The aftermath of the San Antonio Spurs‘ thorough thrashing of the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals has brought no shortage of criticism of LeBron James, the best basketball player in the world by a wide margin.
James, who played very well for most of the series but received little help from his supporting cast, is now being accused of not having what it takes to win by those who dumb down a game that is far more complex than the performance of an individual.
It’s unfair. It’s a lazy way to analyze success and lack thereof. And the mentality exceeds just James and basketball. In the NFL, it’s even more prevalent.
32 players are held to an arguably unfair standard in the NFL, much like James in the NBA. Those 32 players are none other than the starting quarterbacks for every franchise. In the same way some analysts are claiming “James'” sub-.500 career record in the NBA Finals is a knock on his individual legacy, each starting quarterback in the NFL is deemed a success or failure by a statistic said to be an all-encompassing measure.
The win/loss record of each starting quarterback, or more accurately, of each quarterback’s team, is too frequently used as a way to assess and rank passers around the league.
There’s no denying that the NFL is becoming increasingly quarterback friendly. Rule changes, specifically those that protect the quarterback and those that prohibit contact in coverage, have made throwing easier. There’s a reason passing records are being shattered on an annual basis. While the quarterback talent in the modern era may in fact be the most ample in league history, tweaks to the way the game is played have enhanced the effectiveness of today’s quarterback.
Thus, the quarterback position is more vital to the overall success of a team than it ever has been before. Most winning clubs around the league possess at least solid quarterback play. However, it’s ludicrous to attribute the win/loss record of a team with the success or failure of a particular quarterback — at least without further evaluation.
There are times when a team’s winning percentage may be directly correlated with quarterback play. The Denver Broncos winning 13 games last season thanks, in large part, to Peyton Manning‘s nearly flawless play is one example. But in many other instances, quarterbacks are unfairly evaluated by the winning percentage of their respective team alone.
According to pundits and fans who formulate opinions about players with this mindset, Tom Brady trumps Peyton Manning because he owns two more Super Bowl rings, Tony Romo was the reason the Dallas Cowboys missed the playoffs yet again in 2013, Ryan Tannehill is a bust and Russell Wilson is now an elite quarterback because the Seattle Seahawks are the reigning world champions.
Never mind that the New England Patriots‘ three Super Bowl titles came before Brady was an elite quarterback statistically, the Cowboys ranked dead last in total defense last year, Tannehill had the worst offensive line in Miami Dolphins history in front of him or that the Seahawks bested opponents with a truly dominant defense and a hammering rushing attack while ranking 26th in passing offense.
Forget that quarterbacks are only on the field for offense and don’t play defense or special teams. Forget that quarterbacks are often held back or propelled by the quality of play around them.
Every quarterback in the league is in a unique situation. Some have great offensive lines; others have leaky ones. Some have productive running games to lean on; others have to carry offenses through the air. Some have stingy defenses that make their jobs easier; others constantly deal with the pressure of having to outscore the opposing team. Yet all’s ability to win is viewed as if each is under the same circumstances, essentially playing one on one against the other quarterbacks.
It’s time to ditch win/loss records as a way to evaluate quarterbacks. It’s a lazy and oftentimes ignorant way to do so. Frankly, NFL fans deserve better.
Like LeBron James isn’t the reason the Heat fell to the Spurs, NFL quarterbacks can’t solely be blamed or credited for winning and losing. It’s unfair to them, it’s unfair to their teammates and it’s unfair to those who seek quality analysis of the game.
Cody Strahm is an NFL Senior Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter.