Ranking the 32 Best Quarterbacks in the National Football League

Bryn Swartz@eaglescentralSenior Writer IIIFebruary 12, 2013

Ranking the 32 Best Quarterbacks in the National Football League

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    Ranking the quarterbacks in the National Football League is easily one of the most difficult (and controversial) things to do. There are just so many factors to weigh in.

    Did the quarterback succeed because he was put in a system designed to maximize his skill set? Has his coach helped him or hurt him? What about the rest of his supporting cast: the running game, the receivers, the offensive line, and the defense? Is his division difficult?

    How long has he been a good quarterback? Was his recent success a fluke or a continued pattern? Does he win in the postseason because he's asked to become a game manager or because he's a playmaker? Is he a clutch quarterback? Would you trust him to lead a game-winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes?

    Can he beat you with his legs? Does he avoid sacks? How well does he protect the football?

    And most importantly, could he play well on any team in the NFL? Could I put this quarterback on the Cleveland Browns or Jacksonville Jaguars, and would he still succeed?

    I tried to base my rankings mostly off of last season, with the past few years factored in. If a quarterback is likely on the decline, that will be shown with a - next to his name. If he is on the rise, that will be indicated by a + next to his name. Most quarterbacks have nothing, which indicates that they are neither on the rise or the decline (and that's not a bad thing).

    The top 32 quarterbacks won't include every team's starter. It doesn't work that way. Several teams were shut out in the rankings. Likewise, several teams have more than one quarterback appear. Every quarterback on an NFL roster was eligible, even if they've had a limited playing career.

    Age wasn't factored in at all. This isn't a keeper league for the future. If I was ranking the quarterbacks based on my expectations for the rest of the career, I would take all three of the standout 2012 rookies over a veteran superstar like Peyton Manning. But this is based on how well the quarterback is playing right now.

    You get the point. We've all seen quarterback rankings before. So let's get on with it, starting in reverse order with number 32.

32. Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals

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    There might not be a player in the history of the NFL who has earned more for doing less than Kevin Kolb. Because Kolb can't stay healthy, he's a much better option than the other Arizona Cardinals quarterbacks. He's managed to stay on the roster for two years.

    The Cardinals will likely draft a quarterback in the first round this year, meaning Kolb, who is due $11 million in 2013, could be cut this offseason.

    When he actually does play, he's not terrible, considering the weak supporting cast and terrible offensive line of the Cardinals. He entered the season as the backup, but replaced an injured John Skelton in the first game. He led the Cardinals to a surprising 4-0 start, throwing eight touchdowns against three interceptions, before suffering a season-ending rib injury in Week 6.

    The time has all but run out for the soon-to-be 29-year-old Kolb to prove that he can be a franchise quarterback. He simply can't stay healthy. Plus, he's not very good. 

31. Jason Campbell, Chicago Bears

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    Jason Campbell is the definition of a game manager. He's not going to make any plays to win the game, but he's usually not going to make the plays to lose the game.

    The 2012 season was his first as a backup, and he made just a single start. He's likely never going to be a starter again, but he's one of the better backups in the league if (when) Jay Cutler gets injured behind the Chicago Bears' dismal offensive line. 

30. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles

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    It's difficult to judge Nick Foles because he played all six starts without most (yes, most) of the starters on the Philadelphia Eagles' offense. LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek all missed time with injuries. DeSean Jackson missed five games with a concussion. And offensive linemen Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans each missed all six starts in the Foles era.

    When he played, Foles led the Eagles to just one victory, throwing a walkoff touchdown pass to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He tossed just five interceptions, including a streak of 169 straight passes without an interception.

    But he didn't make many plays. He was mostly a game manager, throwing just six touchdown passes. He also fumbled eight times.

    Foles will compete with Michael Vick for the starting job in 2013. If he wins (don't expect it), it will be easier to evaluate him after playing with the first-string offense instead of mostly backups.

29. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

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    The Washington Redskins struck gold in the 2012 draft when they picked not one, but two very efficient quarterbacks. Robert Griffin III won the Offensive Rookie of the Year and is already one of the game's top quarterbacks. And Kirk Cousins is one of the game's best backups, despite his limited playing time.

    The Redskins never would have won the division title in 2012 without Cousins. He came off the bench and led a last-second game-tying touchdown (and two-point conversion) against the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. The Redskins won in overtime and then defeated the Cleveland Browns the next week behind Cousins' 329 yards and two touchdown passes, staying alive in the postseason hunt.

    If Griffin is not fully recovered from his ACL injury at the start of the 2013 season, expect Cousins to play well while filling in for RGIII. 

28. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills

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    Ryan Fitzpatrick should never have the opportunity to start for an NFL team again. He's not a terrible quarterback, but he's best suited as a backup, which will likely be the case in 2013 after the Buffalo Bills draft a quarterback in the first round (Ryan Nassib, likely).

    Fitzpatrick has brains. After all, he did go to Harvard. But he throws a lot of interceptions. He's one of the last quarterbacks I would want to lead a two-minute drive. And his only victories come against the absolute worst teams in the league. 

27. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles

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    The regression that Michael Vick has shown from the 2010 season to 2012 is nothing short of incredible. He was a human highlight reel who went nine straight starts in 2010 without throwing an interception. Now he's a turnover machine, tossing 10 picks and fumbling 11 times in 10 starts last year.

    He'll be given an opportunity to compete for a starting job in 2013, but I don't think Vick has anything left. His speed has greatly diminished. He's extremely overconfident and still tries to be a hero on every play instead of just taking a sack. He's unable to recognize a blitz and he struggles to read defenses. He can't beat great teams, and he has a propensity of turning the ball over at the absolute worst time. Oh, and he can't stay healthy for more than five or six games in a row.

    Just two years ago, he was the Comeback Player of the Year and the unofficial runner-up in the MVP voting (Tom Brady won the award unanimously). Now Vick is one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL.

    The 2013 season is very likely his last as an NFL starter, if he even wins the job in training camp.

26. Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks

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    I think Matt Flynn would become an above average starting quarterback if he was given the opportunity to start. Unfortunately, we may never see that happen. If he doesn't enter 2013 as a starting quarterback, and he likely won't, it may never happen.

    Flynn's made two starts in his career. He tossed three touchdowns (and an interception) and almost defeated the eventual 14-2 New England Patriots while filling in for Aaron Rodgers in a late-season start in 2010. And he passed for 480 yards and six touchdowns (with an interception) in a classic shootout with the Detroit Lions in the 2011 season finale.

    Flynn, 28, is an excellent backup for a team that could experience injuries at the quarterback position if Russell Wilson continues running so frequently. 

25. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers

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    I'm not buying the transformation of Alex Smith into a suddenly efficient passer. In my book, Jim Harbaugh is responsible for all of the credit.

    Smith has had a lot of bad luck in his career. Playing under six offensive coordinators in a six-year span really didn't help him develop as a quarterback. Neither did playing without a legitimate number one receiver.

    In 2011, Smith turned in one of the best seasons ever by a quarterback well-regarded as a game manager, tossing 17 touchdowns against five interceptions while leading the San Francisco 49ers past the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round with a pair of late-game dramatic touchdowns.

    In 2012, Smith played the best football of his career, posting a 104.5 passer rating before suffering a Wally Pipp-like concussion that cost him his job.

    He'll likely start for a new team in 2013, perhaps the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets or Philadelphia Eagles, and how he does will largely determine how he ranks among the game's quarterbacks. 

24. Kyle Orton, Dallas Cowboys

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    Kyle Orton is the best backup quarterback in the NFL. In fact, I think the Dallas Cowboys would have been smart to make it an open competition in training camp before the 2012 season. Tony Romo would have won the starting job, but it would have increased the pressure on him, knowing that management isn't going to hand him the starting job without a fight.

    Orton, 30, has played for three teams in the last two seasons (and four in the last five). He's a respectable game manager when given the opportunity to start, but he'll probably be a backup for the remainder of his career.

    His biggest strength is not turning the football over and giving his team an opportunity to win every football game. 

23. Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders

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    After an up-and-down career with the Cincinnati Bengals, Carson Palmer has become the most boring starting quarterback in the league. He's not good or bad enough to talk about. He could quietly retire this offseason, and it wouldn't affect the fortunes of the Oakland Raiders at all (they would still stink).

    Palmer threw for 4018 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this season. Those are pretty much average numbers. His passer rating (85.3) was a little above average but his QBR (44.72) was a little below average.

    He plays well against bad teams and struggles against bad teams. Nothing about him stands out.

    He has a pretty weak supporting cast, but he's also 33 years old. At his age, he's on the decline. I expect 2013 to be his final season as a starting quarterback.

22. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Josh Freeman is probably the most inconsistent quarterback in the National Football League. He's played four years in the NFL. 2009 was brutal. 2010 was excellent. 2011 was poor. And 2012 was decent.

    He turned in a brilliant five-game stretch in the middle of the 2012 season in which he tossed 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Other than that, he was a significantly below average quarterback. He finished the year with 27 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a very average QBR (53.13).

    He really struggled on his accuracy, as his completion percentage dipped to 54.8 percent, eight points below his 2011 season. He topped 4000 yards, but he fumbled 10 times and was unable to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a winning record for the third time in four seasons.

    The 2013 season could determine his future as an NFL starter. If he doesn't show significant improvement, the Buccaneers would be smart to move in a different direction. 

21. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

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    Ryan Tannehill's numbers as a passer were nothing special in 2012, as he tossed just 12 touchdown passes in 16 starts.

    But I hear a lot of praise for the Miami Dolphins' signal-caller, who quietly led his team to a respectable seven victories as a rookie. It will be interesting to see how he does in 2013, as the AFC is pretty weak right now. It's very reasonable to see the Dolphins finishing in second place again. 

20. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

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    The criticism last season surrounding former number one overall draft pick Cam Newton was extremely unfair, as Newton has been close to a top-10 quarterback in his two years in the league. The criticism surrounding former number one overall draft pick Sam Bradford has been literally nonexistent. I haven't heard one expert make the claim that Bradford is not living up to his reputation as a top draft pick.

    Instead, he is defended by most. He has a weak offensive line. He needs better receivers. His division is full of top defenses. And all of that is true.

    But Bradford has been a below-average quarterback in all three years that he has played. He hasn't led the St. Louis Rams to a winning record. He throws an alarmingly low amount of touchdowns. And he's never had a single really great game (look it up).

    In fairness, he did have his best year in 2012 and he played very well against the division (4-1-1 record).

    The Rams are on the verge of turning into a playoff contender, thanks to new head coach Jeff Fisher and their rejuvenated defense. They need their quarterback to become a leader on the field, not a liability, because right now Bradford is one of the most overpaid players in the game. 

19. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Andy Dalton has led the Cincinnati Bengals in to the postseason both years of his career. He has made a Pro Bowl. He has averaged 3533 yards and 24 touchdowns per season. His numbers significantly improved in his second season. And he's teaming up with AJ Green to form one of the most dangerous quarterback-receiver duos in the league.

    Yet he's still just an average NFL starter. That's how impressive the current quarterback position is.

    Dalton has also turned in very poor postseason outings in both 2011 and 2012. He'll continue to improve, but the big focus is on him winning a playoff game. 

18. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

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    Jay Cutler would be so much easier to rank among the game's quarterbacks if he didn't have the worst offensive line in the league. He also has no help at wide receiver other than Brandon Marshall. And he has struggled with injuries in recent years.

    But he also benefits from one of the best defenses in the league, and he played a big role in the Chicago Bears collapsing down the stretch after a 7-1 start to their season.

    Cutler has the tools to be a great quarterback, notably a big arm. But his attitude and leadership are repeatedly questioned, he posts very average passing numbers and he still can't beat the great teams (like the Green Bay Packers).

17. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

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    I'm a big believer in Colin Kaepernick as a quarterback, even though he has made just seven regular season starts in his NFL career.

    Kaepernick tossed 10 touchdowns against just three interceptions, led the league in adjusted yards per pass attempt and rushed for 415 yards and five scores. He turned in the third-best QBR in the league.

    In the postseason, Kaep was even better. He threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 181 and two more scores in the divisional round. He posted a 127.7 passer rating and led the San Francisco 49ers back from a 17-0 deficit on the road in the conference championship game. And he threw for 302 yards and a touchdown, rushed for 62 and a touchdown and almost led the 49ers on a 22-point comeback in the Super Bowl.

    Credit Jim Harbaugh for a lot of Kaepernick's success if you want (and I do). But there's no denying that Kaepernick is every bit as good as the three rookie quarterbacks (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Russell Wilson). With his first full season approaching, the rest of the NFL had better take notice. Kapernicking is here and it's not going anywhere. 

16. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans

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    Matt Schaub's reputation really took a beating after the Houston Texans went from 11-1 with the top-seed all but locked up to a 12-4 finish and an eventual exit in the divisional round of the playoffs.

    He's not a great quarterback and he's likely never going to be able to lead Houston to the Super Bowl. He benefits from a powerful running attack and a terrific offensive line, plus Andre Johnson, one of the top receivers in the game.

    But don't overlook Schaub's numbers. He has topped a 90 passer rating in five straight seasons and proved that he can thrive if he needs to carry an offense, throwing for 4770 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2009.

    He'll likely never be a top 10 quarterback again, but he has a few more solid years left. 

15. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

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    Matthew Stafford is living up to his potential as a number one overall draft pick. It's just very difficult to notice because Stafford is forced to throw the ball at an alarmingly high rate.

    Head coach Jim Schwartz had Stafford throw the ball an NFL-record 727 times in 2012. By comparison, previous record-holder Drew Bledsoe put the ball in the air 691 times in 1994. Stafford threw 20 touchdowns, an alarming decline from the previous season when he became the seventh quarterback to top 40 touchdown passes in a single season.

    Four years into his career, Stafford is averaging more completions, attempts and passing yards per game than any quarterback in NFL history. That's insane. No quarterback should be forced to throw the ball that much. 

    With a solid running game and a receiving attack that doesn't just consist of Calvin Johnson, Stafford easily has the potential to become a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback. Fix the defense and he could have the Detroit Lions back in the playoffs. 

14. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

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    Two years ago, Philip Rivers appeared destined for the Hall of Fame. He had led the NFL in yards per attempt for three straight years. His passer rating usually reached triple-figures. And he consistently had the San Diego Chargers in the postseason.

    But 2011 was a down year for the four-time Pro Bowler, and 2012 was easily the worst season of his career. Rivers threw 15 interceptions and led the NFL with 15 fumbles. His QBR (40.57) ranked 31st in the NFL, one spot below Blaine Gabbert.

    In his defense, it's a lot harder with no LaDainian Tomlinson, no Vincent Jackson, a declining Antonio Gates, and a (now-fired) head coach (Norv Turner) who I believe was one of the worst in the NFL.

    But even with quarterbacks genius Mike McCoy as his new head coach, Rivers is 31 and probably on the decline. With reports about his diminishing arm strength, I don't expect him to ever be a top-10 quarterback again. 

13. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

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    Russell Wilson burst onto the scene with what could rank as the greatest statistical season by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.

    He tossed 26 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions, giving him a 100.0 passer rating. He added 489 yards and four scores on the ground. He threw three game-winning touchdowns in the final minute or overtime. And he played extremely well in the postseason, leading a 14 and a 20-point comeback in his two playoff games.

    But he also benefited from the spread offense, a terrific running back and the league's top scoring defense.

    So how much of Wilson's success comes from a system designed for him to average just 24 pass attempts per game? And how much of it is his deadly combination of passing and running?

    It's difficult to measure, but his sophomore season will be huge in determining his place among the game's best quarterbacks.

    But make no mistake. The sky is the limit for Russell Wilson. 

12. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

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    The first overall draft pick in 2011, Cam Newton was the talk of the NFL during his phenomenal rookie season. This year, he fell off the face of the earth, thanks to the arrival of the other young quarterbacks in the game (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick).

    Through two seasons, all Newton has done is play every game despite rushing more than 250 times (at 5.7 yards per run). He's second among active quarterbacks in yards per attempt (7.9) and his combination of passing and running makes him one of the best weapons in the league.

    Give him better coaching and a more talented supporting cast and I think Newton has the potential to rank among the greatest running quarterbacks in NFL history. 

11. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

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    Joe Flacco was easily the most difficult quarterback to rank in the NFL. I likely have him three or four spots lower than most would (and six to seven spots lower than most Baltimore Ravens fans would).

    With Flacco, there's no denying that his postseason run, culminating in a Super Bowl MVP award, was absolutely tremendous. It ranked up there with Joe Montana in 1989 and Troy Aikman in 1992 among the greatest postseason stretches by a quarterback in league history. It also couldn't have come at a better time, as the 28-year old will likely receive a contract worth more than $100 million this offseason.

    But the big picture says that Flacco is an average starting quarterback who needs to prove that his 2012 playoff run was not a fluke. He has never made a Pro Bowl. He has always benefited from a great defense. He's helped by a great running back, solid wide receivers and a very good offensive line. He has been a game manager for most of his career. It remains to be seen whether he could carry an offense.

    Even this season, Flacco ranked just 25th in QBR, the most important statistic in judging a quarterback. He's clearly shown that he is one of the best postseason quarterbacks in the game. But if you put Flacco on a team with an average offense and defense, do they even make the playoffs? That's the question.

    As far as the elite talk, absolutely not. Elite means you could put the quarterback on the Arizona Cardinals or Cleveland Browns and they'd still reach the playoffs. Put Flacco on the Cardinals or Browns and they'd still finish with a losing record. 

10. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

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    Robert Griffin III's 2012 year is one of the all-time great rookie seasons in NFL history.

    He tossed 20 touchdowns, led the league in yards per attempt and interception rate and recorded a 102.4 passer rating. He rushed for 815 yards and six scores on a league-leading 6.8 yards per attempt. Oh, and he led the Washington Redskins from a 3-6 record to a 10-6 record and an improbable division title.

    His ACL tear suffered in the wild-card round of the postseason against the Seattle Seahawks could jeopardize his 2013 campaign (and the rest of his career). But if he returns healthy and doesn't suffer a sophomore slump, he has a chance to be a top-five quarterback in the league by the end of 2013. 

9. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

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    Andrew Luck's rookie season received very little publicity compared to the other rookie quarterbacks, which is remarkable because he was the best one in the bunch and deserved the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. No quarterback in the league accomplished more with less than Andrew Luck.

    To a casual fan, Luck's numbers look good but not great. He threw for 4374 yards, 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, giving him a passer rating of just 76.5.

    But they don't tell the whole story. Luck was asked to throw the 12th most passes in a season in league history. He carried the offense despite a poor running game, a subpar receiving cast and a very weak offensive line. He ranked 11th in the league in QBR, including third for his production as a runner.

    The Indianapolis Colts won nine more games in 2012 than 2011 despite not making many improvements to their roster in the past season. Credit Luck's late-game ability as the biggest reason why. The Colts' rookie led seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter, a single-season AFC record, including a come-from-behind walk-off touchdown against the Detroit Lions. 

8. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

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    Even as a Philadelphia Eagles fan, I think Tony Romo is the most over criticized quarterback in the National Football League.

    His well-publicized failures in the clutch are atrocious. There's no denying that. He has won just one of the six winner-take-all games in his career (three playoff games, three season finales), and his knack for throwing late-game interceptions is usually the reason his team loses.

    But you look at his numbers. He's one of the best regular season quarterbacks in NFL history: fifth in passer rating, sixth in yards per attempt and sixth in completion percentage. He consistently throws for 4000 yards and 25-30 touchdowns with a passer rating in the 90s.

    With a better head coach and a more disciplined supporting cast, I think Romo could have been one of the best quarterbacks in the league. At this point, as he's almost 33, his window of opportunity is closing. 

7. Eli Manning, New York Giants

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    Eli Manning is one of the more consistent quarterbacks in the league. He's very, very good, but he's not elite.

    When Eli is on, he's unbeatable. He's one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the game and I'd take just two or three quarterbacks over him in a late-game two-minute drive opportunity. He has never missed a start, he's a near-lock for 4000 yards and 25 touchdown passes and, of course, he has won two Super Bowls in incredible fashion.

    But he has never received a single MVP vote and he has just two Pro Bowl selections. He has led the New York Giants to at least eight wins in all eight full seasons of his career, but he has only won a playoff game in two of those seasons. They ended as champions both times, but it would help Eli's cause if he could consistently lead his team into the postseason each year. 

6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

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    Matt Ryan turned in the best season of his career in 2012, throwing for 4719 yards and 32 touchdowns. He led the league in completion percentage (68.7 percent) and ranked fourth in QBR (74.5).

    He led Atlanta to the best record in the NFC for the second time in three seasons and this time, he won a playoff game, leading a memorable last-second drive to stun the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round. He recorded a 114.8 passer rating against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game, but he couldn't lead Atlanta to any points in the second half.

    Ryan is one of the best regular season quarterbacks in the game, although he does benefit from two Pro Bowl-caliber receivers and the most dominant tight end in NFL history.

    But he needs to turn in at least one memorable postseason stretch to establish himself as one of the game's elite quarterbacks. 

5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Ben Roethlisberger really flew under the radar in 2012, largely because of the Pittsburgh Steelers' struggles.

    He threw 26 touchdowns against just eight interceptions and his 97.0 passer rating ranked seventh in the league. But he missed three games with a serious rib injury, possible costing the Steelers a postseason berth. He has struggled with injuries in recent years, missing at least one game in eight of his nine years.

    Roethlisberger is a remarkably consistent quarterback who excels in the clutch and has a knack for postseason heroics. He has won two Super Bowls and played in a third. With a few more solid seasons, he'll lock up a Hall of Fame berth. 

4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

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    The gap between Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees is significant, and it's what separates the great quarterbacks from the elite ones. Drew Brees is clearly better than Big Ben and he's the first of four elite quarterbacks in the league.

    The passing numbers that Brees has posted over the past seven seasons are insane. He's going to wind up threatening the career records for all major passing categories, notably passing yards and touchdowns.

    In 2012, Brees topped 5000 yards for the third time. He also tossed 43 touchdowns. He did lead the NFL in interceptions and the New Orleans Saints finished 7-9, missing the postseason for the first time since 2008. But a lot of the blame has to go to head coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the entire season following his role in the Saints' bounty scandal.

    Expect Brees to post similar numbers in 2013, with fewer interceptions, and look for the Saints to reach the postseason again, assuming their defense isn't historically bad again.

3. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

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    Peyton Manning rebounded from four neck surgeries in 2011 to lead the NFL in completion percentage, throw 37 touchdown passes and post the second-highest single-season QBR since the statistic originated in 2008.

    He successfully turned Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker into star receivers and he helped compensate for the loss of starting running back Willis McGahee in midseason.

    But he threw an interception in double overtime of the Denver Broncos' 38-35 overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions, which lead to his eighth one-and-done in the playoffs. It's not Manning's fault that safety Rahim Moore allowed Jacoby Jones to score a 70-yard game-tying touchdown in the final minute of regulation. But it is Manning's fault that he led the Broncos to just 14 points throughout the game (21 points on offense minus a defensive touchdown) and couldn't lead his team to any points in more than 15 minutes of overtime football.

    Manning is arguably the greatest regular season quarterback in NFL history. He has won four MVPs and he came within a few votes of collecting his fifth this season.

    But something always, always, always goes wrong in the postseason. It's getting harder and harder to defend Manning for his postseason struggles. He's not as bad in the playoffs as his critics think, but he definitely turns it down a notch in the playoffs. After all, he has as many playoff wins and Super Bowl titles as Joe Flacco, despite playing an extra decade in the NFL. 

2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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    No quarterback in the history of the league has put up passing numbers like Aaron Rodgers, who ranks first all-time in adjusted yards per pass attempt, interception percentage and passer rating.

    In 2012, Rodgers threw 39 touchdowns and eight interceptions, recording a 108.0 passer rating, and that was considered a down year for him. That's because in 2011, Rodgers turned in arguably the greatest season any quarterback has ever had, throwing 45 touchdowns, six interceptions and posting a 122.5 passer rating.

    But in 2012, Rodgers had one of the worst running games in the league. In fact, he finished second on the team in rushing yards and tied for first with two touchdown runs. Give him a Steven Jackson or Reggie Bush in free agency and he will instantly become the top MVP candidate for the 2013 season.

    He has won a Super Bowl more recently than the top-ranked quarterback in the league, but he has had only one impressive postseason stretch in his five seasons as a starter. The top quarterback on this list had three Super Bowl titles when Rodgers was still in college. 

1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

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    For the sixth straight season, Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the National Football League. What he did in 2012 was his usual dominant season, but it received very little praise since he didn't recover from four neck surgeries the previous season.

    All Brady did was complete 401 passes for 4827 yards. He threw 34 touchdowns, led the league in interception percentage and fumbled just twice. He ranked second in QBR. And he succeeded in leading the New England Patriots to 12 wins and a ridiculous 557 points, the third-most in a season in league history.

    He did so despite having both tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, available for just five of the 16 games.

    Brady and the Patriots failed to win a Super Bowl for the eighth straight season. But none of the other three elite quarterbacks even reached their conference championship game.

    The gap between Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning is as close as it gets for the top three players in the game. This may be Brady's last year on top. Assuming they all turn in their usual dominant regular season, the 2013 rankings will likely be determined by whichever quarterback makes the most noise in the postseason.