The Kansas City Chiefs are still alive in the race for the AFC West title -- though our numbers don't like their odds -- but after starting quarterback Matt Cassel suffered a hand injury that will probably keep him out for the rest of the season, they'll be relying on a couple of unknown quarterbacks to lead the passing attack. Tyler Palko, who went undrafted out of the University of Pittsburgh, will get the first shot at replacing Cassel.
While Cassel has hardly been a franchise signal-caller for the Chiefs, there is a palpable layer of uncertainty to delve through when discussing Palko's chances of playing well Monday night. All that the tape from his appearance in Week 10 showed was that he knows how to check down well in a two-minute drill. In fact, the only pass he completed to a non-running back was a simple cross over the middle to Steve Breaston. That doesn't mean he has no chance of playing quarterback well in the NFL -- it just means we don't have any real data that points to an educated guess on the matter.
One concrete reason to be optimistic about Palko in this game is that he's going up against a New England Patriots pass defense that has been mediocre this year. In fact, aside from last week's five-sack, two-interception outburst against the New York Jets, the Patriots have been downright miserable against the pass.
Their secondary has been ravaged with injuries, and with the releases of Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders before the season, the Patriots have been competing with castoffs like Antwaun Molden and James Ihedigbo. Even those five sacks only raised New England's adjusted sack rate to 22nd in the NFL, and they are dead last according to our numbers at defending passes to No. 1 receivers, such as, say, Dwayne Bowe in this game.
But how do first-time starters generally fair against bad defenses? We went back and found every first-time starting quarterback in the DVOA era (1993-2010) and divided them into three groups: bad, average and good.