This is the first edition of a list of who, as a general manager, I would want to have to win in 2009, in order from best to worst option.
I start with the quarterback position because it is universally recognized as the most important in football—the very reason that the top pick in seven of the past nine drafts has been a quarterback.
I picked six from each conference since six teams make the playoffs, starting with the AFC. Only the team’s projected starting quarterbacks are considered, and it rates only the quarterback, not the passing game.
2008 stats: 371-555 (.668), 4002 yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 95.0 passer rating
Manning has the highest IQ in the league, and perhaps the history of the game. He has the accomplishments and is still in his prime, and practically carried a team without a defense or a running game to its record sixth straight 12-win season. That is why he won the MVP in 2008, and that is why he is first on my list.
2008 stats: 312-478 (.653), 4009 yards, 34 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 105.5 passer rating
Rivers came into his own in 2008, carrying a team that was not able to rely on LaDainian Tomlinson or its usually stout defense. He led the league in passer rating in the regular season, and then led the only 8-8 playoff team to a win over the favored Colts in the playoffs after doing the same thing on the road in 2007.
I believe he may have won the MVP had the vote not been completed under the assumption his team was going to miss the playoffs. This betrays two problems with the voting: it is completed before the end of the season, and a player is rated according to team accomplishments.
2008 stats: 7-11 (.636), 86 yards, 83.9 passer rating
How could I not have the virtually unanimous MVP of 2007 on the top of this list? Let's not forget that Matt Cassel, who had not started a game since high school, was still able to lead that supporting cast to a 10-5 record—i.e. Brady had a lot of talent to work with in that season.
And let’s not forget why Brady spent most of the 2008 season in street clothes. After having multiple surgeries, there have to be some questions about the health of his knee and his ability to bounce back.
2008 stats: 281-469 (.599), 3301 yards, 17 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 80.1 passer rating
Big Ben had the worst season of anyone in this list, but elevated his game in three tough playoff wins (3 TD to just 1 pick, 91.6 passer rating) culminating in the winning score. He has two titles and a tremendous regular-season record, as well.
Despite that experience, his best days should still be ahead of him at 27. He has the physical abilities that make him dangerous: strong arm, hard to bring down, and athletic.
2008 stats: 335-535 (.626), 3620 yards, 15 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 81.7 passer rating
Garrard had an off year in 2008 and only one other year starting (2007), so why is he on this list? Two reasons: the AFC is not deep in stud quarterbacks, and last season was more likely the fluke, with Garrard playing behind a makeshift offensive line.
Because of his experience gained in 2007, when he led the team to a close contest against the undefeated Patriots on the road, he gets the nod over other AFC quarterbacks.
2008 stats: 244-376 (.649), 2712 yards, 12 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 90.2 passer rating
Garcia is the Energizer Bunny. He not only powers his team with his scrappy and reckless disregard for his own body (were it not for injuries, he would be fourth), but he just keeps on going.
They didn’t want him in San Francisco, so he resurfaced in Philadelphia. They didn’t want him there, so he resurfaced in Tampa Bay.
Now he will do the same in Oakland, although this time he will not make then playoffs—Al Davis’ mismanagement is something even Garcia cannot overcome.
2008: 413-635 (.650), 5069 yards, 34 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 96.2 passer rating
Brees was one pass from setting the all-time passing yards record despite having a sub-standard receiving corps. He was both helped and hurt by the lack of a consistent rushing attack, and certainly helped by a porous defense that forced the Saints to try to outscore opponents.
However, he has proven himself in previous seasons, has had playoff success, and is still young enough that there is no reason to believe he is in decline.
2008: 345-571 (.604), 3916 yards, 23 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 86.4 passer rating
This is probably my most controversial pick, and I accept that many will say I overrate McNabb. However, he is a double-threat because of his dangerous running ability, and this allowed him to be sacked just 23 times as well.
He has had little supporting cast to throw to in the past, as well, although the team has made upgrades offensively. He has never lost a first round playoff game, so he can be counted on when it matters most.
2008: 401-598 (.671), 4583 yards, 30 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 96.9 passer rating
Warner had the best post-season of any quarterback in 2008 and appears to be at the top of his game. He gets as high of marks as anyone for experience and leadership.
But at some point, one can expect his durability to become an issue and/or his numbers to drop—heck, they already have at points earlier in his career. He would have been my first choice at the end of 2008, but we do not know how much he may slip.
2008: 289-479 (.603), 3238 yards, 21 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 86.4 passer rating
Manning has very little playoff success to draw upon, and yet he is one of two quarterbacks in the NFC list who has won a championship—if he gets past the first game, look out! He showed last year that without a serious downfield threat he will struggle, but he still kept interceptions low throughout 2008, so it looks like his maturation has continued.
2008: 384-616 (.623), 4526 yards, 25 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 86.0 passer rating
Cutler sure will not put up these kind of numbers in Chicago, with no true receivers. However, he gets the edge over the likes of Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers because he has played a lot more games.
There is no way he has a better season than either, but with an equal supporting cast, I believe he would.
2008: 341-536 (.636), 4038 yards, 28 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 93.8 passer rating
Rodgers has no playoff experience and a losing record as a starter, but through no fault of his own. He faced pressure of a different sort, taking over for a Hall of Famer in his first year starting when it was an unpopular decision among fans.
He was up to the task, actually outperforming all but four Favre seasons in total scores, passer rating, and completion percentage, with fewer turnovers than Favre ever had in any season he started.
Rodgers makes this list just ahead of Matt Ryan because he outperformed him during the regular season and has been in the league longer.