Which Passer in the AFC East Reigns Supreme?

John GrahamCorrespondent IOctober 23, 2008

As we rapidly approach the middle of the NFL season, we begin to notice a myriad of different things. Teams begin to settle into their gameplans, playoff predictions grow in numbers, players and teams begin to show signs of promise or failure, injuries begin to show what toll they will take on their team, and the offseason transactions begin to show their relative value.

The AFC East is hands down the most tossed up division in football. Ever since the famed Brett Favre hoisted up the New York Jets No. 4 jersey and Chad Pennington moved to Miami, there has just been no telling what could possibly unfold this season.

Then, the unthinkable happened! Tom Brady went down in Week One and Matt Cassel was forced to try fill arguably the biggest shoes in the NFL.

All of this left us with a division of four teams having three quarterback changes all before the conclusion of the first game in the season. Honestly, you could not make this kind of stuff up if you tried. Here we have some of the most compelling drama in the NFL, and it involves two future Hall of Famers, a veteran who was forced to play for an eight-year rival, and a guy who hadn't started a football game since high school.

The only guy left out was of course is Trent Edwards of the Buffalo Bills, who fortunately had less drama to deal with in his locker room.

But which quarterback has really stepped up this season? With Tom Brady out and numerous weapons on hand, Matt Cassel certainly has had a phenomenal opportunity.  The great Brett Favre was tasked with turning the 4-12 Jets into a playoff contender, and Chad Pennington was asked to be the heart of a team that only won a single game the previous year. However, despite these stories and opportunities, all four quarterbacks have performed at an almost equal level.

This is how the stats breakdown going into Week Eight:


Trent Edwards - Despite having a 5-1 record, he has only thrown for five TDs and two INTs. while amassing 1,209 yards. He has been sacked 11 times and holds a completion percentage of 69.7 percent. This leaves his average yards per game at 201.5 and a passer rating of 98.8, which is the highest rating in the AFC East.

While the numbers are far from bad, one must remind themselves that there is more to football than stats, and the Bills have won games on their special teams and defense more than on the shoulders of Edwards.

In Week One, their special teams totalled 27 points. That is not something you can count on, week in and week out, so it is very important that if the Bills want to maintain their supremacy in the AFC East, they are going to need a better performance out of their offense. 

However, let's not take anything away, either. Edwards has been good at protecting the ball and taking advantage of opportunities that have been presented to him. But when you talk about the Buffalo Bills and their great record, you also have to remember that they have had it pretty easy thus far, when you look at their opponents. Not to mention, they barely survived a few games that should have been easy wins, like their near-loss to the Oakland Raiders.


Chad Pennington - While the Dolphins sit last in their division at 2-4, Pennington has actually put up some strong numbers. He has thrown for six TDs and three INTs while piling up 1,396 yards. He has both the most yards thrown in the division, as well as least number of sacks (10). His completion percentage is 68.6 percent, and his passer rating is right behind Edwards at 97.4.

Once again, we have numbers that are fairly solid. The only thing lacking out of Edwards or Pennington are touchdown passes. However, they both protected the ball very well in the passing game, which certainly brings in some level of compensation. 

The Dolphins' record is hardly representative to how well Pennington has played, too. He has consistently put his team in positions to win and has helped Miami prove themselves to be a competitive offense. In fact, two of their losses were due to last-minute plays, including a last second loss to the Houston Texans, which was more of a failure by the Miami defense.

At any rate, Chad Pennington has truly done a great job learning the Miami offense and making them a far tougher team than anyone expected. If he had a little bit more talent on his defense or another decent receiver across from Ted Ginn, his performance, in all actuality, could have yielded a record more like 4-2 instead of 2-4.


Brett Favre - The Jets are currently third in the division with a record of 3-3. While Favre and his move to New York have certainly been the talk of the town, his performance leaves me with nothing to rave about. He stands out as the clear leader in the division with 13 TDs, but he also leads with eight interceptions.

In doing so, Favre racked up 1,321 yards - second only to Pennington. Favre has been sacked 15 times and has a completion percentage of 68.2 percent. His overall rating is third in the division at 92.3.

When glancing at Favre's stat sheet, it is easy to be blinded by the number of TDs and conclude that he has done more than his part. However, as someone who has watched all six games by every team in the AFC East this season, I can say that he has certainly been average at best.

While everyone expects Brett to be Brett and throw those crazy passes, they should also expect a greater level of decision making. Sure, Brett has brought a spark to the team, but his cavalier behavior with the football has led to some of the biggest bonehead turnovers I have seen in a long time; a few of which could be viewed as game-losing turnovers. 

He also seems as if he is still uncomfortable with the Jets' playbook and that is no excuse, especially when you aren't hearing the same number of excuses coming from anyone in Miami on Pennington's performance. Don't get me wrong, I am not blaming Favre for the Jets struggles, but he has not been a very big part of the solution. 

His only Favre-caliber performance was against the Cardinals.

Please keep in mind that I have nothing but respect and admiration for Brett Favre and all that he has accomplished in his career, but his play this season has not been representative of an NFL legend.

Fortunately, he has quite a bit of time to turn this around, but the clock is certainly ticking.


Matt Cassel - The Patriots currently stand in second in the AFC East with a respectable 4-2 record. In helping his team to achieve this standing, Cassel has thrown six TDs and four INTs. He has been sacked a staggering 25 times and has thrown for 1,095 yards, which is the lowest in the division. His completion percentage is also the lowest, at 66.3 percent, along with his passer rating, which sits at 86.8.

While Cassel has apparently done enough, he hasn't really had to do that much. He has thrown the second-most number of interceptions behind Favre and has not been able to find his receivers very well, judging by his number of sacks. I know that the offensive line has a lot to do with that, but after watching him play, it is easy to see that he has a bad habit of holding onto the ball too long.

But remember, this man is the only quarterback in the division in his first year as a starter. It is hard to expect great things from him in light of the situation he is in. But despite all that, he has still turned in a decent performance.

After all, he did beat Brett Favre in his first ever start as an NFL quarterback. But while it is unfair to expect too much, remember Cassel has no shortage of offensive weapons. In many ways, you can ask how he can struggle at all with a guy like Randy Moss lining up at receiver.

So, in bringing it all together, the rankings for the quarterbacks in the AFC East goes as follows:

4.   Matt Cassel - He has won games but more due to his teammates than him.

3.   Brett Favre - Scoring doesn't always win if you have almost as many turnovers as touchdowns (including fumbles).

2.   Trent Edwards - 5-1 is a great start but his record is no representation of him and his offense. More like his special teams and defense.

1.   Chad Pennington - Despite a weak record, Pennington has handled his move with great results and has easily outperformed any and all expectations. Unfortunately, Miami's record does not highlight the improvements that he has brought to that team in the least.


I am sure that a lot of people will disagree with this ranking system, and all I can say is that having a 5-1 record or a name like Brett Favre does not ensure great results. Just because you are on a winning team or have played outstanding in the past does not entitle you to be seen as the best all the time. 

Just take a look at the Bears' Super Bowl appearance with Rex Grossman, and Emmitt Smith's stint as an Arizona Cardinal for proof of the fact that name and record do not speak for everything.

Am I saying that Pennington is better than Favre? No! There is no doubt that Favre is a better player than Chad Pennington overall, but this season, Chad has made fundamental decisions that have consistently given his team great opportunities to win, while Brett Favre has not.

Sure, Favre has put points on the board. But when that is counter-balanced by turnovers, your cost/benefit value tends to drop.

As far as Edwards being below Chad, I must say that was a toss up. Both have done well this year, but in my opinion, (and it is my opinion), I feel like Pennington has just done a little bit more on a week-to-week basis to make him just a bit better for his team than Edwards so far this season.

However, I am sure that the full course of the season will determine whether or not my midseason beliefs are true or false, and I am eagerly anticipating how the NFL season will continue to surprise me, as it already has so many times this season.