It's tough to believe we can say this about a team quarterbacked by Peyton Manning, but the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl this season in spite of quarterback play. It was dreadful for most of the season.
How bad was it compared with other champions? I wanted to take a look. Quarterback rating isn't a perfect stat, but it can give us a ballpark idea of how effective a quarterback was during the season.
Still, it is difficult to compare players across eras. It is easier to pass than it used to be because defensive backs are barely allowed to contact receivers. That didn't used to be the case. Joe Montana's 88.4 rating in 1981 was fourth best in the league. Twenty-three quarterbacks beat that in the NFL in 2015.
Pro Football Reference came up with a stat called Passer Index. It takes quarterback rating and compares it with the rest of the league in a given year. 100 is average. The higher above 100 a quarterback goes, the higher his quarterback rating was over league average that season. The lower below 100 he goes, the lower his quarterback rating was below league average that season.
With that in mind, I took a look at the passer rating all 50 Super Bowl champions got. I looked only at the quarterback who threw the most passes for the team in that given season. In some cases, the player who threw the most passes was not the quarterback who started the Super Bowl. I just wanted to get an idea of what the quarterback play was like for the majority of the season.
Manning had a passer rating of 67. That wasn't just the lowest passer index among Super Bowl champions. It was the lowest by a mile. The second lowest was Tony Banks of the 2000 Ravens who came in at 88. And the Ravens famously benched Banks in favor of Trent Dilfer, who finished the season for Baltimore. Dilfer came in at 98. Even the legendary 2000 Ravens defense still got play around average.
Of the 50 Super Bowl winners, only the Broncos with Peyton had their quarterback come in below 88, within shouting distance of average. 42 of the 50 were at least 100, which is average. 36 of the 50 (72%) had their quarterback come in at 110 or higher.
I know we're getting into the weeds with these numbers, but they do tell a story. The NFL has become more of a passing league through the years, but the need for quality quarterback play is not a recent phenomenon. Teams have needed a quality quarterback to win a championship throughout NFL history.
You don't necessarily need an all-time quarterback. You can have an offense based on the run. Your team can have an identity as a great defense. You do, however, at least need a decent quarterback.
Denver was a major exception to this rule. No team can build its team around the idea of building a defense so good that quarterback play does not matter.
In case you were wondering, here are the numbers.