Bernd already looked at how the Kansas City Chiefs’ decision to send quarterback Alex Smith to Washington affects the New England Patriots, but I had a different immediate thought: Who are the best quarterbacks left in the AFC?
And since there are six teams that reach the playoffs, I thought it would be a fair exercise to list the top six quarterbacks currently in the AFC with a focus on 2018- and the results are pretty scary.
1. Patriots QB Tom Brady (2018 age: 41 years old)
Brady is currently the best quarterback in the NFL and there’s no reason to think that will change next season. It’s the distance between Brady and the rest of the AFC that is so striking.
2. Chargers QB Philip Rivers (2018 age: 36 years old)
Rivers is coming off his best season since 2013 with 4,515 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions for a passer rating of 96.0. Rivers has reached a plateau where he’s going to throw for mid-4000s in passing yards, reach roughly 30 passing touchdowns, and throw 10-to-15 interceptions for a passer rating in the mid-90s all depending on the health of his supporting cast.
3. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (2018 age: 36 years old)
Roethlisberger already commit to a return for 2018 and he’s able to produce roughly the same amount as Rivers, but deals with more injuries and has the luxury of playing with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Will the pending free agent Bell return to Pittsburgh? If he leaves, how much with that affect Roethlisberger?
The difference between Rivers and Ben is that Rivers has started 201 straight games at quarterback. Roethlisberger is liable to miss a few games every year.
??. Everyone else is injured or not great
Do you trust Colts QB Andrew Luck’s health after he’s missed 26 games over the past three seasons? Or Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill after he’s missed 19 games over the past two years? Or Raiders QB Derek Carr after his major back injury? Was Texans QB Deshaun Watson’s explosive 6-game stretch in 2017 sustainable and how will he look coming back from injury?
How do you feel about Jaguars QB Blake Bortles or Bengals QB Andy Dalton or Bills QB Tyrod Taylor? Can Titans QB Marcus Mariota thrive now that he’s finally away from a terrible coaching staff?
4. Healthy Texans QB Deshaun Watson (2018 age: 23 years old)
I’m buying shares of Watson because he was so dynamic as a rookie and Houston just commit to head coach Bill O’Brien, which should provide strong consistency for Watson’s growth. He has a great receiver in DeAndre Hopkins and a solid-enough supporting cast to develop. His touchdown rate was unsustainable and his interception rate was high, but he should still be able to settle in as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL.
He has now torn the ACL in both of his knees (left knee in college, right knee in 2017).
5. Healthy Colts QB Andrew Luck (2018 age: 29 years old)
If Luck is healthy, he’s definitely in the top six, but that’s a gigantic “if.” He should also be better under presumed head coach Josh McDaniels. There’s also the question of how long it will take for him to both shake of the injury rust and learn McDaniels’ new offense. Luck can join the Rivers and Roethlisberger tier if he’s able to play a full season.
6. Titans QB Marcus Mariota (2018 age: 25 years old)
This final spot was an internal debate between Mariota and Carr, with Tannehill, Dalton, and Taylor in a group just behind them. I think Mariota’s weak 2017 season was an anomaly and that he offers more upside than Carr. I expect new Titans head coach Mike Vrabel to get the best out of Mariota.
Now, quickly, let’s name the NFC quarterbacks that would all appear on this list if their team was in the AFC, in no particular order. Saints QB Drew Brees; Washington QBs Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins; Eagles QB Carson Wentz; Rams QB Jared Goff; Lions QB Matthew Stafford; Falcons QB Matt Ryan; Seahawks QB Russell Wilson; Packers QB Aaron Rodgers; and 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo. I’d also consider Vikings QB Case Keenum and Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, too.
The depth and youth at quarterback is much more impressive in the NFC and while Cousins and Keenum could join an AFC team to bolster the position, the edge still handily goes to the NFC- and that just means that Brady and the Patriots should once again be the heavy favorites to repeat as the AFC champions for the third-straight season in 2018.