Oakland is going to the playoffs, but the Raiders will do so without starting quarterback Derek Carr. The third-year quarterback had a breakout season, driven in large part by his ability to minimize bad plays: Carr leads the NFL with a 2.8% sack rate, and his 1.1% interception rate ranks 4th in the league. Oakland went 12-3 in games started by Carr, but after breaking his fibula in a win over the Colts, the Raiders are now turning to Matt McGloin to lead them in the postseason. [Update: With McGloin hurt, Connor Cook will now be making his first career NFL start in the playoffs, the first quarterback to do that since at least 1950.]
Oakland isn’t the only team switching quarterbacks as we enter January. Houston started massive bust Brock Osweiler for the first 14 games of the season, and were rewarded with the worst quarterback play in the NFL. The Texans turned to Tom Savage early in the Jaguars game last week; Savage led Houston to a come-from-behind victory to earn the starting job. He struggled against Cincinnati in his first start, but he’s going to be the guy in the playoffs despite starting just one or two games all year (Houston could, in theory, rest Savage this week, as the Texans are locked in to the 4 seed).
Finally, there are the Miami Dolphins. After years of “will he or won’t he?” play from Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins are finally going to the playoffs…. but maybe without Tannehill. The perennially on-the-verge-of-breaking-out quarterback sprained his ACL and MCL against Arizona three weeks ago, leading his status for the playoffs in doubt. But backup Matt Moore led a game-winning drive against the Cardinals, excelled against the Jets, and was up-and-down in an overtime win against Buffalo on Sunday.
Assuming Moore starts in the playoffs, he’ll be the third quarterback this season to start a playoff game despite fewer than six regular season starts. Here’s every example in NFL history where that happened:
A few of these teams went on to win the Super Bowl, with the Giants behind Jeff Hostetler (after Phil Simms was lost for the season) being the most famous example. Ditto Washington with Doug Williams, who like Hostetler, only started two games during the regular season (that’s one of two instances on the list where Jay Schroeder was benched for the playoffs). Miami in 1972 went undefeated largely with Earl Morrall at quarterback, but switched to Bob Griese for the Super Bowl after he made a few plays in the second half of the AFC Championship Game. Vince Ferragamo led the Rams to the Super Bowl in 1979, after starter Pat Haden went down with an injury.
Shaun King took the Bucs to the NFC Championship Game in 1999; Steve Fuller was the Bears starter in that game 15 years earlier. With Fran Tarkenton hurt, Bob Lee was the Vikings starter in the 1977 postseason, and the team made it to the NFC Championship Game. Roger Staubach (1972) and Johnny Unitas (1971) of all people qualify, too. And let’s not forget about Tobin Rote taking over for Bobby Layne‘s Lions in ’57 and guiding the Lions to the title.