NFL1000: Doug Farrar's Week 12 QB Rankings

Doug Farrar@@BR_DougFarrar NFL Lead ScoutNovember 21, 2017

NFL1000: Doug Farrar's Week 12 QB Rankings

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    There are few things more thrilling in sports than an NFL matchup in which both quarterbacks are breathing straight fire, leading their teams against overwhelmed defenses and showing how great they can be. When the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins faced off on Sunday, Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins treated us to one of those games.

    Cousins came out hot, exploiting a Saints defense missing key personnel due to injury and dropping deep passes in perfect spots. He was the primary reason Washington had a 31-16 lead with less than six minutes left in the game.

    But then, Brees proved that when he’s at his best, if you give him any oxygen, he’ll kill you. Brees threw two touchdown passes in the last three minutes of regulation to tie the game at 31, and led the drive that ended in Wil Lutz’s 28-yard overtime field goal.

    On the other side of the equation, there are few things more agonizing in sports than watching a young quarterback thrown into situations he’s not at all prepared to handle. When the Buffalo Bills’ coaching staff made the indefensible decision to bench veteran Tyrod Taylor and replace him with fifth-round rookie Nathan Peterman against a high-quality Los Angeles Chargers defense, Peterman’s five-interception game was all but sealed.

    Jay Cutler and Marcus Mariota will have more trouble and fewer excuses when explaining their multi-pick games last week, and based on the tape. Cutler should lose his job to backup Matt Moore, who showed far greater efficiency against the Buccaneers.

    Our weekly quarterback rankings are decided and written by myself, NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar, and quarterbacks scout Mark Schofield. I evaluate all AFC quarterbacks, and Schofield does the same with the NFC quarterbacks.

    We combine tape analysis and advanced metrics to give you a sense of which quarterbacks are trending up, down and which are better or worse than their reputations might imply.

    The rankings are based on recent performance, but they are also adjusted for opponent, talent around the quarterback and the player's history over the last few years.

    Good news for some, bad news for others. Here are the NFL1000 quarterback rankings ahead of Week 12.

Notable Omissions

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    The following quarterbacks had byes in Week 11:

    Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

    Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts

    Josh McCown, New York Jets

    C.J. Beathard, San Francisco 49ers

    The bye week quarterbacks will return to the rankings next week, but as we're ranking based on performance, they're excluded when they're not playing.

30. Nathan Peterman, Buffalo Bills

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Last Week: 28

    "I'm pretty sure we might've felt a little disrespected," Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward said of the Buffalo Bills' decision to start rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman against them on Sunday, per Dan Woike of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We've got two really good pass-rushers, probably the top tandem in the NFL. We've got really good corners. … We've got really good safeties. They do it against us?

    "Trippin'."

    Trippin', indeed. Peterman had one of the worst starting debuts in NFL history after looking half-decent against a New Orleans Saints defense that was in "get out of town mode" at the end of their 47-10 blowout of Buffalo. To have Peterman make his first NFL start against a team with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa against an offensive line that has been problematic at best was sheer folly, and for Bills head coach Sean McDermott to say that he'd have to review the tape before making a decision as to whether Peterman or Tyrod Taylor would start next week against the Kansas City Chiefs, per Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, is an absolute joke. Peterman is in no way ready for the rigors of NFL defenses, and he showed that over and over in a game where he threw five interceptions before he was mercifully benched. He completed six passes in 14 attempts to his own receivers, which is one good thing, we suppose.

    Though not all five picks were Peterman's fault, most of them were, and he looked overwhelmed from the start. The first intercepted pass, a pick-six by linebacker Korey Toomer, bounced off the hands of fullback Patrick DiMarco. The second pick, with 10:51 left in the first quarter, saw Peterman attacked from both defensive ends—Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa—and instead of stepping up in the pocket, he fell back off his base and threw a floater to Hayward. Dragging back in the pocket when pressured is a fairly common mistake for young quarterbacks (Jared Goff still does it once in a while), and this was the root cause on Interception No. 2.

    Interception No. 3 came with 1:20 left in the first quarter—here, Bosa slammed Peterman to the turf as he threw, the ball didn't have enough on it, and safety Tre Boston was the lucky recipient this time. Hayward got his second pick of the game with 12:49 left in the second quarter. Bosa came free to the pocket, hit Peterman again, and Hayward jumped the route on a pass intended for receiver Deonte Thompson.

    The Bills chose to keep the shell-shocked Peterman in the game, and his fifth interception was fairly predictable. It happened with 41 seconds left in the first half, as Peterman overthrew Thompson, and the ball was caught by cornerback Trevor Williams. Mercifully, the Bills pulled Peterman in favor of Tyrod Taylor to start the second half.

    This is not to blame Peterman—he's a fifth-round rookie who was thrown to the wolves by a coaching staff (and possibly an ownership group) that clearly had no clue how to evaluate the readiness of their player. The short-term question is how this will affect Peterman's confidence and development; the long-term question is how long this staff will be allowed to make such rash decisions without professional consequences. The Chargers were right to feel disrespected by Peterman's appearance; one can only imagine what the Bills' veteran players are thinking right now.

29. Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Last Week: 17

    Jay Cutler should send Nathan Peterman a floral arrangement this week. Had Buffalo’s rookie quarterback not blown it at a historic level with his five-pick nightmare, Cutler may well have been the goat of the week. Before he left the game to be evaluated for a concussion in an eventual 30-20 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cutler completed just six of 12 passes for 83 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.

    The picks were pure Cutler—a quarterback with all the physical gifts in the world but a strange sense of timing and mechanics. The first interception came with 10:51 left in the first quarter, as receiver DeVante Parker headed toward the goalpost out of a stack formation to the left, and Cutler threw the ball late, allowing safety Justin Evans to jump the route.

    The second pick came with 13:04 left in the second quarter. Here, Cutler reacted negatively to a defensive front shift and moved to his right to evade pressure that wasn’t really there. He tried to throw to Jarvis Landry across his body and without momentum, and linebacker Kwon Alexander closed in on Landry as the ball was thrown.

    The third pick was on Parker to a degree, as the receiver let the ball go through his hands on an intermediate comeback and into the hands of cornerback Robert McClain, but safety Chris Conte was close to either intercepting or deflecting the pass before it got to Parker.

    After Cutler left the game, backup Matt Moore came in and ran Adam Gase’s offense far better than Cutler did. Whatever currency Cutler may have acquired in familiarity with Gase during their time with the Bears has expired. Moore should be the starter going forward.

28. Brett Hundley, Green Bay Packers

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    Last Week: 16

    Decision-making and play speed continue to haunt Brett Hundley. Both issues were on full display in Green Bay’s shutout loss at home to the Baltimore Ravens. The offense hit a new low in the 23-0 loss, and while Hundley completed 21 of 36 passes for 239 yards, he also threw three interceptions and turned the football over on a strip-sack by Terrell Suggs as the offense struggled to get going against the Ravens.

    Re-watching the tape led to the same conclusions I put in the NFL1000 Week 11 Notebook, so I'll quote that.

    "As we saw a few weeks ago against the Detroit Lions on Monday night, Hundley and the offense looked OK on their opening drive when they were running the scripted plays, including a vertical route to Davante Adams to get the Packers into a 1st-and-goal situation. But on second down, Hundley tried to hit Randall Cobb on the corner route in a Smash concept and failed to see Jimmy Smith drop off the outside receiver, and the pass was intercepted. Foregoing the short route to force the deeper throw burned Hundley and the offense.

    "On Hundley's second interception, he once again showed his hesitation from the pocket. He did a good job of sliding in the pocket, but he was slow with his reads. While it is true that the receiver slipped as well, speeding up his process in the pocket is a must for Hundley going forward. This was an issue on the strip-sack as well. Hesitation played a role on the final interception of the game. The Packers ran a quick slant/flat combination, and Hundley double-clutched on the flat route before throwing to Jordy Nelson on the slant. That allowed the pressure to get to the quarterback and impacted the throw, which sailed well high and above the target for the turnover.

    "With the loss, the Packers drop three games behind the Minnesota Vikings in the division, and with the way this offense is playing right now, a late-season charge seems unlikely. The biggest ingredient missing from Hundley is the play-speed element. He needs to be quicker with his reads and decisions. Until that happens, this offense will struggle with him at the helm."

27. DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Last Week: 22

    DeShone Kizer still has a lot to work on, but a week after he looked presentable against the Lions and their excellent secondary, Kizer put in a reputable performance against a Jacksonville defense that has been a hellscape for a lot of quarterbacks this season. Kizer completed 17 of 30 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown—not amazing numbers, but this is the same defense that limited Philip Rivers to 235 yards in Week 10 and gave up just 124 yards in the air to Jared Goff on October 15.

    Kizer's interception came early in the game and was emblematic of the field vision problems he still has at times. He didn't see Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith dropping into coverage and tried to fit a pass into receiver Corey Coleman on a skinny post. His touchdown was a nicely timed deep ball to running back Duke Johnson, who had moved from the backfield to the right slot. Here, Kizer threw with timing and anticipation before Jacksonville's secondary could converge on Johnson, and he took advantage of some coverage confusion at the linebacker level.

    Perhaps the most encouraging throw of the day came in the third quarter—an 18-yard pass to Coleman on a deep over from right to left. Kizer read that the left side of Jacksonville's coverage was late to respond to the angle of Coleman's route, and he once again threw with the right timing.

    There's no doubt that Kizer still has development in front of him, but when you see him start to sort out the little things, there is a sense that he does have potential to grow and become a larger part of this offense.

26. Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Last Week: 21

    The Broncos announced the firing of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy on Monday, the day after Denver lost its sixth straight game with a 20-17 defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals. Bill Musgrave will take over offensive play-calling duties for a team that executive vice president John Elway felt comfortable calling "soft" after the Broncos were taken to the woodshed by the Patriots one week ago.

    Apparently, Elway is OK with blaming everyone but his quarterbacks, and his own inability to procure or develop one who can play at a franchise-defining level. Heck, one who can play at a replacement level. When you go from Trevor Siemian to Brock Osweiler while you're waiting for Paxton Lynch's shoulder to heal, it's safe to say you've made your own bed.

    It was Osweiler's turn in the barrel for the third straight week after Siemian's benching, and he accomplished the upside of what you'd expect him to do with a high volume of passing attempts, completing 23 of 42 passes for 254 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

    Osweiler did not exploit matchups with receiver Emmanuel Sanders as he did against the Patriots—Sanders caught just two passes on eight targets for 15 yards. Receiver Demaryius Thomas and running back Devontae Booker tied for the lead against Cincinnati with five receptions each. For the most part, it was a safe game plan that gave Osweiler shorter pass attempts for easier completions. He missed Thomas wildly on a deep sideline route on Denver's first drive and didn't throw much deep after that.

    The most remarkable play of the day came with 8:41 left in the first quarter. Osweiler tried to hit receiver Cody Latimer out of the right slot with a pass in the red zone, but Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick read the run crosser concept perfectly, moving off his assigned receiver and running to the slot after the snap to intercept the pass in the end zone. Kirkpatrick then hauled the ball across the field and would have had a 103-yard interception return, but he bobbled the ball at the Denver 15-yard line, and Sanders tackled him at the Denver 1-yard line.

    Osweiler's lone touchdown came at the expense of Kirkpatrick late in the fourth quarter, as he hit Thomas on a deep fade over Kirkpatrick's head in the end zone. It was Osweiler's only deep completion of the day, and his best throw. Too little too late, but Osweiler proved he can take a basic series of concepts and push them forward with limited ability as long as he's not challenged by multiple reads and tight-window throws. Inexplicably, that appears to be enough for Elway, who's busy assessing blame at other levels.

25. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Last Week: 8

    Marcus Mariota’s four-interception game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night put his pick total (10) above his touchdown total (8) for the season, put the Titans at 6-4 on the season, and raised new concerns about Tennessee’s franchise quarterback. Mariota completed 22 of 33 passes for 306 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh’s defense, adding a rushing touchdown, but those four picks showed a quarterback who should be far more in sync with his receivers than he has been.

    The first pick was an overthrow to Rishard Matthews on an intermediate comeback; cornerback Mike Hilton had an easy interception 10 yards behind Mariota’s intended target. The second interception came when Mariota tried to push the ball outside to rookie receiver Corey Davis when cornerback Coty Sensabaugh was in perfect position to jump the route, which is exactly what Sensabaugh did.

    Down 37-17 in the fourth quarter, Mariota tried to hit Davis on an intermediate crossing route but threw late after frantically scanning the field for his reads. Davis had an opening after he turned the corner, but by the time the ball arrived, safety Robert Golden had position and took the ball away. His fourth and final pick, which happened late in the fourth quarter when the game was well past decided, came on a quick slant to tight end Delanie Walker. Here, Mariota inexplicably (and inexcusably) threw the ball flat-footed and late, giving safety Sean Davis his own all-too-easy interception.

    There are days when a quarterback’s multi-pick game isn’t as much the quarterback’s fault as the stat sheet may indicate. Mariota’s bad day was primarily on him. Though he was able to collect decent yardage stats, he is playing tentatively and indecisively, and throwing to receivers late in the progression far more than he should. Whether this is a product of miscommunication with his targets, Pittsburgh’s outstanding tight coverage or a malfunction of his own internal clock, it’s an oddity, as Mariota at his best is a quick and decisive quarterback. If the Titans want to save their season from playoff exclusion, they’d better fix this problem quickly.

24. Blaine Gabbert, Arizona Cardinals

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Last Week: N/A (DNP)

    The decision made by Bruce Arians to roll with Blaine Gabbert was questioned by many, given Gabbert's play to date in the NFL. But as Arians so colorfully pointed out, per Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com, the quarterback has played on some...underachieving teams during his time in the NFL. And for three quarters or so, Gabbert was rewarding his coach's trust. However, he made two bad mistakes late, and the Arizona Cardinals eventually fell to the undermanned Houston Texans, 31-21.

    Gabbert completed 22 of 34 passes for 257 yards and a trio of touchdowns in the loss. The first scoring play came to who else but Larry Fitzgerald. The veteran receiver ran a fade route out of the slot—a concept covered well recently by NFL1000's Derrik Klassen—and adjusted well to the pass from his QB for the score.

    Gabbert then hit Ricky Seals-Jones for a pair of touchdowns. The first came on a well-designed play-action passing play. Seals-Jones ran an out route and Gabbert put a perfect throw on him for the score. Later, Gabbert hit his tight end on a slant-and-go route, again with a perfect throw for the touchdown.

    But when the Cardinals were trying to match the Texans score-for-score late, Gabbert made his two critical mistakes. The first came when trying to throw a post route. The pass was too far behind the receiver, allowing a defender to make the interception. Gabbert's second pick came on a similar play, when he was trying to hit his running back on a Texas route out of the backfield. Again, the throw was behind the target, and the pass was intercepted.

    Were it not for those mistakes, Arizona would likely be in position for the victory. Gabber showed some of the traits that made him a first-round pick, but his inability to be consistent has haunted him throughout his career, and it happened again in Houston.

23. Tom Savage, Houston Texans

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Last Week: 29

    You have to give Tom Savage this: The guy can recover pretty well. One week after a performance against the Los Angeles Rams that had him at the bottom of our QB Rankings, Savage put together his first multi-touchdown game as a starter, completing 22 of 32 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

    It wasn't a massive referendum on his future as a starter, but given where he was coming from, Savage showed a lot of guts against Arizona's defense in a 31-21 win over the Cardinals.

    Savage's first touchdown of the day, a seven-yarder to running back Lamar Miller in the second quarter, showed Savage has been working on eliminating some of the things that have bedeviled him in the past. Savage tends to hang in the pocket, he's not quick-footed to adjust to pressure and he needs to roll out more to mitigate that. On this play, he rolled right when he didn't see a clear picture, and he fit the ball in perfectly to Miller, avoiding the coverage of linebacker Deone Bucannon.

    Of course, on the next drive, he took too long in the pocket and was sacked by safety Budda Baker, giving up a fumble that Baker recovered, but Savage isn't going to eliminate all his issues in the pocket overnight. He has a desperate need to speed up his internal clock if he's ever to be a functional starter.

    Savage was also partially to blame for his interception late in the second quarter. He was trying to connect with tight end Stephen Anderson and threw the ball a tick late, which allowed Bucannon to deflect it into the hands of cornerback Patrick Peterson. It was another example of Savage needing to understand the subtle timing of routes and throwing his receiver open as opposed to heaving the ball after the window has started to close.

    But he did exhibit good arc and accuracy on a third-quarter fade to DeAndre Hopkins that went for a 28-yard, touchdown as Hopkins broke away from Peterson.

    Savage showed enough improvement for one to deduce there might be a little upside left after all as the Texans stubbornly hold on to him as their starter.

22. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Last Week: 23

    The book on the Jacksonville Jaguars has been the same all season—they have an outstanding running game and the best defense in the NFL. Your optimal shot to beat them is to get to Blake Bortles and ask for his assistance in messing things up. Sadly for the Jags, that's been a common construct throughout Bortles' career, and the extent to which he's been willing to make those kinds of game-killing mistakes hasn't changed a lot as the environment around him has obviously improved.

    In Jacksonville's 19-7 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, a victory that took them to 7-3 on the season, the Jags did what they have tended to do—they leaned on the run and hid Bortles as much as was reasonable.

    Bortles completed 17 of 30 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. Outside of his 10-yard first-quarter touchdown to tight end Marcedes Lewis, he wasn't responsible for many big plays, but the design of this touchdown is something for the Jaguars to consider. Bortles has been a far better quarterback when using play action this season—one assumes that it's easier for him to process coverages when linebackers cheat up to stop the run, presenting him with more one-on-one coverages and fewer complicated schemes.

    Here, Bortles had receiver pre-snap motion tell him that the Browns were playing zone coverage. The linebackers cheated heavily to the fake handoff to running back Leonard Fournette, and Bortles recognized that when Lewis released from his block of linebacker Christian Kirksey, he'd have a one-on-one matchup with Briean Boddy-Calhoun. That was easily in Lewis' favor. The Jags also employed run action on this play—linemen firing out on a passing play as if they were run-blocking—which sold the run concept even more obviously.

    This would be a great use of personnel to help their limited quarterback as the team progresses through the season and, ostensibly, the playoffs.

21. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Last Week: 25

    To his eternal credit, Tyrod Taylor didn't show any signs of schadenfreude after he was benched in favor of fifth-round rookie Nathan Peterman against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. He was the first one to come over and speak with Peterman when he came to the sideline after his five interceptions, and when the coaching staff decided to put him in the game for the second half, with the Bills down 37-7, Taylor didn't blink an eye. He completed 15 of 25 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown, adding four carries for 38 yards and a rushing touchdown as well.

    One interesting component of this game plan was that Taylor's two-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter came on a simple option play—the kind Buffalo's coaching staff has steadfastly refused to dial up for Taylor on a consistent basis this season. He would have had a touchdown pass to tight end Charles Clay earlier in the fourth quarter, but Clay dropped the ball. On the next play, Taylor threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to running back LeSean McCoy.

    That the Bills coaches are still trying to excuse the monumentally ridiculous decision to insert Peterman into a situation he was nowhere near ready to handle shows the level of dysfunction in that front office right now. That Taylor continued to try his best despite a staff that clearly doesn't want him, and generally won't scheme for his positive traits, says more about the person than the player.

    Tyrod Taylor deserves better than this, and I hope he's able to find it elsewhere—or with a new Bills front office—in 2018.

20. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

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    Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press

    Last Week: N/A (Bye)

    Derek Carr's 2017 season has been an exercise in frustration. His offensive line hasn't protected as well as expected, the running game has underperformed, and the disappearing act performed by top receiver Amari Cooper continues with few interruptions. Given the yards and points the Raiders' subpar defense was going to give up to the Patriots on Sunday, it was on Carr to match Tom Brady and his cohorts against a New England secondary that has moved from league-worst to above average in the last month.

    It's little surprise that Carr came up short in a 33-8 Raiders loss, completing 28 of 49 passes for just 237 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He completed just a handful of deep passes on a ton of attempts, and that included his deep interception to Patriots safety Duron Harmon in the first quarter. Carr tried to hit Johnny Holton down the left-side boundary on a vertical route, but cornerback Jonathan Jones got in front of the receiver, tipped the pass, and Harmon came up with the ball.

    Carr has missed with the timing of his receivers on deep throws and more complex intermediate and deep passing concepts, and when he's facing a team that plays a lot of man coverage, as the Patriots did, there aren't enough openings for a consistent aerial attack to arise. Not what you want when you're trying to match Brady beat for beat.

19. Eli Manning, New York Giants

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Last Week: 20

    The New York Giants worked their way back into the win column with a 12-9 victory over the free-falling Kansas City Chiefs in overtime. Full credit to head coach Ben McAdoo and company is warranted, as the Giants came out early in the game and threw some different looks at the Chiefs. On its opening drive, New York called both a fake punt and a halfback option pass. While Shane Vereen did throw an interception on the play, it was clear that the Giants were going to pull out all the stops.

    For his part, quarterback Eli Manning completed 19 of 35 passes for 205 yards. He was victimized by a few drops during the game. Early on, he checked the ball down to Orleans Darkwa in the flat with room to run, and while the pass was low, it was catchable. But Darkwa dropped the throw. This happened again on the same drive when Manning tried to hit Darkwa in the flat, but the ball was dropped. Other players, such as Travis Rudolph (on a crossing route) and Evan Engram (on both a Y-Stick design and a tunnel screen), had their share of miscues in the passing game.

    Manning struggled as well at times, missing on an out pattern to Engram late in the fourth quarter, as well as a crossing route to Tavarres King where he led the receiver too far. Given that the wind was swirling all afternoon at MetLife Stadium, the conditions may have played a role in these missed opportunities.

    Manning did deliver on a few throws in overtime that led to the Giants' game-winning field goal. He hit King on a shallow route to start the drive and then hit Roger Lewis with a well-placed slant route to keep the drive going. Then running back Wayne Gallman got involved as well, making a great adjustment on a wheel route when Manning was blitzed and got the ball out quickly. Finally, it was the adjustment and catch from Lewis, while lying on the turf, that put the Giants in position for the winning field goal.

    The victory was probably not enough to save McAdoo or prevent the Giants from addressing the quarterback position in the upcoming draft, but for one afternoon at least, everything was right with the New York Football Giants.

18. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Last Week: 27

    With starting quarterback Jameis Winston sidelined for the second straight week, backup Ryan Fitzpatrick started in his place and turned in another solid performance. Fitzpatrick completed 22 of 37 passes for 275 yards and a pair of touchdowns, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dispatched the Miami Dolphins to the tune of 30-20.

    Numbers like this might see a quarterback slide higher up in a rankings piece, but truth be told, Fitzpatrick had the advantage of throwing to more than a few wide-open receivers on Sunday.

    On Tampa Bay's second drive of the game, he found rookie tight end O.J. Howard wide open on back-to-back plays. First was an out route in a flood concept where Howard was open along the right. Then on the next play, he found Howard open on a throwback design right in the turkey hole. Fitzpatrick did a great job there putting his throw where the receiver needed to slow down a bit. If the quarterback actually leads Howard there, the tight end is pulled into the path of the nearest safety.

    The touchdowns both came on well-designed and executed plays from the Buccaneers offense. After a Jay Cutler interception set Tampa Bay up with favorable field position, Fitzpatrick found Howard in the front corner of the end zone coming out of a play-action fake. Later, he found DeSean Jackson on a crossing route in the red zone off another play-action fake, this time with a throwback element. Jackson was open, and Fitzpatrick dropped in a good throw for the six.

    Winston remains the starting quarterback, but right now, the backup is playing well and has eliminated mistakes. For the past two weeks, that has been enough to get the Bucs two straight victories against AFC East opponents.

17. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Last Week: N/A (Bye)

    Propelled by his team's great defense, Joe Flacco didn't need to play well for the Ravens to come away with a 23-0 win against the Packers. Flacco wasn't great, and his stat line is what we've come to expect: 22 completions in 28 attempts for 183 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

    Flacco's thrown for more than 200 yards just four times in 10 games this season, and he has more zero-touchdown games (three) than two-touchdown games (two). This is simply no longer a high-volume quarterback; the Ravens generally end up winning in spite of Flacco's performance, which is even an obstruction at times.

    The deep ball is now Flacco's white whale. His mechanics make it all but impossible for him to be consistent with long passes: He will wind up and release the ball before he's followed through with his lower body, which creates accuracy and timing issues.

    Flacco didn't make many deep attempts against Green Bay and completed none of them. There was an overthrow of tight end Nick Boyle late in the first quarter that was nearly picked off by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Clinton-Dix got Flacco back halfway through the second quarter when the quarterback tried to fit in a deep sideline pass to running back Danny Woodhead, ignoring that the safety had outside position and was more open than his own running back was.

    His touchdown pass to Mike Wallace early in the third quarter was a nicely placed intermediate pass against tight coverage by cornerback Damarious Randall (Wallace also made a great one-handed catch), but those aren't the passes you see enough from Flacco these days. For the most part, he's stuck in a netherworld of designed short passes and mechanical inefficiencies that make more explosive plays nearly impossible on a consistent basis.

16. Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Last Week: N/A (DNP)

    Matt Moore came into the Miami Dolphins' game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half to replace the concussed Jay Cutler, and he immediately made a difference. Cutler struggles with the timing of the offense, but Moore can handle the quick-passing elements of Adam Gase's attack. When Moore was asked to take shorter drops and hit his targets off his back foot, he did so efficiently and was able to capitalize when he saw the occasional explosive play.

    Moore completed three deep balls in the second half; these plays added up to the majority of his 282 passing yards on 17 completions and 28 attempts. Early in the third quarter, he calmly handled an A-gap blitz and late linebacker drops in coverage to connect with Jarvis Landry on a deep over route for 49 yards.

    Later in the third, he calmly worked through pressure in the pocket to step up and throw deep to Kenny Stills on a switch-release concept. The moving parts in this play made Moore's throw more impressive: He had to navigate a moving pocket, wait for Stills to cross on his route and hit him in stride in a coverage hole for 45 yards.

    Moore's fourth-quarter touchdown to Stills was also impressive. With great timing and an efficient throwing motion, he hit Stills in stride again as the receiver raced past Tampa Bay's coverage.

    Moore didn't just play better than Cutler in this game; he also showed that for this offense, he's the better option. The Dolphins should adjust their quarterback rotation accordingly.

15. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Last Week: N/A (Bye)

    Remember when Alex Smith was an NFL MVP candidate and the Kansas City Chiefs had the most multiple and dangerous offense in the league?

    It was not so long ago, but the Chiefs have slowed on their option concepts, leaving Smith to make stick throws to tighter-covered receivers; something that's never been his specialty. And without his coaches scheming his receivers open and creating confusion among defenders with advanced pre-snap motion, Smith has looked all too ordinary of late.

    In a 12-9 overtime loss to the New York Giants, the offense looked more uninspired and ineffective than it had all season. Smith completed 27 of 40 passes for 230 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. And the only trick play of note resulted in tight end Travis Kelce's pass being picked off by Giants safety Landon Collins.

    Smith's shovel-pass interception to Giants defensive tackle Damon "Snacks" Harrison was another. When the Chiefs have made the shovel pass work, they have cleared defenders with motion. Here, Smith flipped the ball to Kelce after faking a sweep handoff to receiver Tyreek Hill, but the Giants were not fooled. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul hit Kelce right as he took the ball, and Snacks had a rare pick.

    Smith's second interception was an example of how he's being asked to make deep throws he's not really capable of making. Late in the fourth quarter, he tried to hit Hill on a deep seam route, but cornerback Janoris Jenkins did an amazing job of coming off his own outside assignment on Robinson and picked off the pass.

    The Chiefs must make running back Kareem Hunt more of a featured player as both a runner and deep receiver, get the ball to Kelce on more than goofy gimmick plays and set things up for Smith through formation diversity in ways that don't expose his flaws as a passer to get the offense back on track.

14. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Last Week: 14

    Andy Dalton hasn't been asked to carry his offense this season, which is always the smart play. As long as he's an adjunct positive factor as opposed to a franchise-defining guy, things tend to go decently for the Bengals.

    This season, with an iffy offensive line and underwhelming run game, the Bengals have alternated between competent and uninspiring. But Dalton has been relatively mistake-free, and his three-touchdown performance against the Denver Broncos marked the fourth straight game in which he hasn't thrown an interception. That he completed just 15 passes in 25 attempts for just 154 yards doesn't tell the story of two of his touchdowns, which were really good throws.

    Dalton's first score was a one-yarder to tight end Tyler Kroft in which Kroft blocked linebacker Shane Ray at the line of scrimmage and then released wide-open into the end zone—that was the easy one. But Dalton then hit receiver Alex Erickson on a deep sail route to the left side after Erickson beat cornerback Bradley Roby. And Roby was the victim again on Dalton's third touchdown, as A.J. Green froze the defender with a stutter step and then ran the fade.

    Dalton's incompletions showed occasional timing issues—he will throw late and bring his receivers into coverage—but when he had to be efficient, he was. It was good enough for a much-needed 20-17 win for a team that had lost three of its last four games and is trying to stay relevant in the playoff race at 4-6.

13. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Last Week: 10

    Dallas, we have a problem.

    There are a multitude of traits that go into playing quarterback at a high level. Some are more athletic, such as arm talent, accuracy or play-strength. Others are more mental, including confidence and aggressiveness. Comfort is another. When you are comfortable in the pocket—or even outside of it—you make better reads, decisions and throws.

    For the past two weeks, left tackle Tyron Smith and running back Ezekiel Elliott have been sidelined, and Dak Prescott has not looked comfortable playing the position. We are seeing it now impact his ball placement. When you are constantly hurried and under duress you justifiably begin to speed up your own process. That leads to poor decisions and poor throws. Even on simple quick screens, swing routes and smoke routes—plays designed to get the ball out quickly and negate any protection flaws—Prescott's throws on Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles were off the mark.

    Then look at the first two interceptions of Prescott's three. The first came on a run-pass option where Prescott made the right read to pull the ball and look to throw. But his pass was slightly behind receiver Terrance Williams. It was catchable, but Williams was unable to make an awkward adjustment, and the ball was tipped into the air and intercepted.

    On Prescott's second interception, the ball placement was again off on a seam route thrown in the direction of Dez Bryant. Prescott was pressured on 3rd-and-17, and even though Bryant was open up the seam, the underthrown pass was intercepted.

    When you speed things up as a quarterback, ball placement can suffer. That is what we are seeing from Prescott right now. Ball placement was something he struggled with at times in college, but he had the drive and competitive toughness to improve from year to year while at Mississippi State and again coming into the NFL. He'll need that going forward to keep Dallas at least in the wild card hunt.

12. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Last Week: 18

    Mitchell Trubisky's stat line from Sunday was not incredibly impressive. He completed 18 of 30 passes for only 179 yards and a touchdown. However, more importantly for the Chicago Bears, Trubisky is starting to show signs of development. As the offensive staff looks to put more on his shoulders and trust him more with the offense, the rookie QB seems to be growing from week to week.

    One of the traits that stood out when studying Trubisky as a college quarterback was how he handled the pocket, whether remaining calm and poised in the face of pressure or using his athletic ability to elude danger and extend plays. This was on full display Sunday in Chicago's narrow loss to the Detroit Lions. On an early boot-concept throw to Dontrelle Inman, he was patient to let the route develop, not force an early throw and find his receiver on a crossing route.

    Trubisky made a number of impressive plays on Sunday: There was an opening-drive post route to rookie tight end Adam Shaheen where the quarterback needed to fit the throw over a safety in trail technique, and later in the game he hit Inman on a deeper curl pattern with great velocity under duress.

    We also saw the athletic ability Trubisky was known for coming out of college on the final drive when he was able to scramble for the first down on 4th-and-13. But two throws from that series really stood out. First was the quick out pattern to Tre McBride on 3rd-and-5 to convert, and later the deeper route to Inman that Trubisky delivered just before Glover Quin could rotate under the throw. Those are two must-have throws in those situations, and the rookie delivered.

    While the end result was not one that sent Bears fans home from Soldier Field happy, they should take heart in their rookie quarterback starting to look like the guy they traded up for in the first round of the 2017 draft.

11. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Last Week: 1

    Sunday's huge meeting between the Minnesota Vikings and the visiting Los Angeles Rams provided two division-leading teams that have been big stories early in the 2017 season. Early in the contest, the Rams looked sharper, as they went right down the field on their opening drive to take a 7-0 lead. Quarterback Jared Goff looked crisp and efficient on that drive, hitting on a mix of passes, including a curl route to Sammy Watkins and a Cooper Kupp dig route to keep the offense on track and the Vikings defense off-balance.

    Then, however, the Minnesota defense started to get to Goff in the pocket. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Goff struggled in the face of pressure. His passer rating under duress was only 42.4, and he was 0-of-5 on passing attempts over 20 yards against Minnesota. There were missed opportunities as well, most notably a fumble by Kupp.

    On that play, the Rams faced a 3rd-and-4 on the Minnesota 11-yard line with the score knotted at seven late in the second quarter. Goff did a very good job of opening to his left and working his progressions before hitting Kupp on a route over the middle, But after securing the catch and cutting toward the goal line Kupp lost the ball, and the Vikings recovered. That changed the complexion of the game, but it showed the quarterback working through his reads and quickly resetting his feet as he moved from left to right.

    One sequence that summed up the missed opportunities came on their eighth possession. After a quick hitch route to Watkins gave the Rams a first down at the Minnesota 49-yard line, Goff's next three passes fell incomplete. First was a deep shot to Robert Woods that Goff forced into coverage and should have been intercepted. On second down, a pass intended for Tyler Higbee fell incomplete, and Kupp dropped a high, catchable pass on third down to force a punt. On their next possession, the Vikings scored to take a 21-7 lead and effectively end the game.

    Goff's development and progression has been one of the better storylines of the 2017 season, but there were some mistakes and missed opportunities in this meeting with the Vikings. Things do not get easier for the young quarterback and his team, as the red-hot New Orleans Saints come to town next Sunday. The Rams will need a better performance if they hope to get back into the win column.

10. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Last Week: 9

    It was lost in Nathan Peterman's five-interception implosion, but Philip Rivers had a pretty good game against a Buffalo defense that seems intent on self-destruction itself these days. Rivers was obviously presented with a ton of advantages via Peterson's generosity, but he did well enough on his own, completing 20 of 32 passes for 251 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

    Early in the game, Rivers had a couple of easy passes fall incomplete in which he seemed a bit balky in the pocket, and he was pushing the ball more than throwing it. But when he got his game together, things started to roll. Rivers hit Keenan Allen on a nice intermediate timing throw for a 21-yard touchdown in the second quarter as Allen, whose route-running is highly underrated, turned cornerback Leonard Johnson around. Rivers hit Allen again for another second-quarter touchdown on the Chargers' next drive out of a stack-release formation from the Buffalo two-yard line.

    Rivers didn't have to do a ton in this game; Buffalo's offense set the tone for the Chargers' scoring, and when the game really got out of hand, head coach Anthony Lynn sent backup Kellen Clemens in. Clemens completed all five of his passing attempts for 33 yards.

9. Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Last Week: 11

    Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings keep winning, this time with a solid 24-7 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Rams to push their record to 8-2. Keenum was strong again in the win, completing 27 of 38 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown.

    Keenum's relative calmness in the pocket really stood out this Sunday: He never seemed to get flustered or really drop his eyes in the face of a rush. This was evident on an early 2nd-and-5 when he evaded two defenders in the pocket, including ducking Connor Barwin, before finding Adam Thielen on a crossing route for a first down.

    We also saw some good ball placement on a number of throws, most notably a seam route to Kyle Rudolph for a first down early in the second quarter. This was highlighted by Greg Olsen in the booth, who made the observation that in those situations quarterbacks need to put the ball high where the tight end can get it because the linebacker in trail coverage "cannot locate the football like we can." (As an aside, Olsen was pretty strong in the booth and definitely has a second career waiting for him once his playing days are over.)

    But it was the growing relationship and trust between Keenum and Thielen that provided the biggest boost to Minnesota on this day. Last week they connected eight times for 166 yards and a touchdown. This week they hooked up six times for 123 yards and a touchdown, with the big play coming on a simple hitch route that Thielen took for a 65-yard score.

    That was one of a few plays (two others came to Michael Floyd) where the QB showed good timing and anticipation on the throw. Getting the ball out on time and with anticipation leads to yards after the catch, and it did on this scoring play. If Keenum keeps making plays like these while eliminating the mistakes such as the two interceptions last week against Washington, the Vikings can keep on winning.

8. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Last Week: 13

    Four days after missing on several deep throws to Antonio Brown in a close 20-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Ben Roethlisberger came into Thursday night's game against the Tennessee Titans with a need to re-establish a bond with his best receiver. It wasn't a problem, caught 10 of 13 targets for 144 yards. Big Ben completed 30 of 45 passes for 299 yards, four touchdowns and no picks in a 40-17 thrashing, with Brown accounting for three of those scores. 

    The first touchdown was a slightly underthrown deep pass, but Brown, as the iso left receiver in a bunch right concept, ran right by cornerback LeShaun Sims' bail coverage. Safety Kevin Byard was late to help as he was originally aligned to the bunch side, and Brown had an easy score. Brown's other two touchdowns were short passes—a five-yard quick slant and a 10-yard fade where Brown made a ridiculous helmet catch—but it was good for the Steelers to have two of their most prominent offensive weapons on the same page. Brown has the ability to create his own openings in any route concept because he's such a great route-runner, and Roethlisberger needs to exploit that whenever possible.

    On more challenging throws that didn't have Brown as the target, things didn't go as well. Roethlisberger threw a deep ball along the right boundary to Juju Smith-Schuster when he was clearly boxed out down the sideline, and cornerback Adoree' Jackson broke it up. He also overthrew tight end Jesse James in the end zone and missed on another deep throw to Brown in the second quarter; the Titans were clearly aligning double coverage with Byard and Jackson and the ball was overthrown. And he missed Martavis Bryant when he had a free play thanks to an offside call on Titans defensive end Derrick Morgan.

    For most of the last calendar year, Roethlisberger's inefficiencies stem from two issues—route concepts in which he's not presented with clear openings and a scattershot, at times sidearm-ish, throwing style that leads to missed connections. Antonio Brown is able to mask some of these issues; the mere mortals Big Ben throws to tend to find that a tougher task. There's always been a rogue element to Roethlisberger's style, but it takes over at times.

7. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Last Week: 3

    It is almost impossible to overstate how much Russell Wilson means to this Seattle Seahawks offense. As ESPN pointed this out many times before and during Monday night's game, but NFL Research tweeted the quarterback had accounted for over 80 percent of the Seattle offensive production entering the game against Atlanta. That pattern continued against the Atlanta Falcons, as Wilson's arm, legs and even his voice accounted for the bulk of Seattle's yardage on the night.

    Midway through the fourth quarter, Wilson had accounted for 239 of the Seahawks' 255 yards on the night, per Field Gulls. He finished with 344 yards rushing and passing. Seattle had 360 total yards.

    Wilson did everything yet again for Seattle, between scrambles for yardage, buying time in the pocket with a dizzying array of spins and changes of direction in the backfield and using his arm in the passing game. Atlanta tried to have an answer for him, using Vic Beasley as a spy on him often, but even on those plays Wilson was able to get past the linebacker. Once, Wilson ducked around him with a great move on the left side, cutting inside of Beasley to pick up a first down. Later in the game, Wilson converted a huge 3rd-and-12, outracing Beasley on the edge and then diving head-first to move the chains.

    He was electric with his arm as well. Late in the game on a free play (thanks to great usage of a hard count), he hit Doug Baldwin with an absolute laser on a post route for a touchdown to cut into Atlanta's lead.

    There were some mistakes. Wilson threw an interception on Seattle's opening drive when he threw behind Tyler Lockett on a crossing route. Detractors will point to Wilson perhaps bailing from some clean pockets and putting himself into trouble, but when you look at the numbers, it is clear Wilson is doing everything he can for his team to be successful.

    In the end, however, the Seahawks ran out of time to pull off the comeback. Thanks to some curious decisions (a fake field goal before halftime, a challenge on a clear incompletion), Seattle was left without a full array of timeouts while needing two scores to tie the game. They got the first but fell just a bit short in the end. Wilson did a fantastic job getting the Seahawks into field-goal range for Blair Walsh, but the 52-yard try fell short. The QB did everything he could, but the loss now drops the Seahawks out of playoff position and fighting for its playoff future.

6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

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    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Last Week: 5

    The Seattle Seahawks hosted the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football in a huge matchup filled with playoff implications. In addition, this meeting was another chance for Matt Ryan, Steve Sarkisian and the Falcons offense to demonstrate what they could be after a slow start to the 2017 season. Thanks to a mix of great designs, timely play-calling and good execution from Ryan, Atlanta's offense showed it is more than up to the task.

    Atlanta's QB finished the night completing 19 of 27 yards for 195 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was impressive on a number of throws, extending drives or picking up huge chunks of yardage.

    On a 3rd-and-7 throw to Justin Hardy on Atlanta's second possession of the game, Ryan showed precision accuracy, timing and incredible anticipation, getting the ball out of his hands well before Hardy made his break. On his first touchdown of the night, a short throw to Mohamed Sanu on a slot-fade concept, Ryan used great touch to lead his receiver to the back corner of the end zone for the score. In the fourth quarter he delivered perhaps the biggest play of the night. On a 3rd-and-6, the Falcons were trying to put the game away and faced an all-out blitz from Seattle. Ryan hung in the pocket and dropped in a perfect bucket shot to Jones on a vertical route for the big gain and a conversion.

    He also took advantage of some great play-calling from Sarkisian, particularly on the drive leading to his second scoring pass of the night. They executed a play-action boot concept on one play, with Ryan rolling to his left before hitting Julio Jones on a crossing route. His next passing attempt used a similar concept, with the quarterback rolling to his right and tight end Levine Toilolo leaking downfield against the flow of the play on a Y-Throwback design. Ryan delivered a well-placed vertical ball for the score. Sarkisian did a fantastic job setting up that play with the previous crossing route to Jones, and the Falcons took advantage.

    With the victory, the Falcons moved into a playoff spot, but a lot of football is left to be played. Ryan's performance, on the road against a team fighting for their own playoff lives, should give Atlanta fans hope as the games wind down.

5. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Last Week: 6

    It was not the most inspiring team performance, but the Detroit Lions went into Soldier Field on Sunday and eked out a victory over the Chicago Bears, 27-24, led by yet another game-winning drive from quarterback Matthew Stafford. It was the 31st game-winning drive from the Lions signal-caller and moved Detroit to 6-4.

    Stafford completed 21 of 31 passes for 299 yards and a pair of touchdowns. As always, the easiest takeaway from watching Stafford play the position is the pure arm talent. Whether it is the arm strength to deliver on a route along the boundary to T.J. Jones under duress, the velocity on a dig route to Marvin Jones on a dagger concept, or the power on a throw to Kenny Golladay that comes while Stafford was limping in the pocket, the quarterback has the pure arm strength and torque that enables him to make any throw with velocity and precision.

    His two scoring plays were a mix of manipulation with his eyes and touch with his throws. The first came when Marvin Jones beat Marcus Cooper with a double move, and Stafford dropped in a perfectly placed vertical route for the score. The second came on a short throw to Ameer Abdullah out of the backfield in the red zone. Stafford froze the defense in the middle of the field with his eyes before hitting his running back leaking out of the backfield for the score.

    The victory tees up a huge game for the Lions on Thursday. They are currently two games back of the Minnesota Vikings but have already beaten them on the road. A win would really tighten the race in the NFC North. They'll need Stafford to be at his best to pull out the victory, but as we have seen in recent weeks, the quarterback is playing well right now.

4. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

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    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    Last Week: 12

    For the early part of Sunday's game between the New Orleans Saints and the Washington Redskins, Kirk Cousins looked like the better quarterback on the field. Cousins was very strong, with a great mix of pocket movement, accurate throws under duress and manipulation with his eyes. However, the Redskins failed to close out the game, and while Cousins finished the day completing 22 of 32 for 322 yards and three touchdowns, it is more likely that people remember the overtime loss than anything else.

    Cousins opened his scoring day on a 16-yard touchdown throw to running back Chris Thompson. On a well-designed pick play, the RB ran a wheel route from a wing alignment and the QB dropped in a perfectly placed throw for the score. But that was one of the easier throws Cousins had on the afternoon. He made a number of standout passes, such as the 4th-and-6 completion to Vernon Davis on a corner route early in the second quarter, or the fourth-quarter fade route to Davis out of the slot on 2nd-and-6, where the QB also did a great job of holding the free safety in the middle of the field with his eyes.

    Cousins' second touchdown pass was an example of a quarterback knowing he will get hit but hanging in the pocket until the last moment to let the play develop. On a 3rd-and-7 in the third quarter, the Saints brought the house, but Cousins stood tall in the pocket before delivering a perfect throw to Ryan Grant for the score.

    Late in the game, after the Saints had tied the score at 31, Cousins looked to have the Redskins on track to pull out another last-second victory. Three straight completions to Jamison Crowder had Washington nearing field-goal range. But then Cousins committed an intentional grounding penalty, which was followed by a sack and fumble that ended the threat.

    Washington will need to shrug off this loss in a hurry as they square off with the "surging" New York Giants on Thanksgiving night. But this loss is likely one that could linger for a while.

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

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    Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press

    Last Week: 2

    When Tom Brady goes up against an Oakland Raiders defense that still doesn't have an interception all season, and whose pass defenders have spent most of the 2017 campaign in various states of undress on the field, the results are fairly predictable. Brady shaved Oakland's underwhelming defense down to a nub in his brutally efficient fashion, completing 30 of 37 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-8 win.

    Most disconcerting for the rest of the NFL, this was the game in which Brandin Cooks had his best and most explosive performance as a Patriot. Traded in the offseason from New Orleans, Cooks showed he can be the perfect complement to Brady and a New England passing game trying to create more explosive plays than in previous years. That's led to more sacks for Brady as he's taking more five- and seven-step drops, but as he gets on the same page with Cooks, you can see how that combination makes this offense as tough to solve as it's ever been.

    There was no schematic complexity to Brady's 52-yard deep pass to Cooks in the second quarter, though. That was simply Cooks beating bracket coverage with his deep speed and Brady heaving the ball to him in perfect time.

    Brady's 64-yard touchdown pass to Cooks early in the third quarter seemed inevitable before the ball was even snapped. When safety Karl Joseph came up to the line of scrimmage for a blitz look, it put rookie defensive back Obi Melifonwu on Cooks one-on-one to the outside, with deep safety Reggie Nelson slow to catch up after Cooks blew past Melifonwu.

    The Patriots won't always have matchups this easy, but when you combine the obvious work Brady has done to improve his deep ball at age 40, and how well Cooks is fitting into that paradigm, you might have the perfect component that puts this team over the top and sends them to yet another Super Bowl.

2. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Last Week: N/A (Bye)

    On Sunday night, the Philadelphia Eagles got off to a quick start, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive to take a 7-3 lead on the road against bitter rivals the Dallas Cowboys. But after that drive, Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense slowed, and they entered halftime trailing 9-7 and without a kicker following Jake Elliott's injury.

    However, in the second half their defense, running game, and the playmaking prowess of Wentz both in and out of the pocket took over en route to Philadelphia's 37-9 blowout win over Dallas.

    On Philadelphia's opening second-half drive, it faced a critical 3rd-and-inches. A play-action, Y-throwback play resulted in Wentz waiting until the last moment before dropping in a touch throw to Brent Celek to move the sticks. Later in the drive, on a 3rd-and-9, Wentz showed perfect velocity and placement on a Bang 8 post route to Alshon Jeffery to convert the first down. That drive ended with a touchdown and a two-point conversion on a quick screen out of a quad bunch formation.

    Wentz threw his first touchdown pass of the night on Philadelphia's next drive. He showed some subtle pocket movement by climbing the pocket before finding Torrey Smith in the end zone for the TD. On the ensuing two-point try, Wentz showed both his athletic ability and his play strength by avoiding multiple defenders in the backfield before finding Jeffery in the end zone for the conversion.

    On their next drive, which ended with another touchdown, we saw more of Wentz's ability both inside and outside the pocket. On a 3rd-and-2, the Eagles called another play-action boot concept, and Wentz faced quick pressure off the edge. But the QB was able to cut and climb around the edge defender and find Jeffery on a crossing route, dropping in a perfect throw from an awkward throwing platform for the conversion. He then hit Jeffery again on another Bang 8 post route for a touchdown on fourth down later in the drive.

    The Eagles are 9-1, and Wentz is playing the position at a high level, causing many who doubted him and his ability before he was drafted to re-evaluate their own scouting process.

1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

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    Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    Last Week: 7

    With 4:42 left in the fourth quarter, the New Orleans Saints faced a 1st-and-20 on their own 45-yard line. They were trailing 31-16 and their win probability was 0.2 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

    They came back to win 34-31 in overtime.

    Over the past few weeks, as the Saints continued to win games and impress more and more, many pointed to the development of their defense and running game as a huge reason for the success, and with good reason. The addition of Alvin Kamara, the running contribution from Mark Ingram and the suddenly stout defense have made the Saints a better team and reduced the load on Drew Brees' shoulders. But Sunday they needed Brees to be Brees, and he stepped up in a big way.

    The signal-caller finished the day completing 29 of 41 passes for 385 yards, a pair of touchdowns and one interception. The turnover came early in the game on a three-verticals concept, when Brees failed to move the safety in the middle of the field, allowing D.J. Swearinger to rotate over for the pick.

    However, down the stretch Brees was outstanding with his reads, decisions and ball placement. Whether it was the curl or seam routes he was throwing to his tight end, the crossing routes to Michael Thomas, or the checkdowns to Kamara out of the backfield, Brees was nearly perfect on the Saints' final two drives of regulation.

    In fact, on their final TD drive, Brees was a clean four for four for 82 yards and a touchdown. He did have a potential back-breaking interception to start the drive chalked off due to a penalty, but that only set the stage for the thrilling finish.

    With eight straight wins, the Saints now move a game clear of the idle Carolina Panthers in the NFC South. A trip west to take on the NFC West-leading Los Angeles Rams is up next, but this team and its quarterback are showing no signs of slowing down.