Now, more than ever, it's a quarterback-driven league.
This weekend's divisional playoff matchups are prime example of how quarterback play impacts the game, as the eight remaining quarterbacks finished among the top 14 in QBR, ESPN's quarterback rating system. The list of surviving quarterbacks runs from Peyton Manning (second) to Cam Newton (14th).
Way down near the bottom of the list, finishing 34th out of 39 qualifiers, is Geno Smith.
I make this point not to be critical of Smith, but to illustrate the gap between the New York Jets and the legitimate contenders. I don't believe you need an elite quarterback to win a Super Bowl, but you'd better have a quarterback in the top half of the league, and I don't know if we can project Smith as a top-half quarterback. Apparently, neither can the Jets' hierarchy, as general manager John Idzik noted last week, "We'll look at quarterbacks, yes, we will look at quarterbacks" in the offseason.
You can bet there will be another quarterback on the roster by the team they report to training camp, either a starting-caliber veteran (Michael Vick?) or a draft pick. How much they invest in the position will tell us exactly what they think of Smith. The importance of this decision can't be overstated. To end the 45-year Super Bowl drought, the Jets need a dramatic improvement at quarterback and they need to decide if Smith can give it to them.
Smith made strides over the final four weeks. In fact, his QBR over that span (78.8) was second only to Manning (85.1). Do we place more emphasis on that four-game stretch than we do over the middle portion of the season, when Smith was downright awful? I don't think so; you can't forget about 21 interceptions. Much of his improvement stemmed from his scrambling, his better-late-than-never revelation that he can get out of trouble by running. He caught teams by surprise, and they will be more congnizant of that after a full offseason of film study.
I can almost hear Jets fans chiming in with, "Yeah, but they made two AFC Championship Games with Mark Sanchez at quarterback." Yes, they did. Two thoughts on that: Sanchez's rookie year (23rd in QBR) was better than Smith's rookie year. The Jets were dominant in two aspects -- defense and rushing offense. That created a rising tide, which lifted all boats -- including the S.S. Sanchez.
Looking ahead to 2014, I don't see the Jets as dominant in those two areas as they were in 2009 and 2010, meaning the play at the quarterback position will have greater importance. Plus, the game has changed since then. Look, the Jets are an ascending team, to use one of Rex Ryan's pet phrases, but until they make a dramatic jump at quarterback, their ceiling will remain too low.