Over the next month or so, we'll be deluged with talk about how this quarterback or that quarterback won or lost a playoff game.
No one player wins or loses a NFL game. It's a team sport. The notion of "quarterback wins" is ridiculous.
However, quarterbacks are the most important players (just not the only ones) for each of the 12 playoff teams and their play will go a long way in determining who wins the Super Bowl. And this year's group of 12 starting playoff quarterbacks is loaded with talent.
So, as we head into the playoffs, here are our rankings of the quarterbacks who are still playing:
12. Alex Smith, Chiefs
A pretty easy call. That doesn't mean the Chiefs can't win some playoff games. They have a great supporting cast around Smith. But you'll see as we get into the list that there are some great quarterbacks who will be playing in January. Smith checks in at No. 12 among the group.
11. Andy Dalton, Bengals
Another easy call for the No. 11 spot, but not because Dalton is that bad. He has 11,363 yards and 80 touchdowns in his first three seasons. That doesn't happen by accident. But he's also inconsistent, shown by his 20 interceptions this season. If Good Andy shows up in January, the Bengals can win the AFC. That's what makes Dalton one of the most important players in the playoffs.
10. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
Kaepernick had some fine playoff games last season, and he has been at his best against the Packers, San Francisco's first-round opponent. But he was up and down at times this year, though a 310-yard game in the finale against a tough Cardinals defense was a great way to finish the regular season.
9. Andrew Luck, Colts
Now we're really starting to see how deep this group of quarterbacks is, considering Luck checks in at No. 9. Luck gets graded down a bit because of his awful supporting cast. It's tough to see him performing at a higher level than the eight quarterbacks ahead of a him with a terrible offensive line and suspect receivers. But there are only a few quarterbacks who can carry a bad team, and he might be one.
8. Nick Foles, Eagles
I'd take Luck over Foles in a second if we were drafting teams from scratch. But, it's hard to slam Foles and his 119.2 rating this season. He plays in a tremendous system headed up by coach Chip Kelly. It's hard to imagine Foles playing at that level throughout the playoffs, but he had a great regular season and can't be discounted.
7. Cam Newton, Panthers
Newton has had a tremendous three-year run to start his career, and now he gets to show off in the playoffs. The Panthers offense has stalled a bit without Steve Smith the last two weeks. But if you're picking one guy from all 12 playoff teams that you can envision breaking out and having an amazing playoff run we talk about for years and years, this is the guy. He is capable of greatness.
6. Russell Wilson, Seahawks
If you're worried about Wilson's inexperience, go back and watch the second half of last year's playoff game at Atlanta. He was unbelievable as the Seahawks came back in that game to take a late lead. Wilson, who is in his second season, didn't play great down the stretch this season, and his mediocre receiving targets are a concern, but think back to his great game against the Saints earlier this season. Wilson can play like that three more times in the playoffs.
5. Philip Rivers, Chargers
Rivers had perhaps the best season of his career, and that's saying something. San Diego made the playoffs despite a terrible defense, and a group of skill position players and an offensive line that was largely unproven coming into the season. With an offense that allowed Rivers to get the ball out quicker, he had 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns.
4. Drew Brees, Saints
The reason he's not in the top three is he won't play a home game in the playoffs. Brees has a 126.3 rating at home this year. He has a 84.8 rating on the road. As great as Brees is, that can't be ignored. Still, it wouldn't surprise anyone if he was closer to that 126.3 mark in January.
3. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
His worth was proven when he was out. The Packers were 6-2 when Rodgers started and finished a game, and 2-5-1 when he didn't. Rodgers wasn't great in his first game back on Sunday, but still threw for 318 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning score in the final minute. The NFL might end up cursing the Lions and Bears for not eliminating the Packers before Rodgers could come back from a broken collarbone.
2. Tom Brady, Patriots
Brady caught fire after a very slow start to the season, although a lot of that came with Rob Gronkowski in the lineup. Gronkowski is out for the season, and Brady had just 294 yards combined the last two weeks (although the first game was a blowout win and the second game was in a rainstorm). Brady's track record is remarkable and it's impossible to bet against him having a postseason for the ages.
1. Peyton Manning, Broncos
Manning will deal with the criticism of his playoff failures until he wins another Super Bowl, and maybe another title wouldn't even stop it. But the fact is that Manning just completed the greatest regular season in NFL history. That doesn't mean the Broncos are going to win a Super Bowl, just like Smith being 12th on the list doesn't eliminate the Chiefs. Manning's teammates will have to play well too. But given how dominant Manning has been this season, not putting him first would be foolish.
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