With a quarter of the season to go, here’s where the 32 starting quarterbacks rank …
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers: The efficiency he’s displaying is jaw-dropping. Rodgers is completing 70.6 percent of his passes, has thrown for multiple touchdowns in every game and can tie the league record for consecutive games with at least two scoring passes if he accomplishes the feat Sunday against Oakland.
Efficiency? He has thrown for 37 touchdowns while being picked off just five times. A perfect passer rating for a game is 158.3; Rodgers’ mark is 125.3 for the season. No wonder Green Bay has scored TDs on an NFL-best 34.6 percent of its possessions and, at 12-0, is a legitimate threat to become just the second team to go undefeated en route to a Super Bowl win.
2. Drew Brees, Saints: Brees has thrown 11 touchdowns and only one pick over his last four games, marks that surpass every full-time QB during that time, save Rodgers. You know a QB is playing at an elite level when he’s on pace to break Dan Marino’s single-season mark for yards passing and also has games in which he throws more touchdowns (five) than incompletions (four), as Brees did against Indianapolis on Oct. 23. Still wondering why New Orleans trails only Green Bay in scoring?
3. Tom Brady, Patriots: He throws three touchdowns for every interception — 30-10 overall — and has posted a passer rating above 100 in all but three games. He is interception-free in his last five games and has New England tied with the Ravens, Steelers and Texans for the AFC’s best record, at 9-3. More impressive: He has the Patriots 17 points from being undefeated despite playing with the league’s last-ranked defense.,
4. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: All Roethlisberger does is find ways to lead his team to victories. Pittsburgh has won seven of its last eight in part because its burly passer is playing with great discipline and coming up with key plays in pressure situations. His stats aren’t overwhelming — 19 TDs, 10 INTs — but the Steelers would not be challenging for the AFC’s top seed without him.
5. Tim Tebow, Broncos: He looked so completely lost as a passer after his first two starts this season, I put him 31st in my midseason rankings. But Tebow is a different QB today. He has flourished since the Broncos adjusted their offense to take advantage of his read-option skill set.
Overall, he is 6-1 as a starter, with 11 touchdowns (nine passing) and only two turnovers (one fumble, one INT). But his incredible rise up the rankings is due to him coming up biggest when games matter most: at the end. Review the Broncos’ last six wins and you will see Tebow was an integral factor in the outcome, particularly down the stretch. Will it last? Who cares? The rankings are about today, not tomorrow.
6. Alex Smith, 49ers: Thirty-eight pass attempts against the Cardinals. Thirty against the Giants. Thirty-two against the Lions. Yep, keep telling yourself he’s just a game manager. You don’t go into Sundays with a game plan to put the ball in the hands of Smith if you believe he’s nothing more than a game manager.
The 49ers are 10-2 in part because Smith has come through when needed. His numbers aren’t great — 15 TDs, five INTs — but it’s due to the running game being strong and the receiving corps being suspect. (Ted Ginn Jr. is getting looks on the outside, for gosh sakes.) Smith ranks fourth among full-time starters with a 114.1 rating against the blitz (Tom Brady is seventh at 117.2) and he’s one of only 10 passers (and five season-long starters) with a 100.0-plus fourth-quarter rating.
7. Tony Romo, Cowboys: Romo has been playing at a high level since Oct. 23, when Dallas discovered a running game in the person of DeMarco Murray. His presence has not only taken pressure off Romo, but set up the downfield, play-action passes that Romo is so good at. Not coincidentally, the Cowboys are 5-2 since Murray moved into the starting lineup — and would be 6-1, were it not for coach Jason Garrett’s mental meltdown at the end of regulation last week in Arizona.
8. Eli Manning, Giants: He has had to shoulder much of the load because of injuries at running back and is on pace to finish with a career-high 589 pass attempts. In his last nine games alone, he averaged 40 attempts. The fact he has gone 11 straight outings without throwing more interceptions than touchdowns — and has the sixth best TD-to-INT differential, at +12 — is a testament to his play. Manning has gotten it done most on third down, with a 104.5 rating that ranks fourth among regular starters.
9. Cam Newton, Panthers: The rookie No. 1 pick continues to improve. Instead of forcing passes, as he did on occasion earlier in the year, Newton is taking advantage of his running skills, leading all players with 13 rushing touchdowns, including six in the last three games. As a passer, he has been interception-free in four of his last six outings and picked off only once in another. His play has helped lift the Panthers to two straight wins.
10. Matt Hasselbeck, Titans: His importance transcends statistics. Despite Chris Johnson being MIA much of the year, the line having occasional protection issues and No. 1 wideout Kenny Britt sustaining a season-ending injury in Week 3, Hasselbeck has held the offense together and kept Tennessee in the hunt for a playoff spot — and, perhaps, the AFC South title. He is eighth among season-long starters with a third-down passer rating of 93.5 and brings a calming presence in times of stress. Definitely one of the better free-agent pickups this year.
11. Mark Sanchez, Jets: It has been a tough year for Sanchez, whose mediocre stats have frustrated the Jets’ fan base. Last week, some teammates went as far as to publicly ask Jets fans not to boo him at home. Their locals’ feelings are understandable on some levels because Sanchez goes through stretches of Ugly Ball and struggles to find a rhythm until things appear too bleak. To wit: In three of the Jets’ last four wins, he rallied them from fourth-quarter deficits with touchdown passes that put New York ahead for good. Overall, eight of his 19 TDs have come in the fourth quarter, but only one of his 11 picks.
12. Matthew Stafford, Lions: Like Manning, Stafford has had to carry the offense because injuries have crippled the running game. He has been solid on early downs, but has struggled on third down, completing only 48.4 percent of his passes with six interceptions and six touchdowns. It’s not a reach to say the Lions go as he goes: In their seven wins, he has thrown for 21 scores with only six INTs; however in their losses he has only six scores with eight picks. Detroit has lost three of four and five of seven.
13. Michael Vick, Eagles: He has been effective when on the field, and he’s expected to return Sunday after missing three games because of fractured ribs. His 11 TDs and 11 INTs aren’t impressive until you realize he has had to make most of those plays by himself, because of spotty protection. If he could find a way to make DeSean Jackson relevant again, look out.
14. Matt Moore, Dolphins: Miami has won four of five after losing its first seven, and part of the turnaround can be attributed to the efficient play of Moore, who has thrown for eight scores in his last five games. More importantly, he has done an excellent job of protecting the ball, throwing only one interception in his last five outings. He also has converted eight of his pass attempts on third-and-long into first downs.
15. Matt Ryan, Falcons: Each time it appears Ryan is ready to raise his game, along comes a performance like last week’s loss to Houston to remind us that there is a lot of work to be done. Ryan completed just 42.6 percent of his passes with two picks and one score against the Texans. Overall, he has thrown for 19 TDs with 12 INTs. As pedestrian as the numbers might look, though, Ryan has been hurt by inconsistent protection, injuries to his receivers and repeated drops by his wideouts, notably Roddy White, who leads the league in that category.
16. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills: After a strong start to open the season, Fitzpatrick hit a rough patch the first three weeks of November and has been hot-and-cool since. His biggest struggle of late has been downfield throws due to his own inaccuracy, drops by his receivers and spotty protection from his patchwork line. The loss of running back Fred Jackson also cannot be overstated. Is it any wonder the Bills have lost five in a row?