In any number of ways, this past decade could rightfully be called the decade of the passer.
In 2009, this is especially true. Now, passing success has always been a large indicator of a team's success, but it seems that having an elite quarterback is the hallmark of every playoff team still alive.
It seems a given that having an elite player at such a key position would be a fast track to the playoffs, but you could argue that the league's best running back, cornerback, inside linebacker, defensive tackle, wide receiver and left tackle are all sitting home right now.
(For posterity's sake that list would be Chris Johnson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Patrick Willis, Albert Haynesworth, Andre Johnson and Joe Thomas, in my humblest opinion, though Darrelle Revis is just as good as Asomugha. We'll debate this later, I'm sure.)
Contrast that with the fact that the only elite quarterbacks not in the playoffs are Matt Schaub and Ben Roethlisberger, and it's obvious: the NFL is a quarterback-driven league.
With that, let's rank the 2009 playoff quarterbacks from worst to first, based on their current level of play and what we can expect to see from them in the playoffs.
Mark Sanchez is a victim of his own youth.
True, he's second in the league in interceptions, has a QB rating of just 63.0, and he's got the fourth-worst completion percentage in the league, but he's basically unbenchable because his possible replacement, is really no better and, for better or worse, it's better for Sanchez to get his licks now than slowly over the next three or four seasons.
He's not worse or better than fellow rookie Matt Stafford, he's just being asked to adjust to the pace and requirements of the NFL before he's ready.
There have been good signs from Sanchez this season, of course. But the truth is he's not ready to lead a team to a Super Bowl. If the Jets are going anywhere, they'll have to rely on their dominant defense and running attack.
While the best method of acclimating a young QB to the NFL is still up for debate, Rex Ryan is doing the right thing in allowing Sanchez to learn on the job than trying to absorb experience through a clipboard.
For the purposes of this list, though, Sanchez is, unsurprisingly, at the bottom.
Here's a fun fact: Carson Palmer is, essentially, a playoff rookie.
Like Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers and Sanchez, Palmer doesn't have any real playoff experience. His last playoff game he threw one pass, to the late Chris Henry, before his knee buckled in twain.
Palmer and Joe Flacco have had nearly identical seasons in terms of overall productivity. While Palmer has a better option in Chad Ochocinco to call on (Revis Island notwithstanding), Flacco has the edge in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and late-season performance.
Still, Palmer has got to be hungry heading into these playoffs now that he's battled back to the playoffs and, with a solid rushing attack and rush defense around him, he's got a lot to prove.
Flacco was very good in his rookie season. While him and Matt Ryan both started the year off quite well, the struggles of rookies Sanchez and Stafford just show that Flacco and Ryan were the exceptions that prove the rule that rookie quarterbacks are generally unreliable.
This season Flacco has increased his completion percentage, yards per attempt, quarterback rating, and threw five more touchdowns.
The reigns have come off Flacco a bit compared to last year, despite being without a real dynamic receiving corps. He's been more accurate over 20 yards as well, though hasn't had as much luck with big plays and his really faded over the stretch run when Baltimore needed him, throwing just four touchdowns from Week 8 through 14 before exploding for six touchdowns combined against Pittsburgh and Chicago.
Much like Sanchez, Flacco doesn't have a host of quality receivers but has a great defense and rushing attack to rely on. That Flacco has a year of seasoning over the young Jet should give Baltimore fans more hope, assuming Joe doesn't revert to his midseason self.
There is a noticeable step up from the veritable playoff rookies to the next crop of quarterbacks.
Kurt Warner has bags of playoff experience, having played eleven playoff games and three Super Bowls in just the last ten years.
In those eleven playoff games he's amassed a very impressive 27 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions and a 98.9 quarterback rating.
The real question is how are the Cardinals going to respond after being shellacked by the Green Bay Packers 33-7 in the final week of the season?
Given that last year they were destroyed by the Patriots in the final week of the season last year and went on to make the Super Bowl, don't reading too much into it.
Donovan McNabb hasn't been the most accurate QB this season, completing just a hair over sixty percent of his passes, but he's been an unbelievable deep threat, leading the league in plays over 40 yards.
Now a big part of that is DeSean Jackson's explosive ability, but McNabb's accuracy deep has, for the most part, allowed Jackson to truly be at his best.
It's for that reason McNabb ranks above Warner. Warner, for all his accuracy and superior quarterback rating, has only completed three passes of longer than 40 yards, among the worst in the league.
Is a part of that the fact that he doesn't have Jackson at his disposal? Yes, but with an overall receiving corps far deeper than McNabb (would Jason Avant even be the fourth string receiver in Arizona?), McNabb gets the nod here.
Tom Brady is coming back from catastrophic, complicated, season-ending knee surgery.
Let's just let that sink in for a moment.
As those who follow the league, we've forgotten that fact. This time last year, Tom Brady was just beginning his rehabilitation after multiple surgeries to fix and clean out his destroyed knee.
Now? He's essentially back to his old self. While there were some pretty significant stumbles early in the season, Brady seems to have dialed it back in.
He's not yet back to 2007 form, but when you talk about the Patriots' chances in the playoffs this year, it's not Tom Brady's knee, but Wes Welker's, that tops the list of negatives.
And that's the rub, really. Tom Brady has always been able to do a great deal with whatever is around him, but without his best and most consistent weapon, it's going to be an uphill battle for the Patriots' offense in the playoffs.
In many ways, the story of Tony Romo will be written in these playoffs.
So far he's played in two playoff games, both losses (at Seattle and against the Giants), in which he was less than remarkable and far below the standard he's set with his otherwise stellar career.
He's a great, young quarterback, but his career playoff mark now stands at 35/65, a 53.8 completion percentage, 390 yards total with two touchdowns, one interception, and a quarterback rating of 75.8.
Two bad games, you might say. But if two is bad, three is a trend and Tony Romo is one more flop away from having a nice reputation as a choke artist who doesn't focus enough on the game.
That, or this is the year that Tony Romo puts it all behind him and steps firmly into the limelight as one of the truly great young quarterbacks in the league, a guy with elite arm strength and poise in the big moment who merely enjoys a nice Mexican getaway to clear his head before the playoffs start.
He's gotten quite a bit of help from his receivers, as he leads the league in yards after the catch, according to Stats LLC, but he's the one putting the ball where they can run with it.
No matter how you look at it, after yet another stellar year, this one devoid of most of the usual distractions that have hampered Dallas in previous seasons, Tony Romo's got every chance in the world to show what kind of player he really is.
It's truly unbelievable the transformation that Brett Favre has undergone this season.
This is a guy who slung 22 interceptions last season, most in the league. This year? He's thrown seven, tied with Aaron Rodgers for best in the league among quarterbacks who have played at least 75 per cent of their team's snaps.
In 2007, he seemed to have a career revival, finally limiting his escalating interception totals en route to the NFC Championship game as a Packer.
But in 2009, he's managed to finally marry his inherent arm strength and accuracy to have his best season since his MVP days of the late '90s.
In just about every metric measurable, Brett Favre is having his best season since 2000, truly amazing given the fact that he turned 40 in October. Still, with the competition heating up in the playoffs, one has to wonder that, with Percy Harvin carrying an injury, if maybe the old Brett Favre won't show up in 2010.
Regardless, if this is truly Favre's last season—and given how amazing it's been for him, I can't see why it would be—what a way for the Hall of Famer to go out.
Many in the media have suggested this year that every great game Favre has is a black mark on Packers GM Ted Thompson's resume.
At the beginning of the year, with Rodgers struggling to stay upright and the Packers struggling to win football games, that may have been true.
But there was a noticeable shift in Rodgers' game, as he focused on fixing the part of his game that lacked the most: his slow delivery.
It's the kind of thing most quarterbacks fix in an offseason, Rodgers did it seemingly overnight. He's still tied for the most sacks taken in the league, with 50, but he's healthy going into these playoffs and has had one heck of a season.
Now, with Rodgers posting a season on par with all but the most elite quarterbacks in the league—30 touchdowns, seven interceptions, a 64.7 completion percentage, more than eight yards per attempt and a QB rating of 103.2—and about to get his first playoff start, Thompson made the right decision for the future of the franchise, no matter how great the 40-year-old Favre plays.
As for his first playoff experience, Rodgers will have to deal with a number of teams that boast elite pass rushers. Given that he's continuously played at an elite level despite ending up on his back in every game, it's Green Bay's running game and defense that will have to be on point for the Packers to live up to the billing their QB has set.
Philip Rivers has truly cemented himself among the best quarterbacks in the league with his performance over the last 11 weeks.
In winning those games, the Chargers have relied largely on the performance of Rivers. He doesn't lead in many individual categories statistically, but it's his total resume that earns him a spot this high on the list.
In fact, if you look deeper into the numbers, you will find that Rivers leads in several of the overlooked categories like yards per attempt, yards per completion, adjusted yards per completion, and net yards per attempt.
Essentially, when Rivers drops back to throw, he's one of the most efficient players with the ball there is.
Part of that is due to the weapons at his disposal. Vincent Jackson is one of the most underrated receivers in the league and an absolute physical menace. Antonio Gates is still Antonio Gates and Darren Sproles is a very solid option in the passing game, as well.
Overall, with several options 6'4" and up, they have a receiving corps that could double as a basketball team and you'd hardly notice the height difference.
Like the other quarterbacks around him in this list, Rivers doesn't need to do anything spectacular for his team to win. He just has to be his usual self. It's the Chargers running game and pass defense that need to step their game up in the playoffs for San Diego to move forward.
The fact that Peyton Manning is on this list is not surprising. The fact that he's behind Drew Brees probably will be.
What can you say about Peyton Manning that hasn't already been said? They should go ahead and elect him to the Hall of Fame now instead of waiting for him to retire.
The Colts should be a slam dunk favorite to run to the Super Bowl with a defense that is playing well, perhaps the best pass rush tandem in the game, a solid-enough running game, and Manning leading the way.
Simply put, Manning is untouchable in a way that no other quarterback has been in the history of the league. In the modern NFL guys are too quick, surfaces too slick, elements too controlled, and passing games too refined to rely on a quarterback of Manning's caliber beating himself.
All season he's only been sacked ten times. You may say that's just because he's getting the ball away faster than everyone else, and you'd be correct. But beyond that, he's only been hit while throwing three times and had nine passes batted down.
This is largely due to the stellar performance of Indianapolis' great, young offensive line, but it also shows just how fast Peyton diagnoses defenses and finds his opening.
Truly just a remarkable season that really puts a stamp on what will be Manning's fourth AP MVP award. By the way, Manning will be 34 in March.
What's the line on him winning a fifth and truly owning the award?
Drew Brees is, quite simply, the best quarterback of 2009.
Brees leads the league in touchdowns and touchdown percentage as well as adjusted net yards per attempt. But what is most impressive is his 70.6 percent completion percentage, the best all-time.
It was a mark sure to fall eventually, given the prevalence of indoor, dome stadiums and the defensive rule changes this decade, but it is every bit as impressive as a player hitting .400 in baseball, if not more so.
Despite playing in an era with quarterbacks that are unquestionably among the best of all time, Brees is the only one to break the 70 per cent barrier, joining Steve Young, Joe Montana, and Ken Anderson as the four players to accomplish the feat while throwing more than 300 passes.
Given that this came just a year after Brees came within a couple completions of breaking Dan Marino's single-season yardage mark, Brees has sent a message to the whole fraternity of Hall of Fame quarterbacks: your records are no longer safe.
Despite losing some of their luster in the last month, the Saints are, to my eyes, the most complete football team in the league. They can obviously pass the ball, but they defend the run and pass well, are solid on special teams and have a great offensive line.
All in all, Brees has now had two consecutive seasons for the ages. That he will be overlooked for the MVP, again, is a shame. Still, with the playoffs on the horizon and most of the league, somehow, sleeping on New Orleans after a bad December, Brees has a chance to tie Manning in the only award that really matters.