Continuing what’s become a trend this offseason, another New England Patriots’ AFC foe has improved its quarterback situation.
After enduring an underwhelming season from Carson Wentz, the Indianapolis Colts swung a trade for longtime Atlanta Falcons starter and former NFL MVP Matt Ryan on Monday, giving up a third-round draft pick in return.
The soon-to-be 37-year-old Ryan is nowhere near MVP-caliber at this stage in his career, but he should be able to provide steadier QB play than Wentz, whose late struggles this season helped tank the Colts’ postseason aspirations. Needing to win just one of their final two games to secure a wild-card spot, they lost to the Las Vegas Raiders and last-place Jacksonville Jaguars, with Wentz playing poorly in both defeats.
With a stout offensive line, one of the NFL’s most formidable rushing attacks (led by unanimous All-Pro Jonathan Taylor) and a defense that ranked eighth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and 11th in points allowed, the bump from Wentz to Ryan could be enough to push Indy back into the crowded AFC playoff picture.
The same is true for the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns, who added Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, respectively, to playoff-caliber rosters within the past two weeks. This offseason has featured an unprecedented amount of big-name quarterback movement, and nearly all of that talent has flowed toward the AFC.
The conference now features this star-studded lineup of signal-callers:
… along with two youngsters in Mac Jones and Trevor Lawrence who could become stars down the line. The Patriots, who went 10-7 and were one-and-done in the playoffs in 2021, are scheduled to face Allen (twice), Burrow, Jackson, Carr and Watson (pending a potential NFL suspension) this coming season, plus dates with Aaron Rodgers and Kyler Murray.
The NFC does feature a small handful of elite QBs — headlined by Rodgers and Tom Brady, both of whom chose to remain with their current teams after periods of intense intrigue — but isn’t nearly as deep.
While the Ryan trade makes the Patriots’ 2022 road more challenging, it makes life even easier for Brady, whose NFC South currently looks like the NFL’s weakest division.
The Falcons were a rebuilding team with a terrible roster even before striking out on Watson and subsequently swapping out Ryan for Marcus Mariota. The New Orleans Saints are running it back with Jameis Winston and will have a new head coach in Dennis Allen. The Carolina Panthers currently have Sam Darnold as their QB1, with the potential of adding someone like Jimmy Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost a few key pieces from their Super Bowl core, but Brady’s return from his six-week retirement helped them retain a number of key contributors. Barring some major acquisitions by Atlanta, New Orleans or Carolina, they’ll enter the season as prohibitive divisional favorites.