Can Patriots' Mac Jones win his playoff debut? History is strongly against him

·3 min read

History of rookie QBs in playoffs doesn't seem to bode well for Mac Jones originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

First, congrats to Mac Jones. Only 12 other rookie quarterbacks in NFL history have guided their team to the playoffs while starting at least 10 games.

So, good job, Mac. And good luck. You're gonna need it.

After a crazy finish to Week 18, the New England Patriots will head to Buffalo on Wild Card weekend to face the Bills in the first round of the AFC playoffs.

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It's a challenging but winnable matchup for the Patriots, who have proven they can play with anyone this season and emasculated the Bills during their last trip to Buffalo. And while Jones has struggled since the team's Week 14 bye, he's also shown a poise beyond his years to deliver arguably the best season by a rookie QB in franchise history.

But if you're wondering how rookie QBs typically fare in the postseason, the answer is... not good.

Consider this: 12 rookie quarterbacks have started a postseason game from the 2011 playoffs to the present, per Stathead. Only three of those quarterbacks won, and the most recent was Los Angeles Rams rookie John Wolford, who gave way to veteran Jared Goff in the second quarter of a 2020 Wild Card matchup.

The last rookie QB to win a playoff game before Wolford? You have to go back to the 2012 Wild Card Round, when Russell Wilson threw for 187 yards and a touchdown to help the Seattle Seahawks earn a comeback victory over Washington.

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Some pretty impressive QBs have failed their first playoff tests, too: Andrew Luck, Dak Prescott and Lamar Jackson all lost their playoff debuts while combining for five touchdown passes and three interceptions, and even Wilson didn't make it out of the 2012 Divisional Round after falling to the Atlanta Falcons 30-28.

Patriots fans could argue that if T.J. Yates can win a playoff game, so can Jones. Jones also benefits from a strong running game, rock-solid offensive line and talented defense, so the Patriots may not need him to be the star of the show in his first postseason. (Just look at how they beat Buffalo in Week 13.)

If New England makes a deep playoff run with a rookie QB, however, it will buck an overwhelming trend. (We should also note Yates won that game going up against fellow rookie Andy Dalton. So, a first-year QB was winning that game one way or the other.)

No quarterback in NFL history has led his team to a Super Bowl appearance (much less a victory) in his first season, and only six have made it out of the divisional round. The average passer rating of those six QBs in their conference championship games: 49.3.

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The takeaway: It's very hard to win in January with a rookie quarterback. Then again, it's traditionally pretty hard to beat Bill Belichick and the Patriots in January. We'll find out Saturday in Buffalo whether Jones can become an historical anomaly.