Philadelphia Eagles v Seattle Seahawks
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While some may point to Taylor Swift, the 2023 regular season is the year of the backup quarterback. What is an often-overlooked piece of roster building has showcased its importance throughout the first 15 weeks of the season and, in the process, has thrown the playoff picture for a loop. 

Case in point: Drew Lock leading the Seahawks to a come-from-behind victory over the Eagles on Monday night to keep their playoff hopes alive. Heading into the Week 15 finale, mystery clouded Seattle's quarterback situation with starter Geno Smith officially listed as questionable for the prime-time showdown due to a groin injury. Even when he was active, it was unclear who'd start for the Seahawks until Lock ultimately trotted onto the field with the offense. 

The backup, who has been in Seattle since 2022, squared off with the defending NFC champions and orchestrated one of the more improbable comeback wins of the season. With a single timeout in his pocket and beginning at his 8-yard line coming out of the two-minute warning, Lock drove the offense 92 yards down the field and connected with rookie wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba for a 29-yard game-winning touchdown. 

This was Lock's first win as a starter since Dec. 13, 2020, and is just the latest in what has been a remarkable year for QB2. And it's setting off a chain reaction throughout the rest of the playoff picture in the NFL. This week, five playoff contenders overcame double-digit deficits to win with a backup quarterback and four of them trailed by at least a touchdown in the fourth quarter, including Lock. 

This win by Seattle significantly dented Philadelphia's hopes of earning the No. 1 seed. It also sent them from the No. 2 seed in the conference to the No. 5 seed, while vaulting Dallas up to first place in the NFC East and the No. 2 seed. As for Seattle itself, the club now finds itself at 7-7 on the season and just behind the Rams and Vikings (also 7-7) for a wild card spot. This was the most difficult remaining game on the schedule for Pete Carroll's team and Lock's heroics now set up what could be a sweep down the stretch that sends them to the playoffs. 

He also isn't the only backup putting his stamp on these playoffs. Look at what's happening in Cleveland with a Browns team that is on its fourth quarterback this season, settling in on veteran Joe Flacco, who signed on with the team's practice squad in November. The former Super Bowl MVP has since led the Browns to back-to-back victories to help secure their standing as the No. 5 seed in the AFC at 9-5 exiting Week 15. Similar to Lock, Flacco needed to pull a rabbit out of his hat as he rallied Cleveland to a 13-point fourth quarter to steal a win away from the Bears

Even the week before this latest win, the 38-year-old beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, which has helped send them in a spiral and open up the AFC South. Speaking of that division, Gardner Minshew is another backup who is ho-humming the Indianapolis Colts to playoff contention. They are 8-6 on the season and 6-4 under the lead of Minshew, who is filling in for injured first-round rookie Anthony Richardson. They have a favorable closing stretch, that could see them either as AFC South champions or in as a wild card team as they are already situated as the No. 7 seed entering Week 16. 

Gardner Minshew
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Oh, and you thought Houston's playoff chances were done with rookie phenom C.J. Stroud missing Sunday's game against Tennessee due to a concussion? Wrong. Case Keenum, who has played for seven different teams and is currently on his third stint with the Texans, casually tossed a fourth-quarter touchdown to help force overtime and eventually led a game-winning field goal drive with a clutch pass in the extra period.

Of course, Cincinnati is where you'll find another backup that is thrusting his team into playoff contention with Jake Browning taking hold of the QB1 responsibilities in place of the injured Joe Burrow. The Bengals are 3-1 under Browning, which includes not one but TWO overtime wins. At home against Minnesota on Saturday, Browning led the offense to a 21-point fourth quarter to force overtime and escape with the win. Cincy is now the No. 6 seed and, thanks to the win, has sent reverberations to the NFC playoff picture sending the Vikings into a bit of a tailspin. 

This season, Browning is completing 73.6% of his passes and has a passer rating of 107.1. That's Burrow-like production but without the former No. 1 overall pick under center. 

This isn't supposed to happen. 

The Seahawks paid Geno Smith a $75 million contract this offseason, the Colts and Texans drafted QBs inside the top five, Cleveland is paying Deshaun Watson $46 million fully guaranteed for the year, and the Bengals made Burrow the highest-paid player in the league. When those types of players go down, that typically tanks your entire season in the process. The backups simply refuse to let it happen. 

Even in New York, quarterback Tommy DeVito, filling in for the injured Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor, is 3-2 for the Giants and has them with an outside chance at pushing for a playoff spot. While it's more likely they miss the postseason, it isn't because DeVito has failed them. In fact, he has a better passer rating (91.5) than Jones (70.5), who inked a $160 million extension last offseason. 

Whether we call this a movement or a nexus event, it started with Joshua Dobbs. Beginning the year with Arizona, he kept the Cardinals feisty in the early going and upset the Cowboys in Week 3, which is a victory that has silently impacted the playoff race in the NFC as well. He was then traded to Minnesota following Kirk Cousins' season-ending injury and posted back-to-back wins against the Falcons and Saints in Week 9 and Week 10, which has since helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to ascend to first place in the NFC South. 

While the majority of backups are seemingly willing their teams to the playoffs, it's not a 100% success rate in 2023. The shine of Dobbs dulled and Nick Mullens wasn't able to recreate magic in his first start, which has the Vikings teetering despite sitting as the No. 6 seed at the moment. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has fallen out of playoff favor after needing to turn to the now-benched Mitch Trubisky (0-2 as the starter) after Kenny Pickett was injured. 

If the season ended today, every single wild card team in the AFC would be entering the postseason with a backup quarterback. In the NFC, the Vikings are the lone team currently inside the playoff picture sporting a backup but, as we saw on Monday night, Seattle is still in the thick of the race now thanks to Lock. 

The playoffs are still on the horizon and a Super Bowl champion will ultimately be crowned in a couple months in Las Vegas, but the 2023 season is always going to be remembered as a renaissance for the backup quarterback.