SAN DIEGO – The consensus among teams, scouts, analysts and fans is that quarterback is the most important component to a football team.
And in the AFC West, San Diego has gotten the most consistent quarterback play of any team and holds the best overall record in recent years, likely not a coincidence.
In those six seasons, the rest of the AFC West teams have started a combined 22 quarterbacks.
Last year alone, Denver started Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, Oakland started Jason Campbell, Kyle Boller and Carson Palmer, and Kansas City started Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko and Orton.
Since Rivers became the starter, San Diego is 63-33 in the regular season and 26-10 against the AFC West. The rest of the teams are a combined 112-176 and are either 16-20 or 15-21 in the division. Denver, the next-best team since the Rivers era began, has lagged 19 wins behind the Chargers, an average of more than three a season.
Jay Cutler (2007-08) is the only quarterback to start all 16 games in a season for an AFC West team since Rivers became San Diego’s starter. San Diego, by contrast, has started the same quarterback for all 16 games since 2001, with the exception of six Doug Flutie starts split between 2003-04.
Cassel (39 starts) is second to Rivers since ’06 within the division with less than half of Rivers’ total (96).
Rivers’ streak of 103 consecutive starts including playoffs is seventh all-time among quarterbacks, 20 behind Ron Jaworski for top five in NFL history.
The Broncos, Chiefs and Raiders all have gone through a quarterback change or a quarterback controversy in the last year. Denver went from Orton to Tim Tebow and now Peyton Manning. Oakland went from Campbell to Palmer. Kansas City still has Cassel, but they had Orton at the end of last season as well.
Manning has the second-longest streak in NFL history with 227 consecutive starts. Rivers would need almost eight more years without missing a game to match that figure. Manning’s streak ended Sept. 11 as a neck injury forced him to miss the 2011 season, and his presence in the AFC West has been one of the biggest news stories of free agency.
Heading into 2012, for the first time in years, all four teams have quarterbacks who have been to the Pro Bowl and made the playoffs. But San Diego still likes No. 17, who has an impressive six-year history of stats, winning and never missing a game.
“I believe with all my heart and soul that one day he will lead the Chargers to a (Super Bowl) championship,” General Manager A.J. Smith said of Rivers during the 2011 season. “He’s a great quarterback and a phenomenal leader with great character and great work habits.”
Regular-Season Quarterback Starts Since 2006
Philip Rivers, 96
Jay Cutler, 37
Kyle Orton, 33
Tim Tebow, 14
Jake Plummer, 11
Chris Simms, 1
Matt Cassel, 39
Damon Huard, 21
Tyler Thigpen, 11
Brodie Croyle, 10
Trent Green, 8
Tyler Palko, 4
Kyle Orton, 3
JaMarcus Russell, 25
Jason Campbell, 18
Josh McCown, 9
Andrew Walter, 9
Carson Palmer, 9
Aaron Brooks, 8
Bruce Gradkowski, 8
Dante Culpepper, 6
Charlie Frye, 3
Kyle Boller, 1
DRAFT ORDER: The NFL released the full draft order Tuesday. The Chargers hold selections at No. 18, 49, 78, 110, 149, 183, 226 and 250 overall, one in each of the first six rounds and two in the seventh. The three-day draft will begin April 26.
ENCOURAGING FITNESS: As the 2012 NFL Play 60 Challenge concludes, a pair of special teams standouts will help run two Junior Chargers training camps in the Santee School District this week.
More than 2,200 students in nine middle schools from the Santee School District have participated in the four-week NFL program designed to stress the importance of health and fitness. The Chargers and the American Heart Association provided major support for the initiative.