Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ranking the NFL's Four Remaining Quarterbacks

By Andy Dougherty (@AndyDougherty10)

The best day of the NFL season is coming up this Sunday. The Green Bay Packers will visit the top-seeded Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game at 3:05. Then at 6:40, the Indianapolis Colts will face off against the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship.

Rodgers vs. Wilson. Brady vs. Luck. Get ready.

In Bob Lobel’s last article, he asked, “Which of the four quarterbacks left would you take?” It is no coincidence that each remaining team has a superstar quarterback, but very few championship weekends have featured matchups quite like this. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson might just be the four most exciting quarterbacks in the league.

For the past seven seasons, Brady, Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have been the best quarterbacks in the NFL. But Manning and Brees have finally begun to show their age (38 and 36, respectively). Brees and the Saints had as easy a road to the playoffs as they could ask for, but they couldn’t beat out the 7-8-1 Panthers for a division title. Peyton Manning failed to lead a star-studded Broncos team to a playoff win, and his future in Denver is now uncertain. Those disappointing performances have left two spaces open on football’s Mount Rushmore.

The Leading Challengers

Tony Romo made his case as an elite quarterback this year, leading the Cowboys to a 12-4 record and a playoff win. His 113.2 passer rating led the NFL and was the 6th best in league history. He posted a stellar 143.6 passer rating against the Packers last week, but unfortunately, people will only remember the controversial incomplete pass to Dez Bryant on 4th down that sealed the Cowboys’ fate. Since Romo became the starting quarterback in Dallas, the Cowboys are now 2-8 in winner-take-all games.

Joe Flacco has earned recognition as well, despite lackluster regular season numbers. His ten postseason wins since 2008 are more than twice as many as any other quarterback in that span, and his seven road playoff wins are an all-time record.

Flacco had a chance to show that he deserved his record-breaking $120.6 million contract on Saturday, and he did not disappoint. His fourth touchdown pass of the game gave the Ravens a 28-14 lead. But a touchdown pass from Julian Edelman to Danny Amendola tied the game, and a Tom Brady pass to Brandon LaFell finished things off. As well as Flacco has played in big moments throughout his career, he will always have a hard time living up to the richest contract in NFL history.

Ben Roethlisberger also had a career year in 2014, including two consecutive games in which he tossed six touchdown passes with no interceptions. But he threw two picks and posted a 79.3 passer rating in a 30-17 loss to the Ravens in the playoffs.

The No-Brainers

There is no question that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are elite NFL quarterbacks. Brady will be playing in his fourth consecutive (and ninth overall) AFC Championship Game on Sunday. Rodgers just won the Pro Football Writers of America MVP award, and he is the overwhelming favorite to win the NFL’s official AP MVP Award for the second time. Both quarterbacks played sensationally in their divisional playoff games to help their teams advance in hard-fought contests.

New Faces on Mount Rushmore

Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson are the NFL’s best young stars. They made noise as soon as they entered the league, both setting numerous rookie records. They haven’t slowed down one bit since then. Wilson led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl last year, and he has won more games in his first three seasons than any quarterback in NFL history. So far, Wilson has the best playoff passer rating (109.6) of all time.

Meanwhile, Luck led the NFL this year with 40 touchdown passes. He has lived up to the hype as the most highly touted prospect since Peyton Manning, and with Sunday’s win, he reassured the Colts that they made the right decision when they let Manning go. Luck and Wilson have both established themselves as elite NFL quarterbacks.

Ranking the Top 4

So now let’s revisit the question that started this off. Between the four remaining quarterbacks, which one would you take? Most teams would be happy with any of them, but let’s start with No. 4.

4. Andrew Luck

Luck is the only one of the remaining quarterbacks who has not yet won the Super Bowl. Like Tony Romo, he put up great numbers in the regular season, but he still needs to prove that he can win deep in the playoffs. Leading the Colts to the second-largest comeback in NFL history in last year’s playoffs was a good start, but the Patriots blew the Colts out in the following game. He will need to take better care of the ball to avoid the same fate this year.

3. Russell Wilson

Wilson has put together great stats in the playoffs and has shown tremendous poise at his age. But the Seahawks have surrounded him with so much talent that he hasn’t been asked to do as much as the other quarterbacks. Many times, the Seahawks have simply ridden the beast, Marshawn Lynch, to victory, and other times, their dominant defense did the trick.

But when asked to, Wilson can do it all. He can throw bombs down the field, and this year he led all NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards, despite primarily being a pocket passer. He limits turnovers and does just about everything the Seahawks need him to.

2. Tom Brady

If Tom Brady wins his next two games, he will solidify his place as the greatest quarterback of all time. He has won more playoff games than any other quarterback in history, and at age 37, he continues to deliver in the clutch. But he is a little bit past his prime, while Rodgers is right in the thick of it.

1. Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the game. His combination of accuracy and velocity is unmatched. He is also a smart decision maker and a capable runner. He outdueled Tom Brady in their showdown at Lambeau Field in November and put up more touchdowns and yards with fewer interceptions throughout the season.

His career playoff passer rating is second only to Wilson’s, and his total career passer rating and touchdown/interception ratio are both far better than anyone else’s in history. If I could take one guy to build a team around, I’m taking Rodgers.

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