The NFL regular season is over. We have reached the wild-card round of the playoffs. With 18 teams now eliminated, we only need to focus on 14 more as the playoffs whittle them away. Instead of going through 16 games on a weekly basis, we only have to comb through six games for the upcoming weekend.
At least five starting quarterbacks will be making their NFL playoff debuts this weekend. Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence, Brock Purdy, Geno Smith and Daniel Jones are all in line to get their first-ever postseason start. Depending on how injury situations shake out, that number could get all the way up to seven.
The Dolphins ruled out Tua Tagovailoa, who remains in concussion protocol. Currently injured backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has playoff experience with Minnesota, but if he isn't available, third-string rookie Skylar Thompson will make his postseason debut.
Lamar Jackson obviously has playoff experience for the Baltimore Ravens, but his status is up in the air for Sunday's matchup with the Bengals. If Jackson can't start, either Tyler Huntley or Anthony Brown will make their playoff debuts under center for Baltimore.
First-time playoff starters struggle
Last season, five quarterbacks made their NFL playoff debuts: Joe Burrow, Derek Carr, Kyler Murray, Mac Jones and Jalen Hurts.
Burrow and Carr went head-to-head in the wild-card round, with Burrow's Bengals coming out on top. However, since the two first-time quarterbacks went head-to-head, their data isn't relevant to the sample at hand.
Murray and the Cardinals faced Matthew Stafford and the Rams. Jones and the Patriots went up against Josh Allen and the Bills. Hurts' Eagles faced off against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.
Those three quarterbacks went 0-3 straight up and 0-3 against the spread. Arizona lost by 23 as a 3.5-point underdog. New England lost by 30 as a 4.5-point underdog. Philadelphia lost by 16 as a 7.5-point underdog. The Eagles trailed 31-0 after three quarters. Overall, first-time quarterbacks were outscored 112-43. They failed to cover the spread by an average of nearly 18 points.
It's not just last year. Overall, quarterbacks making their first playoff start against a quarterback with previous playoff experience are a disgusting 14-35-1 against the spread. They cover the spread just over 28% of the time.
The most recent quarterback to buck the trend was Baker Mayfield in 2020, when he went on the road and beat Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers as a 5.5-point underdog. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, playoff experience matters quite a bit.
Daniel Jones is in the line of fire
As mentioned above, we can safely assume that five quarterbacks will be making their playoff debuts this weekend.
Unfortunately for those looking to back the trend and fade first-time playoff starters, four of those quarterbacks will be going head-to-head. Justin Herbert will be making his playoff debut, but he's going up against Trevor Lawrence, who is also appearing in the playoffs for the first time. The same applies to the Seattle-San Francisco matchup featuring Geno Smith and Brock Purdy.
That leaves us with Daniel Jones. Jones is in his fourth NFL season with the Giants, but this is his first time making the playoffs. The Giants will head to Minnesota, where the Vikings are 3-point home favorites against New York. Kirk Cousins will make his fourth career playoff start. He is 1-2 both straight up and against the spread.
Jones has four years of experience, so it's not like he's a rookie. However, that hasn't mattered much. People might also think that Jones is built for this moment, as his personality and demeanor has been compared to Eli Manning, who had plenty of playoff success. However, even Manning was shut out by the Carolina Panthers in his first playoff start.
Other situations at play
Injuries have made a few quarterback situations rather uncertain.
If anyone other than Teddy Bridgewater starts at quarterback for the Dolphins this week, this trend will apply to the Miami quarterback as well. Bridgewater has one career playoff start, losing but covering the spread in Minnesota's loss to Seattle in the 2015 playoffs. That was the infamous Blair Walsh missed field goal game.
Miami is a 10.5-point road underdog against Buffalo. Josh Allen will be making his seventh career playoff start for Buffalo. He is 3-3 straight up and 2-4 against the spread.
Baltimore is a 6.5-point underdog against Cincinnati this weekend. If Lamar Jackson is unable to go, this trend will also apply to whoever is under center for Baltimore.
Jackson is 1-3 both straight up and against the spread in his playoff career. On the other side, Joe Burrow is 4-0 against the spread and 3-1 straight up in the playoffs. Of course, all of this came last season in Cincinnati's run to the Super Bowl.