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QB Index: Ranking the starters 1-32

Russell Wilson makes you want to speak in cliches. He makes you want to believe in "clutch" or a player's innate ability to rise to the moment. Or other nonsense like that.

After a relatively slow start to the season, Wilson played his best game of the season in Week 7 on "Thursday Night Football" in Arizona. He topped himself in prime time on Monday against the New Orleans Saints.

Starting with that Cardinals game, Wilson has thrown for 14 touchdowns with two interceptions, averaging a ridiculous 10.35 yards per attempt. He's overcome a leaky offensive line, connecting on a high percentage of passes while also being the most efficient deep-ball thrower in the league. Only the San Francisco 49ers have fewer pass attempts than Seattle, but the Seahawks are aggressive when they do throw.

Wilson's average pass length on completions is 7.74 yards, far higher than Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and every other quarterback in my top 10 below.

Wilson is not the NFL MVP (Manning is putting together an all-time season). But Wilson already deserves to be mentioned among the best quarterbacks in football. He makes the smart plays and the spectacular plays. He beats the perfectly called blitz and is finishing another season strong. He makes me want to write corny.

This is the Quarterback Index. Every four games, I rank all 32 starters, top-to-bottom. This is one of those weeks. The rankings are based on 2013 play alone.

Top of the food chain


1. Peyton Manning
2. Philip Rivers
3. Drew Brees
4. Russell Wilson
5. Aaron Rodgers (in absentia)

I could have included Manning's entire highlight reel against Kansas City. It was one of the best collection of throws by any quarterback all season. But I chose the play to the right because it's such a Manning moment. Third-and-long in a key spot. Manning recognizes the blitz, moves well in the pocket to avoid pressure and throws a dart into tight coverage. Wes Welker does the rest. Any discussion about the MVP race should have ended against the Chiefs. Manning's arm looks just fine when he can set his feet.

Rivers can't buy a break this season. He played well against a strong Bengals defense, but his receivers lost two fumbles and dropped another pass that turned into an interception. Rivers' pace has slowed down slightly after midseason, but he's been the next steadiest performer behind Manning.

Next level


6. Tom Brady
7. Matthew Stafford
8. Ben Roethlisberger
9. Andrew Luck
10. Cam Newton
11. Nick Foles
12. Bears quarterback
13. Tony Romo
14. Matt Ryan

If these rankings were based only on the last five weeks, Brady might be No. 1. ... It sounds strange, but Newton isn't playing much different than a year ago. The defense around him is far better and he's avoiding mistakes, but the Panthers' offense is a little worse overall. Newton is practically impossible to stop in short-yardage situations and deserves to be mentioned as a top 10 quarterback.

Foles isn't quite as impressive on Game Rewind as his numbers indicate, but no one could be. The Eagles' offense under Foles stretches the field and gets receivers open after the catch. He ranks eighth in average pass length through the air (9.23 yards) and first in average yards after catch by his receivers. In short: The Eagles are hitting defenses at every level. Chip Kelly has over-delivered on his hype.

I can't blame Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton for wanting to run. Indianapolis' pass protection is awful and Luck's receiving crew is falling apart. Darrius Heyward-Bey is turning into an unmitigated disaster. It's December and the Colts are counting on Da'Rick Rogers to carry the team. This closing stretch will test Luck to see if he can carry a team all by himself. ... Romo has cut down on mistakes at the expense of big plays. He's not playing poorly, but his ranking has slowly declined all season, with his yards-per-attempt (7.14) a career low by a big margin.

Middle of the pack


15. Colin Kaepernick
16. Ryan Tannehill
17. Eli Manning
18. Joe Flacco
19. Alex Smith
20. Carson Palmer
21. Mike Glennon
22. Robert Griffin III
23. Andy Dalton

Kaepernick seems like a game-plan quarterback. When 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman dials up the right plays, Kaepernick can look almost impossible to stop. But the entire passing attack has crumbled against its toughest competition, and the 49ers' closing stretch is difficult. The difference between Kaepernick and Tannehill or Griffin: Kaepernick still makes five "wow" throws every week.

Tannehill has been solid in his second season without making huge strides. His deep ball is inconsistent. He had a lot of good moments in the last two weeks, so perhaps he's ready to get on a roll. ... Flacco has played his best football the last two weeks as well, with a focus on vertical strikes. The same, oddly, is true about Alex Smith. This is the highest he's been ranked all season despite Kansas City's losing streak. He's shown accuracy and onions for the last three weeks. Hopefully the Chiefs continue to stay aggressive.

RGIII is right where he was ranked at midseason. After last year's wild ride, watching him now is a little depressing. I expected the Redskins' offense to improve as the season wore on, but it hasn't happened. ... Palmer moves up a tier (six spots) after a nice stretch of outings overall. The Philly game, however, was instructive. Even in a contest where Palmer completed a lot of tough throws, he left a ton of yards on the field and made some killer turnovers. ... Glennon has been a pleasant surprise. I'm curious to see how he'll bounce back from his first terrible outing in Carolina.

Five weeks ago, I ranked Dalton at No. 15 and wondered when the other shoe would drop. He's been terrible since. Three years into his career, the Bengals still can't be sure whether Dalton is "The Answer." His game against San Diego was a microcosm of his career. He had a miserable first half against one of the worst defenses in football. He followed that up with a handful of crucial throws after halftime to pull off a big road win. Then again, the defense and running game led the way. This has been a wildly up-and-down season, which is why the "After Dalton" scale remains intact.

After Dalton


24. Matt McGloin
25. Case Keenum
26. Christian Ponder
27. Ryan Fitzpatrick
28. Chad Henne
29. Kellen Clemens
30. EJ Manuel
31. Browns quarterback
32. Geno Smith

It's hard not to love what McGloin has shown thus far. He is not afraid to make tough throws and he makes quick decisions. It's wildly early, but he has a chance to stick around. ... Keenum also displayed laudable aggressiveness, which caused Chris Wesseling to temporarily fall in love. But the Texans' second-year pro struggles to put together complete games and struggles with blitzes more. ... Ponder jumps three spots after an improved stretch of play. He makes a handful of impressive throws every week, but the game still seems to move too fast for him. In his third season, there's a season that "he is what he is."

Smith plummeted seven spots after four miserable games. He has not been put in a fair situation, but he's not ready either. ... Clemens has been a little better than expected as the Rams starter. Fitzpatrick is exactly as expected: a solid backup quarterback with a touch of Fitzmagic.

The next complete rankings will come at the end of the season. Thanks for reading.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" recapped every Week 13 game.

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