With the 2012 playoffs now in the books, we decided to update the quarterback rankings we put together near the end of the regular season. As was the case in December, we ranked the current starting quarterbacks based using a series of metrics, including stats, win-loss record, durability, consistency, potential ceiling, contract situation, big-game performance and intangibles. It’s important to remember that while overall resume figures into the equation (guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees get points here), it’s more about where they currently rank in relation to their fellow signal-callers based on the 2012 season (which helps guys like Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick). With that understood, here’s our list.
1. Joe Flacco, Baltimore -- The Ravens signal-caller had a postseason for the ages, which allowed him to make the biggest jump in our overall countdown. Grantland’s Bill Barnwell argues here that Flacco could have had one of the finest playoff stretches of any quarterback in NFL history. In his four postseason games, he was 73-of-126 (57.9 percent) for 1,140 passing yards with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. As Barnwell notes, only one other player since the merger has produced a touchdown-to-interception ratio equal to or better than that in the playoffs: Joe Montana.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers -- Say what you will about Green Bay’s performance in the postseason against San Francisco, it wasn’t Rodgers’ fault. The quarterback remains at the top of his game, finishing the regular season with a 67 percent completion rate, 4,295 yards, 39 touchdowns and eight picks, to go along with a league-best passer rating of 108. As we noted at the end of the regular season, Rodgers finished with more than 3,900 yards and 30 touchdowns, and had a completion percentage of 65 percent or better while throwing fewer than 10 interceptions for the third time in the last four seasons. Not even Tom Brady can say that.
3. Tom Brady, Patriots -- While he still wins more than he loses against the Ravens, there’s no denying the fact that Baltimore is the one team he continues to struggle against, and that was fully evident in the AFC title game. That being said, the 63 percent completion percentage (his lowest for a full season since 2006), 4,827 passing yards, 34 touchdowns and eight picks this season is still better than 95 percent of the quarterbacks on this list, which means he’s not any lower than No. 3.
4. Matt Ryan, Falcons -- Like Rodgers, you can’t blame Ryan for his team’s playoff loss to San Francisco. In a pivotal postseason for the Boston College product, even though his team fell short of the Super Bowl, Ryan asserted himself as a true leader, and has apparently done enough to establish himself as a Top 5 quarterback -- maybe the best starter in the league at this point who doesn’t have a ring. He tied Peyton Manning when it came to completion percentage, finishing with an astounding 68.6 rate. Toss in the 4,719 passing yards and 32 touchdowns, and he deserves a place at the table. (Not crazy about the 14 picks, however.)
5. Peyton Manning, Broncos -- It was hard not to notice the fact that the interception he threw in overtime against the Ravens looked an awful lot like the pick Brett Favre threw in the 2009 NFC title game against the Saints -- across his body into a bad area. He still had an impressive season (68.6 completion percentage, 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and 11 picks), but watching Manning in Denver reminds me of Montana in Kansas City in that the window is perilously small. If the Broncos don’t cash in next season, it could be time to move on. (If they stay healthy, there’s no reason to think that Denver isn’t in the thick of it next season -- based on how things ended up in 2012, they have the easiest strength of schedule in 2013. Broncos opponents went a combine 110-146-0 for a winning percentage of .430.)
6. Drew Brees, Saints -- The New Orleans quarterback missed out on the postseason, but still gets a spot at No. 6 as far as we’re concerned because of an excellent regular-season performance. He was the one who held the whole thing together in New Orleans this year. He led the league with 5,177 yards and 43 touchdowns, and he completed 63 percent of his passes, good enough for a spot in the lower levels of our Top 10. (His 19 picks probably knocked him down a peg, for what it’s worth.)
7. Colin Kaepernick, Niners -- It’s unfair to judge him solely on his passing numbers because he wasn’t the QB for the entire season, and throwing the ball is only part of his game. But he finished with a 62.4 percent completion rate, to go along with 1,814 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and three picks, not bad considering the offense he was working in and the skill set he brought to the field. We took some heat after putting him ninth on our list at the end of the regular season, but his playoff experience allows him to make a big leap up our board. As is the case with the rest of the youngsters who dazzled in their first season as starters, the onus is now on them to be able to make the adjustments to the new looks that opposing teams will now make when it comes to defending them.
8. Russell Wilson, Seahawks -- Great season for a rookie -- 65.6 percent of his passes were completed, and he had 3,265 passing yards and an impressive touchdown to interception ratio of 26:10 -- and a very good postseason as well for the kid out of Wisconsin. As is the case with Kaepernick, Wilson and Griffin over the next few seasons and see whether or not their style is sustainable, or if they’re forced to operate more in the pocket. Teams have a read of who they are and what they can do -- it will be up to them to make adjustments. (Think of them as a talented young pitcher who had no problems with the lineup the first time through. Now, they know exactly who they are.) Just a thought ... do the Seahawks try and deal backup Matt Flynn this offseason?
9. Robert Griffin III, Redskins -- It was an ugly end to a remarkable season for Griffin, who has an uncertain road ahead because of a knee injury he sustained in the postseason. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the league’s most exciting players to watch -- if he can sustain the same level of ball security he showed this past year as a rookie and heal up, there’s no reason to think he can’t get even better going forward. As was the case for most of the rookie QBs, he posted amazing numbers for a first-year QB: 65.5 completion rate, 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions. (For all the fireworks he provides, the most impressive thing about him is how he managed to steer clear of turnovers -- in 393 pass attempts, he only threw five interceptions.)
10. Eli Manning, Giants -- It was impossible to get a read on the Giants this season as a whole, and that included Manning, who was all over the place at times. In the end, he finished with a pretty fair stat line: 59.9 percent of his passes were completed, and he ended up with 3,948 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 15 picks. Not bad, but certainly not the kind of numbers Giants’ fans have gotten used to the last couple of years. (His completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns were the worst he’s put up since 2008.)
11. Andrew Luck, Colts -- We have Luck rated a little lower than the rest of his younger counterparts because of his turnover issues (he had as many interceptions -- 18 -- as Mark Sanchez) and completion percentage (54). But there’s also the fact that Luck had the fifth-most pass attempts in the league (627, more than any of the other rookies), so we’ll give him a bit of a pass there. But based on his performance, mechanics and those around him, there’s little reason to think that he won’t be able to clear those up as time goes on. (Could he be affected with the loss of Bruce Arians?) He and the rest of the Colts were very impressive in the regular-season finale -- even though they didn’t have anything technically to play for, they still went out and knocked off the Texans, earning a thank you from New England fans everywhere, as that allowed the Patriots to move up and take the No. 2 spot.
12. Matt Schaub, Texans -- Bah. If you want to talk about a guy whose stock has bottomed out, Schaub’s your guy. He started strong, but appeared to struggle down the stretch and into the playoffs, where he proved incapable once again of beating New England. After a rough finish to the 2012 season where he finished with a 64.3 completion rate, 4,008 passing yards and a 22:12 TD to interception rate, it will be interesting to see how/if he rebounds in 2013.
13. Ben Roethlsberger, Steelers -- Like Manning and the Giants, it was a bit of an uneven year for Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Part of that was due to injury and part was due to another wobbly performance from the Pittsburgh offensive line, but there was something a little off about Roethlisberger’s season. (63.3 percent completion rate, 3,265 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and eight picks.) Again, like Manning, his resume leads you to believe he’ll be able to bounce back.
14. Andy Dalton, Bengals -- Who has two thumbs and said Dalton was the best quarterback in the AFC North? This guy! (Points two thumbs at himself.) Yeah, probably not my finest hour, considering his performance in the playoff loss to Houston and Flacco’s playoff run. Still better than Brandon Weeden, though, as he finished with 62.3 of his passes completed to go along with 3,669 yards, 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
15. Tony Romo, Cowboys -- At this point in his career, you just of have to sit back and understand that Romo is the kind of quarterback who can simultaneously keep both teams in the game at the same time. He can be dominant at times (he had nine games where he threw for more than 300 yards, and seven games where he had a completion percentage better than 70), but he also had three games last season where he threw at least three interceptions, including a five-pick game against the Bears. In the end, it leave an impressive stat line -- a 65.6 completion rate, 4,903 passing yards and 28 touchdowns -- but also 19 interceptions, tying him with Brees for most among all starters.
16. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers -- As we said last month, Freeman certainly started strong, but faded down the stretch. (He ended with a 54.8 completion rate, 4,065 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 17 picks.) Not sure if that’s simply a case of a young guy running out of gas at the end of the season or a symptom of something more distressing (consistency), but he showed enough over the first half of the season to warrant a spot at the midpoint on this list. He needs to show more and continue to improve over the 2013 season if Tampa Bay is to make any noise next season.
17. Sam Bradford, Rams -- Bradford is a really good young quarterback, but after three seasons in the league, he certainly doesn’t appear to be the kind of quarterback who can put a team on his shoulders and take them to the next level, particularly in the suddenly ultra-competitive NFC West. (In my opinion, as a first-round pick, that’s part of the job.) He completed 59.5 percent of his throws this year, and had 3,702 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. All very nice, but when you think of the great young quarterbacks in the game, Bradford’s name is rarely mentioned.
18. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins -- There’s a lot to like about Tannehill (well, other than his occasional penchant for throwing a bad ball -- he had 12 touchdowns and 13 picks), and while he’s going to be overshadowed by the rest of the young quarterbacks, he’s in a very good situation that should get better, as long as the Miami ownership doesn’t muck it up. The Dolphins enter the offseason with a ridiculous amount of money under the cap -- if they go out and get Tannehill some more offensive options, there’s no reason to think that Miami couldn’t think about a .500 record in 2013. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but considering the state of football in South Florida the last few years, that should be enough for a parade.
19. Carson Palmer, Raiders -- By our usual metric, Palmer had a decent season -- he completed more than 60 percent of his throws (61.1), threw for more than 4,000 yards (4,018) and came close to a 2:1 TD-to-interception ratio (22:14). It’s good enough to get him to the middle of the pack in our rankings.
20. Cam Newton, Panthers -- While he’s still one of the better young quarterbacks in the league, the Griffin-Kaepernick-Wilson-Luck group should look at the missteps that Newton faced this year and learn from them. After a great rookie year, Newton regressed slightly in 2012 as the league started to figure him out. (To his credit, he did cut way back on his interceptions, going from 17 to 12. However, his completion percentage dipped from 60 to 57 percent, and his passing yards and touchdowns also dropped a touch.) Now, at the end of his second season, it’s on Newton to make his own adjustments once again. There’s still room for greatness there, however. (It won’t be easy for Newton -- the Panthers have the hardest 2013 strength of schedule, based on how things ended up in 2012.)
21. Matthew Stafford, Lions -- Even though he has Megatron to help make him look good, he and the rest of the Lions regressed over the course of the 2012 season. The quarterback ended up completing 59.8 percent of his passes and throwing for 4,967 yards, but 20 touchdowns and 17 picks are not the kind of numbers you want to see from an elite young quarterback. The quarterback gets too much of the credit and too much of the blame, but for a team with this kind of talent on both sides of the ball to finish 4-12 is just a shame, and a part of that is on the quarterback. (One thing about Stafford -- he needs more of an established running game to help him out. I understand that he has Johnson and he should throw to him as often as possible, but there’s no reason that he should lead the league in pass attempts by 57. He threw the ball 57 more times than Brees and 90 times more than Brady. To paraphrase Jim Calhoun, get some balance and come back and see me.)
22. Jay Cutler, Bears -- Using the same metric we used to define Palmer as having a successful season, Cutler managed to fall short, coming away with a 58.8 completion rate and 3,033 passing yards, to go along with 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. (Like Roethlisberger, the struggles can be partially attributed to a shaky offensive line.) I’m going to be fascinated to see what he can accomplish with Marc Trestman as the new Chicago head coach -- known as something of a quarterbacking guru, if anyone can set Cutler up for success, it could be someone like Trestman.
23. Philip Rivers, Chargers -- Everything I said about Cutler goes double for Rivers and his new situation in San Diego -- an underachieving but undeniably talented signal-caller who has been around for a few years gets a new, quarterback-friendly coach and a chance to start over again. Rivers will get an opportunity to work with Mike McCoy, who comes to the Chargers with a rep as a quarterback-friendly coach. It could be a good mix for Rivers, who has struggled the last two seasons in part because of a shaky offensive line. (Rivers was sacked 49 times and committed 22 turnovers, giving him 47 turnovers in two seasons.) Things could set up nicely for the Chargers, however, as they have the second-easiest 2013 strength of schedule when it comes to how things wrapped up in 2012.
24. Nick Foles/Michael Vick, Eagles -- We had Foles in this spot at the end of the year, but we haven’t necessarily ruled out a return to Philly for Vick as a starter. Vick had his deal re-done his deal and is back with the Eagles. New coach Chip Kelly has made his bones in college as an offensive mastermind, and it would certainly be intriguing to see what he could do with Vick. That’s why we’ve altered our entry from December and bumped the Eagles up the list.
25. Chad Henne, Jaguars -- Henne did a really nice job making the best of a bad situation down the stretch last season as he led Jacksonville to solid performances against the Texans and Patriots, but it appears that the Jags are going to go back to Blaine Gabbert. Good luck with that.
26. Christian Ponder, Vikings -- “A man’s got to know his limitations,” said Dirty Harry, and Ponder seems cool with that. He ended the season with a 52 percent completion rate and 2,935 passing yards, to go along with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He knows it would be crazy for him to throw the ball more often than he does because he has Purple Jesus behind him, which makes him a smart guy. He got a bump in the eyes of the public when he was unable to go in the playoff loss to the Packers and Joe Webb replaced him. As long as Joe Webb is the alternative, Ponder has to feel pretty good about his chances to retain the starting spot with Minnesota, particularly when your prime directive is to not screwup the handoff.
27. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills -- Every time you think Fitzpatrick has a shot at breaking through and posting some better-than-average numbers over an extended stretch, something bad happens. With a new coach -- Doug Marrone, the former offensive coordinator in New Orleans who recently served as head coach at Syracuse -- he has a fresh start. Only problem is that word on the street is that Marrone might be targeting former Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib to replace Fitzpatrick. That would be bad news for Fitz, who went to Harvard. (You know he went to Harvard, right? And that Jerome Bettis is from Detroit?)
28. Brandon Weeden, Browns -- The 29-year-old passed for 3,385 yards but had just a 57 percent completion rate Cleveland’s West Coast system. He had 14 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and his 72.6 rating was 29th among the league’s 32 starters. Like a lot of the younger quarterbacks on this list, Weeden has a chance for a fresh start with a new coach in Rob Chudzinski, and a new offensive coordinator in Norv Turner. Of course, like Fitzpatrick, a new coach might not be such a hot idea around the Weeden household -- Chudzinski wouldn’t commit to Weeden as his full-time starter in 2013.
29. Jake Locker, Titans -- Probably too low, but in our eyes, nothing has changed since December when it comes to Locker. He’s a nice quarterback (56.4 completion rate, 2,176 yards, 10 TDs, 11 INTs in 2012) for a middle-of-the-road to below-average team, but likely never anything more than that. He should get a nice boost from the return of Chris Johnson, if the running back is healthy. (Does Tennessee bring back veteran backup Matt Hasselbeck, who’s due $5.5 million in 2013?)
30. Chiefs -- There’s some hope here, as new coach Andy Reid is a quarterback-friendly coach who should be able to turn the Kansas City offense around in pretty short order, even if the Chiefs lose Dwayne Bowe or left tackle Branden Albert. If they take Geno Smith first overall -- as some believe they will -- it will be a nice starting point for the Kansas City offense, particularly considering how bad things got over the last year.
31. Cardinals -- Bruce Arians comes to the desert with a rep as someone who can develop quarterbacks. Problem is there’s really not much on the roster he can work with. It’d be nice to see Arizona give a chance to former Patriots backup Brian Hoyer, a nice guy who made his bones working with Tom Brady over the last few seasons.
32. Jets -- Not much more to be said about the situation here. Presumably you can’t do much about it, other than cut Tim Tebow. Sanchez’s contract makes him pretty much untradeable, while it’s clear that, based on what he did at the end of the season, Greg McElroy isn’t quite ready yet. I’m interested in seeing where new OC Marty Mornhinweg does with the position, regardless of who he ends up with at quarterback.