Quarterbacks are the driving force of the NFL, but literally a dozen of the league's regular starters could be missing from action when Week 14 gets underway. Injuries have rocked the lineups of several contenders, including the Bengals and Jets, and just this week alone, three other teams with playoff aspirations could turn to backups out of necessity.
How, exactly, are the emergency signal-callers faring? We decided to grade each of the backups currently replacing injured starters. This excludes No. 2s who have since claimed starting jobs for performance reasons -- i.e. Will Levis (Titans), Bailey Zappe (Patriots), Aidan O'Connell (Raiders) -- and hopefully sheds light on which insurance plans are actually panning out:
The following backups are poised to fill in for injured starters in Week 14:
- Jameis Winston (Saints) would be up against the Panthers if Derek Carr (back, shoulder, concussion) can't go. Winston has been mercurial in five game appearances this year, completing 53.2% of his throws with two touchdowns and three picks.
- C.J. Beathard (Jaguars) appears likely to replace Trevor Lawrence (high ankle sprain) against the Browns after the latter left Monday night's loss to the Bengals. Beathard has gone 12 of 14 in relief this year. He previously logged starts as a 49ers backup.
- Mitch Trubisky (Steelers) is locked in at QB1 against the Patriots with Kenny Pickett (ankle) sidelined with his third different injury of the season. He went 2-3 as a fill-in starter for Pittsburgh in 2022, following five years with the Bears and Bills.
Active backups in the starting lineup
Jake Browning (Bengals)
The former undrafted Vikings prospect " " by dicing up the Jaguars for an overtime upset in prime time to close Week 13, showcasing perfect touch on crunch-time shots to Ja'Marr Chase. He may have physical limitations, but through two starts in place of Joe Burrow, he's completing 80% of his passes and averaging well over 8 yards per throw. That's called seeing the field, and it just might keep the Bengals in the mix for a wild card.
The undrafted Illinois product was never supposed to see the field, spending the first two months of his rookie season on the practice squad. Then Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor went down, and he inexplicably brought some pizzaz back to the offense. While his best work has come against bad teams, he's mostly controlled the ball, scoring eight TDs and throwing just three picks across five games, to keep and at least give Giants fans a fun story.
The former Jaguars fan favorite has proven as both a spot starter for the Eagles and Colts that he's best served coming off the bench, struggling with untimely giveaways. He has as many turnovers (12) as games played while relieving dynamic rookie Anthony Richardson. And yet, like Tommy DeVito in New York, his sheer charisma has helped keep an otherwise overlooked team in the hunt. Now 5-3 as a starter this year, he's got just enough downfield touch and freestyling mobility to play spoiler.
Joshua Dobbs (Vikings)
For two weeks, the journeyman was the NFL's Cinderella story, replacing Kirk Cousins on short notice with improbable poise and play-extending mobility. Then reality set in, and Dobbs' lack of timing with a banged-up supporting cast produced a horrific prime-time loss to the lowly Bears. All in all, he's enabled Minnesota to hang around, flashing heroic athleticism along the way, but he'll need to control the ball more if he wants to keep Kevin O'Connell from turning to Jaren Hall or Nick Mullens.
Joe Flacco (Browns)
The 38-year-old former Ravens starter reverted to Cleveland's practice squad after his game-day call-up in Week 13, but all signs point to him remaining under center with Deshaun Watson out and rookie backup Dorian Thompson-Robinson still hurt. While his late pick against the Rams doomed a potential upset, he at least spread the ball to every level of the field, bringing more of an authoritative feel to the pocket after scrappy but sluggish outings from Thompson-Robinson and P.J. Walker.
Zach Wilson / Trevor Siemian (Jets)
Thrust back into the starting gig he lost multiple times in 2022 after Aaron Rodgers' Week 1 injury, Wilson inexplicably lasted nine games as the fill-in, going 3-6 while struggling to complete even 60% of his throws despite an elementary offensive approach. Now he may or may want the job back after the Jets' failed dabble with journeyman Tim Boyle, who was cut after two listless starts of his own. Siemian is the alternative and completed a whopping 38% of his throws in Week 13. Talk about a trainwreck.