In looking at the basic statistics, it seems that Tim Tebow (7-4) was a better quarterback for Denver than Kyle Orton (1-4) and that he led his team to the playoffs. However, looking closer, it seems probable that they would have made the play-offs if Kyle Orton had continued as their starting quarterback.
The quality of the opponents that Orton played against while quarterback was quite different than the quality of the opponents that Tebow played against. Three out of the first five teams Denver played had winning records and the other two were even by the end of the year. Tebow only played against 2 teams with winning records, 5 teams with even records, and 4 teams with losing records. Thus, playing against teams with winning records, Orton – 60%, Tebow – 18% of the time, playing against teams with losing records, Orton 0%, Tebow 34% of the time. Playing against easier teams, Tebow was bound to look better. The tougher opponents that Orton faced early created the optical illusion that Tebow was the better quarterback.
To see this more clearly, we have to examine the games that Orton started and then examine the games that Tebow started.
Orton lost a close opening game to Oakland (8-8) and won a game against Cincinnati (9-7). He lost another close game against Tennessee (9-7) the third week of the season. Orton could easily have been 3-0 to start to the year.
The loss to Green Bay (15-1) in week four would certainly have happened with any quarterback. Orton was removed at half time in the fifth game, down 20-10. We can’t know if he would have come back to win the game in the second half. We know that Tebow didn’t win the game in the second half. Denver ended up losing 24-29.
In five games against three teams with winning records and two teams with even records, Orton averaged 20 points. There is no reason to believe that he would not have continued to average at least that much against teams with even and losing records.
Tebow beat Miami on Oct 23, 18-15. Miami was a 6-10 team. Orton probably would have scored at least 20 points and beaten them. Detroit was a 10-6 team, so either quarterback would have lost that game. Denver faced Oakland and beat them 38-24 the following week. Orton lost to them 20-23 the first week of the season, but it is probable, Orton could have topped their 24 points this time around. If we assume, he would have maintained his 20 point average, Orton would have won the games against Kansas City (17-10), the Jets (17-13) and San Diego (16-13). The game the following week against Minnesota (3-13) would also have likely gone to Denver, which they won by 35-32. It is hard to imagine Orton not scoring at least 20 points against the Chicago Bears and beating them by more than 13-10 on Dec 11.
Given the number of points that Orton scored against superior teams in his first five games, it is unlikely he would have scored less or lost any of the seven games that Tibow won. Since Orton beat a superior team playing for Kansas City, he would have certainly won the final game of the season too. Based on his play in the first five games of the season, it seems likely that Orton would have ended up with a 9-7 record with Denver.
Denver was a better team than their 1-4 record indicated after the first five games. They had only an average offense, but a very good defense. It is not hard to see that Denver made a mistake by trading him and keeping Tibow.
The quarterback ratings back this up. Orton had ratings of 87.5 with Denver in 2011 and 75.7 in 2011. He had a QB rating of 81.1 with Kansas City in 2011. Tebow’s QB rating was 72.9, facing much easier competition.
While the outcome of the games would have been the same under Orton, there would have been differences. It is likely that Denver would have easily won these games and not have had to require last quarter comebacks. Tebow’s miracle comebacks were the results of a good team that should have won easily these games, but had to squeak by in the last minute due to a bad quarterback.
GAME OPPOSING TEAM FINAL RECORD
Games with Orton as QB
Game with Orton as QB in first half, Tibow as QB in second half
Games with Tibow as QB
Kyle Orton 1-3, against:
50/50 teams, 0-1, lost by 3 points
Winning teams, 1-2, lost one game by 3, 26 points
Tibow 7-4, against:
Winning teams 0-2, lost by 35, 18 points
50/50 teams 5-0, won by 14, 7, 4, 3, 3, points
Losing teams 2-2, won by 3, 3 points, lost by 26, 4