For well over a year now, the Jets' top priority has been clear: They must find a solution to be their franchise quarterback. After all, it's common knowledge that all the best teams are the ones with settled situations at the quarterback position.
This weekend, however, that narrative was flipped on its head. Matt Ryan lost to Nick Foles, Ben Roethlisberger got beaten by Blake Bortles and then, in dramatic fashion, Case Keenum beat Drew Brees. In all three cases, the team with the established signal-caller was upended by a team led by a relative novice.
They say defense wins championships, and three of the four teams left standing represent the NFL's best defenses. The one exception is in New England, where the Patriots are headed to yet another AFC championship game in spite of a defense that ranks in the bottom five. Even their win this week saw Tom Brady - the ultimate argument against needing a high pick to find your franchise quarterback - leading his team past a former top-two pick in Marcus Mariota.
While finding a quarterback that goes on to have the kind of success Brady has had in the sixth round is essentially unprecedented, he's a good example of the current NFL trend which seems to be that teams can win even without that elite passer everyone seems to covet.
With today's athletic edge rushers and unblockable interior defenders, getting the ball out quickly is paramount. Having a scheme in place is essential and, once that's been established, you can still have success even with players who haven't necessarily been hyped, or required a huge outlay in terms of draft capital or cap room.
Quick decision making, good reads, and knowing your limitations and the game situation are just as important as traditional "tools" like mobility and arm strength. Efficiency and consistency are arguably more important than raw talent.
With Brady suspended last year, the Patriots still went 3-1 with first-time starters Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett both winning games. When Aaron Rodgers missed several weeks with a shoulder injury, Brett Hundley kept them in contention. Now, Foles is keeping the Eagles afloat with Carson Wentz out for the year.
For the Jets, the hope has been for the longest time that once they get that quarterback position settled, everything would be fine. However, Josh McCown would probably have ended up in the Pro Bowl if he finished the season - and two years before that Ryan Fitzpatrick set all kinds of records. Had they wanted to acquire Foles, Keenum, or even Bortles in the offseason, any of those three teams would likely have been swayed by a modest trade offer. It seems unlikely that they'd have had the same success with the Jets as they're currently enjoying right now, though.
The problem is that while the Jags, Vikings, and Eagles have a chance to win the Super Bowl, they just need one sub-par performance from a quarterback who is currently punching above his weight, and that dream will die. All three teams will likely face uncertainty going into next year. Foles will revert back to a reserve once Wentz returns, Keenum might not even be back in Minnesota, and nobody's really convinced that Bortles is the guy the Jaguars should build around either.
That's why the answer to the question of whether we overstate the need for an elite quarterback is no. The Falcons, Saints, and Steelers will probably be right back in the mix again next year because of their quarterbacks. If the Eagles, Vikings, and Jaguars need to rely on the same kind of quarterback performance next year, there's a good chance they'll fall short. You might find some instant gratification from a non-elite option, but if your goal is to be a perennial contender, you probably do need that top-end guy.
You can find a quarterback later on in the draft, as we've seen with the likes of Brissett, Dak Prescott, and Derek Carr. It's also possible to stumble across a bargain in free agency like Keenum, Tyrod Taylor, or even McCown. However, the jury is out on whether any of these will ultimately be the kind of quarterback you can rely on to be consistent enough to get you into contention year-in and year-out.
So, what can we learn from this trend? With the draft approaching, the Jets will probably address the quarterback position with their first pick - if they haven't already in free agency. That's probably the right move for a team that has only found short-term fixes in recent years, in amongst their many misfires.
The most important conclusion to draw, though, is that efficiency and consistency seem to be far more valuable traits with the way the game is evolving than the sort of traits that usually make scouts salivate at this time of year. Looking specifically at some of the potential franchise quarterbacks in this draft, the Jets need to ensure they bear that in mind.