Can these Two Quarterbacks Reach the Playoffs
There is little doubt that these two young quarterbacks can reach the NFL playoffs this upcoming season if they can play and improve to the next level. They represent the future for their franchises but there are some large question marks about their upside potential with training camps around the corner.
For Jameis Winston, quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it is very necessary for him to reduce the mistakes he made early in the season last year. Winston threw eight interceptions in his first four games while leading the Buccaneers to a 1-3 mark during that span. He redeemed himself with a nine-game stretch with 15 touchdowns compared to four interceptions. Tampa Bay posted a 7-2 record in those nine games and Winston was showing his skills and improvement. But a consistent pattern of play over the course of the season is the main playoff ingredient.
With the Bucs in contention for a playoff spot late in the season, Winston threw six picks in the final three games to offset his lack of consistency.
The problem with Winston is his decision-making process. He tends to continue throwing late and to the outside. That might work in college football, but defenses will pick up on that tendency in the NFL. It has led to some miserable mistakes in his past pattern of not reading the defense and looking to gamble at the wrong time. A couple of ill-advised plays will knock any team out of playoff contention. Winston is not Bret Favre or Aaron Rodgers who would gamble at certain times to win a game.
This is something Tampa Bay cannot do in 2017 if it wants to improve that 9-7 record from last season. The Buccaneers added two new weapons for Winston in the passing game. Smart additions signing Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency and All-American tight end O.J. Howard in the first round of April’s draft. This should allow Winston less mistakes that came with too much reliance on Mike Evans and not enough play options. Will he be able to use these upgraded positions to improve his decisions and get to the next level. The Bucs and Winston were impressive last year with their three game winning streak on the road at KC, Seattle and San Diego. Their potential is real but can Winston be the leader to the postseason.
Marcus Mariota, the quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, is different than Winston because he is a quick study of defenses and a proven effective decision maker when healthy. Unfortunately, Mariota has seen each of his first two NFL seasons end prematurely to injury, including a season-ending fibula fracture this past December. When on the field, Super Mario has been downright dominant.
He put up 28 touchdowns compared to nine interceptions to lead Tennessee to a surprising 8-7 mark in 15 starts last season.
Now that the Titans have retained the running back tandem of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, Mariota has the balance to succeed on offense. Add in receiver Corey Davis in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft and Mario should reach a new level. If the former Oregon standout can play a full 16-game season without injuries, Mariota will increase the Titans status as a team winner and rival any competition in the league and a playoff berth.
Tampa Bay and Tennessee should be considered legitimate playoff threats heading into the 2017 season. The lingering question here is whether each team’s franchise quarterback is prepared to take his game to the next level.