I do this every year. Or some variation. The point of the post is that you need quarterbacks to win in the NFL. You can go back and look at the last ten Super Bowl teams and only Brad Johnson stands out as a bit of an anomaly. The whole, “you can win a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer,” discussion loses merit every year. A decent quarterback can move you along, a great defense can win conferences, but when all is said and done the team with the trophy usually has one of the four or five best QBs in the league. It’s the way Goodell wants it.
So, here’s a ranking of the 12 playoff QBs. Taking into account past experience, play this year, and the face test. But, we’re only talking about the next 5 weeks. It doesn’t matter that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are a decade older than some of these guys. Bottom line, if every team in the playoffs gave up their QB, and then there was a draft to re-assign the players, this is the order they SHOULD go in.
Some big names missing out this year (Eli, Big Ben, Brees–that’ 5 Super Bowls) so we’ll see how it shakes out…
12. Christian Ponder. By far the easiest choice. To illustrate how little the Vikings use Ponder, he has 3 games this year where he’s thrown for under 100 yards and the Vikings are 2-1 in those games. The formula for winning in Minnesota is to keep Ponder away from the ball. His stats should lead the Adrian Peterson MVP discussion. Guy is coming off his best game of the season, but you can’t win a Super Bowl with Christian Ponder.
11. Joe Flacco. Flacco has had his chances. This was his 5th season in the league. He’s 5-4 in nine playoff starts, but has never gotten past the AFC championship game. He’s been cast in the game manager mold, and hasn’t shown the ability to raise his game as the Raven’s vaunted defense declines. His last four seasons have been virtually identical. We’ve come to a conclusion on Flacco. He’s not a game changer.
10. Colin Kaepernick. I went back and forth on Flacco and Kaepernick. It’s hard to take a guy with seven career starts over someone with five playoff wins, but I’ll defer to Harbaugh in this case. He essentially made the Flacco vs. Kapernick decision by benching Alex Smith. My hesitation with Kaepernick is that he’s not really asked to win games, he’s asked to be dynamic. I don’t like SF’s chances in the end, but his added dimension puts him ahead of Flacco.
9. Matt Schaub. Shaub’s spent six years in Houston. At some point, he needs to take part of the blame for the 8-8 marathon. And, even with the hot start this year, Houston’s slow finish and Schaub’s play in particular is a bit of a concern. The numbers are there. Another 4,000 yd season, but if you ask me what the biggest win of Schaub’s career is, I wouldn’t have any idea where to start. At 31, he could be on his way to being the rich man’s Jeff George.
8. Russell Wilson. I’ve underestimated Wilson several times this year and he and the Seahawks have burnt me repeatedly. Especially in the 2nd half of the season, Wilson’s numbers have been incredible. Part of me, the part called “spite,” still looks at Wilson as a 1-hit wonder possibility, but he’s proven to be a leader and to have poise in tight situations. But, with no post-season experience and given the rest of the list, I can’t go higher than #8 for Wilson. I’ll be embarrassed or vindicated over the next two weeks.
7. Andy Dalton. Dalton quietly had a strong season. After a surprising rookie year, Dalton improved across the board in 2012. 3.600 yards, 27 TDs, a QB rating near 90–those were borderline MVP type numbers in the early 90s. And for those saying all Dalton does is throw the ball up to A.J. Green, what has Larry Fitzgerald done for the 20 QBs the Cardinals have rotated through since Warner? The big knock against the Crimson Commander? He was absolutely awful in the playoffs last season against Houston. I think he lost to TJ Yates. Is that right?
6. Andrew Luck. Luck revived the career of Reggie Wayne, one of the least probable story lines of 2012. The rookie Colts QB blew past 4,000 yards, engineered 4th quarter comebacks, and gave the organization an instant identity. I think it’s overlooked sometimes how much having a name at quarterback can help a team. No one stands up in a locker room and says, “We’ve got Ryan Fitzpatrick!” Luck immediately established himself as that type of guy. He’s got no playoff experience, and is a little careless with the ball at times, but as the Colts get better around him, Luck should only climb this list.
5. Matt Ryan. I contemplated putting Matt Ryan much lower on the list. He’s got an embarrassment of riches. We’re in his fifth season and he’s yet to win a playoff game, posting a grisly 0-3 mark. His game against the Giants last season, a 24-2 loss (not a typo), was especially concerning. But despite that, Ryan showed some real improvement this year. Career highs in completion %, yards, TDs, rating and he led the Falcons to the best record in the league. Given that, we’ll call this Matt Ryan’s last chance to turn a corner.
4. RG3. The first time I really watched RG3 play I was fascinated by his accuracy. Sure, he was picking apart the Eagles, but I’ve never seen a strong armed QB develop accuracy. People fall in love with a great deep ball, but will Vick or Flacco ever be accurate enough to really succeed? RG3 is already there. And, he’s a complete nightmare to defend. Some people will argue that Alfred Morris helped Griffin a great deal this year, but I think the opposite is true. On every running play the defense has to make sure RG3 still doesn’t have the ball for a split second. He’s got incredible ball fake skills, and might have the worst team around him on offense of any playoff team. Riding six straight wins, I’m expecting big things.
3. Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was slightly less spectacular this year, but that’s like saying one Kate Upton bikini shot was slightly less spectacular than another. It’s still Kate Upton. And, Green Bay can never get a running game together, heaping everything on Rodgers. Rodgers has better wheels than #1 and #2 on this list, but he seems to be more vulnerable to the blitz. And, his legs might also contribute to the fact that he’s routinely sacked far more often than Brady or Manning. Rodgers would be the long-term choice, but considering his home loss to NY last year, he’s #3 for the next month.
2. Tom Brady. Just another 34 TD/8 INT season for Brady. This year he’s been saddled with having to compensate for a terrible pass defense, and the loss of Gronk, but he still threw for 4,800 yards and secured the Patriots another 1st round bye. Brady still appears to have the intensity he had in his prime as well, but is part of that because the Patriots haven’t reached the ultimate goal since 2004? Brady is 7-6 in the post-season since beating the Eagles in the Super Bowl and has had some uncharacteristically ugly games (Ravens 2009, 2011, Denver 2005, SD 2006). And, in his last two Super Bowls the Patriots have managed a combined 31 points. I’m nitpicking here.
1. Peyton Manning. Take away Manning’s miserable week 2 and he was nearly flawless this year. The Broncos were beaten by New England and Brady, but Manning had a brilliant game and the Broncos haven’t loss since. Eleven straight wins and a lot of the pressure has been on Peyton without Denver’s signature running game in place. Peyton is just 2-4 in his last six playoff starts (since winning his Super Bowl), but I’m willing to attribute some of that to the Colts crumbling around him. I just feel like Peyton has something to prove this year, gives him that extra intangible to head the list. Maybe a Brady/Manning AFC title game will settle this once and for all.