberger isn’t really facing any type of pressure (aside from opposing defensive linemen).

Pressure Meter: Low (0)

San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo

Once the richest man in the NFL (a title Aaron Rodgers has since stripped him off), Jimmy Garoppolo enters his first full season as a 49er facing very high expectations. Winning all five of his starts with the team last season, the 26-year-old is 7-0 overall as a starter in the NFL. Expectations come with pressure for guys like Jimmy G, especially when their starting RBs go down for the season with injuries. Nothing too serious, but building off a 6-10 record is nearing playoff territory.

Pressure Meter: Low (4)

Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson is in that Brady/Rodgers/Brees territory where as long as he’s on the field, the rest is automatic. One of the most relied-upon players in the entire league, Wilson will be tasked with carrying what’s a bit of a depleted Seahawks team to the playoffs in 2018. A completely stacked NFC West (and NFC in general) doesn’t do Seattle any favors. Wilson gets a point for the workload he’s forced to carry but in terms of being on the hot seat, he’s as cold as it gets.

Pressure Meter: Low (1)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston

Suspended for the first three games of the season, Jameis Winston’s 2018 is already off to a rocky start. Now not fully guaranteed to be the starter when he returns, things aren’t looking up for the fourth-year QB. Tampa Bay has exercised its option on Winston for the 2019 season but anything beyond that is a mystery. If more off-the-field troubles pop up in the near future or Winston isn’t sharp over the next couple years, things could get interesting. I struggled to decide on whether to give Winston a 4 or 5 but after seeing his GM’s quote, I’ll go with the latter.

Pressure Meter: Medium (5)

Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota

In a contractual position similar to Winston, Marcus Mariota will be a Titan for at least the next two seasons. Seeing his passing touchdown total cut in half from 2016 to 2017 (26 to 13) and throwing 15 interceptions in his last campaign, Mariota will look to bounce back in 2017. One of the better dual-threat QBs in the league, Mariota’s track record suggests last year was an anomaly. His production will be something to keep an eye on as the season unfolds but other than that, the 24-year-old should be fine.

Pressure Meter: Low (2)

Washington Redskins: Alex Smith

It’s been an interesting past year for Alex Smith. Having the best season of his career in 2017 at the age of 33, the Chiefs rewarded Smith by sending him to Washington. Shortly after that, the ‘Skins inked Smith to a four-year, $94 million contract extension. Now in a completely new situation because a younger, higher-upside QB took his job (sound familiar?), Smith is tasked with righting the ship in D.C. Whether or not he’ll be able to replicate last year’s success remains to be seen, but he’s entrenched as the starter for the next few years either way. The new contract is the only thing keeping Smith from receiving a score of 5.

Pressure Meter: Low (4)

Skipped past your QB’s score? Check out a breakdown of all 32 in the chart below:

Low Medium High
Bradford (4) Tannehill (6) Flacco (8)
Luck (4) Mahomes (5)
Garoppolo (4) Peterman/Allen (5)
Smith (4) Winston (5)
Watson (4)
Dalton (4)
Prescott (4)
Taylor (4)
Darnold (3)
Manning (3)
Trubisky (2)
Cousins (2)
Carr (2)
Mariota (2)
Wentz (2)
Bortles (2)
Keenum (2)
Newton (1)
Wilson (1)
Goff (1)
Brees (1)
Brady (1)
Stafford (0)
Roethlisberger (0)
Rodgers (0)
Ryan (0)
Rivers (0)

I can almost guarantee you’ve heard this many times before, but the quarterback position is the most important in the NFL. It’s the position that comes with the highest expectations, and rightfully so. Normally the highest-paid player on the field, the QB is in charge of making sure the entire offense is playing as expected. If your team has a good one, his leash is probably longer than almost any other player on the roster. If your signal-caller is struggling or the front office is unsure of who’s the starting one, expect a head coach to not think twice about pulling the trigger and making a change.

As you can see, not too many players are on the hot seat this year. Joe Flacco knows Lamar Jackson is breathing down his shoulder, Jameis Winston’s GM isn’t a huge fan of him right now and the Bills haven’t decided on a starting QB but other than that, the league is in a great place with so much talent playing for so many different teams. It truly is a good time to be an NFL quarterback.


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