With one game remaining in the preseason, you hope your team is set at the majority of its skill positions, with only a little fine-tuning necessary. For some teams, though, it’s not a matter of fine-tuning; they’re still deciding which engine to drop into the vehicle this season. Half a dozen teams in the NFL are still negotiating some form of QB competition, and the outcome of the next week’s worth of practice could dictate whether their season is a hopeful step forward or a faceplant into the mud.
Let’s put aside battles for the QB2 slot, fascinating as they may be. Ben Roethlisberger is the man in Pittsburgh, and Dwayne Haskins and Mason Rudolph are in a slapfight to serve as his understudy (and, probably, get at least a couple starts this year). Over in Indianapolis, Carson Wentz has the starting job waiting for him as soon as his foot’s ready, so as compelling as the battle between Sam Ehlinger and Jacob Eason might be, it’s all just opening-act positioning for now. And we’ll just steer way clear of Houston entirely.
With two of three preseason games in the books, here’s where things stand in several of the most compelling QB races. Going from least to most compelling, let’s break down the battles and name the clubhouse leader.
Andy Dalton vs. Justin Fields
This is more a matter of inevitability than competition. Dalton is the just-named Week 1 starter, but Fields is the Bears’ QB of the future; the only question is how soon the future arrives. Dalton doesn’t want to get dusted out of the gate, but he’s struggling to make his case for sticking around till October. Against the Bills, Dalton threw for 146 yards on 11-of-17 completions, though literally half of those came on one play, a 73-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Adams. That followed four three-play drives — three three-and-outs and a fumble — and came at a time when Chicago was already down 28-0. After a strong week 1, Fields was ineffective, going 9-of-19 for 80 yards and no touchdowns. The quarterback position is very much a work in progress in Chicago.
Trevor Lawrence vs. Gardner Minshew II
No one in the NFL not named “Minshew” thought this was going to be a competition. But then Urban Meyer went and dug into his bag of college motivational tricks, saying the No. 1 overall pick wasn’t a lock to win a starting job. True, Lawrence hasn’t been able to move the ball in his first two preseason games, but then, behind the Jaguars’ shoddy offensive line, a truck would have difficulty moving the ball. Lawrence played the entire first half Monday night against the Saints, going 14-of-23 for 113 yards. Minshew was in the same range, going 13-of-21 for 149 yards. But coming around the outside: C.J. Beathard, who produced some late fourth-quarter heroics by throwing for two touchdowns. Not that it's going to matter.
Leader: Come on.
Jalen Hurts vs. Joe Flacco
This wasn’t even on anyone’s radar until last week, when Hurts was a late scratch from the New England game due to non-COVID illness. Flacco got pressed into service, and any time a Super Bowl-winning QB takes the field, you take notice. Unfortunately for Flacco, in this case you would have noticed that the Eagles aren’t very good, and he wasn’t able to do much with them. He ended his day 10-of-17 for 83 yards and an interception. His drive summary: fumble (a snap over his head), punt, punt, downs, punt, end of half. Not great, Joe. Hurts won by not even playing.
Teddy Bridgewater vs. Drew Lock
The Broncos’ QB situation got a whole lot more complicated on the local level — and a whole lot less compelling on the national level — when Denver didn’t land Aaron Rodgers in a deal from Green Bay that may have been nothing but rumor and fantasy anyway. Lock and Bridgewater make for the classic homegrown product-vs.-well-traveled veteran battle, with all that entails: more potential for both success and problems with Lock, more reliability but a lower ceiling with Bridgewater. The Broncos haven't made the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50, and Vic Fangio is juggling both his own career prospects and the future of the franchise with this decision. Bridgewater posted the better line against Seattle, going 9-of-11 for 105 yards, a touchdown and a passer rating of 136.7. That’s probably enough to give him the nod for Week 1, though he’ll need to keep an eye on the rear-view mirror.
New England Patriots
Cam Newton vs. Mac Jones
Bill Belichick always has half a dozen gambits in play at any given moment, so it was no surprise to see him both offer Cam Newton another one-year deal and draft Mac Jones in the first round. The good news for the Patriots is both seem to be paying off so far. Newton’s arm strength is as reliable as ever, though his durability remains a question mark. Jones has been a revelation, transcending his game-manager label from Alabama. Both showed out in New England’s 35-0 decimation of Philadelphia; Newton followed that up by getting popped for violating league COVID protocols and missing several days of practice. Still too early to call this one.
Leader: Newton. For the moment.
New Orleans Saints
Taysom Hill vs. Jameis Winston
Until Monday night, this one appeared a toss-up — at least to Sean Payton, the Saints head coach who makes the ultimate call here — but Winston seized the opportunity and led New Orleans to two touchdowns on 9-of-10 passing for 123 yards. Yes, it was against Jacksonville, but Winston’s arm strength and playmaking ability were apparent. And Hill struggled against the same team, going 11-of-20 for 138 yards and a touchdown, but also an intentional grounding penalty. Winston appears the better fit for the starting job, if only because it leaves Hill open to play a whole range of gadget positions.
With just 60 minutes of football remaining until the regular season, the backups don’t have much time to hurdle the leaders. But as literally the entire history of the NFL has shown, there’s always the chance that the lead dog will stumble, and at that point it’s QB2’s chance to shine. Even if they lose out on the Week 1 starter gig, there’s plenty of motivation for the silver medalists in these QB battles to stay sharp.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at email@example.com.
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