Plenty of youth at QB in 2004 playoffs
The average age for this weekend's starters, 26.5 years old, is the youngest for a division round since the NFL adopted the current 12-team format in 1990.
For all the doomsayers who seem to fret every year about where the NFL's good, young quarterbacks will come from, this timely suggestion: Plant yourself squarely in front of the big-screen television for this weekend's divisional-round playoff games.
You'll find a pretty good contingent of them there.
The eight starting quarterbacks in the four divisional games include the single-season recordholder for touchdown passes and passer rating, the 2004 league leader in yards and completions, and even the top two rushers among quarterbacks. The eight combined in the regular season to throw for 28,412 yards and 215 touchdowns. All but Michael Vick of Atlanta ranked among the NFL's top 11 passers.
Almost as impressive as the gaudy statistics that the remaining playoff quarterbacks have compiled, however, is the collective chronological age of the group.
The average age for this weekend's starters, 26.5 years old, is the youngest for a division round since the NFL adopted the current 12-team format in 1990. For the first time under the current playoff system, there isn't a single starting quarterback aged 30 or older. In fact, the relative graybeard of this year's group, Peyton Manning of Indianapolis, won't turn 29 for two more months.
The old adage about how youth must be served? In 2004, young quarterbacks not only were served, but their performances extended well beyond just serviceable.
"People always talk about the good, young quarterbacks, as if those two things have to be connected," said Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper, who, like Manning, had one of the greatest years ever by a quarterback in 2004, and who is a year younger. "That isn't necessarily the case, but it has been this year, hasn't it? You've got guys who are still just pups out there, like (Ben) Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh, and here he is just two wins away from going to a Super Bowl. It says a lot for the future of the NFL. It says the quarterback play in the league is in pretty good hands, and is going to be for a while."
At age 23, Roethlisberger is the baby of the divisional-round quarterback bunch, and he will attempt to become just the second rookie since the 1970 merger to ring up a win in postseason play. The only rookie to register a playoff victory is Shaun King of Tampa Bay in 1999.
Next youngest to Roethlisberger is Atlanta's Michael Vick, who is 24. Marc Bulger (St. Louis) and Tom Brady (New England) are 27. Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia) and Chad Pennington (New York Jets) are 28.
The 26.5-year average age for the 2004 division-round quarterbacks top by nearly a year the previous youngest assemblage. The quarterbacks in the 2000 divisional round were an average of 27.3 years and Oakland's Rich Gannon was the only 30-year-old in the group.
Between 1990-2003, the average age for the eight quarterbacks in the second round of the playoffs was 29.8 years, with an average of 3.8 quarterbacks aged 30 or older. The oldest divisional-round octet was in 1998, when six of the eight starters were 33 or older and the average age was 33.4.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.