5 teams that could be a Matthew Stafford away from winning it all


As Sunday taught us, the right quarterback can make all the difference. With Jared Goff, the Rams were a perennial playoff contender, but never a threat to be the last team standing. All it took was Matthew Stafford, who didn’t even have one of his better games in Super Bowl LVI, for the Rams to change their narrative, graduating from good to great. That same formula worked just as well for Tampa Bay, riding Tom Brady to Super Bowl glory in 2020 after missing the playoffs entirely with Jameis Winston a year earlier. Give due credit to L.A.’s defense for suffocating Joe Burrow, but without this stroke of brilliance from Stafford, perfectly threading the needle to eventual Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp, the Rams are leaving SoFi Stadium emptyhanded while the Bengals smoke cigars in the visitor’s locker room.

As Matt Damon might say—while shamelessly hawking crypto—fortune favors the bold. The Rams took a risk going all in on Stafford, but he rewarded them handsomely, giving the performance of his life on L.A.’s final touchdown drive. It wasn’t the lovable underdog story America may have wanted, but the Rams went for it, seizing their championship window in a way few others have. Heading into what should be a busy NFL offseason with free agents galore and a slew of disgruntled stars plotting their escape (Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson among them), who would be wise to follow the Rams’ blueprint in 2022? Here are five teams that could be just a quarterback away.

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Indianapolis Colts
The Colts collapsed down the stretch in 2021, squandering a talented roster featuring a league-high seven Pro Bowlers (DeForest Buckner, Ryan Kelly, Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore, Quenton Nelson, Luke Rhodes and NFL rushing champ Jonathan Taylor). Carson Wentz was exposed in the Colts’ season finale at Jacksonville, absorbing six sacks in the losing effort while also committing a pair of costly turnovers (one interception, one lost fumble). With a stout defense (ninth-fewest points allowed), one of the league’s sturdiest offensive lines and arguably the league’s top running back (though a healthy Derrick Henry is not to be trifled with), the Colts have the pieces to win right now. They also appear to have soured on Wentz, who could very well be one and done in Indy.

New Orleans Saints
Even with a revolving door at quarterback (Jameis Winston, Trevor Siemian, Taysom Hill and Ian Book were each called on to start at least once), the Saints still finished above .500 last season, winning ugly with an opportunistic defense (25 takeaways) and a strong running game anchored by five-time Pro Bowler Alvin Kamara. The only thing missing was a competent quarterback to keep it all from going sideways. The Saints aren’t in a particularly favorable cap situation (they’ll need to shed $76 million just to get under the cap), but there’s enough here for New Orleans to be competitive next season, especially if Michael Thomas—who set the NFL’s single-season catch record the last time he was healthy—returns to his dominant 2019 form.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Even with quarterback fossil Ben Roethlisberger hanging by a thread, the Steelers still made the playoffs last season, lucking into the AFC’s final Wild Card spot thanks in no small part to Brandon Staley’s late-game galaxy braining against the Raiders in Week 18. Regardless of how they got there, the Steelers weren’t long for the postseason with Roethlisberger falling flat in what would be his final NFL appearance (4.9 yards per attempt in the loss to Kansas City). Led by prolific pass-rusher T.J. Watt, who parlayed his NFL record 22.5 sacks into Defensive Player of the Year honors, the Steelers are strong enough defensively to make another playoff push in 2022, though it would require the right quarterback with none of Pittsburgh’s current in-house candidates—Mason Rudolph, Joshua Dobbs and Dwayne Haskins—qualified for that level of responsibility.

San Francisco 49ers
Not to pin it all on one player, but the Niners were a Jaquiski Tartt interception away from making it back to the Super Bowl in 2021. Nobody played the Rams tougher, taking two of three from the eventual Super Bowl champs and nearly making it a clean sweep, losing by the slimmest of margins in last month’s NFC Championship Game. San Francisco now finds itself very much between a rock and a hard place. While the 49ers are likely correct in their assessment of Jimmy Garoppolo, whose athletic limitations were exposed against the Rams (Aaron Donald ate his lunch on the game’s final drive), how sure can we be that third overall pick Trey Lance is the answer? Trading up for Lance was odd to begin with (had the Niners stood pat at 12, they could have landed a quarterback with considerably more polish in Patriots Pro Bowler Mac Jones), but the fact he never seriously pushed Garoppolo in year one would seem to be an enormous red flag. San Francisco’s title window is open, but it won’t be forever. We all know Aaron Rodgers, a Chico native and Cal-Berkeley alum, has long dreamed of playing for his hometown Niners. Pursuing Rodgers would mean sacrificing another year of Lance’s development, but if the ultimate goal is to win a Lombardi Trophy, it’d be well worth it.

Tennessee Titans
Good as Ryan Tannehill has been since coming to Tennessee, his playoff meltdown against the Bengals, wasting a Titans defensive masterpiece (nine sacks) with three interceptions, left plenty of doubt, clouding his future in the Music City. In a conference dominated by strong quarterback play (Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert all make their home in the AFC), the Titans fall short in this category, a deficiency the Bengals were more than happy to expose in the Divisional Round. The Aaron Rodgers buzz has already started with the reigning MVP apparently buying property in suburban Nashville with plans of building a home there. Armed to the hilt with a battering ram running back (2020 Offensive Player of the Year Derrick Henry), a shutdown safety (first-team All-Pro Kevin Byard) and a gifted field-stretcher in A.J. Brown, Tennessee would be an appealing destination for any quarterback desiring a change of scenery.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images