NFL Power Rankings: Nothing in NFL history would match Brock Purdy leading 49ers to a Super Bowl
On Oct. 23, the NBA season was five days old, the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies clinched berths in the World Series that day, C.J. Stroud and Hendon Hooker were runaway Heisman favorites with Caleb Williams well behind at about 14-to-1 odds, Frank Reich was the Indianapolis Colts' head coach and the start of the World Cup was about four weeks away.
It's also the last time the San Francisco 49ers lost.
The 49ers lost 44-23 to the Kansas City Chiefs to fall to 3-4 that day. They've won seven straight since and the average margin has been 16.6 points. Only one game, a 22-16 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, was decided by less than eight points.
San Francisco is a classic Super Bowl pick. It's at the right time. The Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs or Buffalo Bills have been the best teams over the course of the entire season but the 49ers are arguably the best team right now. They have a punishing defense and probably the best set of offensive playmakers in the NFL.
And picking them to even win the NFC is asking the 49ers to do something that has never been done in the first 56 years of the Super Bowl era.
Here's the list of rookie quarterbacks who have started a Super Bowl:
Yep. Zero. Kurt Warner and Tom Brady barely played before taking over during a championship season, but they weren't rookies.
Now let's look at the list of third-string quarterbacks to start the season who have started a Super Bowl:
Correct. None. There have been more backups than you remember to win a Super Bowl — Jim Plunkett, Trent Dilfer, Brady, Warner, Nick Foles, Jeff Hostetler and Doug Williams among others — but they were all second-team players. Third string? Hasn't happened.
And just for kicks, here are is the list of Mr. Irrelevants (aka the last pick of the NFL draft) who completed a pass in an NFL game before Brock Purdy:
Yeah, that list should be familiar by now.
The Purdy story is catching on, but the scope of it is still underrated. Purdy has played surprisingly well through his three games since taking over for injured Jimmy Garoppolo, who took over for injured Trey Lance. Because Warner and Brady came out of nowhere, it seems like a rookie quarterback has played in a Super Bowl. Since so many backups have won Super Bowls, it doesn't feel like a third-stringer doing it is that big of a deal. Since quarterbacks from all rounds of the draft have started Super Bowls, it isn't a big stretch for the last pick of the draft to do it.
But what Purdy is trying to do is unprecedented, in a few ways.
If Purdy can even take the 49ers to a Super Bowl, it will be a huge blow to those who support the notion that a team needs an elite quarterback to win big. Teams can win championships with great teams around average quarterbacks. That's been done before. The Purdy experiment is pushing that idea to an extreme.
There's no reason to doubt the 49ers. Going two months without a loss is impressive. It's not like Garoppolo was indispensable. He was just asked to get the ball to the 49ers' star players in the rhythm of Kyle Shanahan's scheme, just like Purdy is doing. The defense will keep the 49ers in any game.
Are you picking the 49ers to make the Super Bowl? That's reasonable. Though you're also picking something that has never happened in NFL history, on a few layers.
Here are the power rankings after Week 15 of the NFL season:
32. Houston Texans (1-12-1, Last Week: 32)
The Texans haven't quit after all. They came close to beating the Cowboys and Chiefs the past two weeks. And they keep losing, which stinks in the short term but has practically ensured they draft first overall.
31. Arizona Cardinals (4-10, LW: 28)
A bad season gets worse. Colt McCoy has a concussion and Kliff Kingsbury said the team will be cautious with him, which probably means McCoy will be out a while. Arizona is about to become really unwatchable.
30. Chicago Bears (3-11, LW: 30)
The Bears took a shot on receiver Velus Jones Jr. in the third round, and that was questioned because he was 25 years old and seen as a gadget player. On Sunday, he had one carry for no yards and one catch for 3 yards. For the season he has 75 yards from scrimmage on 11 touches. It's early but that pick doesn't look great yet.
29. Indianapolis Colts (4-9-1, LW: 27)
You have to try really, really hard to blow a 33-point lead in the NFL. That's probably why it hadn't happened in NFL history before the Colts did it Saturday. The Colts were outscored 33-0 by Dallas in the fourth quarter of Week 13, had a bye, then were outscored 39-3 in the second half and overtime against the Vikings. That's pathetic.
28. Los Angeles Rams (4-10, LW: 29)
It's hard to find positives, but Cam Akers looked pretty good on Monday night in a loss. Considering he was basically sent away from the team while they tried to trade him earlier this season, it's pretty remarkable that he's back in the Rams' plans.
27. Denver Broncos (4-10, LW: 31)
Brett Rypien was 21-of-26 for 197 yards, which counts as a good game for the 2022 Broncos. The more important number to ownership from Sunday should be 18,423, which is the amount of no-shows at the stadium. There were a lot of empty seats despite tickets being less than $20 in the secondary market. It's very rare for a Broncos home game to have that many no-shows. Fans have gone from anger to apathy.
26. Atlanta Falcons (5-9, LW: 25)
Well, Desmond Ridder didn't answer any questions at quarterback. He didn't break 100 yards passing. There's still a few games for Ridder to show he can be the quarterback of the future but his first start wasn't the best.
25. New Orleans Saints (5-9, LW: 26)
Rashid Shaheed is a nice find for the Saints. The rookie receiver signed as an undrafted free agent out of Weber State and is making the most of his opportunities. He is averaging 22.3 yards on 15 catches, has a 44-yard touchdown rush and is showing he has a big-play ability that is rare and valuable in the NFL. He and Chris Olave could be a very nice duo going forward.
24. Carolina Panthers (5-9, LW: 22)
The door was open for the Panthers. Had they won on Sunday at home, they'd be tied for first place in the NFC South. They're not dead in the race but they can't fall two games behind the Buccaneers. Sunday's loss could cost them a division title, which would make for a nice accomplishment no matter how bad the 2022 NFC South has been.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8, LW: 20)
Two last-minute comebacks have hidden how bad the Buccaneers are. In the Bucs' last nine games, they've won three times and two of the wins came on a last-second touchdowns after they were losing most of the game. They're that close to being on a 1-8 streak. Though after Sunday's collapse against the Bengals, everyone should know that the Buccaneers are simply a bad team this season.
22. Las Vegas Raiders (6-8, LW: 24)
I'm still not sure Keelan Cole Jr. was inbounds on his game-tying touchdown, and we've all seen the final play by now, and the Raiders should be thankful the end of the game went as it did. Or else the story would be that they extended their NFL record by blowing a fifth double-digit halftime lead in a single season. Life in the NFL is a lot easier when you win.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8, LW: 23)
Cameron Heyward is having yet another great season. He has been first-team All-Pro two of the past three seasons. This season he has 6.5 sacks, including 1.5 in Sunday's win against the Panthers, and even at 33 years old he has been one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. It looks like he has at least a couple more good seasons left, too.
20. Cleveland Browns (6-8, LW: 21)
Since the trade deadline, running back Kareem Hunt has 33 carries for 142 yards in six games. He hasn't had double-digit carries in any game. The Browns have a 0.5 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to Football Outsiders. The Browns not trading Hunt before the deadline, likely because they asked for too much, seems like a real mistake.
19. Green Bay Packers (6-8, LW: 19)
The Packers aren't dead yet. It was just against the Rams' B team offense, but the defense finally played like everyone expected it would this season.
18. Seattle Seahawks (7-7, LW: 16)
The only thing the Seahawks have left is they have the tiebreaker over the Lions in a head-to-head situation. Detroit and Seattle are both 7-7 but couldn't look any different with three games to go. It's hard to imagine the Seahawks holding off the Lions. Next up for Seattle: a game at the Chiefs.
17. Washington Commanders (7-6-1, LW: 15)
Commanders fans can complain about the Terry McLaurin illegal formation penalty that was hard to explain and wiped out a touchdown, and pass interference should have been called on fourth down, but Washington also has itself to blame. The Commanders came out flat, played a terrible first half and lost a must-win game at home to the Giants.
16. Tennessee Titans (7-7, LW: 14)
The Titans were up four games on the Jaguars four weeks ago. Now the lead is down to one and that head-to-head loss at Tennessee in Week 14 is a pretty big deal now. The Titans don't have a lot of offensive pop lately. The defense played better against the Chargers on Sunday but it wasn't enough. Their season is slipping away fast.
15. New York Jets (7-7, LW: 10)
It looks like Zach Wilson will get another start, and he did play pretty well Sunday. He made some mistakes, including an awful interception down the near sideline, but overall it was a step forward. But it came in a loss, the Jets' fourth loss in five games. They're still in the playoff race but need to start winning games to stay alive.
14. New England Patriots (7-7, LW: 12)
The lateral play, one of the worst in NFL history, was more than just one bad play that led to a loss. It caused a big change in the Patriots' playoff odds. They were 37.6 percent to make it last week at Football Outsiders, and 16.7 percent after the Raiders loss. The 21.8 percent drop was the third-largest in the league this week (Commanders, Titans, Seahawks). That play could keep New England from the postseason.
13. New York Giants (8-5-1, LW: 17)
Kayvon Thibodeaux had a breakout game on Sunday night. It was easy to see why he was the fifth overall pick of the draft, and maybe shouldn't have fallen that far. His strip-sack that he recovered for a touchdown was the biggest play of the Giants' biggest win of the season.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-8, LW: 18)
The highlight of Sunday's overtime win over the Cowboys was Trevor Lawrence looking like a future MVP. He was tremendous. But safety Rayshawn Jenkins had the game of his life too. He had 18 tackles and two interceptions, including a walk-off pick-six in overtime. What a performance.
11. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6, LW: 13)
Justin Herbert's 35-yard pass to Mike Williams, which set up the game-winning field goal, was even crazier than it looked. It had just a 22.6 percent chance to be completed, according to Next Gen Stats, his second-most improbable completion of the season via Joe Reedy of the Associated Press. That play might get the Chargers into the playoffs, which would be an enormous step for Herbert.
10. Baltimore Ravens (9-5, LW: 8)
Not much more needs to be said about the Ravens other than they're going to struggle until Lamar Jackson returns, and then we'll see if Jackson fixes everything. Jackson should be back this week. The Ravens' next two games are the Falcons and Steelers at home, and if Baltimore wins both of them, then Week 18 at Cincinnati will likely be an AFC North championship game.
9. Detroit Lions (7-7, LW: 11)
The Jets game seemed like the one Detroit needed in the playoff race. And it came down to executing a fourth-and-inches play that went 51 yards to tight end Brock Wright for a touchdown. When is the last time the Lions made a clutch play like that? The Lions are far from a lock to make the playoffs but given how well they're playing, you have to like their chances.
8. Miami Dolphins (8-6, LW: 9)
It's not time for moral victories but the Dolphins should feel good after Week 15. They were unlikely to catch the Bills for the AFC East anyway. The offense looked much better after a two-game slump and they gave the Bills all they could handle in the snow, at the end of a three-game road trip. It's the rare late-season loss that should be viewed as a positive.
7. Minnesota Vikings (11-3, LW: 7)
If you want to entertain yourself, go to social media and say something like "Kirk Cousins actually isn't that bad!" People lose their minds ripping Cousins. He's the same quarterback who has seven fourth-quarter comebacks this season and put up 460 yards and four touchdowns in the greatest comeback in NFL history last week. Is Cousins great? No. He's just a lot better than his detractors will ever admit.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (10-4, LW: 6)
Cincinnati is still a bit confusing. The Bengals looked absolutely awful in the first half against the Buccaneers. Then they rolled over them in the second half. It's still a good win, especially since they're now in first place after that win and the Ravens' loss.
5. Dallas Cowboys (10-4, LW: 3)
The Cowboys' loss on Sunday is even bigger now that we know Jalen Hurts could miss time with a shoulder injury. Had Dallas won, all they would have needed was an Eagles loss and also a win over Philadelphia on Dec. 24 to steal the division. Now the Cowboys need to win out and hope Philadelphia doesn't win again. Blowing that lead to the Jaguars wasn't the worst loss an NFL team will take, but it looked a lot worse by Monday afternoon.
4. San Francisco 49ers (10-4, LW: 5)
The 49ers have the division clinched, and now they're in a weird place. They have almost no chance to get the No. 1 seed. Improving the seed might not even be good news — you're probably trying to avoid the Lions, if they make it, and the No. 2 seed could end up meeting No. 7 seed Detroit. They'll want to stay sharp but the next important game the 49ers play will probably be at home in the playoffs.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3, LW: 4)
That was a weird game for Kansas City. They outgained the Texans 502-219. Mahomes completed 36-of-41 passes and never turned it over. Yet the Chiefs needed overtime to win. But they did win, which is the most important thing as they chase the Bills for the No. 1 seed. The Chiefs are fine, but it was strange they needed so long to put away Houston.
2. Buffalo Bills (11-3, LW: 2)
Not that anyone was rooting for a Jalen Hurts injury, but it does have some effect in Buffalo too. Josh Allen's MVP chances are alive again. If Allen leads the Bills to the No. 1 seed, and Hurts misses multiple games, assuming Allen has similar numbers to Mahomes by the end ... well, let's just say he's got a shot.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-1, LW: 1)
We'll assume for now Jalen Hurts will be back for the playoffs from a shoulder injury. Philadelphia isn't in real danger of losing the No. 1 seed, considering they have a three-game lead over the Cowboys and a two-game lead over Minnesota with the head-to-head tiebreaker in hand. That would give Hurts four weeks off before the Eagles' first playoff game, if it's needed. Even if we assume Hurts will be healthy, going nearly five full weeks between games and then being thrown into the playoffs isn't ideal. We'll see where it goes, but it's not good news for Philadelphia's Super Bowl hopes.