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The desert and the oasis of quarterback play in the 32-team era.

By passer rating, the Broncos were the worst team in the league in 2020. What does history tell us about how long teams get terrible QB play?

UAE-DESERT-ANIMALS Photo by KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images

There have now been 19 NFL seasons with 32 teams. Some call this the 32-team era. I defined the “quarterback desert” as a bottom-four finish in team passer rating. I used passer rating because it has existed for the entirety of this era (QBR has not), and it’s the best transparent method for analyzing quarterback play.

The Broncos have had three such finishes during the 32-team era, but all three have been recent - 2015, 2017 and 2020. Here is a full listing of the desert-wandering teams during this era by year:

Year 29th ranked PR 30th 31st 32nd
2002 Carolina Panthers Houston Texans Arizona Cardinals Detroit Lions
2003 Baltimore Ravens Detroit Lions Chicago Bears Atlanta Falcons
2004 San Francisco 49ers Arizona Cardinals Miami Dolphins Chicago Bears
2005 Detroit Lions New Orleans Saints Chicago Bears San Francisco 49ers
2006 Cleveland Browns Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tennessee Titans Oakland Raiders
2007 Oakland Raiders Miami Dolphins St. Louis Rams San Francisco 49ers
2008 Detroit Lions Cincinnati Bengals St. Louis Rams Cleveland Browns
2009 New York Jets Tampa Bay Buccaneers Detroit Lions Cleveland Browns
2010 Seattle Seahawks Minnesota Vikings Arizona Cardinals Carolina Panthers
2011 Cleveland Browns Indianapolis Colts St. Louis Rams Jacksonville Jaguars
2012 Cleveland Browns New York Jets Kansas City Chiefs Arizona Cardinals
2013 Baltimore Ravens Jacksonville Jaguars New York Giants New York Jets
2014 New York Jets Oakland Raiders Cleveland Browns Jacksonville Jaguars
2015 Indianapolis Colts Dallas Cowboys Denver Broncos St. Louis Rams
2016 Carolina Panthers Houston Texans Los Angeles Rams New York Jets
2017 Tennessee Titans Arizona Cardinals Denver Broncos Cleveland Browns
2018 Washington Redskins New York Jets Arizona Cardinals Buffalo Bills
2019 Cleveland Browns Cincinnati Bengals Pittsburgh Steelers Carolina Panthers
2020 New York Giants New York Jets Philadelphia Eagles Denver Broncos

Only two franchises have not spent a single year in the desert during this era - the Patriots and the Chargers. The teams that have spent the most years in the desert are the Browns (eight seasons) and the Jets (seven seasons).

The full quantification is shown below.

Team Times in QB Desert (2002-2020)
Cleveland Browns 8
New York Jets 7
Arizona Cardinals 6
Detroit Lions 5
Rams 5
Carolina Panthers 4
San Francisco 49ers 3
Oakland Raiders 3
Jacksonville Jaguars 3
Chicago Bears 3
Denver Broncos 3
Baltimore Ravens 2
Indianapolis Colts 2
Tennessee Titans 2
New York Giants 2
Houston Texans 2
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2
Miami Dolphins 2
Cincinnati Bengals 2
Seattle Seahawks 1
Washington Redskins 1
New Orleans Saints 1
Minnesota Vikings 1
Dallas Cowboys 1
Kansas City Chiefs 1
Pittsburgh Steelers 1
Philadelphia Eagles 1
Atlanta Falcons 1
Buffalo Bills 1

Ten teams have only spent one season in the desert while the Broncos are one of 11 who have spent three or more seasons in the desert. I was surprised that the Chiefs have only spent one season in the desert, but I had forgotten that they got some good QB play out of Trent Green and Alex Smith.

If you are one of those positive people, here is a list of the teams that have been in the “oasis” each year during this era (a top-4 finish in team passer rating).

Year 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
2002 New York Jets Oakland Raiders Kansas City Chiefs Indianapolis Colts
2003 Tennessee Titans Indianapolis Colts Minnesota Vikings Kansas City Chiefs
2004 Indianapolis Colts San Francisco 49ers San Diego Chargers Philadelphia Eagles
2005 Indianapolis Colts Cincinnati Bengals Seattle Seahawks New England Patriots
2006 Indianapolis Colts Philadelphia Eagles New Orleans Saints Cincinnati Bengals
2007 New England Patriots Pittsburgh Steelers Dallas Cowboys Jacksonville Jaguars
2008 San Diego Chargers Miami Dolphins Arizona Cardinals New Orleans Saints
2009 Minnesota Vikings New Orleans Saints San Diego Chargers Green Bay Packers
2010 New England Patriots San Diego Chargers Green Bay Packers Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2011 Green Bay Packers New Orleans Saints New England Patriots Dallas Cowboys
2012 Green Bay Packers Denver Broncos Washington Redskins San Francisco 49ers
2013 Denver Broncos San Diego Chargers New Orleans Saints Philadelphia Eagles
2014 Dallas Cowboys Green Bay Packers Pittsburgh Steelers Denver Broncos
2015 Seattle Seahawks Cincinnati Bengals Washington Redskins New England Patriots
2016 Atlanta Falcons New England Patriots Dallas Cowboys New Orleans Saints
2017 New Orleans Saints New England Patriots Kansas City Chiefs Minnesota Vikings
2018 Kansas City Chiefs New Orleans Saints Seattle Seahawks Atlanta Falcons
2019 New Orleans Saints Baltimore Ravens Tennessee Titans Seattle Seahawks
2020 Green Bay Packers Houston Texans Buffalo Bills Kansas City Chiefs

The Broncos have spent three seasons in the oasis - 2012 through 2014 - all because of Peyton Manning. Manning’s team had an oasis year in eight of the 13 seasons he played during this era.

Twenty-six teams have spent at least one year in the oasis. The Saints have had the most with nine, but five other teams have five or more seasons of elite QB play (oasis years).

Twelve teams have three or more oasis seasons. The Broncos are the only NFL franchise with three or more desert AND oasis years during the 32-team era.

Team Years in Oasis
New Orleans Saints 9
New England Patriots 7
Green Bay Packers 6
Indianapolis Colts 5
San Diego Chargers 5
Kansas City Chiefs 5
Dallas Cowboys 4
Seattle Seahawks 4
Minnesota Vikings 3
Denver Broncos 3
Cincinnati Bengals 3
Philadelphia Eagles 3
Tennessee Titans 2
Atlanta Falcons 2
San Francisco 49ers 2
Pittsburgh Steelers 2
Washington Redskins 2
New York Jets 1
Oakland Raiders 1
Miami Dolphins 1
Baltimore Ravens 1
Houston Texans 1
Arizona Cardinals 1
Buffalo Bills 1
Jacksonville Jaguars 1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1

I’ll leave it for you as homework to find the six franchises that have zero seasons of elite QB play in the 32-team era.

It should surprise absolutely no one that the teams with the fewest years in the desert and the most years in the oasis are the teams with stable and elite players at quarterback. The Saints and the Patriots have had the same quarterback for almost every season during this era. The Chargers and Packers are not far behind. The only teams that have had a fair amount of turnover at QB during this era and have had five or more oasis years are the Colts and the Chiefs. The Colts moved from one first overall pick at QB to another.

The Chiefs got two of their five oasis years in the very beginning of this era (2002 and 2003) with Trent Green and got the other three recently from Patrick Mahomes. The one season that the Chiefs spent in the desert was 2012 with Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn as their starting quarterbacks.

The teams that have been in the oasis for three straight years are the Broncos, Colts, Saints, Chargers, Patriots and Packers. When do you think the Broncos will have another three straight years of great QB play?

Poll

The Broncos spent 2020, 2017 and 2015 in the "qb desert". When will we next have three years in the oasis like we did in 2012-2014?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    the next three seasons
    (92 votes)
  • 45%
    in the next decade
    (229 votes)
  • 22%
    in the next twenty seasons
    (113 votes)
  • 13%
    never
    (69 votes)
503 votes total Vote Now