Predicting winners of NFL QB battles: From the Patriots’ and 49ers’ decisions to the Jets’ no-brainer

Table of Contents Nothing To Ever See HereJets – Zach WilsonJaguars – Trevor LawrenceBears –

The dress rehearsals are almost over. The exhibition season is nearing its completion. The time for teams to evaluate their quarterbacks in truly competitive game environments is nearing its end.

It’s go time. Decision day is basically upon us. Closure is coming in places like New Orleans and New England and San Francisco.

The reality is, most of the head coaches and their staff already know who is going to be taking their first snaps of the season in Week 1. Many have known internally for quite some time, just waiting to see if anything unforeseen would occur to alter their course of thinking. And for the most part, that hasn’t happened. Things are largely as they anticipated. These quarterbacks are, by and large, who these staffs thought they were.

So with the announcement of the winner many of these pending quarterback competitions almost at hand – especially given that many teams will opt not to expose the true starter to injury in the final game, anyway – this seems as good a time as any to reassess where things stand and try to handicap these QB races. Ultimately, it’s going to end up being as many of us figured given the lack of readiness of some rookies, the expectations for some of these franchises and the variance in the supporting casts around many of them.

We’ll go in order of least suspenseful to most potentially suspenseful, though I believe Denver may be the only situation where things could actually pivot based on the results of the preseason finale. The larger takeaway is that these scenarios have generally sorted themselves out over the past month.

Nothing To Ever See Here

Jets – Zach Wilson

There was never any other option. There was never going to be any other option. They brought in no one or nothing that could be construed as any degree of competition for the first-round pick. It’s all about maximizing his reps and having him as ready as possible for Week 1. He’ll take his lumps, but this was never in doubt barring injury. And the kid is healthy as can be right now.

Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence

Don’t believe the hype about this being a knock-down, drag-out battle between Lawrence and Gardner Minshew. Splitting their snaps is kinda nuts, and I’m not sure what advantage Urban Meyer thinks he is gaining by perpetrating this faux mystery. But the first overall pick is pro ready; remains to be seen if this staff and offensive line is.

Editor’s note: The Jags named Lawrence their Week 1 starter on Wednesday.

Bears – Andy Dalton

You might think Justin Fields is the right choice and I might think Justin Fields is the smart choice … But this has never been close to a fair fight or open competition. Matt Nagy has said from the jump that Dalton is his guy to open the season, he continues to declare it even after Saturday’s debacle and nothing is going to change his mind now. I suspect we see a transition to Fields at some point in October.

The Experienced Hand Would Be Difficult To Unseat

Saints – Jameis Winston

My reporting on this throughout the spring and summer has continually led me to believe Winston’s ability to push the ball downfield to all quadrants and his superiority over Taysom Hill in special situations would carry the day. Sean Payton has been eager to open up his attack to all quadrants of the field and Winston followed up a strong first game with a stellar second exhibition. He is playing with confidence and without fear and spent ample time in this system. There is still a role for Hill. But Hill cannot operate an offense like Winston can. That much is obvious.

Patriots – Cam Newton

This might have been set prior to Newton’s latest COVID-related absence, this time failing to comply with proper testing protocols over the weekend. That opens up an opportunity for Mac Jones to put on a show this week, but I still don’t think it will be enough to unseat the veteran. Newton has had a solid camp, is completing downfield throws at a better rate that a year ago, and actually has some decent pieces around him in this offense this year, plus a robust offensive line. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jones in some hurry-up or two-minute situations early in the regular season, and he has merited ample trust and belief from this staff. But Newton unlocks some unique things in the run game, and I anticipate him being under center when the season begins.’

49ers – Jimmy Garoppolo

This smells a lot to me like the Dolphins situation a year ago when, even though the team was doing pretty well, the staff eventually wanted to see if the more athletic and dynamic QB could take them to a higher gear. Trey Lance has had incredible highs and low lows, but that ceiling is in a different stratosphere from Jimmy G. Lance will have plays and packages that should allow him to shine as a sidekick early on, but there is no reason why Kyle Shanahan has to make this change in mid-September and he can continue to develop the first-round pick while his $20M veteran displays how he can move this offense with the 49ers more healthy than they were a year ago.

The Most Open Competition

Broncos – Teddy Bridgewater

This one is the most 50/50 between newcomer Bridgewater and holdover Drew Lock. And they have basically put up very similar production through the summer. Vegas sees it as pretty even as well. I feel like Bridgewater’s more extensive experience, the fact that he took a Vikings team to the playoffs as a youngster while Broncos new GM George Paton was assistant GM there, and his overall body of work (more risk averse than Lock) will carry the day. If Lock does get the first start I can’t help but wonder if the leash is fairly short, especially if ball control and decision-making remain an issue. Vic Fangio is notoriously hard on QBs/offensive staff and espouses old-school values (hang on to the football, play not to lose and win with defense). Bridgewater has spent most of his career in those sorts of operations.

Editor’s note: The Broncos made their decision on Wednesday afternoon, naming Bridgewater as starter.

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