Dec 22, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) calls out instructions during the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

NFC North Quarterback Debate: Matthew Stafford or Jay Cutler?

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In announcing the FanSided NFL project to create an all-division team, I revealed that our NFC North sites have selected Aaron Rodgers as our quarterback.

But who would we choose if we had to pick a backup?

Perhaps Teddy Bridgewater will prove to be a good quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings down the road, but in the here and now, the debate is between Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler.

Both guys are blessed with powerful arms but get sloppy with mechanics. My guess is a majority of Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions fans would choose “their guy” but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are also fans who would take the other out of frustration with their own.

Occasional head-scratching moments aside, an argument can be made for either guy as the division’s second-best quarterback. With the help of Pro Football Focus, let’s take a look at Matthew Stafford’s last three seasons with his overall PFF rating. The last column divides the number of snaps by the overall rating to give an indication of how much playing time was required for each point in the rating column – we’ll get to this later.

Season PFF Rating Snaps Snaps/+1
2013 18.6 1156 62.2
2012 13.7 1211 88.4
2011 12.4 1120 90.3
3-yr Total 44.7 3487 78.0

And now the same table for Jay Cutler over the last three seasons.

Season PFF Rating Snaps Snaps/+1
2013 15.2 643 42.3
2012 10.8 945 87.5
2011 5.3 644 121.5
3-yr Total 31.3 2232 71.3

Stafford has finished ahead of Cutler in PFF’s rankings each of the last three years. But since PFF’s rating system is cumulative, the overall rating has to be viewed in the context of playing time. Stafford had the reputation as fragile after missing much of his first couple seasons in the NFL but while he has played all 16 games in each of the three past seasons, Cutler hasn’t done that since 2009.

This is where the “snaps/+1″ comes in to play and makes Cutler’s 2013 season look much better than many might otherwise think. In fact, Cutler’s 2013 season helps boost his PFF rating rate ahead of Stafford’s for the last three years.

The problem in using this to declare Cutler the pick over Stafford is that 2013 is an outlier on the good side while 2011 is an outlier on the bad side. Stafford, on the other hand, has been pretty consistent in how PFF has rated him over the last three years.

What’s more, even if Cutler has truly been rejuvenated under Marc Trestman, it does no good if he isn’t on the field. With Cutler on the wrong side of 3o, his inability to play a 16-game schedule is troubling.

With Stafford five years younger and having produced more consistent results than Cutler, he gets my nod as the NFC North’s second-best quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers.

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Tags: Detroit Lions Jay Cutler Matthew Stafford

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