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Quarterback power rankings: The big three dominate

Every Thursday, I've rolled out power rankings for each position. Until now, I've looked ahead and wondered what players would I want moving forward.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, it's time to assess 2012. These are tiered quarterback power rankings based on 2012 performance only. When we look back at this season, this is how I'll remember this year's quarterback hierarchy.

Top Shelf: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers

The big three -- Brady, Manning and Rodgers -- all make fine MVP candidates. They all rank in the top-five in QBR and quarterback rating. They make their teammates so much better. They overcome weaknesses. More than the rest of the quarterbacks on this list, they bring it each and every week.

Brady experienced a few early bumps with Josh McDaniels, but he leads the best overall offense in the NFL by far. Manning is going deep and beating the blitz better than he was in 2010. Rodgers still makes the sensational look ordinary. The Green Bay Packers aren't as explosive this year, but Rodgers has played a very smart, controlled brand of football.

Knocking on the door: Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning

We wanted to see a growth year out of Ryan and it happened. He commands the Atlanta Falcons' offense more than ever; the no huddle suits him. He can still struggle with throwing bad passes under pressure, and had seven games this year when he averaged under seven yards per attempt. Overall, his play has elevated above the Joe Flaccos of the NFL.

Brees gets knocked for struggling in a few big spots late in games early in the season, and then going on an interception binge after the New Orleans Saints reached 5-5. He's still one of the best and carries his franchise, but he's not as steady as the top tier. Roethlisberger has quietly played very well (22 TDs, 6 INTs) despite lackluster efforts from many of his offensive teammates. Eli was a tough call. He has not been as consistent throughout this season as he was a year ago. 

Yes, they are that good: Robert Griffin III, Tony Romo and Andrew Luck

When I wrote my QB power rankings at midseason, I wondered if my positioning of RG3 and Luck could look foolish by year's end. They still look like top ten NFL quarterbacks.

RG3 and the Redskins' offense is nearly mistake-free and explosive. That's a tough combination to deal with. Griffin is so accurate and consistent as a passer and he's only just starting his development. Over the last month, Luck has started to show signs of all the hits he's taken this season. Still, he's played so much better than his base numbers indicate. The Colts run a vertical offense and count on Luck to do so much.

Romo climbs up a tier from last time because of a nice closing stretch. He can go from erratic (the Dallas Cowboys' first three quarters against the Cincinnati Bengals) to electric (the fourth quarter against the Bengals) very quickly. The biggest worry: Could he  survive an entire playoff run without a sloppy game?

Middle of the pack: Cam Newton, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson, Matt Schaub, Colin Kaepernick, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Alex Smith and Andy Dalton

Newton's struggles in the first half of the season were overstated, and he's been one of the NFL's best over the last five weeks with ten scores and no picks. Wilson belongs with RG3 and Luck if you ignore the first half of the season, but I can't do that for this exercise. The Seattle Seahawks' passing game was very limiting for much of the year. Wilson has grown exponentially down the stretch and his running ability has been more of a factor.

Cutler is better than his numbers indicate and carries a bad offense, but he can't carry an offense like the top-tier guys. Schaub is a very good quarterback, but he's probably never going to be great. He's terrific in the play-action game and can throw deep, but struggles when you move him off the spot. He's still good enough for the Houston Texans to win a Super Bowl if the rest of the team is dominant.

Flacco is essentially the same guy he's been for the last four years, which is frustrating. Kaepernick is far better than expected in the pocket thus far. With a huge arm and breathtaking speed, his ceiling is not much lower than this year's big name rookies. Stafford remains better in fantasy than reality.

Dalton's numbers aren't terrible, but he misses so many throws. Let's see him play well in a big spot. My opinion: He has not progressed this season. Rivers, like Schaub, does well if everything is perfect around him. Unlike Schaub, he makes a lot of bad decisions. We included Alex Smith just because the guy could use a hug and he was playing rather well for the San Francisco 49ers

Tier Ryan Tannehill

He just didn't belong in the group above, but I like him too much to put him below. Tannehill has had ups and downs like you'd expect out of a rookie, but he's shown a lot more in his rookie season than people realize. He has the potential to be very good with more experience and pieces around him.

Tier we want more: Michael Vick, Josh Freeman and Sam Bradford

Vick would be an upgrade for the New York Jets next season, but he wouldn't upgrade most teams. Freeman is so scattershot. You don't know what you are getting throw to throw, much less quarter to quarter. Bradford has a great arm, but makes a lot of curious decisions.

Tier former Bengals: Ryan Fitzpatrick and Carson Palmer

I just don't have a lot to say about these two. In a different era, they would be average starting quarterbacks. In this era, they feel like stopgaps.

Bottom of the barrel: Jake LockerNick FolesBrandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, Christian Ponder, Mark Sanchez and Cardinals QB surprise

It's a disappointment Locker is this low. He shows occasional flashes, but is not comfortable playing from the pocket. Weeden has a big arm and stands tall, but struggles with progression reading. He doesn't have a great feel for playing at the pro level yet. Cassel will make an excellent backup for some team. Foles has showed real promise and deserves to compete for playing time this year. Gabbert's progress was modest. Henne essentially has looked like the same guy in Jacksonville.

The Minnesota Vikings are trying to hide Ponder week after week. This season has been a huge disappointment for him. Any other conclusion is rationalization or spin. Sanchez regresses each game. The situation became too much for him to handle. And finally, no organization has botched the quarterback position more over the last three years than the Arizona Cardinals. Thay went from Derek Anderson, Max Hall, and John Skelton in 2010 to Skelton, Kevin Kolb, and Ryan Lindley this year. That's how coaches get fired.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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