There’s tough, there’s impossible, and then there’s ranking the NFL’s remaining playoff quarterbacks.
There’s maybe one gimme on the entire list, and that comes at No. 8, Houston’s Brock Osweiler.
If there were 12 quarterbacks left, he’d be 12th. Talking 32, maybe 30th.
The rest of the seven contain just about the Who’s Who of NFL quarterbacking in 2016, with the notable exception of Drew Brees, who’s missed the playoffs entirely for the past three years.
The Elite Eight is truly elite — sorry, Joe Flacco — or at least the top six is, because not too many are clamoring for Alex Smith, even if he is a winner. And Osweiler? More eh than elite.
Here’s a stab at ordering greatness.
8) Osweiler, Houston
Osweiler is the obvious bottom-dweller, as he has been downright brutal in his first season with the Texans. Yes, he’s guided Houston into the playoffs (the defense has, at least), and yes, he’s coming off arguably his best game since the first month of the season, a 14-for-25, 168-yard, one-touchdown, no-interception first-round win over Oakland. But for comparison: His 90.1 rating against the Raiders would’ve been the worst game of the year for more than half of this list.
7) Smith, Kansas City
The Chiefs are going to be one tough out, perhaps in spite of Smith the Mediocre. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback has proven to be a steady if unspectacular leader for the Chiefs and Andy Reid, who’s done his best to mask Smith’s deficiencies. With some of the other quarterbacks left on this list, it’s hard to imagine Smith standing tall at the end of the tournament.
6) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
This is where it starts to get dicey. On any given day, Roethlisberger might be at the top of this list, but given his ill-timed foot injury which landed him in a walking boot for the post-game press conference, and the mighty Kansas City defense, it’s hard to put Big Ben any higher. When fully healthy — which the Steelers insist he is, though even a slightly hobbled Roethlisberger plays very differently — he’d almost certainly be higher than the No. 5 QB on the list.
5) Dak Prescott, Dallas
Putting a rookie ahead of a two-time Super Bowl winner? Crazy. Or is it? Prescott finished the season with a passer rating nearly 10 full points ahead of Roethlisberger, and given Dallas’ critical reliance on its running game and offensive line, you can’t expect Prescott to go in the tank now. He’s proven throughout the season that he flourishes in this offense, throwing 23 scores to only four interceptions. Let’s see how he plays under the bright playoff lights, though.
4) Russell Wilson, Seattle
Wilson was tremendous down the stretch for Seattle, closing the season with passer ratings of 122.1, 117.8 and 95.6 in his final three games. He wasn’t too shabby in the wild card win over Detroit, either, going 23-for-30 for 224 yards and two scores to finish with a 119.3 rating. Wilson played like a dog earlier in the season behind a questionable offensive line, but he appears to be rounding into Super Bowl form.
3) Matt Ryan, Atlanta
Sure says something when the prohibitive MVP favorite ranks only third on this list? But are you going to put him higher than arguably the two greatest quarterbacks in NFL history are ahead of him? Look, Ryan has been downright phenomenal this year, leading the league with an astounding 117.1 passer rating while throwing for 38 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards. The question is, can Ryan keep it up in the playoffs?
2) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Well, we know Rodgers can. Written off for dead earlier this year during a labored 4-6 start, Rodgers has gone on an absolute tear since. His last five games have included passer ratings of 150.8, 136.6, 126.0 and 125.2, and he’s coming off a four-touchdown demolition of the New York Giants vaunted pass defense. Rodgers would be at the top of this list if the Packers had more playoff success in recent years,
1) Tom Brady, New England
Come on, like we can fathom anyone else? Are you going to bet against the guy with four Super Bowl rings and the most passing touchdowns in playoff history with 56, 11 more than the second-highest on the list, Joe Montana? You most certainly can’t go wrong with either legend, but Brady has had longer runs more consistently than Rodgers, without the benefit of Rodgers’ perennially strong receiving corps. Minus Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots are without their biggest weapon, but Brady continues to rise to the occasion. Even scarier, he appears to be getting better with age.