Power Ranking the NFL QBs

This has been a funky year for quarterbacks. We knew Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers were the class of the league, but what happened to Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson? Luck has dealt with nagging injuries and Wilson’s line is a mess, but still. And Peyton… He looked bad at the end of last year, but did anyone think he’d look this bad? I mean, nine touchdowns and 16 interceptions? What about Andy Dalton and Cam Newton. Did people expect their teams to be undefeated at the season’s midpoint, both firmly entrenched in the MVP race? See! It really has been a mess, so let’s figure out: If you were ranking quarterbacks, according to who you’d want to be leading your team for the rest of the year, how would it go?

44. Jimmy Clausen

43. Zach Mettenberger
42. Ryan Mallett
No matter how you judge a QB, these guys finish last. Winning? The three of them are a combined 3-23 as starters (Clausen is 1-11, Mettenberger, and Mallett would be worse than 2-4 if his alarm clock worked). Stats? Not one of them has thrown for more TDs than INTs in his career. Personality? If anything separates these guys from the rest of the bad QBs in the NFL, it’s that they generally rub you the wrong way. For Clausen and Mettenberger, they just look annoying. Mallett does too, but he takes it a step further with the type of toxic behavior usually sapped out of most perennial clipboard-holders. The only reason to be excited if these guys are on the field is if you’re starting the opposing defense in fantasy.

41. E.J. Manuel
40. Geno Smith
Neither of the first two QBs taken in the 2013 Draft is a legitimate NFL starter. Through 2.5 years in the league, both guys have been benched by their respective teams. In the NFL, once a young QB gets the starting gig, he usually only has two years to prove his worth. After that, if you haven’t shown that you’re definitely a starter in the league, your team will start looking elsewhere. And in both cases, even before that two year window was over, we knew who they were: guys, who cannot be counted on to win games in the NFL. Neither QB has ever had a winning season. Geno is 11-18 as a starter, and Manuel is 6-10. Their starting days in the NFL are over – seriously, can you imagine any starting QB in the NFL getting sucker punched by a teammate? – and it is crystal clear that Manuel and Smith were busts.

39. Brandon Weeden
38. Mark Sanchez
There is a certain schadenfreude associated with Weeden and Sanchez. It’s not an intense dislike by fans as much as it’s a pity at how bad they are. Aww, they’re trying so hard and they just keep throwing interceptions. It was too fitting to see the Browns pick him, a 29 year old rookie, in the first round. The Browns were the only team dumb enough to fall for his nonsense. Since then, he has been a total trainwreck, but hey, at least it’s entertaining. You can’t help but watch, hoping to see his next memorably bad mistake. How incredible was the Jets’ defense in 2009 an 2010? They made the AFC Championship game both years, in Sanchez’s first two years! Sanchez threw 8 more INTs than TDs in his 2009 rookie year. This was before everyone realized just how bad Sanchez was, and just chalked up his struggles to being a rookie going through rookie pains. Now, everyone understands that was par for the course for Sanchez, and he’s nothing more than a punchline. He has the unfortunate distinction of being best-known for his infamous butt-fumble. That one clumsy move miraculously captures the ineptitude of Sanchez’s career.

37. Mike Vick
Vick isn’t any good anymore, but he’s more interesting than almost any other backup… I guess he’s actually the third string now, behind Landry Jones. So, let’s just call him the league’s most intriguing third stringer in the NFL. Actually, that’s RG3. OK, so Vick is the league’s second most intriguing third string QB. I’d still trust Vick to win a big game over the guys behind him on the list though.

36. Robert Griffin III
35. Colin Kaepernick
Reason #593,638,162 why investing your franchise’s future in a running QB is a bad idea. No other QBs have fallen as far and as quickly as RG3 and Kaepernick. They went from revolutionary to obsolete in just a few years. It wasn’t long ago that RG3 won offensive rookie of the year, and then a year later, that Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl. But now, both guys have been passed over on the depth chart, and their chance to start will have to be on a new team. Has the league figured them out? Maybe. I mean, Kirk Cousins and Blaine Gabbert aren’t exactly world-beaters, and they took the reins from RG3 and Kaepernick respectively. It’s not just the declining play that is problematic with both QBs. RG3’s arrogance turned off his teammates and fans to the point that he became a pariah within the already-dysfunctional organization. RG3’s antics alienated him in the locker room, and while the anti-RG3 gossip is probably a little inflated, it’s not a good sign that we’ve reached this point.

Kaepernick hasn’t done anything expressly wrong, but he makes the news for stupid reasons, like picking a Twitter fight with someone who has 8 followers. You know, the type of stuff you’d hope your franchise QB wouldn’t do. I won’t even ask if you could imagine Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers doing that. Could you imagine any other NFL QB doing that? That’s the type of thing you expect from lifelong dummy Marcus Vick. In eight months, would it really surprise anyone if RG3 and Kaepernick were battling for Philadelphia’s starting job? In the meantime, Kaepernick better get going on those mechanics!

34. Johnny Manziel
It’s remarkable that for as exciting as Manziel was in college, he’s nothing more than a game manager in the pros. He’s too small, NFL defenders are too fast, and the Browns’ best weapon is a breakout 30 year old tight end. There’s no doubt if Johnny Football had Josh Gordon to sling the ball to, things would be more exciting. Then, we could at least trick ourselves into thinking Johnny Football is a legitimate starting QB. The sad truth is that talking about Manziel is much more polarizing than watching him play. He’s a bland QB with a completion percentage hovering around 50, who in three starts this year, has yet to throw for more than 200 yards. What’s it say about Manziel that he couldn’t even beat out lifelong backup Josh McCown, until McCown got hurt?

33. Matt Cassel
Still making his name off of the one season when he filled in for Tom Brady and led the Patriots to 10 wins, and then made the Pro Bowl a few years later. Cassel is just an average backup, but he still inspires more confidence than most backups, when you realize that Matt McGloin, Sean Renfree, and some guy named Ryan Nassib are also backups in the NFL. Cassel is a total wild card when he plays. Take a look at his starts in the past three years. One game he’ll be great, and the next he doesn’t look like he belongs in the league. Let’s take a look at a couple instances when he’s started two consecutive games in the past three years:
2013: December 15th – 26/35, 382 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 96.3 QBR, 116.6 QB Rating (Win 48-30)
December 22th – 13/27, 114 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs, 2.3 QBR, 32.6 QB Rating (Loss 42-14)

2014: September 7th – 17/25, 170 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 61.4 QBR, 113.7 QB Rating (Win 34-6)
September 14th – 19/36, 202 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs, 23.0 QBR, 39.1 QB Rating (Loss 30-7)

2015: October 25th – 17/27, 227 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs, 17.9 QBR, 62.3 QB Rating (Loss 27-20)
November 1st – 13/25, 97 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 41.0 QBR, 61.6 QB Rating (Let’s give him a pass… this was vs Seattle)
November 8th – 25/38, 299 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 58.9 QBR, 105.0 QB Rating (Loss 33-27)

So what’s the point? Matt Cassel is one of the most unpredictable QBs in the league. And in a league where playing your backup QB is like turning your car on and sleeping in it for the night, Cassel isn’t the worst insurance policy. You never know when you’re gonna get Good Matt Cassel or Bad Matt Cassel, but most backups don’t have a good version. If this was the NBA, it’d like the difference between starting J.R. Smith and Andre Roberson. J.R. Smith has more bad games than good games, but when he’s on, he lights it up. Andre Roberson will never give you anything, and best case scenario, he just stays out of the way. I’d rather go down with a gunslinger like Cassel, who will win his team games every now and then, instead of some QB whose best case is not screwing things up. Good God, I’ve said way too much about Matt Cassel.

32. Nick Foles
31. Sam Bradford
The most useless, pointless QB swap in NFL history. Does it even matter which guy you have here? Coming into the year, the thinking on Bradford was that if he could just stay healthy, he was a very good starting QB. Now, we know that’s not true, or maybe it was true but is no longer the case. Whatever the case is, neither QB is any good. Wanna see how pointless the trade was? Through the first half of the year, Bradford has a QBR of 35.3 and QB rating of 79.5. Foles has a QBR of 37.9 and QB rating of 79.7. Basically identical.

30. Kirk Cousins
No one in DC actually thinks Cousins is the answer. He’s a game manager, who is better fit to be a career backup. If you want to know just how much RG3 has worn out his welcome in DC, look no further than Cousins. The players, coaches, and (most of) the fans dislike RG3 enough that they’re happy to see the team trot out Cousins, but they are under no illusion that he is a talented starting QB. He’s an interception machine, and there really is no reason for him to be starting. But, alas, what else would you expect from the most dysfunctional professional sports franchise?

29. Jimmy Garoppolo
Remember when people wanted the Patriots to bench Brady after last year’s week four 41-14 shellacking against the Chiefs? The only reason it’s a shame that Tom Brady’s four game DeflateGate suspension wasn’t upheld is that we missed out on seeing Garoppolo. The guy has never started an NFL game, but since he’s the Patriots’ backup, you just assume that he’s better than a couple current starting QBs. Come on, it would’ve been great seeing him play great for four games, and then the Browns or Redskins trading a first round pick for him. 

28. Brian Hoyer
27. Josh McCown
Living proof that not everyone who backed up Tom Brady is good. Hoyer somehow got the Browns to 6-3 at one point last season, at which point, Hoyer had 10 TDs and 4 INTs. But in the next three games, with the Browns fighting for a playoff spot, Hoyer didn’t throw a single TD, while throwing seven picks. Calling Hoyer a competent game manager is probably a stretch. Don’t be fooled by his numbers this year. He has 13 TDs and 3 INTs, but the Texans are 2-4 in Hoyer’s starts, including a 41-0 halftime deficit to the Dolphins and trailing 48-0 through three quarters against the Falcons. There are two reasons Hoyer’s stats are so misleading: 1) He accumulates most of his numbers in garbage time, and 2) He has DeAndre Hopkins to throw the ball to. Some people say, “Imagine if Hopkins had a real QB throwing him the ball!” No, real QBs spread the ball around. Hoyer plays like most people Madden: He only throws to his best player, no matter the coverage. The jury is out on whether you can make the playoffs with Hoyer as your starter. But you probably’ can’t.

I’m not saying Johnny Manziel is any good, but only the Browns would draft a quarterback in the first round, and then play Brian Hoyer and Josh McCown over him in consecutive years.

26. Peyton Manning
Consider this a testament to just how important intangibles are for a quarterback. Because there is no other reason for Manning to be this high. He has thrown the most picks in the NFL. His QB rating is the third worst. He has thrown fewer touchdowns than Kirk Cousins. For the first time in his career, his team is dominating in spite of him. The Broncos look like the 2000 Ravens, winning with suffocating defense and subpar QB play. It’s sad seeing an all time great reduced to the point that he’s hardly recognizable out on the field.

Isn’t it crazy that it was just last year that Peyton threw 39 TDs? Through eight games last year, he had 24 TDs and 5 INTs. Through nine games this year, he has 9 TDs and 17 INTs. Everyone knows he’s done. And, yet, if your life depended on one game, how many guys would you really take over Peyton? The list is a lot shorter than you might think, unless you’re willing to put your life on guys like Andy Dalton, Tony Romo, or Ryan Tannehill. To be clear, those guys are all lightyears better than Peyton at this stage of his career, but I wouldn’t bet on them if I needed a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of the playoffs. There’s one scenario where it’s impossible to imagine Peyton winning: at Foxboro. If the Broncos went to Cincinnati in the playoffs though, you could talk me into Peyton outplaying Dalton. Maybe I’m just crazy.

25. Alex Smith
The clubhouse leader for most boring quarterback in the NFL. Sure, only Tom Brady has thrown fewer interceptions this year, but no one wants to watch a QB throw 30 screen passes. You can make the playoffs with Smith, but anything more than that is out of the question. Smith is an ultra conservative quarterback, playing in a dink-and-dunk offense that caters to his average skill set and weak arm.

24. Jameis Winston
I’d still rather have Mariota over him, but Winston has shown more flashes of competence than of JaMarcus Russell this year. More importantly, it’s no small miracle that Winston has yet to find himself mired in controversy in the NFL. No position in sports depends on intangibles as much as quarterback, and that was the giant question mark surrounding Jameis when he entered the draft. If – this may be the biggest ‘if’ of all time – you told me Jameis would (and could) keep his head on straight for the duration of his pro career, he would instantly shoot up this list. After throwing four picks against the Panthers, who it should be mentioned, have one of the best defenses in the league, the wheels easily could’ve come off. But Winston played the next four games without a single turnover. Among that four game stretch, in which the Bucs went 2-2, was a signature game where Winston led the 2-4 Bucs into Atlanta and upset the 6-1 Falcons on the road in overtime. It was the type of game that reminded you why Winston went first overall, yet made you forget he is a rookie.

23. Blake Bortles
Definitely a better fantasy QB than real life QB, but that’s not to take away from the massive strides Bortles has taken this season. Last year Bortles looked like a surefire bust. This year, the Jaguars still aren’t winning games, but at least Bortles is putting up big stats. Shhh, don’t tell me most of it is in garbage time! If we were doing NFL Redzone rankings, the Jaguars would be somewhere in the top 10, and that is remarkable because if someone told you that before the season, you would laugh. Between Bortles and the Allen Bros – Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns – the Jaguars all of a sudden have one of the more exciting offenses in the league. If Darrelle Revis tells me Blake Bortles has one of the bigger arms in the league and can make all throws, I believe it. There’s no doubt that Bortles is painfully inconsistent. Tune in for an entire Jags game and you will see a couple of ‘WTF plays.’ Bortles will make a couple of Brandon Weeden decisions every game, but the second you’re ready to write him off, he’ll scramble around the pocket and throw a perfect deep ball to Allen Robinson. Or he’ll get a 20 yard rushing gain, and you’ll remember that Bortles is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the league. There’s a lot to like here.

22. Teddy Bridgewater
The only active QBs in the NFL with more career starts than Bridgewater are Peyton and Brady. Wait, that’s not true? Oh, what, he’s only 23?!?! Bridgewater plays like a veteran QB in his 15th year. Only three QBs in NFL history have thrown for more yards before their 23rd birthday than Bridgewater. The question right now is whether he’s just a game manager, or if he can turn into a legitimate franchise quarterback. He’s more composed than any other QB his age, and he knows what he can and cannot do. That’s a skill lost on many quarterbacks (see: Jay Cutler). We won’t find out just how good he is until Adrian Peterson is gone though.

21. Ryan Tannehill
We may have already seen the best out of Tannehill. He’s a system quarterback, whose old coach told the practice squad to take it easy on him to improve his confidence. Tannehill has picked apart bad teams this season, beating the Redskins, Titans, and Texans. But in four divisional games so far, Tannehill has thrown 4 TDs and 7 INTs. And that might be exactly what Tannehill is: a QB competent enough to win against cellar dwellers, but not capable of much else. I don’t know what to make of QBR ratings, because half the time, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason why one player is rated better than another. I mean, why the hell is Ryan Fitzpatrick ahead of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers? Why is Kirk Cousins ahead of Cam Newton? For all of its inconsistencies, QBR is pretty useful if you’re just trying to answer: “Is Quarterback X good or bad?” Most the QBs in the top half of the ratings are good, and with the exception of Cam Newton, almost all of QBs in the bottom half of QBR are bad. Ryan Tannehill is second to last in QBR. Moving on.

20. Matt Stafford
A classic gunslinger that will make you curse out loud if you watch him too much. Stafford gets a free pass this year because Pro Football Focus says he has one o the worst offensive lines in the NFL and I say he has the worst coach in the NFL. It’s tempting to put the blame on Stafford, especially when you consider that one of Calvin Johnson’s last close-to-prime years is being wasted. The truth is that the Lions have no offensive line and no running game, and Stafford is a guy who needs everything around him to be in tact for him to excel. And I might as well mention that as of right now, despite having 15 more career starts, Stafford has one less win than Mark Sanchez.

19. Marcus Mariota
Can you name a single skill position player on the Titans besides Mariota? The Titans don’t have a single wide receiver that is relevant in fantasy football, and Mariota still posted a perfect QB rating his career debut. I don’t care bad the Saints defense is. There’s no way Mariota should have been able to go on the road and upset a Saints team smack dab in the middle of the playoff hunt. The Titans are a dumpster fire on offense, and yet, through six games Mariota has 13 TDs and 5 INTs. As a little thought experiment, imagine Jameis Winston on the Titans. Things would have gotten ugly quickly. Not that the Bucs are some juggernaut, but Mariota doesn’t have a Doug Martin or Mike Evans or even an over-the-hill Vincent Jackson to help him out. Mariota is throwing to a guy who can’t catch a ball without jumping.

18. Ryan Fitzpatrick
This is the world we live in. A world where, for the past half-decade, Ryan Fitzpatrick has been one of the 20 best quarterbacks on Planet Earth. A quarterback, who over his career, throws for an average of 200 yards per game and has a QB rating of 80. Fitzpatrick is the ultimate 8-8 QB. The Jets are 5-4 this year, but haven’t a team with a winning record. You wouldn’t trust this guy in the playoffs any more than you’d trust a Rex Ryan team to beat Bill Belichick. And yet, Fitzpatrick has the third highest QBR in the league. We can interpret that two ways. Either Fitzpatrick is a legitimately underrated QB. Or, QBR is a ridiculously flawed metric. I’ll lean toward the latter.

17. Joe Flacco
The only active quarterbacks with more playoff wins in their career than Flacco are Brady and Peyton. So why’s Flacco so low? We’re starting to see what happens when Flacco isn’t paired with a top defense. The Ravens defense is among the worst in the league, and Flacco is not the type of quarterback who can put the team on his back. Granted, the team’s best offensive weapon is a 36 year old wide receiver. And when Steve Smith went out for the year, the offense was in the hands of Justin Forsett, Kamar Aiken, and someone named Crockett Gilmore. The Ravens are 2-7 and every loss has been by single digits. Let’s see if you can guess who these QBs are…

Quarterback A: 226/333, 2,278 yards, 14 TDs, 9 INTs, 89.9 QB Rating
Quarterback B: 239/369, 2,492 yards, 13 TDs, 10 INTs, 84.6 QB Rating
Quarterback C: 164/285, 2,159 yards, 10 TDs, 9 INTs, 80.1 QB Rating
Quarterback D: 214/335, 2,297 yards, 11 TDs, 10 INTs, 82.4 QB Rating

Now the big reveal. QB A is Kirk Cousins, QB B is Joe Flacco, QB C is Jameis Winston, and QB D is Sam Bradford. That is the type of company Flacco is in this year. He’s only this high on the list because he has a ring.

16. Tyrod Taylor
The funny thing is Taylor is sorta what the Bills thought they had when they drafted E.J. Manuel in the first round. He’s one of eight QBs so far to have a QB rating over 100. He leads the league with an obscene completion percentage at 70.5, though he missed two games. If you take out the week 2 loss to the Patriots, where he threw 3 TDs and 3 INTs, he has 9 TDs and only one interception. He is 11th in QBR and Pro Football Focus gives him the 10th highest rating among quarterbacks. Only Brady and Carson Palmer have higher QB ratings this season. Taylor passes every quarterback metric there is, except starting experience.

15. Matt Ryan
14. Jay Cutler
13. Tony Romo
Are these guys overrated or underrated? They can get you lots of regular season wins, but when it matters in the playoffs, and it’s 3rd and 7 in the 4th quarter, you can’t trust them. Ryan is inching closer and closer to Romo territory. That is, a great regular season quarterback that makes two or three critical mistakes every game. Try watching a Falcons game from start to finish. You’ll see Ryan move the ball down field, and then stall whenever they’re in the red zone. Every time he throws it inside the 20s, you’ll hold your breath. If you own him in fantasy, you already know this.

After last year, when basically every turned on Cutler and realized he was an unlikable pick-machine, he’s reminding us just how good he can be again. The Bears offense consists of a banged up, about-to-be-overhill Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery, and Cutler looks pretty good! Last year he had seven multi-INT games. Through seven games this year, he has none. Cutler has come full circle, being overrated enough that eventually he is now underrated. Every third time you see these guys, you’ll wonder if they’re actually even good.

And Tony Romo’s MVP candidacy is stronger than ever, sitting on the sidelines all season long. With Romo, the Cowboys were 2-0. Without him, 0-7.

12. Andrew Luck
There is no question Luck is the toughest quarterback to rank. Coming into the year, he would’ve been by himself after the Tom Brady/Aaron Rodgers tie. And then, out of nowhere, he looked like rookie year Blake Bortles every time out on the field this year. Does anyone have any idea what happened? If a couple broken ribs do that to a quarterback, maybe Luck ought to have just sat out a few games. Luck has always had an issue with throwing interceptions, but he had kinda gotten away with it. This year, the wheels just completely came off. He’s thrown the second most picks. He has the sixth worst QBR. The only QB rated worse on Pro Football Focus is Matt Stafford. Among starting QBs, he has the worst QB rating. Literally every quarterback metric points to him having a horrible year.

But with the level of quarterback play in the league right now, how many guys are you going to realistically take over him? Down 3 points in the fourth quarter with one drive left, are you really gonna take Tony Romo or Jay Cutler over him? Do you trust Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tyrod Taylor more than 2015 Jake Plummer-esque Andrew Luck?

11. Russell Wilson
Intangibles and playoff chops matter, and almost no one has Wilson beat in those categories. If not for that, Wilson wouldn’t be nearly as high, considering he’s having his worst year as a pro. Wilson hasn’t thrown for 300 yards once all year, and he only has one game with over 300 total yards. Wilson is 17th in QBR and 16th in QB rating, and also on pace to rush for almost 250 fewer yards than last year. This is all coming in the season that the Seahawks need Wilson the most. Marshawn looks like he’s on the verge of breaking down. The Seahawks have no idea how to incorporate Jimmy Graham, and to get Graham, the ‘Hawks traded a lineman. They now have the worst offensive line in the NFL, and Wilson has no wide receivers to throw to. The Seahawks are winning because they still have one of the league’s best defenses.

10. Philip Rivers
9. Drew Brees
Great quarterbacks, both in real life and fantasy, who have to shoulder an unrealistic share of the load for their respective teams. Rivers is having one of his best seasons, and he is running out of years where he can produce at this kind of level, but the Chargers are committing the cardinal sin of wasting an elite quarterback’s prime years, thanks to a horrendous defense and few playmakers on offense. And the Chargers also committed the other cardinal sin of spending a high first round pick on a running back who isn’t a transcendent talent (i.e. Todd Gurley or Adrian Peterson). Melvin Gordon is an afterthought in the offense, and with Keenan Allen gone with injury, the offense is revolving around Danny friggin’ Woodhead and an over-the-hill Antonio Gates off steroids. It’s a miracle that Rivers can even keep this team competitive, and it is a real shame the Chargers are wasting his talent right now. Rivers has the type of brash bravado you’d want your quarterback to have, and he is the type of guy who’s not afraid of playing in big games against the best teams.

Same goes for Brees, whose defense just gave up a perfect passer rating to Kirk Cousins. KIRK COUSINS. Brees has to compensate for the Saints’ league-worst defense, and he has to do so with the likes of Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead. If you take out Brees’ 7 TD outburst against the Giants, his numbers look a lot less impressive, but how many quarterbacks would you rather really have than Brees? I don’t care that he’s 36. If you wanted to win right now, there’s only a handful of guys more capable.

8. Derek Carr
This is actually happening. Derek Carr is making the leap. Not the hop… He’s making The Leap. He’s on pace to throw 38 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Even if his pace slows down, Carr is having a breakout year. If you were starting an NFL franchise today, how many quarterbacks would you rather have than Carr? Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Luck… Mariota? Cam? Dalton? Point is, after you name a couple, you get into gray territory. Carr looks that good. He actually has weapons this year. Carr was throwing the ball to Andre Holmes and James Jones last year. Now, he has a legitimate, future perennial Pro Bowler in Amari Cooper, and he has unexpectedly rejuvenated Michael Crabtree’s career. I mentioned how if we had NFL Redzone rankings based on entertainment, the Jags would be somewhere in the top 10. Well, the Raiders would be up there too, maybe in the top 5. Between Carr, Cooper, Crabtree, and Latavius Murray, the Raiders have one of the most explosive offenses in the league.

Everyone wants to compare him to Teddy Bridewater because they were both rookies last year, but that this point, he belongs in the same conversation as Luck. Anyone who disagrees will point out that he hasn’t made the playoffs. OK, his team was horrendous last year. This year, with some legitimate pieces around him, Carr is leading the Raiders at least into playoff contention. If they don’t make the playoffs this year, it’s only a matter of time before they do.

7. Eli Manning
6. Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben should probably be somewhere right after the Brady/Rodgers tier, coming off a career year where he threw 32 TDs and 9 INTs and led his team to the playoffs. But having missed a month with injury, and having a down compared to last year, Roethlisberger slides down a few spots. And for what it’s worth, here is Ben in a somewhat “down” year: 2nd in QBR, 10th in QB rating, and 3rd according to Pro Football Focus. It’s too bad that Le’Veon Bell tore his ACL. He really is one of the league’s most exciting players. But without Bell, how great will it be watching Ben air out 45-50 times in the playoffs? Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant (aka Baby Plaxico, aka Plaxico 10.0) make up the league’s most dynamic wide receiver duo in the league.

Outside of New England, is there a more dangerous team in the AFC? The Bengals are way more complete, but we’ve yet to see Dalton put it together in the playoffs. The Broncos have the league’s best defense and no QB. The Colts have looked horrible all season long and will basically make the playoffs by default. Neither the Bills nor the Jets – the two teams in the driver’s seat for the last spot – are particularly scary. The Steelers, even without Bell, have what they need. A good defense, proven QB with playoff chops, and playmakers. 

How many quarterbacks would you rather have than Eli in a big game? Brady is one. Rodgers and Roethlisberger are honestly toss ups. Last Sunday was one of the highest quality, highest intensity games of the year. That game was in the Giants’ hands. And really, we know the Giants aren’t afraid of the Pats if they were to meet again. Ever since Odell Beckham Jr. came into the league, Eli has been on a tear. Through nine games, he has 21 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and a 96.9 quarterback rating. 

5. Andy Dalton
This seems crazy. What would really be crazy though would be to cling to Dalton’s past and ignoring what he has done so far this year. Monday night’s stinker against the Texans will bring back talk of “Bad Andy” or “Primetime Andy” and to be fair, he did look like the Andy Dalton of the past on Monday Night, but his season as a whole is only matched by a few quarterbacks. For the season, he has 18 TDs and 5 INTs. He has the fourth highest QB rating, the fourth highest QBR rating, Pro Football Focus gives him the fourth highest rating among quarterbacks, and Football Outsiders rates him third.

And the most underrated aspect of Dalton’s rise has to be his hair. Which, by the way, has almost 12,000 followers on Twitter. Everyone knows that part of being a franchise quarterback is about looking and being cool. Brady and Rodgers are both the leaders in clubhouse when it comes to that. Cam passes the test too. The only stud quarterbacks lacking here are Peyton and Brees, but they are so good on the field it doesn’t even matter. But this is a big development! It’s 2015 and Andy Dalton looks like a franchise quarterback!

Now, if only he’d start acting like one. When J.J. Watt called Dalton the Red Rider BB Gun, the last thing anyone wanted was for Dalton to harp on the integrity of the game and how it affects the kids. How about: “Well, let me know when the Texans are .500.”

4. Cam Newton
No quarterback does more with less. Name me someone on that offense besides Greg Olsen. There is no reason for the Panthers to be 9-0. Cam should be right there with Tom Brady in the MVP voting, even if Cam’s stats are the type of quarterback stats that usually warrant MVP talk. Put it this way: If you put any other quarterback on the Panthers, would they still be undefeated? With the exception of Tom Brady, there’s probably no quarterback in the league who’d have the Panthers where Cam has them. If ever, there was a 9-0 team being overlooked, it’s this year’s Panthers. Can you imagine if the Packers were 9-0? Talk about a Brady vs. Rodgers Super Bowl would be shoved down our throats 24/7. There’s more focus on what’s wrong with the Packers and Seahawks than on how good the Cam and the Panthers are.

Cam is the rare instance of a player whose fantasy value is actually a much better indicator of what he brings to the table than conventional evaluations. His QB rating is 21st, behind the likes of Kirk Cousins, Josh McCown, and Brian Hoyer. His QBR is also 21st, behind Jameis Winston and Blake Bortles. Football Outsiders rates him 24th, behind some of the guys I just named.

The Panthers look like a prime candidate to be the team that way overachieves in the regular season and then loses early in the playoffs, but that doesn’t diminish how great Cam has been this year.

3. Aaron Rodgers
2. Carson Palmer
Rodgers is so good that it feels disrespectful to have him third. I mean, we’re talking about last year’s MVP. Let’s give a quick run down of what has happened to some of his weapons this year. Pro Bowl wideout Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in preseason. Other Pro Bowl wideout Randall Cobb has been playing with a hurt shoulder all year. Eddie Lacy got so fat that the team benched him. Davante Adams, who was supposed to break out this year in Nelson’s absence, has been hampered by an ankle sprain. And the team’s second leading receiver is a 31 year old, who has never had 1,000 yard season before. And yet, Aaron Rodgers has thrown 21 touchdowns and three interceptions. That, despite already having played four of the best defenses in the league in Seattle, St. Louis, Denver, and Carolina. Last week, Rodgers threw the ball 61 times and didn’t throw a pick! Palmer gets the slightest nod after the Packers lost to the Lions at home, but it is a toss up.

The Cardinals are 13-2 in Palmer’s last 15 starts. In those games, Palmer has 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Cardinals are second in the NFL in offensive touchdowns per game right now (3.6), right behind the Patriots (3.8). Palmer owns the highest QBR, the second highest QB rating, second highest Football Outsiders rating, and highest Pro Football Focus rating. In other words, he’s playing really, really well. Palmer would have been an MVP candidate last year had he stayed healthy, and he will be one this year. There’s only one quarterback you’d rather have right now than Palmer.

1. Tom Brady
The best player in the NFL. The Patriots look like they might run the table for another 16-0 season. Was there any doubt Brady would lead a game winning drive against the Giants last Sunday? He has the league’s highest passer rating and he’s thrown for the most yards. Somehow, he’s getting better and he’s 38. Even crazier: Everyone kind of expected this. After the DeflateGate controversy all offseason long, when Brady’s four game suspension was lifted in court, everyone knew Brady would be pissed and try to destroy the league. And he has. The MVP is a formality at this point. Cam, Palmer, and Rodgers all make great cases, but it’s Brady’s to lose. The only real question surrounding Brady right now is, when will he ever slow down?

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