I got an e-mail from reader Ross today, asking me to help settle an argument he was having with some friends.
They were trying to determine who the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL are. Specifically, whether Eli Manning fits into that group and whether he would be ranked ahead or behind of Michael Vick.
I gave Ross my take and figured this would make for a fun blog post on the day before the NFL might be shutting down.
Let's first clarify the criteria, as described by Ross: Going into 2011, which quarterback would you want to have lead your team in order to win the Super Bowl next season?
That's simple enough. It means age isn't a huge factor because we're only talking about one season. It also means this is not simply a list of which quarterbacks have the most impressive resumes. The past should be used as a guide, but these are not rankings of who has the best career stats or the most Super Bowl rings right now.
I should also be clear that I generally stay away from comments like He's never won a Super Bowl! I'm of the belief that football is the ultimate team sport, and while quarterbacks are important, so are supporting casts, coaches, defenses, injuries, etc. In other words, there are a lot of factors to winning or not winning a Super Bowl.
Without further ado, here's what I came up with as my top 10. Feel free to rip me in the comments below and offer your take on where I went wrong (as if you need any encouragement):
1. Aaron Rodgers
Explanation: Is it true that my opinion is probably affected by Rodgers' performance being the freshest in my mind? Sure. But he has thrown 86 touchdowns in the last three seasons and raised his level of play when it mattered. In five postseason starts, Rodgers has completed 67.8 percent of his passes while tossing 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. He's the complete package: smart, athletic and accurate. Those things put him atop the list.
2. Tom Brady
Explanation: He just turned in one of the greatest regular seasons a quarterback's ever had, throwing for 36 touchdowns and four interceptions. Think about that. Brady was picked off just once every 123 attempts in 2010. And he's thrown 114 touchdowns in his last 49 starts. Brady has not led the Patriots to a playoff win since the 2007 AFC championship game, but he's still got three rings.
3. Peyton Manning
Explanation: His 91.9 QB rating in 2010 was Manning's lowest mark in eight seasons. His 6.9 yards per attempt were the lowest since Manning's rookie season. And he was picked off 15 times in his last nine regular-season starts. Still, it would surprise no one if Manning put together the best season of anyone in this group in 2011 and led the Colts to a Super Bowl.
4. Drew Brees
Explanation: A year ago, he might have been No. 1. Such is the nature of lists like this one. Brees' 22 interceptions in 2010 were a career worst and second-most in the NFL. Brees was not to blame for the playoff loss to Seattle, as he threw for 404 yards and led New Orleans to 36 points. He led the NFL, completing 68.1 percent of his passes in 2010, and Brees has completed 65 percent or better in each of his last four seasons. He's thrown 101 touchdowns since the start of the 2008 season.
5. Ben Roethlisberger
Explanation: He turns 29 today, has been to three Super Bowls and has won two of them. Roethlisberger is perhaps the most difficult quarterback in the league to bring down and can demoralize defenses by buying time and hitting on plays downfield. His 8.23 yards per attempt ranked third in the league, and no one had a better fourth-quarter QB rating (110.3).
6. Philip Rivers
Explanation: The Chargers finished just 9-7 and missed out on the playoffs, but it's tough to blame Rivers for that. He's strung together three straight seasons of QB ratings over 100. And Rivers is arguably the best big-play quarterback in the NFL, having led the league in yards per attempt in each of the past three seasons. No one had more completions of 25 yards or more (43) than Rivers in 2010.
Explanation: In his first year as the Eagles' starter, Vick set career highs in completion percentage (62.6), passing yards (3,018), touchdowns (21), yards per attempt (8.1) and QB rating (100.2). His fourth-quarter QB rating of 106.8 was better than everyone on this list except for Roethlisberger. People point to his troubles against the blitz later in the season, but Vick completed 7 of 13 attempts for 144 yards when Green Bay blitzed hiim in the playoffs. What cost him was turnovers. Vick went without an interception in his first six starts, but was picked off seven times in his last six. As a runner, he averaged 6.76 yards per carry and had 27 carries of 10 yards or more.
8. Joe Flacco
Explanation: He's just 26 and has improved in passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per attempt and QB rating in each of his three seasons as a starter. Flacco's playoff numbers aren't great, but he played well in the Ravens' road win against the Chiefs and didn't get much help from his receivers in their playoff loss to the Steelers.
9. Matt Ryan
Explanation: He also took a leap last season, setting career highs in completion percentage (62.5), passing yards, (3,705), touchdowns (28) and QB rating (91.0) as the Falcons won an NFC-best 13 wins. Unlike many of the other guys on this list, Ryan and the Falcons did not have a big-play offense. His 6.49 yards per attempt ranked 27th in the NFL, and Ryan did not rank among the top 20 QBs in big plays of 25 yards or more. He's been picked off four times in two career playoff starts.
10. Eli Manning
Explanation: He's one of six players on this list with a Super Bowl ring, but I don't think Manning would provide a better chance to win a title in 2011 than the nine QBs listed ahead of him. He led the league (and set a career high) with 25 interceptions in 2010. That's the third-highest mark in the NFL since 2002. He still has the ability to play at a high level and was behind only Rodgers and Rivers in pass plays of 25 yards or more (35), but Manning's turnovers knock him down the list.
Left off (in no particular order): Matt Schaub, Matt Cassel, Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Josh Freeman, Mass Hasselbeck, Sam Bradford.
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