The NFL playoffs are almost upon us which means that in all likelihood, the quarterbacks are going to shine. Looking at the dozen signal callers who are set to start, how do the 12 NFL playoff quarterbacks rank?
Connor Cook has never started an NFL game before. Why isn’t he the worst of the group? Where does super rookie Dak Prescott rank? Which Super Bowl winning quarterbacks can we rank Matt Ryan ahead of?
Is Tom Brady really a cut above the rest? With the postseason ready to begin, how do we rank the 12 NFL playoff quarterbacks?
12. Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans
The $72 million man was named the team’s starting quarterback and will get a chance to redeem what was an awful regular season (more on that here).
Now, will that happen?
Let’s not hold our breaths.
In 14 games as Houston’s starter, Osweiler completed less than 60 percent of his passes for 2,704 yards, 14 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a 71.4 rating. Backing up Tom Savage in Week 17, Osweiler wasn’t much better. He completed just 21-of-40 passes for 253 yards with one touchdown, one pick and an 80.5 rating.
Because of his opponent’s quarterback situation (more on that shortly), it’s entirely possible that Osweiler will win on Wild Card weekend. But his season has beyond dismal.
Anyone entering the playoffs with confidence in Osweiler’s abilities has just not been paying attention.
11. Connor Cook, Oakland Raiders
Cook is expected to start and gets a slight edge over Osweiler because we know that the Texans’ quarterback is bad. The Michigan State rookie at least gives us the hope of the great unknown.
— Detroit Spartans (@DetroitSpartans) January 3, 2017
With that said, it’s hard to be too optimistic. Carr didn’t start at all in his rookie season, but did see a good deal of action in Week 17 against the Denver Broncos. There, Cook was less than impressive, completing 14-for-21 passes for 150 yards with one touchdown, one interception and two fumbles.
Of course, if Derek Carr had remained healthy, Oakland’s signal caller would easily be one of the NFL’s five-best postseason quarterbacks. Unfortunately for the Raiders, Carr is not healthy.
Cook may give more reason for hope than Osweiler. He certainly looked better than Matt McGloin, who despite Bill Romanowski’s opinion, did not make the team better than they were with Carr.
We can rank Cook ahead of Osweiler. But after that, it’s a reach.
10. Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins
Moore was not bad in Ryan Tannehill’s stead, completing 63.4 percent of his passes for 674 yards for eight touchdowns, three interceptions, a 106.5 passer rating and a 2-1 record in three starts. The problem?
Two of those three start were against non-playoff teams. The one exception was also the one loss against the Patriots.
Moore is a nice quarterback to have on the roster. He’s easily one of the game’s best backup quarterbacks, and quite frankly, probably better than at least a few NFL starting quarterbacks.
The problem is that, with these two exceptions, none of those quarterbacks are in the playoffs.
Moore is a 32-year-old career backup. More often than not, those are fine quarterbacks to have on the roster. But when you’re talking about the playoffs, you’re looking for a quarterback who can beat the best that the NFL has to offer and win a Super Bowl.
It’s awfully hard to see Moore being that guy.
9. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Through 12 games of the 2016 season, Stafford was stellar. One could have even called him an MVP candidate.
But over the season’s final four games, Detroit’s quarterback hit a wall and hit it hard.
Avert your eyes, Lions fans, Matthew Stafford seemingly going in the wrong direction. pic.twitter.com/uSFnI6nNBF
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) January 4, 2017
That downfall in production has coincided with a finger injury, which you can read about here.
The other problem is that while Stafford has thrown for more yards and for a higher percentage on the road, his other numbers are far worse away from Ford Field. At home, he had 13 touchdowns against only four interceptions and a 96.6 passer rating. On the road, Stafford had only 11 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 90.5 rating.
Given that he’s not going to be playing in Detroit during the playoffs, that’s a problem.
Stafford has a big arm and can make the tough passes. But given how the season is trending, it’s hard to feel too confident about Stafford heading into the postseason.
8. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
The conventional wisdom about Smith has always been that he won’t win many games with his arm, but he won’t lose them either.
But Smith has stellar playoff statistics. In five starts, he has a fairly bland 60.2 completion percentage, but has thrown for 1,309 yards with 11 touchdowns and only one interception.
Unfortunately, it’s only led to a 2-3 record.
Smith will make some mistakes, but is generally dependable. With a bye week, a strong defense and the explosive big play ability of Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs can absolutely go on a deep playoff run. But if that happens, it will resemble what the Broncos did a season ago. Smith will have to make a few passes, but his primary job will be keeping the team above water.
Smith can win a Super Bowl. But it’s hard to imagine Kansas City winning the Super Bowl because of Smith.
7. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Prescott didn’t simply keep the Cowboys afloat in the absence of Tony Romo while those around him took the team to a 13-3 record. No, the Mississippi State rookie was good.
In fact, Prescott was historically good.
Dak Prescott is the 2nd player (1st rookie) in NFL history to have 3,500+ pass yards & fewer than 5 INT in a season (Tom Brady, 2010 & 2016) pic.twitter.com/xjuzuc13xJ
— Randall Liu (@RLiuCBS) January 2, 2017
Now, you may be asking yourself a question. With numbers like that, how can Prescott not be higher?
Well, Prescott is a rookie. Rookie quarterbacks often go through growing pains in their first runs through the playoffs. So even though he’s shown tons of promise, we have to be a little skeptical.
We especially have to be skeptical when considering the remaining postseason quarterbacks.
Every other quarterback remaining fits into one of three categories.
- A 2016 NFL MVP candidate.
- A Super Bowl winning quarterback.
Following the Super Bowl, we may look back at this list and realize that Prescott was grossly underrated. But for now, he slots in at No. 7.
6. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Meet the hardest quarterback on the list to rank.
We could easily have Stafford, Smith and Prescott ahead of Manning. While he had ample weapons and threw for over 4,000 yards in 2016, New York’s quarterback also had a rather bland 26-to-16 touchdown to interception ratio and an 86.0 passer rating.
That’s pretty darn ordinary. Maybe even bad.
The problem is that Manning has twice taken the Giants into Lambeau Field and won a playoff game. As it happens, his task on Wild Card weekend will be to go into Lambeau Field and win a playoff game. He’s also twice beaten Tom Brady in a Super Bowl, which could very well be the charge of whatever quarterback wins the NFC Championship this year.
Nothing would be surprising with Manning.
Manning could absolutely go into Lambeau Field, outperform Aaron Rodgers and win his third Super Bowl MVP Award come February 5.
He could just as easily throw 3-4 picks in Green Bay and end up on the wrong side of a 31-6 drubbing.
We’ll find out soon enough. Heading into the playoffs, though, a middle of the road ranking is appropriate.
5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Roethlisberger is not unlike Manning. He can be the main reason that Pittsburgh wins a Super Bowl or the primary reason the team’s stay in the playoffs is short.
Big Ben’s main positive is his track record. During the season, he told teammates to “follow me,” and did so with good reason.
He’s won two Super Bowls and been to three. Roethlisberger has also proven that he can win at home, on the road, outdoors in terrible weather or in a climate-controlled dome. To reach the Super Bowl, the Steelers will certainly need to win in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, then likely in New England — three cold weather environments. So, Big Ben’s track record is certainly an asset.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t terribly sharp down the stretch in 2016. Over his final eight games, Roethlisberger completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 2,134 yards, 13 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 92.4 rating. The numbers aren’t terrible, but it’s also been fairly clear that he’s not healthy. Roethlisberger certainly isn’t a classic mobile quarterback, but he does move around in the pocket a lot. When going against a team that can pressure him, will he be able to do that?
Roethlisberger has a great track record. With guys like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, he has tremendous weapons, as well. Heading into the playoffs, the sensible feelings on Big Ben are somewhere between excitedly pessimistic and cautiously optimistic.
4. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson has changed a lot as a quarterback throughout his career. In his first few years, he handed the ball a lot to Marshawn Lynch, rode a great defense and used his elusiveness to make a few big plays per game.
In the years since, he’s taken on a greater role, throwing the ball a lot more.
One thing that Wilson has always done, though, is win.
He’s won at least one playoff game in each of his first four years and is 4-0 in postseason games in Seattle. That bodes well for the Seahawks, who will open the playoffs at home.
Unfortunately for Wilson, a Super Bowl trip will likely require two road victories. During the regular season, he completed a lower percentage of his passes for fewer yards and less touchdowns on the road compared to at home. Wilson also tallied a 3-4-1 record with eight touchdowns compared to eight interceptions away from CenturyLink.
He certainly belongs in the top four, But this year, the top three is a hard group to crack. Wilson doesn’t quite do that.
3. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
How can a quarterback with a 1-4 postseason record possibly rank ahead of three signal callers who have won a combined five Super Bowls and seven conference championships?
His regular season numbers were just overwhelming.
Ryan was good in all settings throughout 2016. In seven games outdoors, he completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,123 yards, 17 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 115.3 passer rating.
During nine games in domes, he was even more lethal. Indoors, Atlanta’s signal caller completed 71.9 percent of his passes for 2,821 yards, 21 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 118.5 rating.
He’ll start the postseason at home in a domed stadium. Assuming the Falcons win that game, the NFC Championship Game will either be in Atlanta or Dallas, another domed stadium. Then, the Super Bowl is in Houston which also happens to be a dome.
If the Seahawks were seeded second and the Falcons third, Wilson and Ryan may be flipped. But given the situation that exists, Ryan is the NFL’s third-best quarterback heading into the postseason.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers thought that the Packers could run the “table” — and they did. Green Bay finished the year at 6-0 to win the NFC North.
How did that happen, though?
Of course, football is a team game, but Rodgers’ play over the last six games was extraordinary.
The Packers’ quarterback completed 71 percent of his passes for 1,667 yards, 15 touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 121 passer rating.
Rodgers is bound for the Hall of Fame. He’s a two-time MVP and won the Super Bowl playing in Wild Card weekend in 2010. Much like his team, Green Bay’s quarterback enters the playoff on an incredible hot streak.
Frankly, given the run Rodgers is on, only a special quarterback can be ranked ahead of him entering the playoffs.
As luck would have it, the only man we can put ahead of Rodgers is indeed a special quarterback.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Some fantastic quarterbacks reside on this list, but the difference between Brady and the rest of them is vast. Steve Smith, who lost to Brady in a Super Bowl, recently said that Brady “step above,” Rodgers, which you can read about here.
Truthfully, in the Super Bowl era, Joe Montana is the only quarterback that could possibly be ahead of Brady on this list. Montana isn’t playing anymore.
Brady truthfully combines the best of all worlds. He was stellar in 2016, completing 67.4 percent of his passes for 3,554 yards, for 28 touchdowns, two interceptions, a 112.2 passer rating and an 11-1 record.
Tom Brady threw 2 INTs in 12 games. 41 times this season a QB threw at least 2 INTs.. in a single quarter.
— trey wingo (@wingoz) January 2, 2017
For his career, Brady’s four Super Bowl wins are equaled by only Montana and Terry Bradshaw. While he’s certainly had some elite receiving options over the years, Brady has found ways to put points up even without the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
We’d feel good entering a big game with plenty of these quarterbacks. But when it boils down to it, none are quite like Brady.