Funny how my last post was my Super Bowl LIII prediction about 6 months ago and here I am trying to redeem myself with a preseason projection for Super Bowl LIV. I suppose I went into hibernation after that snoozefest between the Patriots and Rams (arguably the least entertaining Super Bowl in recent memory). Well now I am wide awake with the first NFL preseason game taking place next week and the real NFL season beginning in about 6 weeks.
A lot will happen in the preseason with unforeseen injuries to key players and battles for 1st team roster spots so please take this early prediction with a grain of salt. However, when you consider the historical trends I am about to share, you could see why my prediction could hold water. So what are these trends? Check out the following list of QBs (beginning in 2005) who made it to the Super Bowl early in their careers (with their year in the NFL and salary cap number in parentheses).
2005: Ben Roethlisberger (Year 2 - $305,000)
2006: Rex Grossman (Year 4 - $650,000)
2007: Eli Manning (Year 4 - $6.45 million; just signed a big contract that season)
2008: Ben Roethlisberger (Year 5 - $2.5 millIon; just signed a big contact that season)
2012: Joe Flacco (Year 5 - $6.76 million; received a new $100 million+ contract right after the Super Bowl victory)
2012: Colin Kaepernick (Year 2 - $607,922)
2013: Russell Wilson (Year 2 - $526,217)
2014: Russell Wilson (Year 3 - $662,434)
2015: Cam Newton (Year 5 - $1 million; just signed a big contract that season)
2017: Carson Wentz (Year 2 - $1.662 million: yes, Nick Foles won all of the playoff games and the Super Bowl but Wentz was the one who got them to their 13-3 record).
2018: Jared Goff (Year 3 - $2.989 million)
That is a rather long list of young QBs who were getting paid far less than what most starting QBs are now typically paid (going rate now for an NFL starting QB is at least $10 million per season). Unless if you had Tom Brady or Peyton Manning (the latter who is now retired and the former who seems ageless) on your team, you needed to have a young QB still playing under his rookie contract to get to the Super Bowl during the past 15 seasons. Of course that is assuming that your young QB played at a Pro Bowl level somewhere between Years 1 - 5 which was definitely the case for the QBs mentioned in the list above.
This trend somewhat makes sense given the current state of economics in the NFL. Keep in mind that rookie contract limits were put in place after the current CBA took effect in 2011. This could explain why we are seeing young QBs getting to the big game more frequently. If you are paying your signal caller under $1 million, you can dedicate more of your cap money to other positions such as offensive line, WR, and pass rushers. It's especially helpful if your QB can become one of the elite passers by Year 2 or 3. This leads me to my Super Bowl LIV prediction: Dallas Cowboys against the Houston Texans.
Why those two teams? Dallas QB Dak Prescott is in Year 4 and has accumulated a 32-16 record. Houston QB DeShaun Watson is in Year 3 and his record is 14-8, somewhat impacted by missing most of his rookie season with a torn ACL. However, most casual football fans are well aware of Watson's illustrious college career. He was a Heisman finalist twice and also twice led Clemson to the national title game, winning once against a mighty Alabama Crimson Tide squad in his last college football affair. Both QBs are being paid about $2 million each next season which helps to explain why they can afford game-changing, offensive studs such as Ezekiel Elliot and DeAndre Hopkins and maintain a Pro-Bowl quality defense (both of which ranked in the top 10 last year). This recipe for success is very similar to the previous Super Bowl teams.
Honorable mention (based on this young QB theory) should go to the Rams, Eagles, Chiefs, and Browns. The Rams and Eagles had their Super Bowl opportunities, Chiefs lack a strong defense, and the Browns are not quite ready yet. Dallas and Houston have playoff experience and are ready to make that leap into the Super Bowl. Let's just hope Tom Brady starts playing like his age and the referees don't blow any calls in the final minute!