Last year, I took a personal habit of mine and turned it into a blog post by ranking the twelve quarterbacks in this year’s NFL playoffs.  I’ve been doing this ranking for years just for my own amusement and I had fun writing it for the blog last year, so I thought I’d do it again.

However, I have to confess that part of the fun of writing on this topic was that last year’s playoff quarterbacks were so danged good.  I predicted that seven of the twelve will be in the Hall of Fame someday, and a couple of the remaining five quarterbacks were at least decent.  By comparison, this year’s list is somewhat depressing.  There are fewer Hall of Famers here and the quarterbacks that might be heading to the HOF had down years statistically.  Still, I intend to struggle forward as best I can.

So just to review what criteria I’m using for this ranking, I’m looking at three things.  First, how each quarterback did statistically this season.  Second, what kind of career statistical level have they established.  Finally, gut instinct.

As I said last year, this list isn’t for everyone and probably isn’t for most people.  I suppose that’s particularly true in a season where the popularity of the NFL took a serious tumble.  But I’m not getting paid for this, so I don’t care.

1.  Tom Brady (New England) – He had the greatest season ever of any quarterback over forty.  However, if you’re a Tom Brady hater, there is some hope if you look hard enough.  In the last four games of the season, he wasn’t his normal Tom Brady self and in a couple of those games he was downright terrible.  I’m not sure that the word “terrible” has ever been used to describe Tom Brady, but he really just didn’t look good at all.  And then you have to remind yourself that Brady really is forty and he took a lot of hits this season behind an offensive line that isn’t your typically Patriot offensive line.

I don’t expect this to be a problem in their first playoff game.  The Patriots get a first round bye, so he can get some needed rest.  It might be a problem in their second game, should they get that far.

I mentioned last year that Brady is in the discussion for being the best quarterback ever.  Brady effectively ended that discussion with his excellent season this year.

2.  Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh) – Roethlisberger didn’t have the statistical season that the other quarterbacks at the top of this list had.  That’s a little surprising because Pittsburgh probably has the best receiving corps in the NFL, so you would expect his numbers to be bolstered rather than hindered by the talent that surrounds him.  But Pittsburgh also has the best running back in the NFL, so Big Ben doesn’t have to throw the ball as much as most of these other guys do.  I’m of the opinion that he’s a little overrated (he was, once again, near the league lead in interceptions thrown), but he’s still a lock to get into the HOF.

3. Drew Brees (New Orleans) – Had a solid season that was so far below his career norms that it was a little shocking.  For the first time in his career, Brees can rely on a great running game, which might be the equal to that of the Steelers.  He didn’t have to throw the ball as much, which is a good thing for his career longevity.  Brees is only a little more than a year younger than Brady and nobody is mentioning him as a threat to Brady for best quarterback ever.  I do think there’s a good discussion to be had that he’s in the top five all time.

4.  Matt Ryan (Atlanta) – The top four guys on this list were all below their career norms and Ryan is the one that’s the hardest to explain.  The receiving corps and offensive line didn’t have an overabundance of injuries.  He’s still got Julio Jones to throw to.  I suppose the best explanation is that opponents made some adjustments defensively and the Falcons didn’t make the right counteradjustments.  Still, Ryan did sneak his team into the playoffs and a good playoff run would bolster his HOF case.  Unlike the three guys ahead of him on this list, his HOF case actually needs bolstering.  He could really use two more good seasons, at least.

5. Alex Smith (Kansas City) – Alex was easily the toughest quarterback to rate this season.  Depending on your criteria, he could have ranked anywhere from first to ninth. He had a great season, maybe the best season of anyone on this list.  The problem is that this year is so out of whack with his career that it gives you one of those eating-homemade-ice-cream-too-fast headaches just looking at it. You could take his stat line from this season and fit it into Aaron Rodgers’ career and it wouldn’t look out of place, which is why it looks VERY out of place in Smith’s career. I don’t think he’s ever been a top ten QB before.

At 33, Alex has almost no chance at getting into the Hall of Fame without a ticket.  However, if he strings together another two or three seasons like this one, he might be worth considering.

6. Cam Newton (Carolina) – Newton has a lot better chance of getting to the HOF than Alex Smith, but he’s got a sort of weird and off-putting personality that seems to grate on people.  Numbers live on long past what people remember about you personally, so I suspect he’s close, perhaps another two or three good seasons away from a date in Canton.  Another appearance in the Super Bowl would help a lot.

7. Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams) – A good example of why you should never give up on a quarterback after one season.  Goff was so bad in his rookie year that the Rams ownership was looking for a replacement.  Needless to say, season two has gone much better.  My one concern is that the Rams haven’t played a lot of games where they had to rely on Goff to make a drive to win the game.  At some point in the playoffs, he’s going to have to do that.

Goff is too young to speculate about a Hall of Fame type of career, but he’s off to a good start. However…

8. Marcus Mariota (Tennessee) – You could have said many of the same things about Marcus Mariota after last season that they are saying about Jared Goff this season.  Mariota was all kinds of terrible this year and the Titans made the playoffs in spite of him, rather than because of him.  Still, the talent is there and he might find another gear now that the games really mean something.  Mariota’s skill set is a lot like Russell Wilson’s, but his actual ability seems a long ways from matching Wilson’s.

Mariota is still very young and could spend the rest of his career making us forget that this season ever happened.  His HOF case is in a ditch, however.

9. Case Keenum (Minnesota) – Like Alex Smith, a very hard quarterback to rate and for many of the same reasons.  Keenum took over the Vikings QB spot early in the year after Sam Bradford suffered his nine hundredth serious injury.  Keenum did very well.  The problem is that he’s never been even close to being this good in any previous season.  He’s always been mediocre, even for a backup quarterback.  Maybe I should just throw caution to the wind and rate him higher, but I want to see more proof before I go any farther than this.

Keenum could become the first HOF quarterback that spent most of his career as a backup.  And I’m next in line for the throne in Westeros.

10. Blake Bortles (Jacksonville) – The Jags were quite the story this season, as no one, including me, thought they could be this good.  The thing you hear most about Jacksonville is something along the lines of, “Imagine how good they could be if they had a REAL quarterback.”

My sense is that’s grossly unfair to Bortles, as he wasn’t at all terrible this season and for some games, he was quite good.  The rumor is that he’s, well, let’s just say he’s not the easiest guy to get along with.  I would think that having a quarterback with a bad personality is worse than having a weird personality like Cam Newton, but I’ve got a bias toward weird personalities, since I’ve got one myself.  But I also suspect that the whole personality thing is overblown.  Now that he’s had a chance to get his career back on track, I think he’ll become a nice, average or better NFL quarterback, but that’s probably his ceiling.

11. Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo) – While last year’s list had many future Hall of Famers, the bottom of the list was much worse than the bottom of this year’s list.  Tyrod Taylor is actually pretty good okay unembarrassing and there’s probably about fifteen ten three teams that would trade for him immediately if they could find a way to get him.  He seems like a good guy that’s overcome some limitations to make a nice NFL career.  Buffalo’s chances to get far in the playoffs aren’t good, but if they win a few games, I’d think that would improve his reputation.

12. Nick Foles (Philadelphia) – Like Keenum, Foles is a career backup that got his shot because of an injury to the starter, in this case Carson Wentz.  Or perhaps I should say ANOTHER shot.  I think this makes his third or fourth try at glory.  In some of his past quarterback lives, he’s looked very good, but he never seems to be able to sustain it.  The three games he’s played since becoming a starter have been a microcosm of his career.  The first game was really good.  The last two were really bad.  The Eagles have a good shot at getting to the Super Bowl despite his inconsistency, so he’s going to get some chances to win over his critics.

Carson Wentz would have rated fifth on this list if he were healthy.

Now it’s time for my fearless predictions for the playoffs this week:

Tennessee/Kansas City – Being a Chiefs fan this season has been a special type of brutal.  For five weeks, they were the best team in the NFL and for the next seven weeks, they were the worst team in the NFL.  It’s a rarely mentioned little secret that KC has looked very good in their last four games.  The Titans have one the best defenses in the NFL, so I don’t think it will be easy, but I expect the Chiefs to win 24-20

Atlanta/Los Angeles Rams – Playoff experience is one of those intangibles that’s just hard to put a number on.  Last year, Atlanta was expected to struggle because of a lack of playoff experience and they made it to the Super Bowl.  This year, the Rams are in the same boat.  I guess I have a little more faith in Matt Ryan than Jared Goff.  But just a little. Falcons – 35, Rams – 34.

Buffalo/Jacksonville – Ugh. I think I’ll take a nap while this one is on.  Two really good defenses and two struggling offenses.  Jacksonville – 3, Buffalo – 2.

Carolina/New Orleans – This one could be fun.  The Saints defense is good, but Carolina always seems to find a way to get enough points to stay close.  I think I’ll go with the home team. Saints 31-23.

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