The Quarterback Index: Ranking the starters 1-32


It feels like 2009 all over again at the quarterback position. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are undefeated and saving their best stuff for prime-time games.

Look a little closer, and other portions of the quarterback totem pole appear upside down. Philip Rivers is playing better than his 2004 draft classmates, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford have played at a consistently high level, while Tom Brady and Joe Flacco have been more erratic.

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This makes it more challenging (and fun) to put together my quarter-pole rankings for the Quarterback Index. Every four weeks, I'll create a quick snapshot of all 32 starters. These rankings are for 2013 play only -- no bonus points for reputation and past production.

Alone at the top

1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

Remember when we all said the Broncos just needed to win three or four games during Von Miller's suspension to stay in the mix? That was cute.

In theory, Dallas' defense should provide Manning his toughest test Sunday. In reality, the Cowboys just gave up more than 500 yards to a San Diego passing attack based on quick throws, timing and an accurate triggerman. Sound familiar?

Next level

2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
3. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Notes: Rivers was No. 3 last week, too, which set my Twitter feed ablaze. Perhaps everyone can just admit he's playing lights out after he set an all-time record for completion percentage by a quarterback who threw for more than 400 yards. Rivers threw the ball deep more against Dallas and responded well after taking two big hits at the end of the first half.

Trailing 21-10 late just before halftime, the Chargers looked headed for a 1-3 record. Rivers ripped off 20 unanswered points in four scoring drives, largely by picking on Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne. Chargers rookie Keenan Allen is going to be a huge factor for San Diego. ... Rodgers faces a big division game this week against Detroit. His protection will be tested. ... Brees' performance has improved every game this year.

Top 10 plus one

5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
7. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
8. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
9. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
10. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
11. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Notes: I won't use the cliche that Luck's athleticism is underrated. Everyone should know by now that he put up the same combine numbers as Cam Newton. You might be surprised to learn, though, that Luck has earned the most value running the ball of any quarterback in the league, according to ESPN's underrated QBR stat. Michael Vick is a distant second.

Ryan had his worst game of the season Sunday night. He missed too many throws, but it says a lot that his worst performance included 421 yards and two scores. ... Brady, on the other hand, easily played his best game of the year. The ball came out of his hand on time. It looked like the old Patriots offense once again. (Old like 2003, not 2007.) Brady's career numbers would look a lot different if he played in a dome. ... Romo has been one of the steadiest quarterbacks in the league. Really. He played a clean game in San Diego despite the loss. With Chargers safety Eric Weddle taking away tight end Jason Witten, Romo needed his secondary receivers to step up. They didn't.

Seattle is struggling to protect Wilson. The Seahawks had virtually no passing game for three quarters against Houston, so Wilson started running. Pete Carroll seems tempted to just run the ball 50 times per game. ... The Lions are scary because they scored 30 points in the first half on a day when Stafford missed a ton of throws. His decision-making is better this year. ... The same is true for Jay Cutler. His ugly day in Detroit was more about bad throws than bad reads. The Bears must have the best "jump ball" team in the league with Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett, but Cutler can't get carried away just throwing it up to them.

Middle of the pack

12. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
13. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
14. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
15. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
16. Eli Manning, New York Giants
17. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
18. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
19. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Notes: That first-half explosion against Washington seems like a long time ago for Vick. He's still played well overall but can be so unpredictable on a snap-to-snap basis. ... Eli Manning has the worst protection in the league. The offense can barely operate because of it, and Hakeem Nicks can't beat one-on-one coverage. Manning is starting to expect pressure before it gets there. It's depressing to see the Giants just call "give up" runs on third-and-long to keep Manning upright.

Flacco's protection wasn't as bad as people said against Buffalo. He got fooled on two of his interceptions, and two others were just bad throws. A lot of the hits Flacco took occurred because his receivers couldn't get open. The Ravens have no one capable of moving the chains. Maybe they could trade for Anquan Boldin. ... RGIII continues to get a little better every week. But 17 points from the Redskins' offense against Oakland isn't anything to get too excited about.

Tier intrigue

20. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
21. Terrelle Pryor, Oakland Raiders

Notes: Locker will be out for a while after hurting his hip, but he deserves some recognition for a great six-quarter stretch of play. Here's to hoping he gets to play in meaningful games this year. He was showing signs of progress. ... I have no idea if Pryor can keep this up, but there's no denying he's played very well in his three starts. Matt Flynn made Pryor look even better by comparison.

The rest

22. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
23. Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns
24. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
25. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
26. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
27. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

Notes: Wins are the best deodorant. They make Alex Smith's shortcomings something to worry about for another day. In Smith's defense, it's a deeply flawed receiver group in Kansas City. Dwayne Bowe looks slower, and the tight end group has been decimated. ... Hoyer is not afraid to pull the trigger on tough throws and is comfortable going through his progressions for a new starter.

Schaub actually was playing well until his nasty pick six. He keeps having brain cramps at the worst time. Big mistakes are amplified in an offense that takes so few chances. ... Bradford seems to be regressing, and it's hard to figure out why. The Rams' over-the-top organizational confidence in him sounds like overcompensation. Why the need to build him up so much?

The rest and the rookies

28. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
29. EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills
30. Geno Smith, New York Jets
31. Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
32. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars

Notes: Manuel played under center more last week and made a handful of terrific throws. He also was afforded great protection and barely threw the ball. The Bills' coaching staff is working around Manuel's lack of accuracy. ... There's not a lot separating Ponder and Matt Cassel, which is not a great sign for either of them.

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