Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck set rookie-quarterback records all season, exceeding expectations. Now they will get their first taste of the playoffs, with two of their teams going head-to-head in the opening round.
When Griffin’s Washington Redskins host Wilson’s favored Seattle Seahawks on Jan. 6, it will mark the second postseason game in the National Football League’s 47-year Super Bowl era to feature two first-year starting quarterbacks.
Luck and the Indianapolis Colts play the same day in Baltimore against the favored Ravens, giving the NFL three rookie starting quarterbacks in the same postseason for the first time in its modern era. The NFL playoffs begin tomorrow, when the Houston Texans host the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings visit the Green Bay Packers.
“It’s really exciting and the guys have done great against all of the odds and the history,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said about the rookie quarterback crop. “This just has been a fantastic class. We can talk about them all year and we’re still doing it because they deserve it.”
The surprising success of the trio of rookies is reflected in how much their teams’ odds of winning the Super Bowl have narrowed: The Redskins started at 60-1, they are now 20-1, according to RJ Bell of Pregame.com. The Seahawks went from 50-1 to 12-1 and the Colts from 125-1 to 80-1.
A bettor who wagered $100 on the Redskins at the start of the season would collect $6,000 in profit if Washington took the title; he would get $2,000 if the bet were placed now.
The Redskins, Seahawks and Colts all missed the postseason a year ago, going a combined 14-34.
“To have three rookie quarterbacks with winning records this year, it’s really hard to explain,” said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who credited more sophisticated passing offenses at the college level. “They have the ability to come in and really learn the system in the offseason. Twenty years ago, you never had an opportunity like that. A lot of these guys are coming out ready to go.”
Luck, the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft, set a league record for passing yards by a rookie with 4,374 in leading the Colts to an 11-5 record. Indianapolis, which went 2-14 a year ago, is the second team in NFL history to win at least 11 games following a season with two or fewer victories.
Griffin, drafted second, had the highest rookie quarterback rating in league history, completing 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also rushed for a rookie quarterback-record 815 yards in leading the Redskins to a 10-6 record and their first division title since 1999.
“Our coaches didn’t baby me,” Griffin said during a news conference. “They threw everything at me and made me learn on the fly.”
Griffin has also had off-field success, with the best- selling jersey in the NFL and endorsements including Subway Restaurants, Adidas AG (ADS) and PepsiCo Inc. (PEP:US)’s Gatorade.
Luck finished No. 4 in jersey sales this year, according to NFLShop.com, while Wilson ranked 19th, ahead of players such as Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Wilson, a third-round pick, had the second-highest rookie quarterback rating in league history and tied Peyton Manning’s first-year record for touchdown passes with 26.
Wilson has thrown three game-winning touchdown passes in the final two minutes of regulation or in overtime, the most by a rookie since the NFL’s merger with the American Football League in 1970. He also won a fourth game for the Seahawks (11-5) by rushing for a score with less than two minutes left.
“He’s done everything we could have hoped for,” Carroll said during a new conference. “We raised him up and he took off and ran with it. The offense has really grown and improved, and he’s been highly efficient, great with the football and a guy you can trust. He’s been dynamic and a great leader.”
The only previous playoff matchup of rookie starting quarterbacks in the NFL’s modern era came last year, when Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals faced Houston’s T.J. Yates, a third-stringer pressed into action by injuries.
Beyond Griffin and Wilson, Washington-Seattle is a matchup of the two hottest teams in the opening round.
Washington finished the season with a seven-game winning streak, the fifth team in NFL history to reach the playoffs following a 3-6 start. The Seahawks won seven of their final eight games.
Seattle is a 3-point favorite for the game at FedExField in Landover, Maryland, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book. The Seahawks are the only visiting team favored during the opening round even though they had a 3-5 record away from Seattle this season and have lost eight road playoff games in a row dating back to 1983.
Oddsmakers said the biggest difference between the teams may be on defense. Washington allowed 24.3 points a game -- 22nd among the league’s 32 teams -- while Seattle set a franchise record in allowing an NFL-low 15.3 points per game.
The Denver Broncos, at 3-1, are favored to win their third Super Bowl, according to Bell. The New England Patriots have 4-1 odds, followed by the San Francisco 49ers (6-1), Atlanta Falcons (7-1), Packers (8-1), Texans (18-1), Ravens (25-1), Bengals (50-1) and Vikings (75-1).
In the other NFC wild-card playoff game, the Packers are a 7 1/2-point favorite against the Vikings at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Minnesota beat Green Bay 37-34 in Minneapolis last week to earn the NFC’s final wild-card berth as Peterson rushed for 199 yards, finishing nine short of Eric Dickerson’s single-season record. The wild cards go to the two non-division winners in each conference with the best records.
In the AFC, the Texans are 4 1/2-point favorites against the Bengals after losing three of their final four regular- season games to miss out on a first-round bye.
Luck’s Colts are 6 1/2-point underdogs in Baltimore against the Ravens, who went 1-4 down the stretch.
“Everybody at this level has played big games,” Luck said. “Even if they are rookies.”
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