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QB group rankings reveal teams in trouble if starter goes down

Tom Brady goes down, Matt Cassel steps in. No problem.

Matt Schaub goes down, Sage Rosenfels steps in. Umm, Houston, we have a problem.

Or should we say, had a problem? When Schaub went down in Week 9 last season, the Texans were on a roll having scored 27, 27, 29, 28 and 35 points in five consecutive games and winning three straight. When Rosenfels replaced him, Houston lost three in a row, and for all intents and purposes, was done in the ultra-competitive AFC South.

The Texans weren't the only ones doing the quarterback shuffle last season. Only 16 quarterbacks started all 16 regular-season games. In other words, half of the teams in the NFL had to go to their second or third quarterbacks at some point because their starter got injured or failed to deliver and had to be replaced. In all, 53 different quarterbacks started a game in 2008, one season removed from an NFL-record 64.

How important was having a 16-game starter last year? Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs, only one -- Minnesota -- had multiple starters after Week 1; Tennessee made its switch by Week 2 and stayed with Kerry Collins the remainder of the season.

Every team has already asked itself this question as final roster adjustments are being made to get down to the mandated 53-man roster limit by Saturday: If our starting quarterback is lost for any significant part of the season, what happens to our team?

The answer could be the difference between, well, New England (11-5 record, nearly making the playoffs) and Houston.

Quarterback is the most important position on the football field, but making sure you have the position properly supplied heading into the season is a challenge for most teams.

The chart below was used to quantify the quarterback depth of each roster entering the 2009 season.

Points -- Explanation
9-10 -- Top 10 signal-caller in the league.
8-9 -- Ranked 11-16 and in the top half of the league.
7-8 -- Ranked 17-22 and could win with a dominating defense.
6-7 -- Ranked 23-28 and needs a big supporting cast around him.
5-6 -- Ranked 29-32 and not good enough but starts on a poor team.
4-5 -- Backup who can win coming off the bench with starter experience.
3-4 -- Backup who could go .500 on a limited basis.
2-3 -- Backup with a special trait (i.e. speed) or a first-round pick in the wings.
1-2 -- Backup who can take a snap and not embarrass himself.
0-1 -- Backup who knows system to finish a game, at best.

A team in great shape would have their starter score between 8-10 points, their backup between 4-6, and their third-stringer, whom they hope not to count on much over the course of the season, with a point or two. Any team with a combined score of 13 or higher should be in good shape. In my evaluation, there are 14 such teams.

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