There are two minutes left on the clock and your team has the ball at their own fifteen-yard line. Down four. With no timeouts. And your team is an expansion franchise with the dregs of the NFL at the skill positions, the Hank Basketts and JJ Arringtons and Jeff Dugans of the league.
Who is the quarterback you want leading that drive?
Which quarterback would be able to elevate their teammate's performance, stay upright, make the correct read, and throw the perfect pass?
Which quarterback would give this expansion team the best chance of winning?
There really are several quarterbacks capable of succeeding in this situation, including some that won't make this list. Considering how difficult it is for secondaries to stop the pass these days, there might be twenty some-odd quarterbacks that could win this hypothetical game.
But top ten lists are all the rage these days; the kids won't stop talking about the new Arcade Fire album and top ten lists. So a top ten list it is.
Now, on with the subjectivity.
Donovan McNabb has his faults.
He played poorly in a couple NFC championship games; threw up during a crucial Super Bowl drive; he is injury-prone; his accuracy will never be described as elite; this; and he didn't know games could end in a tie for some reason.
But even with all that, even on the downside of his career, McNabb is a good bet to win; he has a 65 percent winning percentage, with 15 fourth-quarter comebacks and 23 game-winning drives in his career.
Yes, he had a good defense helping him, Rush. But McNabb's accomplishments shouldn't be diminished because he had a good defense when most good quarterbacks have had a good defense at some point in their career.
McNabb led the Eagles to four straight championship games with sub-par offensive help: Todd Pinkston, James Thrash, Duce Staley, and Freddie Mitchell. Given weapons, such as Terrell Owens or DeSean Jackson, and McNabb has had first-class stats, but he wins in any situation.
While he doesn't produce the rushing totals he once did, he now uses his legs to avoid pass-rushers and keep the play alive. Like any experienced quarterback, McNabb stays on an even-keel and doesn't take risks; he has the third-best interception percentage in NFL history.
While McNabb has the third-best interception percentage in history, Aaron Rodgers has the best interception percentage in history.
Nice change of pace, eh Packer fans?
Rodgers is a young quarterback who only has three fourth-quarter comeback notches on the belt, but anyone that has ever watched any football can see he will be around for a long time, adding to that and plenty other stats.
In his two seasons as a starter, Rodgers has 58 touchdowns to 21 interceptions with a 64% completion percentage. He finished in the top four in passing yards and touchdowns both years.
Despite sitting behind Brett Favre for three seasons, Rodgers is just a 27-year-old who hasn't seen his best days. Imagine what maturity and wisdom will do for him. And he is already wise beyond his years, with a willingness to throw the ball away or take the sack if the play isn't there - although sometimes he will hang onto the ball a split-second too long.
Rodgers will rank higher on the list with time.
Tony Romo seems to get a little better each season.
His interceptions have decreased from 19 to 14 to 9 over the past three years. During that same span, his yards per game has gone up from 263 to 280. His passer rating and completion percentage have seemingly plateaued around 97 and 64 percent respectively, but don't be surprised to see those stats improve next season.
During his short career, Romo has already produced some impressive numbers; he currently has the fourth-best passer rating in NFL history, and he is the active leader in yards per attempt and yards per completion.
Romo also has ten game-winning drives and nine fourth quarter comebacks to his name thanks to his ability to create plays out of messes, or make the deep pass, or fit it into a small window. He can do everything a quarterback is asked to do.
Romo just needs to do it in the postseason now, like some other quarterbacks on this list, before he can be moved up the totem pole.
Here is a quarterback who has done it in the postseason.
In six seasons Manning has 13 fourth quarter comebacks and 16 game-winning drives, including Super Bowl XLII, when he led the Giants to glory from the 17-yard line with 2:39 to play over the previously undefeated New England Patriots. Nobody will ever forget The Play of that drive, of that Super Bowl, of that decade.
He does owe a little something to David Tyree for that though. You know, for the effort.
With Plaxico Burress serving time and a receiving corp of greenhorns, last season was supposed to be a severe challenge for Eli Manning. He responded with the best statistical season of his career, achieving career highs in passing yards (4,021), touchdowns (27), completion percentage (62.3), and passing rating (93.1).
Manning was marred by inconsistency earlier in his career, but with his recent improvements and the championship ring he can show off at speaking engagements, he has become a legitimate top ten quarterback in the league and someone to be feared in the closing minutes.
What's that, Favre might not play this year? Okay. Sure. Okay.
But for a second, let's just pretend that Brett is only trying to avoid the first couple weeks of training camp and that he'll soon come in on a white horse with white doves flying around him and what you would swear is a halo. I know, he's never done it before, but let's just pretend.
Obviously the elephant in the room must be addressed: Yes, Favre might throw that patented ill-advised pass of his. But after all this time he is still more likely to make a throw and make a play no other quarterback could make.
After 19 seasons, 29 fourth quarter comebacks, and 43 game-winning drives, Favre is a master of all the quarterback tricks: audibling to a slant when coverage has backed-off, utilizing the tight end, taking a deep shot when a receiver is one-on-one, looking off coverage, the pump fake, avoiding the rush while staying in the pocket, etc., etc. Favre creates plays, takes his chances, and after all this time it still usually works.
Phillip Rivers has done almost enough to make Chargers fans forget about Drew Brees.
But you can't hold that against a quarterback who has a 106-to-45 touchdown-to-interception ratio in just four seasons, a quarterback who has averaged a 105 passer rating the past two seasons, a quarterback who brought the Chargers back from life support to win the AFC West in 2008, and a quarterback who has led eleven fourth quarter comebacks and 14 game-winning drives.
Playing through the 2007 AFC Championship game with a torn ACL gets Rivers some bonus points, as well.
Rivers has led the league in yards-per-attempt the pass two seasons and yard-per-completion this last season. He is a great deep passer and very accurate, completing 65 percent of his passes the past two years.
He has admittedly had some trouble in the playoffs, but Rivers has the prodigious track record that suggests he will soon get his.
Let's keep this about on-the-field activities.
Okay, one comment: Ben is an idiot.
On-the-field, however, Ben is not an idiot, and most definitely a quarterback you want with the ball in the last minutes.
Roethlisberger has a rifle for an arm, a knack for making a fantastic play, and is - without a doubt - the best quarterback at prolonging a play. He hasn't had much help from his offensive line these past few years (he was sacked more than any quarterback this past season), but his absurd ability to avoid pass-rushers allows him to succeed when other quarterbacks would be on a stretcher. This past season, while being sacked more than any other quarterback and with the aches and injuries that come with it and missing only one game, he had a career high (and ominous) 66.6 completion percentage and threw for a career high 4,328 yards.
He has 17 fourth quarter comebacks and 21 game-winning drives in his six seasons. Much like McNabb, plenty of people will argue that the Steelers defense has carried Roethlisberger and that he rode their coattails to two Super Bowls. He probably did ride their coattails to the first one.
Roethlisberger has many, many faults, with professionalism and common decency chief among them. On-the-field? He has very few faults, if any.
Tom Brady hasn't had much go right for him since Eli Manning hit Plaxico Burress on a slant-and-go with 35 seconds left in Super Bowl XLII, robbing the Patriots of their undefeated, perfect season.
He has had some good things, though. Don't get me wrong.
But that Super Bowl loss and a torn ACL on the first drive of 2008 has caused the Golden Boy to lose just a little luster. Just a little.
In Brady's defense, most players coming of an ACL injury don't put together the year he did this past season: a 65.7 completion percentage, 4,398 yards, 28 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions, and a 96.2 passer rating. Those numbers are comparable or better to the numbers he has had throughout his career, excluding his record-breaking 2007.
Brady has 21 fourth quarter comebacks and 29 game-winning drives in ten seasons. He led game-winning drives during the last minutes in two of the three Super Bowls he has won with the Patriots. Brady has the know-how to get it done when it matters most and could easily be ranked as number 1b instead of three.
Also, what's on his head?
Manning was my clear-cut, categorical, obvious, unequivocal, undisputed, indisputable choice for best quarterback in the NFL...until...
Like Brady, 1a wouldn't have been a bad idea for Manning's ranking. Even with that Super Bowl gaffe and other playoff shortcomings, Manning has played at too high a level for too long a time to not be near the very top of this list.
To wit: over the past seven seasons, Manning has averaged a 66.8 completion percentage, 4,216 passing yards, 33 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, and a 102.6 passer rating. That's average Peyton.
He had seven fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives last season to give him 35 fourth quarter comebacks and 44 game-winning drives in his twelve-year career. The ultimate sign of respect for Peyton came when Bill Belichick said he'd rather go for it on fourth-and-two from his own 35-yard-line with only 2:08 left in the game rather than punt and give the ball to Manning.
Manning is a cold-blooded, calculating terminator always one step ahead of the defense, regularly putting his receivers in position to succeed, and dropping the ball perfectly into their hands each and every time.
But, as of this moment, someone else is better.
Without a Reggie Wayne or Randy Moss at receiver, or Pittsburgh's defense, or Adrian Peterson, Drew Brees has been the most prolific quarterback in the NFL the past two years. And with the Super Bowl ring he won this past year, he should be considered the leader in the clubhouse, the top dog, the big kahuna, the big cheese, big chief quarterback.
Brees should be considered the best.
Since arriving in New Orleans four seasons ago, Brees has averaged a 66.9 completion percentage, 31 touchdowns to 14 interceptions, 4,575 passing yards, and a 97.9 passer rating. Last season, he led the Saints to three fourth-quarter comebacks and six game-winning drives, including in the Super Bowl. In his career, he has led the Saints and San Diego Chargers to twelve fourth-quarter comebacks and 20 game-winning drives.
He has had a great coach and a great scheme in New Orleans, but Brees is the one executing it to perfection, rarely missing a deep shot, taking the check-down to keep the chains moving, and putting points on the board at record rates.
Simply put, Brees is the best.