Its been said before, but it bears repeating. To succeed at the highest levels in the NFL, a franchise Quarterback is a must have, not a nice to have. This was hammered home again this year in the division playoffs and conference championships. You need a franchise QB to go long, if not, you go home. All the more reason Steelers fans are lucky to have Ben Roethlisberger for at least the next few years.
Look at the final 8 teams in the playoffs that made it out of the wildcard rounds, how they fared, and did they have a franchise QB who made the difference:
New England Patriots - What would the Pats be without Tom Brady? A well coached team with a great tight end. Small undersized receivers, no RBs to speak of, so-so defense. But with Brady? They were the 2nd seed in the conference and were the favorite to repeat and win their 5th Super Bowl. You can hate on Brady all you want, but the clear fact is he is the very definition of franchise QB.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Missing 3 first team all-pros including their top WR, top RB (and 2nd RB) and the leader of the offensive line, a young defense that was ranked 30th against the pass in a pass happy league and playing with a separated shoulder, what business did this team have battling the Super Bowl bound Broncos to the bitter end, leading with just a few minutes left in the game? Plenty of business when that QB is Ben Roethlisberger. While Ben has not gotten anywhere near the respect he deserves over the course of his career as an elite QB, this playoff it was painfully obvious (no pun intended), how valuable having Ben back there is. Anyone who suffered through watching Mike Vickor Landry Jones fill in for Ben this year can attest to that.
Kansas City Chiefs - Alex Smith a franchise QB? I have always considered him more of a game manager, frankly. He has come a long way I will give you that, but in the final analysis, Smith doesn't rise to franchise level in my mind. He is blessed with a good coach, good running game, finally a star WR and great TE. He does make things happen with his legs and his arm and doesn't turn it over very much. That doesn't add up to a franchise signal caller to me though. If Smith went down and the back up came in, (Chase Daniel if you didn't know) would it be a huge let down? To be honest, I don't know enough about Chase Daniel, but my instinct tells me while he is no Alex Smith, we wouldn't see a Mike Vick or Landry Jones drop off either.
Arizona Cardinals - Perhaps the toughest call in the group. There are certainly some games where Carson Palmer looks like a franchise QB. Yes, having Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd as receivers and Bruce Arians as a coach, but the group he gets to work with with and gives him a leg up. But there are plenty of games where that team rides Carson to the W. Last year, when he went down with injury, you saw the difference. I know, he has a dismal record in the playoffs and was left as sawdust after running into the Carolina buzzsaw. I saw it too. It is for these reasons that I don't think Carson is really a franchise QB. He is talented and has his moments, but I don't think he is in the same league as some of the true franchise players at this level.
Green Bay Packers - Is there anyone you want throwing a Hail Mary pass besides Aaron Rodgers? This may not have been his best year statistically, but the man had nothing to work with and look what he did. He makes unknown receivers look great. Take Alex Smith and elevate his skill to a franchise QB and you have Aaron Rogers. While I still harbor ill will for the Super Bowl loss in 2010, he is the living proof of why you need a franchise QB to go far in the playoffs and what they can do for you.
Seattle Seahawks - Young Russel Wilson I believe crossed over to the franchise level this season. He reminds me of Fran Tarkenton but with a better arm. Seattle in seasons past relied on beast mode. While their back up RBs provided some spark this year, the Seahawks came charging into the playoffs this year squarely on the back and arm of their young franchise QB. They were lucky to win in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, but it was Wilson who led them into a late game lead. After a flash flood first half against Carolina, Wilson led the Seahawks to the brink of upsetting the Panthers in a miraculous comeback in the 2nd half. With his best years probably still in front of him, you will probably see the Seahawks in the playoffs again and again. As long as they have Wilson as their franchise QB, anytime they are in it, they have a chance to win it.
Carolina Panthers - Tell you the truth, Cam Newton is playing so well it is downright scary. Bigger than the linebackers and DBs he is running into and ridiculously faster than any of the d-linemen chasing him, Cam is a nightmare with his legs. Add in the arm that is darting missiles all over the field and the seasoning that a few years in the league brings and this has to be a doomsday scenario for the rest of the league. With a good TE and some retread WRs, Cam led his team to the best record in the league. He is the new standard for franchise QB in the league and has a chance to rewrite many of the records in the coming years. This TD machine could be leading his team to the Super Bowl for years to come.
Denver Broncos - I know Peyton Manning was a franchise QB once, but still? Yes. What Peyton lacks in arm strength and athleticism he more than makes up with guile and as Coach Tomlin says "above the neck" capability. How many "Omaha" audibles does he call a game? Peyton is like having an offensive coordinator on the field, calling plays after the defense lines up. Perhaps the proof in the pudding is that when he was out of the lineup due to injury, the project Brock Osweiler started running into issues and the Bronco's nearly lost their top seed in the playoffs. Doing so would have had them traveling to New England this past Sunday rather than hosting the AFC Championship game. This maybe Peyton's final bow, but he is someone who had defined franchise QB for over a decade in this league. The fact that he has led his team this far again is proof that he still inspires his teammates to reach higher.
So there you have it. If you want to get to the Super Bowl or even the conference championships having a franchise QB is must have, not a nice to have. I know, what about Trent Dilfer and Rob Johnson? Yes in 50 Super Bowls there are some exceptions, but lets not be the exception.
What does this mean for Steelers fans? Everyone should be thankful for their favorite team's franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger. While he is not getting any younger, fans should realize he won't be here forever. As someone who lived through the post-Bradshaw years I can tell you it is not fun. Mark Malone, Mike Tomczak, Kordell "Slash" Stewart, Bubby Brister and Neil O'Donnell were not fun, nor did they win the organization any Lombardi trophies (who can forget O'Donnell's interceptions in Super Bowl XXX).
So lets enjoy what Ben has left to give us because in the NFL a franchise QB is a just about a prerequisite to a Super Bowl victory, and the Steelers match that prerequisite to a 'T'.