2011 Playoff Top Twelve: Quarterbacks

We ran this last year during playoff week, and I had fun with it, so let us try it again.  

Usually the Top Twelve lists are reserved for those select Tuesdays when I cannot think of anything else to write about.  However, because of the NFL playoffs starting this weekend, I have decided to forego the convenient alliteration and even more convenient personal laziness to try and do a Top Twelve list each day this week, focusing on a different aspect of the twelve teams that are still alive in their pursuits to hoist the Lombardi Trophy next month.  As always, these lists are based entirely on fact.  Mere opinion plays no role whatsoever, so please don’t even attempt to dispute it. 

Today, we are going to start with quarterback–the most scrutinized position in all of sports.  This is not about debating the relative careers of these twelve guys.  It’s not even about debating their relative 2010 seasons.  This list is going to attempt to rank the 12 quarterbacks in order of who I would want (and trust in the upcoming month of playoff games) to have on my team right now. 

12). Matt Hasselbeck – Seahawks(3001 yards, 12 TDs, 17 INTs, 59.9% completion, 73.2 QB rating, 69-62 as a starter, 4-5 in playoffs, last playoffs: 3 years ago, lost in Divisional Round to Packers) 

Maybe he would have been ranked higher back when he had hair…in high school

The answer to the question of which quarterback you trust least in the 2011 NFL playoffs is made even easier with the fact that the worst QB may not even be (a) healthy or (b) trusted enough to start for his own team on Saturday.  We are going to assume that it is Matt Hasselbeck who will be starting for the 7-9 Seahawks on Saturday when the host the Saints, but it could be Charlie Whitehurst – who might be ranked 19th on this list of Top Twelve.  Hasselbeck has been a competent – borderline very good – quarterback for most of his career, as evidenced by his 9 career playoff starts – more than every playoff quarterback this year not named Brady, Manning, or Roethlisberger.  However, the sun is setting on the career of Mr. Hasselbeck (12 TDs, 17 INTs), and I think it is not even really that close between he and anyone else in the playoffs as to who you would rather have for a playoff run this year, particularly if he is not 100% healthy. 

11). Mark Sanchez – Jets.  (3291 yards, 17 TDs, 13 INTs, 54.8% completion, 75.3 QB rating, 18-12 as a starter, 2-1 in playoffs, last playoffs: last year, lost in AFC Championship Game to Colts)  Well, our old friend Mark Sanchez is moving up in the world.  Last year, when we ranked the playoff quarterbacks, Sanchez brought up the rear at #12.  This year, he improves one spot to #11.  It was a second straight up-and-down year for Sanchez in New York, but honestly, I feel better about him this year than I did a year ago at this time.  I think last year, they were winning despite him and gameplanning around his deficiencies.  This year, while the Jets are not winning because of Sanchez, they are allowing him to play more of a role in this offense.  No longer do they have to run the ball to win (which is good because they have not exactly done that well this year) because they allow Sanchez to make plays.  Brian Schottenheimer has done a very good job in scheming an offense that plays to Sanchez’s strengths and away from his weaknesses.  Plus, as a Southern California kid, he is still learning to play in the elements – something that he probably will not have to deal with in the first round because of their trip to Indy.  Overall, I think Sanchez, while numbers do not look much different, has shown some decent progression from first year to second year.  I still do not think he is anywhere near an elite quarterback and probably never will be, but, as the Jets proved last year, he probably does not need to be.

For better or worse, the Jets have given the San-chise more leeway to run the offense

10). Matt Cassel – Chiefs.  (3116 yards, 27 TDs, 7 INTs, 58.2% completion, 93.0 QB rating, 24-21 as a starter, 0-0 in playoffs) 

Don’t sleep on Matt Cassel and the Chiefs

Many people thought that the Pats just fleeced KC with this trade, but Charlie Weis and Todd Haley have really done a great job utilizing the strengths of Matt Cassel this year, and he has had an excellent season.  His seven interceptions is the third fewest of any playoff quarterback, behind the immortal Tom Brady and Michael Vick, who only started 11 games.  But, as good as the numbers look, you have to keep in mind two big things:  (1) the Chiefs played one of the worst schedules in all of football, and (2) they had the best running attack in the league.  So, Cassel was not needed to come from behind all that often and he was throwing against a lot of 7- and 8-man fronts.  He has done a very nice job under center, but this team is going to win or lose with its backs, and I would probably rather have any other playoff quarterback if my team needed an 80-yard touchdown drive with two minutes to go.  So, while Cassel is as unlikely as any playoff QB to cost the Chiefs the game, he is also probably as unlikely to win one for them. 

9). Jay Cutler – Bears.  (3274 yards, 23 TDs, 16 INTs, 60.4% completion, 86.3 QB rating, 35-34 as a starter, 0-0 in playoffs) 

How would we feel about Jay Cutler if 2009 never happened?

I am actually a bit of a Jay Cutler defender.  I actually said, at the beginning of the year, that we should watch out for the Bears with the Cutler-Martz combination.  And, I definitely think people are way too low on this guy as a result of one terrible season.  He responded this year with a much better year (though 16 INTs is still too much when you only throw for just over 3,000 yards).  All that being said, I am still not sure that he is a guy that can be trusted.  He still thinks that he can make any pass at any time into any coverage, and in the NFL that over-confidence will kill you.  He has led his team to a first-round bye this year with a marginal set of weapons, but he has also leaned heavily on a very good defense to do so.  I am generally higher on Cutler than the average public perception, but I cannot say that I “trust” him more than any of the nine guys I have yet to mention. 

8). Joe Flacco – Ravens.  (3622 yards, 25 TDs, 10 INTs, 62.6% completion, 93.6 QB rating, 32-16 as a starter, 3-2 in playoffs, last playoffs: last year, lost in Divisional Round to Colts) 

If we are so quick to kill QBs for not winning, shouldn't we be celebrating those that do?

While Doogan will probably take this ranking as another example of my subconcious love of the Baltimore Ravens, I will try and defend why I moved Flacco up from #10 last year to #8 this year, even though his numbers are only slightly better, while his receiving corps is a lot better.  Most of the defense will be directed at the four QBs ranked below him on this list.  Hasselbeck and Sanchez are no-brainers for the bottom two, right?  The next group of 8 to 10 was Flacco, Cutler, and Cassel.  Cutler and Cassel have never played in the playoffs.  Cutler is erratic, while Cassel is ordinary.  Flacco is experienced (depite his youth), effective, and reliable.  He, like Cassel, is not going to make too many game-changing mistakes, but, like Cutler, can make some big-time throws.  He is certainly not among the upper-echelon of starting quarterbacks in the NFL, but the guy had a QB rating over 93 this year, with 25 TDs and only 10 INTs.  Also, he has started every game of his professional career and won 2/3 of them.  He also won three playoff games in his first two NFL seasons.  There is a large separation between the top 7 on this list and Flacco, but I think he is clearly the best of the rest in this year’s playoffs. 

7). Aaron Rodgers – Packers.  (3922 yards, 28 TDs, 11 INTs, 65.7% completion, 101.2 QB rating, 27-20 as a starter, 0-1 in playoffs, last playoffs: last year, lost in Wild Card Round to Cardinals)  I might be crazy here, but there are 6 quarterbacks I would take before Aaron Rodgers right now.  A lot of it has to do with the fact that Rodgers, as the 6-seed, will be on the road for the entirety of the playoffs.  I also took into account the concussions (and other nicks and bruises) Rodgers has been trying to overcome in a rough second half of the season.  While I believe that Rodgers is absolutely an elite quarterback in this league, he also has the benefit of a stable of fantastic receivers on offense, so his numbers may be a little inflated in that regard, as well.  Do not get me wrong, as an Eagles fan, I am not looking forward to our secondary against Aaron Rodgers, I am just saying that, given all that is going on with the Rodgers right now, I would be even more frightened if he traded places with any of the next six guys.  

6). Michael Vick – Eagles.  (3018 yards, 21 TDs, 6 INTs, 100.2 QB rating, 46-31-1 as a starter, 2-2 in playoffs, last playoffs: 6 years ago, lost in NFC Championship Game to Eagles) 

This book still has more chapters to be written...and I am anxious to read them

A guy who will probably finish second in the MVP voting – on the team on which this blog focuses – and he is only ranked sixth among playoff quarterbacks?!?  That can’t be right.  But, as always, I am trying to be as objective as possible here, and I think that, given the situation (a little banged-up and having to play in the Wild Card Round and then on the road, presumably, for the rest of the way), I could not justify placing Michael Vick any higher on this list, even though I think that, as I have said before (a little tongue-in-cheek, but a little not), “we cannot yet rule out that he may be the greatest quarterback to ever walk the earth.”  The following is a sentence that you will hear a lot in the next week and is completely overstated, yet not wholly untrue:  “The New York Giants found the blueprint for stopping Michael Vick.”  Like I said, this is completely overstated, but something did change that day.  Defenses no longer believe that zone defense is the only way to stop Vick.  They have been bringing a TON of pressure, and Vick is taking a ton of hits.  He is forced into bad decisions, as well.  All that being said, Michael Vick has been the most dangerous, most explosive, most feared quarterback in the National Football League.  Yes, he has not played in a playoff game since Leavenworth.  Yes, he has never relied on his pocket passing ability to win a big game.  And, yes, he has had a slew of dynamic weapons in his holster this season.  But, it is now a clean slate, and let us not forget that Michael Vick has been, by a mile, the Most Valuable Player in the NFC this year…maybe I do have him too low here. 

5). Matt Ryan – Falcons.  (3705 yards, 28 TDs, 9 INTs, 62.5% completion, 91.0 QB rating, 33-13 as a starter, 0-1 in playoffs, last playoffs: 2 years ago, lost in Wild Card Round to Cardinals)  For the better part of his 3-year career, I thought Matt Ryan was a bit overrated for his quarterbacking ability.  He seemed like a decent “game-manager” (the ultimate in back-handed compliments for QBs), but I still was not convinced that he would be anything more than a decent quarterback on a team with a great running game.  Well, I have changed my opinion this year, and I now believe that Matt Ryan is an elite passer in the NFL.  No matter how good your team’s running game is, it is hard to argue with a 33-13 career record as a starter.  Plus, if you add in the fact that he has only lost TWO games at home in his entire 3-year career and the Falcons never have to leave the Georgia Dome, then Ryan is a pretty good pick as a quarterback to trust this playoff season.  In fact, he is only behind the four guys with some hardware on their mantles…

4). Drew Brees – Saints.  (4620 yards, 33 TDs, 22 INTs, 68.1% completion, 90.9 QB rating, 79-58 as a starter, 4-2 in playoffs, last playoffs: last year, won Super Bowl) 

The Reigning Champ

The defending Super Bowl MVP is back to retain his crown this year.  There are several tiers in the playoff quarterbacks this year, and #4 marks the end of the top tier.  Hasselbeck and Sanchez are in the bottom tier.  Then, there is the Cutler, Cassel, Flacco group.  After that, we have a group of near-elites in Rodgers, Vick, and Ryan.  And, now we hit the best of the best.  Four quarterbacks with Super Bowl titles; four quarterbacks with Super Bowls MVPs; three of whom also have NFL MVPs; four quarterbacks who carry their teams to victories on a weekly basis and then find a new level in the playoffs.  At number, I have Drew Brees.  Brees has been very, very good this year, but has had enough shaky moments to elicit minor questions about his consistency.  Plus, the Saints will probably have to win three straight road games to get back to the Big Game, so he ends up at the bottom of the Best of the Best group.  He is still an unbelievable quarterback and an unbelievable human being.  Half of that is true about… 

3). Ben Roethlisberger – Steelers.  (3200 yards, 17 TDs, 5 INTs, 97.0 QB rating, 69-29 as a starter, 8-2 in playoffs, last playoffs: 2 years ago, won Super Bowl)  Number one in your hearts, number three on this list.  If this was a list of the best people in the playoffs, Ben would, uh, not be this high.  But, fortunately for Steelers fans, Super Bowls are not won on the strength of character, and Ben is, whether we like it or not, one of the best quarterbacks in the world.  And, the best part about him is that he gets even better when the games get bigger.  Yes, this team relies on its defense, but, with the exception of that guy in New England, there is no one I would rather have to lead a game-winning drive than this guy.  He just gets it done.  In fact, for one drive, with everything on the line, I might actually take Ben over Brady…maybe.  But, trust me, I am rooting for him to fall flat on his face in the biggest moment; I just do not think it will happen. 

2). Peyton Manning – Colts.  (4700 yards, 33 TDs, 17 INTs, 66.3% completion, 91.9 QB rating, 141-67 as a starter, 9-9 in playoffs, last playoffs: last year, lost in Super Bowl to Saints) 

The One We'll Tell Our Grandkids About

There is a lot of talk about Peyton – there has been all of his career.  “He comes up small in the clutch.”  “He has lost a step.”  And, my personal favorite, “He is a ‘system quarterback'” (what does that even mean?).  But, there is one thing that must be said above all:  “He is one of the best there ever was.”  9-9 in the playoffs?  Yes, I know.  17 interceptions this year?  Yes, I know that, too.  But, if you look deep down at the most brutally honest depth of your soul and can actually tell me that you would rather have anyone (other than Brady) over Peyton Manning, then I do not really know what to tell you.  Nine straight 10-win seasons (eight of them were 12+).  Eleven of the past twelve seasons with 10+ wins.  Wow!  And, this year, to do it with a host of undrafted free agents and castoffs, might be his greatest accomplishment to date.  Do I think the Colts are legit contenders in the AFC this year?  No, I don’t.  But, we are just ranking quarterbacks here, and I almost made this guy #1…almost. 

1). Tom Brady – Patriots.  (3900 yards, 36 TDs, 4 INTs, 65.9% completion, 111.0 QB rating, 111-32 as a starter, 14-4 in playoffs, last playoffs: last year, lost in Wild Card Round to Ravens) 

Maybe it's the hair (but, let's hope not...)

Ho-hum, another 14-2 year for the Patriots.  Is it possible that Tom Brady had a better regular season this year than in 2007, when he threw 50 touchdowns and went undefeated?  He did most of his damage this year after the team jettisoned their only real deep threat.  He also had to get by for 8 games without their best offensive lineman and no real running game.  Throwing to guys named Hernandez, Gronkowski, and Woodhead, Tom Brady threw 36 TDs and only FOUR interceptions.  And, unless you were asleep since last century, you know that this was not exactly a “flash in the pan” season for the Golden Boy.  111-32 as a starter is mind-boggling.  14-4 in the playoffs is even more impressive.  A team with a questionable defense and no real weapons went 14-2 this year against a brutal schedule.  They won at San Diego by 3, at Pittsburgh by 13, at Miami by 27, and at Chicago by 29.  They beat Baltimore, Green Bay, and Indianapolis.  And, oh by the way, they thrashed the Jets on a Monday night, 45-3.  Now, this is not all Tom Brady, but wouldn’t you agree that it is mostly Tom Brady?  I would.  This one was easy.

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3 Responses to 2011 Playoff Top Twelve: Quarterbacks

  1. Doogan says:

    I’d put Flacco exactly where you did, but lets just see how high you put Ray Rice, haha. If you don’t consider whether a team is playing home games vs. road games (and you did consider those things) I think I actually put Brees second behind Brady. And I have to put Ryan behind Vick and Rodgers.

  2. bry says:

    Ya, I think I would probably move Brees ahead of Big Ben if I wasn’t considering environment, but I’d probably still have Manning at #2. And, you’re absolutely right about Ryan. Not taking into account homefield advantage, Vick and Rodgers are clearly better. But, Ryan is in the Georgia Dome, and Vick and Rodgers are mostly on the road, so I gave the slight edge to Matty Ice. Though, I still think those three are almost interchangeable, at this point.

  3. Doogan says:

    Yeah, I guess I’d keep Manning 2. Random stat that shows how important it is to be able to throw the ball: 9 of the top 12 QB’s in QB rating are in the playoffs (Cutler, Sanchez and Hasselbeck the ones not in the top 12). And of the 13 running backs that ran for over 1,100 yards, only 4 are in the playoffs (Jamal Charles, Michael Turner, Rashard Mendenhall, and Ray Rice)

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