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How Do Rookie QBs Fare In NFL Playoff Games?

The Dallas Cowboys' Dak Prescott is the next rookie quarterback to make his NFL playoff debut this weekend and history suggests he is in tough.

The Oakland Raiders' Connor Cook joined the growing list of NFL rookie quarterbacks to have unsuccessful debuts as starters in the playoffs. Rookie QBs are now 8-15 straight up (34.8 percent) since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 after Cook and the Raiders got drubbed 27-14 by the Texans in Wild Card Weekend as 4-point underdogs. Cook threw for only 150 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions to go along with three sacks.

When we only look at active NFL QBs that started in the playoffs in their first year, their record is a combined 7-10 straight up and 6-11 against the spread. (The complete list of their performances is in the article below if you want to take a closer look.)

The numbers don't bode well for the Cowboys in this spot but I do think Prescott is in a very different boat than Cook and the Raiders were last week. Other than the talent level, the most obvious differences are that Prescott has a full season of starting under his belt and he'll also be at home.

Turnovers are something bettors want to consider, though. Rookie QBs now have 35 interceptions against just 22 touchdowns in those playoff starts.

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Fri, Jan. 6 2017

Before last week Connor Cook was best known for bringing Big Ten titles to East Lansing. One week and a couple of key injuries later, he’s suddenly set to take the starting snaps for the Raiders in their first playoff game in over a decade.

No pressure.

As of Thursday, the Raiders had moved up to 4-point road underdogs after the Houston Texans opened as 1.5-point favorites. If the Raiders had No. 1 quarterback Derek Carr starting, they’d be 2.5-point favorites.

That’s a 6.5-point swing to the spread.

So now you know what Cook – or the absence of Carr – is worth to the point spread. But how do rookie QBs actually fare in NFL playoff games? 

It’s not good, people. Rookie quarterbacks are 8-14 straight up in playoff games since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. That’s a winning percentage of just 36.4.

Those rookie QBs combined to account for 21 TD passes and 32 interceptions and their teams averaged a meagre 16.77 points a game in those 22 games. Not pretty.

Here’s a look at the performance of the most recent rookie quarterbacks in playoff games:  

  • Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004-05 season: (1-1 SU, 0-2 ATS) 20 and 17 points, 3 TD, 5 Int
  • Joe Flacco in the 2008-09 season: (2-1 SU, 2-1 ATS) 27 and 13 and 14 points, 1 TD, 3 Int
  • Matt Ryan in the 2008-09 season: (0-1 SU, 0-1 ATS) 24 points, 2 TD, 2 INT
  • Mark Sanchez in the 2009-10 season: (2-1 SU, 2-1 ATS) 24 and 17 and 17 points, 4 TD, 2 Int
  • TJ Yates in the 2011-12 season: (1-1 SU, 1-1 ATS) 31 and 13 pts, 1 TD, 3
  • Andy Dalton in the 2011-12 season: (0-1 SU, 0-1 ATS) 10 pts, 0 TD, 3 Int
  • Robert Griffin III in 2012-13 season: (0-1 SU, 0-1 ATS) 14 pts, 2 TD, 1 Int
  • Andrew Luck in 2012-13 season: (0-1 SU, 0-1 ATS) 9 pts, 0 TD, 1 Int
  • Russell Wilson in the 2012-13 season: (1-1 SU, 1-1 ATS) 24 pts and 28 pts, 3 TD, 1 Int

These QBs went a combined 7-9 straight up and 6-10 against the spread. The five most recent rookie QBs went just 2-5 SU and ATS going back to the 2011-12 season but it’s worth noting that the only two wins came against other rookie QBs in those years. 

So we can say that no rookie QB has won a playoff game against a non-rookie QB starter since Mark Sanchez did it in 2010. 

We can also say that these rookies almost always win straight up when they cover the spread. The lone exception was Roethlisberger in 2005 when the Steelers beat the Jets 20-17 in overtime but failed to cover as 9.5-point favorites.  

In addition to the quarterbacks listed above, the only other rookie QBs to start a playoff game since the merger are Dan Marino, Bernie Kosar, Jim Everett, Todd Marinovich and Shaun King. 

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