NFL Playoff Picture: Power Ranking the QBs of Playoff Contenders

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 25, 2010

NFL Playoff Picture: Power Ranking the QBs of Playoff Contenders

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    FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 19:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates a touchdown scored by running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis #42 (not pictured) against the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter of the game at Gillette Stadium on
    Elsa/Getty Images

    The NFL playoff picture is rounding into shape, and it won't be long now before the postseason ensemble is complete. After that, of course, it's time to dance.

    As of this moment, there are still way more teams packed into the playoff picture than the number of spots ultimately allows. For many of these teams, their success in reaching the playoffs relies on the strength of their quarterback.

    But for every Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, there is a Jason Campbell and a Troy Smith. This is to say that the level of talent at the quarterback across the board is far from even.

    So with that in mind, here are our power rankings of the quarterbacks from the teams that are still in the playoff picture.

20. Troy Smith

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    GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 05: Troy Smith #1 of the San Francisco 49ers throws a pass against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on December 5, 2010 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the 49ers 34-16. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Whether it's this Smith or that Smith under center for the 49ers, their quarterback situation has been pretty dismal this year.

    After being replaced by Alex in the last two games, Mike Singletary has once again named Troy his starter for Sunday's match-up with the St. Louis Rams. So for all intents and purposes, he's the man in San Francisco.

    In five starts so far this season, the former Heisman winner really hasn't been very impressive. He's thrown just four touchdown passes to go along with three picks, and has completed just 52.4 percent of his passes, which would place him near the bottom of the league if he had enough games under his belt.

    Put simply, he's just not all that great.

19. Matt Hasselbeck

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    SEATTLE - DECEMBER 05:  Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Seattle Seahawks passes against the Carolina Panthers at Qwest Field on December 5, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks won, 31-14. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Of all the qualifying quarterbacks from playoff contending teams, Matt Hasselbeck has the lowest quarterback rating of the bunch. In fact, his 73.1 rating is just barely better than that of Brett Favre and Derek Anderson.

    Moreover, and this is not entirely his fault, Hasselbeck is the captain of quite possibly the league's most depressing playoff contender.

    His best days are clearly behind him, and he is by no means the quarterback of the future, immediate or otherwise.

18. Jason Campbell

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    OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 19:  Jason Campbell #8 of the Oakland Raiders in action against the Denver Broncos at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December 19, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    It's hardly been easy for Campbell in his first year in "the Black Hole", but he actually hasn't had that bad a year.

    In fact, if you take away four of his starts that were downright awful, he's been pretty darn good. As it is, he has a quarterback rating of 82.9, which is good enough for the Top 20 in the NFL among qualifying players.

    But the Raiders are at their best when Campbell is an afterthought. If he has fewer than 20 throws at the end of a given game, that means they were running the ball effectively, which is obviously what they prefer to do.

    The Raiders aren't likely going to make the playoffs this year, and it's unclear whether Campbell is the answer in the long run, but they could do worse.

17. Kerry Collins

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    NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 09:  Kerry Collins #5 of the Tennessee Titans runs with the ball against the Indianapolis Colts during the NFL game at LP Field on December 9, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    It's hard to believe that the 37-year-old Collins has managed to stay healthy in a season that has seen both him and Vince Young battle injuries all year (with Young's thumb ultimately knocking him out, of course).

    And for a Titans team that is somehow still in the race, he's been serviceable, throwing for over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. His performance has also been good enough for an 81.5 rating.

    I thought long and hard about placing him below Campbell on this list, but I think you have to give Collins the nod because of his experience. And besides, the fact that he's even in this discussion at all probably has a lot to do with his performance play in relief of VY.

16. Mark Sanchez

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    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 19:  Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets throws a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on December 19, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Of all the quarterbacks doing work for the numerous playoff contenders, Mark Sanchez is easily the most frustrating to behold.

    On the one hand, he'll have a series of absolutely terrible games in which he can't complete a pass to save his life. And then he'll turn around and lead the Jets to victory over a team like the Steelers.

    Well, if the Jets are lucky enough to get the latter version of Sanchez in the playoffs, they definitely have a shot of making it as far as the AFC Championship for a second straight year.

    Of course, this is all academic if he can't stay healthy.

15. Sam Bradford

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 12:  Quarterback Sam Bradford #8 of the St. Louis Rams looks to throw a pass during the game against the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome on December 12, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Rams
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    There was a stretch of about six weeks where Bradford looked like he was going to run away with the Rookie of the Year award. And while he still probably has an inside track on that, his performance over the last three weeks really hasn't been very remarkable.

    In his last three efforts, Bradford has no touchdowns and five interceptions, and the Rams' only victory in that span was against Arizona. So it would basically seem that Bradford is learning the hard way about crunch time in the NFL.

    The Rams are technically the front runner in the NFC West, however, and they wouldn't be there without Bradford. He's going to be great some day. But right now, he's just okay.

14. Jay Cutler

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    CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 12: Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears runs against the New England Patriots at Soldier Field on December 12, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Patriots defeated the Bears 36-7. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
    Scott Boehm/Getty Images

    Don't look now, but Jay Cutler may be having his finest professional season since breaking into the league in 2006.

    True, he passed for 4,500 yards in 2008 with the Broncos, but his quarterback rating at this moment (89.6) is a career high, and he very well could end up throwing a career-low number of interceptions.

    And if you take a look at his body of work over the last seven weeks, you'll see that he's had just one really bad game. No surprise, then, that the Bears won six of those games.

    Offensively, the Bears have been tough to get a read on all year, and they don't seem to have the kind of personnel befitting of a Mike Martz offense. And the reason Cutler isn't higher on this list is because you just never know with him.

    Nevertheless, the Bears could be dangerous if he can play mistake-free football in the playoffs.

13. Josh Freeman

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    LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 12:  Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers passes against the Washington Redskins  at FedExField on December 12, 2010 in Landover, Maryland. The Buccaneers defeated the Redskins 17-16. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
    Larry French/Getty Images

    If there has been a bigger unsung hero in the 2010 regular season that Josh Freeman, I'll be damned if I know who it is.

    Not unlike the Buccaneers as a whole, Freeman is hardly flashy, and he hasn't put up gaudy numbers. But he has been solid as a rock, and he has not wavered under the pressure of a playoff push.

    Since Week 10, where pretty much every game has been huge for Tampa Bay, Freeman has thrown eight touchdowns and just one interception. For the season, his quarterback rating rests at 88.8, which places him ahead of players like Eli Manning and Kyle Orton.

    The Bucs are probably not going to make the playoffs, but it's starting to look like they may have themselves a franchise quarterback in Freeman.

12. Eli Manning

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 19:  Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants passes against the Philadelphia Eagles at New Meadowlands Stadium on December 19, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    I suspect not many people will be happy with the fact that I have a guy with 28 touchdown passes relatively low on this list, and even I feel a little guilty putting him in the back of the bus like this.

    But the other Manning also leads the league in interceptions, and you don't need me to tell you that he's notoriously unpredictable.

    It is worth mentioning, however, that he is flirting with a career-high completion percentage. And he does have a Super Bowl victory under his belt. So he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

11. David Garrard

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 12:  Quarterback David Garrard #9 of the Jacksonville Jaguars attempts a pass during the game against the Oakland Raiders at EverBank Field on December 12, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    We talk a lot about Jacksonville's beastly rushing attack, but not much praise has been directed at David Garrard this season. And he deserves it.

    Garrard has already thrown for a career-high 22 touchdown passes, and is also completing a career-high 65.2 percent of his passes.

    In addition, his quarterback rating of 93.2 ranks him ahead of Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan, and just behind Drew Brees. Pretty good company to be in, and Garrard certainly deserves it.

10. Joe Flacco

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    BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 19:  Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens looks for a receiver during the game against the New Orleans Saints  at M&T Bank Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Saints 30-24. (Photo by Larry
    Larry French/Getty Images

    Flacco is easily having the best season of his brief career in 2010, as his 23 touchdown passes and 94.8 QB rating are already career highs. He's also on pace to set a new career-low mark for interceptions, as he currently has just eight.

    In fact, if you were to take away his four-interception game against Cincinnati in Week Two, we're looking at a guy who has thrown 18 more touchdowns than interceptions (he also threw a TD in that game), a figure that would put him on par with the very best in the league.

    The Ravens are pretty much a lock for the playoffs right now, and that's when we're probably going to get a much better notion of how much Flacco has matured this year. But for now, he's pretty good.

9. Matt Cassel

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 05:  Quarterback Matt Cassel #7 of the Kansas City Chiefs in action during the game against the Denver Broncos on December 5, 2010 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Cassel is seventh in the league with 24 touchdown passes, most of which came in a four-game spurt that saw him and Dwayne Bowe commit pseudo-war crimes against unsuspecting teams.

    But of all the quarterbacks in the league, the only player with a better touchdown-to-interception ratio than Cassel is, ironically, Tom Brady.

    The Chiefs showed that they are hopelessly inept without him in the one game he missed against San Diego. With Cassel, however, the Chiefs have probably one of the more underrated offenses in the league, as he also has the luxury of having the league's top rushing attack.

    Nobody seems to be expecting the Chiefs to do much in the playoffs if and when they get there, but they could end up being a major surprise. And if they are, that will likely have something to do with Cassel.

8. Aaron Rodgers

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 31:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks to throw against the New York Jets on October 31, 2010 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.The Packers defeated the Jets 9-0.  (Photo by Jim McIs
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Trust me, I'm very hesitant to put a guy who's suffered two concussions in a matter of weeks as high as seventh on the list.

    But I place him here out of faith that he will recover from his first concussion as well as he did from his first.

    To be sure, Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league when healthy, as his 98.5 quarterback rating ranks fourth in the NFL. There are also only two other quarterbacks who average more yards a completion than Rodgers.

    The Packers are in a do-or-die situation this weekend against the Giants, so here's hoping Rodgers can get it done and cement his spot on this list.

7. Ben Roethlisberger

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    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 23:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up prior to the game against the Carolina Panthers on December 23, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Big Ben doesn't feature too prominently among the leader boards as far as quarterbacks are concerned, but that's obviously because he missed the first four games of the season thanks to his suspension.

    But since then, he's been his typical steady self, posting a QB rating of 94.3 and and average of 265 passing yards per game. He's the rock in an offense that is essentially a run-first unit.

    But where Big Ben's value truly lies in his experience. He may not be the flashiest passer in the league, but he's got two rings, and the Steelers are always going to be title contenders as long as he's under center.

6. Matt Ryan

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    SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 19:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons rushes against the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field on December 19, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    While Matty Ice doesn't boast the same kind of numbers as some of the guys below him on this list, he does have one immeasurable quality that makes him a better option: guts.

    This is a guy who really hasn't had a bad game all season, and who single-handedly rescued the Atlanta franchise from the brink of oblivion. And when all is said and done, he's likely going to lead the Falcons to the best record in the NFC.

    True, they could still be overtaken by the Saints in the division, but that's not going to happen. The Falcons' final two games are both at home, and Matty Ice simply doesn't lose in the dome.

    Fact.

5. Peyton Manning

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    NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 09:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass during the NFL game against the Tennessee Titans  at LP Field on December 9, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Colts won 30-28.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    It hasn't been very easy for Peyton in 2010. And as we all know, he looked very un-Peyton Manning for a few games there.

    Nevertheless, despite the fact he's not leading the world in every single passing category (just passing yards, attempts, and completions, mind you), he's still Peyton Manning. And that means he's more legit than the average QB.

    The Colts control their own destiny in the AFC South, and they wrap things up with two very winnable games against Oakland and Tennessee. All Peyton needs to do is get his team to the playoffs, and they immediately become a Super Bowl contender.

    There aren't too many other quarterbacks who have done enough to warrant a claim like that, but Manning is definitely one of them.

4. Philip Rivers

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    SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 16:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers drops back to pass against the San Francisco 49ers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 16, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    No need to take anything on faith as far as Philip Rivers is concerned. His numbers speak for themselves.

    Let's see here. He's second in the league in passing yards (4,141), second in touchdowns (29), third in quarterback rating (103.6) and tied for fourth in completion percentage (66.6).

    Make no mistake, he's having the best season of his career. And that's scary considering that he's had to do it with a bunch of spare parts and an Antonio Gates that's being held together with super glue.

    The Chargers need some help if Rivers is to be strutting his stuff in the postseason, but rest assured he alone would make the Chargers a force to be reckoned with if they get there.

3. Drew Brees

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 12:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams at the Louisiana Superdome on December 12, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Rams 31-13.  (Photo
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    At last, we come to the reigning Super Bowl MVP.

    After a rocky start that saw his team get off to a disappointing 4-3 start, the Saints are right back in the thick of things in the NFC playoff hunt. They stand a very good chance to clinch a playoff spot this weekend, and that's something they could have never hoped for without Brees.

    He's not having as brilliant a season as he did in 2009, but that sounds like nitpickery when you consider that he's tied with Tom Brady for the most touchdown passes in the league and is also third in passing yards.

    But alongside the numbers lies Brees' experience, which is considerable. After all, there are few other quarterbacks in the league that have been as directly responsible for a Super Bowl run as Brees was for the Saints last year. And that very fact makes them serious contenders again this year.

2. Michael Vick

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 19:  Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles rushes against the New York Giants at New Meadowlands Stadium on December 19, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    At this point, what else can we say about the phenomenon that is Mike Vick?

    Well, allow me to take a stab at it.

    While all of the other quarterbacks on this list are game changers in their own way, few if any of them can alter the outcome of a game quite like Mike Vick can. This will perhaps never be more evident than it was last week in New York, when Vick spearheaded a 21-point fourth quarter comeback that probably would have sank the Giants even if DeSean Jackson hadn't run that punt back for the win.

    To be sure, Vick has been brilliant this season, and he's probably the last quarterback that defensive coordinators around the league want to see under center with the game on the line. And it's because of him alone that the Eagles are a legit contender for the Lombardi Trophy.

1. Tom Brady

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    FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 19:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates a touchdown scored by running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis #42 (not pictured) against the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter of the game at Gillette Stadium on
    Elsa/Getty Images

    And then there's Tom Brady, who is having arguably the best season of his already magnificent career.

    Brady is first in the league in touchdown passes (31), first in the league with a 109.9 QB rating, and has also thrown the fewest number of interceptions out of any quarterback in the league.

    And for all intents and purposes, the Patriots are the best team in football, and that has everything to do with Brady.

    He's likely going to end up winning his second MVP award, and he has a very good chance of winning his fourth Super Bowl. But for now, he'll have to be content with being number one on this list.

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