WASHINGTON — Devastating leg injuries tainted Christmas Eve in three NFL cities. Though Seattle is still sleepless over Tyler Lockett’s gruesome break, and Marcus Mariota’s basically ended Tennessee’s playoff hopes, Derek Carr’s broken leg has the most impact.
Carr has been an MVP front-runner and the face of the Oakland Raiders’ resurgence. His 96.7 QB rating ranks him in the top 10 among regular starters, and losing him means the Bay Area’s hopes for making some noise in the playoffs fall on the shoulders of fourth-year backup Matt McGloin.
The story of another former Raiders and Penn State QB should serve as a beacon of hope for both Oakland and McGloin: Jeff Hostetler.
In 1990, the New York Giants entered week 15 with an 11-2 record and one of the hottest QBs in the league. However, Phil Simms broke his foot in a heartbreaking home loss to the Buffalo Bills and would miss the rest of the season. Enter Hostetler.
Nobody will mistake the man nicknamed “Hoss” for Tom Brady, but he was a solid game manager on a Giants team that ran the ball well, set an NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season (14) and was blessed with an all-time great defense. Hostetler finished out the 1990 regular season with two modest, turnover-free road victories, then went on to complete nearly 60 percent of his playoff passes for a total of 510 yards, three TDs and no picks in New York’s three-game post-season run that culminated in a Super Bowl victory over the Bills.
McGloin has one advantage that Hostetler didn’t in 1990: experience.
Hostetler’s week 16 start in 1990 was just the third of his career, while McGloin got six starts as a rookie in 2013. Though he’s had none since then, he has seen his numbers in spot duty steadily improve. McGloin’s 76.1 career QB rating is obviously lackluster, but it’s not much worse than Hostetler’s 80.5 career mark.
Of course, the big question in Oakland is whether the supporting cast can help take the pressure off McGloin. The Raider rushing attack averages 124.3 yards per game this season and only five teams have more than their 17 rush TDs. Though nowhere near as good as those ’90 Giants, the Raider D is an opportunistic unit (their 29 take-aways are the second-most in the NFL) led by Khalil Mack, one of the most explosive and dominant defensive players in the league. Admittedly, this defense struggles to protect leads, gives up an average of 24.1 points per game and is lowly ranked in terms of yardage. But if McGloin follows the script laid out by his fellow Nittany Lion, Oakland’s league-leading +18 turnover differential shouldn’t be adversely affected.
Plus, I wouldn’t necessarily count the Raiders out against the teams they’re likely to play. Oakland currently has the two-seed in the AFC at 12-3, but they still have a chance to get home-field advantage as the conference top seed or even drop to the five-seed with a loss in their regular season finale in Denver. Oddly enough, the latter might be the most desirable path; a trip to Houston to play a Texans squad also starting a playoff novice at QB (Tom Savage) is far better than hosting the Steelers — a team that’s won six straight (probably seven after playing Cleveland this week) and 5-3 on the road this year — in the divisional round. Even though Kansas City swept Oakland in the regular season, I’m not so sure they’d want to see their division rival a third time, regardless of the circumstances.
Don’t get it twisted; I’m sticking with my preseason prediction that New England will represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI — especially when you consider Tom Brady has won as many postseason games as the rest of the AFC playoff QBs have started (22), and has the league leader in rushing touchdowns (LeGarrette Blount) and the NFL’s top scoring defense aiding his cause. But there’s no reason to rule out Oakland keeping things interesting by winning their first playoff game in 14 years just because they have a career backup under center.
And definitely don’t rule out clicking here for the updated NFL Week 16 Recap.
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