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Posted: Friday September 26, 2008 10:11AM; Updated: Friday September 26, 2008 2:12PM
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Arms comparison: How do '88 QBs stack up against '08 counterparts?

Story Highlights
  • Easy calls: Romo vs. Pelluer; Marino vs. Pennington
  • Tough calls: Esiason vs. Palmer; Simms vs. Manning
  • The problem with today's QBs is they are overcoached
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Was Boomer Esiason (above) a better QB in 1988 than Carson Palmer is today? The Bengals did go to the Super Bowl that season.
Was Boomer Esiason (above) a better QB in 1988 than Carson Palmer is today? The Bengals did go to the Super Bowl that season.
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I've never been a great fan of comparing eras while we're in the midst of a season, but it took an e-mail from a British connoisseur of American football, Simon Veness, to give me some serious thoughts about the standard of quarterbacking these days. He called it the "near barrel-scraping state."

I always hear extreme views such as these, but it got me thinking. Was it really better in the old days ... at least the days of 20 years ago?

I go through this drill every now and then, comparing quarterbacks two decades apart, and usually it's pretty close, with the older vintage generally establishing an edge. So I did it again and the results were startling.

Yes, the position used to be better. A lot better. Yes, there are a lot of pretenders vying for starting positions now. Are you hearing the ravings of just another old duffer, waving his cane at the TV set and hollering for days gone by? Well, let's go through a comparison of QBs on each team in the NFL, 20 years apart. Players on expansion teams that didn't exist then will not be included, obviously.


Buffalo Bills
Jim Kelly vs. Trent Edwards

Edge: 1988. An easy one. This was a Kelly on the rise, poised to lead his team to four straight Super Bowls.

Miami Dolphins
Dan Marino vs. Chad Pennington

Edge: 1988. Another cinch. Danny was in the midst of a Hall of Fame career.

New England Patriots
Steve Grogan vs. Matt Cassel

Edge: 1988. Maybe this is unfair, since the job belongs to Tom Brady. But he's not playing, is he? And we are talking about the game as it unfolds in front of us right now. Cassel has a future, but Grogan was a great competitor, dearly loved by New England fans for many years.

New York Jets
Ken O'Brien vs. Brett Favre

Edge: 2008. It would be embarrassing to say O'Brien, a strong-armed thrower with the lowest interception rate in the NFL, was better than the Favre, who will be 39 in a couple of weeks. Let's celebrate the overall achievement. Besides, the modern era needs a win real bad at this point.

Cincinnati Bengals
Boomer Esiason vs. Carson Palmer

Edge: 1988. A tough call. Boomer was at the top of his game, as the Bengals' Super Bowl QB of '88. He threw 28 TDs that season, 14 picks. He was gutsy and exciting. Palmer's game seems to have gone south, but let's face it, he's got a much sadder cast of characters to work with than Boomer did. Maybe if we look at the overall record of production, we'd have a different call, but we're concentrating on the seasons mentioned.

Cleveland Browns
Bernie Kosar vs. Derek Anderson, with Brady Quinn on hold

Edge: 1988. Bernie called his own game, as many of them did in those days. He was smart and effective, with a goofy throwing motion, but a persistent habit of completing his passes. I don't know what's happened to Anderson. He started off with a nice new contract and tremendous upside, but it seems to have fallen apart. And he's a few interceptions away from getting benched.

Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans
Warren Moon vs. Kerry Collins

Edge: 1988. Moon was 31 early in the '88 season, at his first outpost on the way to a brilliant Hall of Fame career. Collins is a competent game manager, rushed into emergency service in relief of Vince Young.

Indianapolis Colts
Chris Chandler vs. Peyton Manning

Edge: 2008. Peyton calls his own plays and would have fit in beautifully in any time period. One of the few potential Hall of Famers of our era.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Bubby Brister vs. Ben Roethlisberger

Edge: 2008. Tremendous talent and courage, that's Ben. An easy choice, no matter what kind of shape his shoulder is in.

Denver Broncos
John Elway vs. Jay Cutler

Edge: 1988. Still another Hall of Famer, with more to come. Elway was in his sixth year, still wild, a little out of control, too many picks, etc., but he had a knack for fourth-quarter comebacks. Cutler is having a Pro Bowl year. It's a show horse against a wild stallion.

Kansas City Chiefs
Steve DeBerg vs. Damon Huard

Edge: 1988. The Chiefs were terrible then, terrible now, but at least DeBerg, 35 and originally trained by Bill Walsh, knew how to work a game. Huard will be better than the guy he relieved, Tyler Thigpen, which is really damning by faint praise.

Oakland Raiders
Jay Schroeder/ Steve Beuerlein vs. JaMarcus Russell

Edge: 2008. This is a strange comparison. Schroeder and Russell... two big throwers, not blessed by great accuracy. Beuerlein was a rookie who started half the games. I'm trying to be fair here, and reward Russell on potential.

Schroeder came to the Raiders when they were in L.A., the result of a trade with Washington that cost the team a future all-pro, tackle Jim Lachey, and a bunch of draft choices. And he bombed. He was awful in 1988 , his five-year stint later relieved by one fine season (1990). He had had one Pro Bowl year for the Redskins, and he is famous for being benched before the '88 Super Bowl for Doug Williams, who became the MVP. But he had enough 300-plus yardage games to keep people interested. Beuerlein looked like the careful QB's you see today.

San Diego Chargers
Mark Malone vs. Philip Rivers

Edge: 2008. The season prior marked the end of Dan Fouts' 15-year run. It would be four more years before the Chargers would have a winning season. Rivers is one of today's brighter young prospects.

AFC CONSENSUS: 8-5 in favor of 1988.

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