Tom Brady is the MVP of the National Football League this season. Of that, there should be no doubt.
Brady has led the Patriots through a season in which they gave up on a longtime, high-investment project named Laurence Maroney and a trouble-making, past-prime diva named Randy Moss.
He held together an offense on which people had perhaps their first lingering-and-legitimate questions in years and after 16 weeks, he has fired 34 touchdowns against (if you can believe it) only four interceptions.
The trophy goes to the most valuable player of the regular season, so give him the trophy. Do it now.
With just one game left on the schedule, though, and with home-field advantage in the AFC sewn up for New England, there are bigger fish to fry. Brady can no longer be "only" the 2010 MVP. He must now prove he is also the best playoff passer in football or else it will be all for naught.
As it so happens, Brady is very much in that discussion too, and the Patriots can feel confident because they have the most poised and intelligent passer in the league on their side as the playoffs prepare to get into gear. Still, others have their eyes on the crown, so Brady had best watch out.
Read on for power rankings of the 10 best prospective playoff quarterbacks of 2010.
Television commentators and radio pundits can tell us Sanchez's numbers are deceiving all they want—which is a good thing, because they have exercised that right rather liberally all season.
They are right, at least to some degree: Stats do not tell the whole story, or even a really good-sized chunk of the story, about what it means to be an NFL quarterback.
With Sanchez, though, there is obviously something awry. He ranks 30th among qualifying passers in completion percentage, 26th in yards per attempt and 28th in passer rating. He has thrown 29 touchdowns and 33 interceptions in his two-year career. He may be a fine leader, or even a great one, but he seems to be a pretty average (and that may be generous) quarterback.
Sanchez has a good defense working to get him good field position, a solid running game comprised of LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene and a bevy of talented wide receivers. He just is not that good and the Jets might pay for it come playoff time.
This is no negative reflection on Ryan, a fine young quarterback of whom the old school guys speak very highly. Considering what he is up against in this year's playoffs, he has a long uphill climb to be considered among the best of these passers.
Ryan has nearly 3,500 yards and 26 touchdowns to his credit this year, making it by far the best of his three professional campaigns. His completion percentage is also a career-best, which means only good things in an offense that (counter to the prevailing NFL passing culture) does not essentially require high success rates.
Ryan is taking good care of the ball and makes good use of his legs, a crucial point if he runs into the Giants in the divisional round—which is altogether possible.
If the numbers really did tell the whole story, Flacco would be among the top three or four quarterbacks on even this impressive list.
He is having a sparkling season, with a chance to post his highest yardage figures as a pro and already with more touchdowns (25) than he had ever thrown before. His passer rating is 94.6, good for seventh in the league, and he has only nine interceptions.
As might be expected, there are still things on which Flacco can-and-must improve. He fumbles too much—nine times this year and 28 in his career—and he seems to make bad decisions only at wildly inopportune moments.
Still, this young gun has shown he is ready to lead an effective offense, which could make the Ravens a co-favorite in the AFC.
Believe it or not, Manning will probably set a career high in passing yards next Sunday before the end of the regular season. He also may throw his 400th career touchdown pass, although that is less certain. It is not as though he suddenly stinks.
Where once he was in the same breath as Brady, though, Manning now looks to be on an earlier decline. His 17 interceptions this season are more than he has thrown since 2002 and although injuries have depleted his cast of usual targets, he has made some poor reads and poor adjustments at times too.
Manning needs to be better if the Colts are to thrive in the playoffs, which, of course, they need either a win or a Jacksonville loss in Week 17 to reach anyway.
The league-wide narcissistic love affair with passing has inflated passing stats across the league, but it has also led some of the league's elite passers to make more than their usual allotment of mistakes.
Brees has thrown 21 interceptions this year, 10 more already than he threw in 2009, and his passes have looked strangely rushed at times.
Brees' pseudo-struggles need not hold back the Saints, which have gotten too pass-happy anyway and should look to utilize their three-pronged rushing attack better once they start playoff action next week.
Still, New Orleans needs its leader to step up and make as many plays with fewer mishaps in order to execute a deep run into January.
Cassel is an efficient, intelligent and mobile quarterback with the vision and arm strength to throw the ball anywhere on the field consistently and effectively.
He has announced himself as an NFL-caliber playmaker this season, scrambling for key first downs and making the most important throws very well.
He ascends to these heights on a list like this by virtue of his willingness to pull the ball down, run and avoid turnovers. He has 27 touchdowns and just five picks this season, which is beyond great for a passer who throws that many scoring passes.
Cassel has a strong supporting cast highlighted by the league's best running game, which has made big yardage less important than it might be otherwise, but Cassel's numbers are so impressive as to make him a top-five guy anyway.
If anyone thought Rodgers' concussion symptoms would linger and affect his play in a critical game for the Packers' playoff hopes against the Giants, he silenced them with a pair of first-quarter touchdown passes.
In total, he notched over 400 yards passing and a quartet of scores, further solidifying his place as an elite NFL passer.
Of particular value in the heightened tension of playoff football is Rodgers' career record as a red-zone passer. He has 57 touchdowns and just one interception inside the opponent's 20-yard line over the past three seasons, an absolutely remarkable figure.
If he remains that deadly with the goal line in sight, Green Bay will reach, and then seriously complicate, the playoffs.
In Vick's prior life, his career high for passer rating over a full season was 81.6. Remember, he was considered one of the most dangerous players in the league even then.
In 2010, without losing a step as a scrambler (eight rushing touchdowns, tied for the most in his career), his passer rating has leaped to 103.6.
Obviously, Vick is always dangerous, but because he no longer gives opposing defenses many chances to make plays against him (he has turned the ball over just six times all season, on five picks and a lost fumble), he is now downright lethal.
With DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin at his disposal on the outside and LeSean McCoy keeping defenders honest, Vick simply refuses to be contained.
He may not be the very picture of the polished, poised playoff passer, but he is the most versatile and challenging passer against that a playoff team can come up.
It's good to be a veteran quarterback on an image rehabilitation mission through Pennsylvania these days.
Big Ben may not yet have earned the forgiveness of many for whatever transgressions he committed in Georgia and Utah over the past two years, but he has certainly won back the trust of the Steelers and coach Mike Tomlin.
Roethlisberger is learning to use his big body to move the chains when he needs to and has done so much more efficiently this season than ever before. He also has thrown far fewer interceptions per pass attempt than at any time in the past. In fact, his interception rate this year is less than half his career mark.
That kind of leadership is just what the defense-minded Steelers need to reach the Super Bowl again and that should not be ruled out as a very real possibility for Big Ben's squad.
Brady is to football as Albert Pujols is to baseball. No one is as good, no one is close to as good, and in the end, few will be as good historically.
Brady has a ridiculous, amazing and preposterous 34-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio this year and has played his best (nearly 2,100 yards, 22 touchdowns and no interceptions) in November and December.
Of course, Brady also has two Super Bowl MVP trophies under his belt already, so it's never a good idea to bet against him in postseason play.