The NFL saw a changing of the guard Sunday night in Super Bowl XLVIII when the Seattle Seahawks and their young, dominant defense beat Peyton Manning’s No. 1 offense.
Manning’s Super Bowl loss shouldn’t diminish the fact that the Denver Broncos quarterback is still currently the best in the NFL, though. Manning should have been the unanimous MVP in 2013 after throwing for 5,477 yards with 55 touchdowns. He missed the 2011 season because of neck surgery and hasn’t skipped a beat in his return to football. He was dominated by the Seahawks, but any quarterback would have been beaten down Sunday night.
Super Bowl XLVIII also, however, saw the rise of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson has been demeaned as a “game manager,” but that takes away from his special qualities. Few signal-callers in NFL history have been able to elude pressure like Wilson — a quality the Seahawks quarterback said he picked up from Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young.
Check out how I rank the NFL’s starting quarterbacks now that the 2013 season is officially over. The rankings are not based on 2013 alone or on entire careers, but rather how I judge their play based on recent history.
1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Patriots fans might not like Manning being above Brady, but this is based on recent history, not career. Manning was by far the best quarterback in the NFL during the 2013 regular season.
3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
6. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
7. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
It might seem absurd to put Wilson No. 5, but Rivers had a rough stretch before Mike McCoy saved him. Rivers was fantastic in 2013, however. Roethlisberger is consistently great, but Wilson has been incredible in his first two NFL seasons.
8. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
9. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
10. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
I had a tough time ranking Kaepernick and Newton. They’re both very good, but Kaepernick’s ability to limit his mistakes places him above Newton and Luck. Luck will likely rise up this list after 2014.
11. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
12. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
13. Eli Manning, New York Giants
These were three difficult quarterbacks to rank. Romo’s stats consistently place him among the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL, but his inability to clinch games is very real. Ryan maintained consistency even after losing Julio Jones to a season-ending injury. Manning was terrible in 2013, but I have faith he’ll return to his 2008-2012 form.
14. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
15. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
16. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
17. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
18. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
19. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
Cutler, Smith, Stafford, Flacco, Griffin and Foles’ games are so different that it was hard to sort these signal-callers out. Cutler has special skills, but he’s very inconsistent. He has a chance to shine moving forward under Marc Trestman. Smith is a pure game manager, despite how well he played in the first round of the playoffs against the Colts. Stafford is probably only better than Flacco because he has Calvin Johnson. Flacco was terrible in 2013, but his Super Bowl ring places him above statistically better quarterbacks. I think Griffin will bounce back in a less chaotic environment, and I don’t trust that the 2013 Foles was the real deal just yet.
20. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
21. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
22. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
23. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
Tannehill has the most upside out of this group, but he has to learn how to limit his mistakes. Dalton and Palmer aren’t going to lead their teams to a championship anytime soon. Bradford looked good until he went down with a torn ACL.
24. Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
25. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
26. Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns
27. E.J. Manuel, Buffalo Bills
There’s still hope for Glennon, Locker, Hoyer and Manuel, but another full season is necessary to fully evaluate all four quarterbacks as anything other than bottom 10 starters.
28. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
29. Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Terrelle Pryor, Oakland Raiders
31. Matt Cassel, Minnesota Vikings
32. Geno Smith, New York Jets
The Texans, Jaguars, Raiders, Vikings and Jets should probably be looking for new quarterbacks in 2013. There’s still some hope for Smith, but his rookie season was abysmal.