The NFL is becoming a passing league, and so far this year, several quarterbacks have stepped up and had big years, putting up big passing numbers, some of them record-breaking.
While Aaron Rodgers is having a historic year, Drew Brees and Tom Brady aren't far behind him, with Drew Brees on pace to break Dan Marino's total yardage record. And of course, other Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks like Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger are having solid years as well.
Here are the top 10 quarterback performances so far for 2011.
A few honorable mentions before we start.
Matt Schaub was on pace for a career year before going out with a season-ending injury in Week 10.
However, he led his Texans to a 7-3 record and a very good shot at winning their division and making the playoffs. It's a shame that his season was cut short so soon.
Cutler is in the same position—he was having a great year before going out with a thumb injury that could take him out for the rest of the regular season.
While he may return for the playoffs, the Bears may be in trouble with Caleb Hanie starting at quarterback. Still, Cutler led the Bears to a 7-3 record, giving them a fighting chance for the playoffs.
Tim Tebow is an interesting player, and while he doesn't crack my top 10, his 5-1 record as a starter shouldn't be dismissed.
Tebow's numbers have been puzzling this season—he has poor numbers in the first three quarters of the game, but ends his game playing at a high level. Tebow has helped lead his Broncos offense to improbable wins, but their defense should get a lot of the credit, as well.
Andy Dalton's numbers aren't great at first glance, but considering that he, a rookie quarterback, has led his Bengals to a 7-4 record when they were largely cast off as a non-contender before the season began, is certainly an impressive accomplishment.
He is definitely a front-runner for Rookie of the Year.
At the beginning of the season, nobody would think that Alex Smith would be among the best quarterbacks this season.
But Jim Harbaugh has clearly figured out how to play him, and although Smith has been fairly limited in what he is allowed to do, he has proven to be a solid game manager who can make a big play or two per game.
So far, Alex Smith has thrown for 13 touchdowns and just five interceptions, and he has led his team to a 9-2 record.
For this first time in a decade, the 49ers are a very relevant team, and Smith's performance this year, while not spectacular, is one of the many reasons they are enjoying success this year.
Hasselbeck was acquired by the Titans in the short 2011 offseason, and out of all the free agents that were acquired by teams this year, Hasselbeck might be the most successful.
He is leading a Titans offense with a limited receiving corps and an inconsistent running game.
However, they are only two games back in their division against a team that just lost its starting quarterback.
The Titans are a very underrated team that is an under-the-radar Wild Card contender, and they are led by an underrated quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck.
Ryan and the Falcons are certainly gaining steam in the most important part of the season and have a very good chance of returning to the playoffs this year.
Ryan has 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this year with an 89.7 quarterback rating.
He is finally getting his passing game to a more consistent level with his two big-time receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones.
The Falcons are getting hot at the right time, and Ryan is just the quarterback to lead this kind of team—he is an efficient quarterback who makes few mistakes and makes big plays at the most important moments of the game.
And, of course, he has two star receivers and a solid running game at his disposal, making this Falcons offense scary down the stretch.
Matt Stafford might have been higher on this list earlier in the season, when he was leading his Lions to a 5-0 record and having tremendous success along with star receiver Calvin Johnson.
However, the Lions have slowed down, only garnering a 2-4 record in their last six games, and Matt Stafford has struggled as well, throwing three interceptions on Thanksgiving against the Green Bay Packers.
However, Stafford still has 26 touchdowns on the year and is leading the Lions to one of the most successful seasons they have had in a long time.
Despite their recent struggles, they are still very much in playoff contention.
Stafford is one of the reasons the Lions are relevant again, and despite a few bad games, he is playing at a high level.
Perhaps more importantly, he has stayed healthy.
Like Stafford, Eli Manning might have been higher on this list a couple weeks ago, but recent struggles this year have dropped the Giants to a 6-5 record and a three-game losing streak.
Manning is a good quarterback but can be a very inconsistent passer, throwing his fair share of bad throws and interceptions in a game.
However, he has thrown 20 touchdowns against 10 interceptions so far this season, with a QB rating of 95.6.
Even in a loss Monday night against the Saints, Manning still threw for 400 yards and three touchdowns. Manning has also led some big-time late-game comebacks, most notably in Week 9 against the New England Patriots.
Manning has had his high points and low points in his career, and he has had his highs and lows this season, but he is an efficient quarterback who can make big plays in big moments—and because of it, the Giants are still in the thick of the NFC playoff race.
Still, Roethlisberger is playing at a high level, garnering 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the year with a 92.2 quarterback rating.
While his numbers aren't necessarily as good as Manning's have been, he is leading his team to wins down the most important stretch of the season. At this point, he is very likely to retain the Np. 2 seed in the AFC.
Roethlisberger's numbers may not always be flashy, but he is an elite quarterback who leads his team to wins consistently.
While I wouldn't usually say that Tony Romo is the fourth-best quarterback in the league, he is playing like it this year.
After a slow 3-4 start, the Cowboys are rolling with four straight wins, and Romo is not only playing consistent, mistake-free football, but he is also making big plays to put his team in a position to win.
Romo statistically is ranked the fourth-best quarterback in the league in 2011 with 21 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, but this Cowboys team frequently struggles in December.
While Romo is deserving of his spot on this list at the moment, it could quickly fall if the Cowboys falter down the stretch. But at this point, Romo is primed to lead the Cowboys to another NFC East title.
Tom Brady is playing close to the level he did in 2010, when he was the NFL MVP.
And while he isn't the front-runner for the MVP this year, he is certainly very much in the running.
Brady has thrown for 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a 105.1 quarterback rating.
While many people doubted them when they lost to the Giants and Steelers in back-to-back weeks, they are back to playing at a high level and are very much in position to repeat being the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Brady is about as consistent as any quarterback in the league and is only behind a man who is the front-runner for the MVP, and another who is on pace to break a big-time passing record.
Perhaps I'm being prisoner of the moment, but Monday night's performance against the Giants puts Drew Brees above Tom Brady this year.
Both Brees and Brady have similar numbers this year, as Brees has 27 touchdowns against 11 interceptions with a 103.6 rating, just a point-and-a-half under Brady.
However, his passing yardage this season is what puts him over the top.
After a four-touchdown performance on Monday night—which should hardly be a surprise to anyone—Drew Brees is now on pace to break Dan Marino's passing record of yardage in a season, a record he narrowly missed out on in 2008.
Brees is playing as well as anyone else in the NFL this year. He's led his Saints to an 8-3 record and may be the best competition to Aaron Rodgers and the 11-0 Packers.
Although Tom Brady and Drew Brees are certainly giving him a run for his money, Aaron Rodgers is playing the best football of anyone in the league.
While Rodgers isn't necessarily on pace to break Marino's passing-yardage record or Brady's touchdown record, he has already thrown for 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions this year—two of which were tipped balls that landed in the hands of an opponent.
Rodgers has led a brilliant, almost unstoppable passing attack this year, and he hasn't had a bad game yet.
In fact, his most average performance was a game where he attained a 120 quarterback rating.
Rodgers currently has a 127.7 quarterback rating, which would easily be an NFL record if he maintains it by the end of the season.
Rodgers, Brady and Brees are all performing at a very high level, but Rodgers is performing at a historic level, so he is the easy choice so far for NFL MVP.