In the NFL, the fate of a team tracks the fate of its quarterback. If the quarterback is playing well, the team’s record will generally reflect it. And, if the quarterback is playing poorly, the team will almost always suffer.
Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, Alex Smith and Ben Roethlisberger are the six top-ranked quarterbacks in the league. New England, Kansas City and Pittsburgh have all won their respective divisions and are assured of a spot in the playoffs.
The Saints are in, but are battling the Carolina Panthers for the division title, and the Los Angeles Chargers are still in the playoff hunt entering the final week of the season. Only Stafford’s Lions are out, and they were not eliminated until losing to the Cincinnati Bengals in the second-to-last game of the season.
And then there is Andy Dalton, whose Bengals currently stand at 6-9 entering their final game of the season at the Baltimore Ravens. Cincinnati can deny the Ravens a spot in the playoffs with a win, but have long since stopped playing for anything meaningful.
And a big part of that falls on Dalton.
Dalton has been widely inconsistent this year, to say the least. He began the season with one of the worst performances of his career, completing 16 of 31 passes for 170 yards and four interceptions.
Not only was he bad, he was historically bad. His QBR, which factors in such things as who is ultimately to blame for a mistake, down and distance, strength of opposing defense, the respective strength or weakness of the offensive line and rushing contributions of a quarterback, was 0.6. It was the third worst performance in the history of the statistic, which dates back to 2006.
A change of coordinators seemed to help turn things around for seventh-year pro. Over the next nine games, Dalton posted a QBR of 54.2, which would have put him in the top 15 quarterbacks in the league.
Doug Farrar of Bleacher Report had Dalton rated as the 14th-best quarterback in the league, and compared him favorably to Smith.
“This version of the Andy Dalton Experience is perfectly adequate in the regular season,” Farrar said. “If the Bengals do make the playoffs, however, they will have to ask more of their quarterback at some point.”
The Bengals stood at 5-6 entering the Pittsburgh game, with a real chance to make a playoff run.
Dalton was efficient in the first half against the Steelers, completing 16 of 22 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns as the Bengals jumped out to a commanding 17-0 lead.
But then, the wheels fell off.
In the second half, Dalton completed just five of 14 passes for 51 yards. And, although Cincinnati was technically still in the thick of the playoff chase at 5-7, the Bengals’ season was all but over.
Over the next two weeks, Dalton was just about as bad as a quarterback can be. Against Chicago, Dalton completed less than 50 percent of his passes for the first time since November 6, 2014, when he went 10-of-33 in a Thursday night loss to Cleveland. His QBR against Chicago was 26.0.
OK. So maybe that was just a hangover from the Steelers’ game. The Bengals were 5-8, and still had a chance to avoid a second-straight losing season. But first, they had to beat Minnesota and old friend Mike Zimmer.
That meant Dalton had to get back on track. It was not going to happen. Instead, Dalton turned in another stinker. He completed just 11 of 22 passes for 113 yards and two interceptions before giving way to A.J. McCarron. His QBR of 2.5 stands as one of the worst performances of his career.
Three straight losses left Cincinnati reeling at 5-9 and, with games against Detroit and Baltimore looming, the Bengals had a good chance of ending the 2017 season with five straight losses.
Dalton was better in the win against Detroit, but not by much. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 238 yards, one touchdown and one interception and finished with a QBR of 38.6. It was the eighth time this season that Dalton had posted a QBR of less than 40, which marks him as one of the worst-performing quarterbacks in the league.
In fact, Dalton’s total QBR through 15 games stands at 38.4, which puts him in 29th position, behind Jacoby Brissett of Indianapolis and ahead of only Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky, Trevor Siemian of Denver and Cleveland’s DeShone Kizer. That would also be the lowest mark of Dalton’s seven-year career.
Baltimore’s Joe Flacco is the only quarterback in the NFL who owns a QBR of less than 50 and whose team still owns a winning record. Baltimore currently stands at 9-6 and needs only a win over the Bengals to earn a playoff spot.
Over the last four games, during which time the Ravens have posted a 3-1 record which includes a 39-38 loss to Pittsburgh, Flacco’s QBR stands at 73.4.
Sunday’s game will feature two quarterbacks headed in the opposite direction. It may well also be Dalton’s audition for a new coach and, if Dalton continues to perform as he has, could also mark the end of the Green-Dalton era.