If the Dallas Cowboys are going to reach the NFC title game, Dak Prescott is going to have to do something that no rookie quarterback has done in seven years: Beat a team with a non-rookie starting QB.
Plenty of rookie quarterbacks have made the playoffs in NFL history, but their teams rarely advance. As a matter of fact, since 2010, rookie quarterbacks are 0-4 in playoff games when facing a team that features a veteran starter.
In that span, rookie quarterbacks have gone 2-6 overall, but both wins (and two of the losses) came in a game where it was a rookie quarterback versus another rookie quarterback, so a rookie had to win (Andy Dalton vs. T.J. Yates in 2011, Russell Wilson vs. Robert Griffin III in 2012).
Of course, Prescott won't have the luxury of going up against a rookie quarterback. He'll face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Sure, they won't be on the field at the same time, but going up against Rodgers could present problems.
For instance, if Rodgers helps Green Bay shoot to a quick lead, how will Prescott react? It's impossible to say for certain, because he only had to throw 16 passes the entire season when the Cowboys trailed by two scores or more (or nine or more points).
Great stat is Packers jump on Cowboys early: Dak Prescott has thrown 16 passes all season trailing by nine or more points. 16— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) January 11, 2017
Prescott is only the second rookie in NFL history to help his team earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The other was Ben Roethlisberger for the the Steelers in 2004. Despite a 15-1 record, the Steelers lost 41-27 to New England in the AFC Championship Game.
Perhaps even more unsettling for Cowboys fans is the fact that a rookie quarterback has never led a team to a Super Bowl. The four who came the closest were Roethlisberger (2004 season, AFC title game), Shaun King (1999 season, NFC title game), Joe Flacco (2008 season, AFC title game) and Mark Sanchez (2009, AFC title game).
Coincidentally, the last guy on that list happens to be Prescott's teammate right now, and he thinks the rookie can handle the pressure.
"He's in a great spot with home field, no weather, no nothing," Sanchez said, via the Dallas Morning News. "That's all going to be perfect for us. All of that plays into our hands."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also doesn't sound concerned about pressure Prescott may be feeling.
"I think Dak has had rare experience, he has had success along with the reps and the time," Jones said, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I think the kinds of things that veteran quarterbacks do that make them successful is what has made Dak successful -- his preparation, his conscientiousness toward his work, his execution, taking it to the field, taking it to practice."
Jones added that Prescott has pretty much handled every challenge.
"The other thing is, while I know it's going to be a stepped-up level of competition, just the way that he's responded to adversity, responded to challenges, during the game and in series within the game," Jones said. "All of those give me some peace of mind that we're not dealing with the normal rookie definition of a rookie quarterback."
The downside is the opposition is not exactly starting the definition of a normal quarterback.
If the Packers turn this game into a shootout, things could get ugly. Overall, rookie quarterbacks have won eight games in the playoffs since 1980, and in each one of those games, the rookie threw for 200 yards or less.
So while history has shown teams can win with a rookie, asking a first-year QB to carry a team is courting trouble.
Record of rookie QBs in playoffs since AFL-NFL merger
|Robert Griffin III||Redskins||2012||0-1|
|*Wins against fellow rookies|