Winning your division generally leads to good things in the NFL. Division champions avoid traveling for at least their first playoff game and are set up pretty well to make a deep playoff run. In order to win your division, you have to win your share of divisional games. Thus, one of the most important attributes a rookie QB can have is the ability to beat his divisional rivals. As we drill down into some recent rookie QBs, it becomes obvious that rookie QBs who play well within their division generally set themselves and their teams up for years of success.
Looking at the rookie seasons of some recent high-profile QBs over the past decade or so, a few patterns seem to have developed when it comes to divisional play. For one, the rookie QBs who had winning divisional records continued to rack up division and Super Bowl titles, which demonstrates that NFL winners, win almost immediately. Additionally, the majority of those winning QBs were paired with a very formidable defense and put up relatively pedestrian statistics.
What sets Robert Griffin III apart from most of the other rookies with winning divisional records is that he had his success with a less-than-stellar defense. Of the top 4 rookies sampled, Griffin’s defense (28th) was the only one ranked lower than 6th.
+ Brady, Cutler, and Manning had incomplete rookie seasons, so their second seasons were used
There is a significant correlation between a winning division record as a rookie and future NFL success. The five rookie QBs sampled who had a winning divisional record have accumulated a combined 20 division titles and eight Super Bowl championships (with another three Super Bowl appearances). The other seven QBs have combined for seven division titles and one Super Bowl title. Peyton Manning would be a notable exception to the inverse as he went 1-7 in the AFC East during his rookie campaign but has rebounded to win several division titles and has appeared in two Super Bowls, winning one.
Statistically, only Ben Roethisberger (who has won two Super Bowls and been to a third) is in Griffin’s class within his division. Big Ben went undefeated and had a very impressive 98.2 QB rating in his 5 AFC North games. Eli Manning (who has won two Super Bowls) is the only other QB in this group with a winning record who had a similarly ranked defense (the 2005 Giants were 24th in total defense). However, Eli’s 2005 statistics within the NFC East paled in comparison.
Griffin also led his team to the second-most points per division game (27) in this sampling, just behind Cam Newton’s incredible 2011 rookie season (28). RG3’s statistics speak for themselves, as he posted an incredible TD/INT ratio and QB rating. In fact, many certainly remember that Griffin was less than 2 minutes (and 1 Manning-to-Cruz) away from sweeping the division. His late touchdown pass to Santana Moss really should have been enough to add to his 4th quarter comeback tally.
During the Redskins’ 4 straight last place finishes between their last playoff berth and Griffin’s arrival (2008-2011), the team was a combined 7-17 within the division. Griffin’s 2012 Redskins won the division with a 5-1 record. The future is bright in Washington and one of the biggest reasons is that Griffin has already proven that he plays his best within the NFC East. Of course nothing is guaranteed, but if these patterns hold true, there could be several more NFC East banners and a couple Lombardi trophies in his future!