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QB Index: Andrew Luck, Tony Romo get more support

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Andrew Luck spent two years propping up a Colts team that wasn't ready to contend for a title. Now, the players around Luck are growing up even faster than he is.

Luck played an average game (for him) on Sunday and Indianapolis beat another AFC contender (this time Cincinnati) in a laugher. The offense didn't particularly have a great first half, but the Chuck Pagano's defense kept getting the ball back to Luck, so it didn't really matter that the Colts had four three-and-outs before halftime. Luck's pass protection has improved, his young tight ends are making plays for him and the Colts' defense is playing like a pack of wild hyenas. Luck is more than doing his part, leading the Colts to the most first downs and red zone trips in the league by far. But recognition as a true top-tier quarterback will arrive this year because he's getting more support.

Tony Romo is playing excellent football. He's been the same top-10 quarterback for the last decade. He's just getting asked to do less now. DeMarco Murray's production affords more one-on-one matchups on the outside, less exotic blitzes to deal with and fewer passes to throw. He rarely faces pressure and doesn't need to score 30 points to win. When the Giants gave Romo an extra possession with a second-half fumble, he made them pay. Suddenly, everyone loves Romo, affording one of the best quarterbacks of his generation some overdue backslaps.

Quarterbacks will always get too much blame for the failings of those around them. It takes a Hall of Fame-caliber player to transcend his surroundings, and there are not many of those guys playing at one time. Luck and Romo are two examples this season of terrific quarterbacks who suddenly have the support systems to match.

On to this week's quarterback rankings. These rankings are based on 2014 play only.

Top Shelf


1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Philip Rivers
3. Peyton Manning
4. Andrew Luck

I didn't take moving Rodgers up to the No. 1 spot lightly because it feels like he won't let go of the crown all year. But he has put together a string of games that are impossible to ignore, including a near-flawless performance against Carolina. The Packers are not just scoring; they are scoring quickly with chunk plays stacked on top of each other. He has to be one of the best passers in NFL history on throws across his body, firing bullets passed stunned defenders with ease. Chris Wesseling wrote a great piece on Rodgers' run for our Film Room page.

Rivers is coming off his worst game of the season, while Manning is coming off his best. Rivers' protection has grown shakier by the week and faces its toughest matchup of the season Thursday night in Denver. No quarterback is better equipped to deal with constant pressure. One play from Week 6 against Oakland typifies Rivers' calm when things are going haywire. The center snaps the ball into the ground and Rivers faces quick pressure up the middle. Almost any other quarterback just gives up on that play but Rivers calmly picks the ball up, evades two defenders and throws for 10 yards.

Next level


5. Tony Romo
6. Ben Roethlisberger
7. Cam Newton
8. Matt Ryan
9. Russell Wilson
10. Tom Brady
11. Drew Brees
12. Joe Flacco

Newton had a disastrous game in Green Bay. I charted just two bad throws for him before the Panthers were down 21-0, but he did not respond well to a big deficit after that. He held the ball too long and wasn't accurate. Poor games happen, but it doesn't get any easier this week against Seattle. ... Brees had one of his best games of the season in Detroit until the fourth quarter, but a disastrous stretch capped by his interception ruined the good work he did. With Jimmy Graham hurt, an inconsistent deep ball and no receivers who consistently separate against one-on-one coverage, Brees isn't sure who to trust at receiver.

Flacco gets bumped up a tier after two weeks of terrific throws, albeit against NFC South defenses. ... Russell Wilson played a nice first game without Percy Harvin. It was the offensive line, running game and special teams that struggled for Seattle. ... Brady has done very well of late in two-minute situations, scoring at the end of halves and playing vintage "situational football." ... When I turn on Falcons-Lions at 6:30 a.m. PT Sunday, I just hope that Matt Ryan doesn't get hurt. His dreadful offensive line against Detroit's front seven is the biggest mismatch of the year.

Moving up


Ryan Tannehill: He's played two-and-a-half great games since Joe Philbin publicly toyed with Matt Moore as the potential starter in Miami. (No, Philbin doesn't deserve any credit. And Tannehill's ugly first half against Green Bay is hard to forget.) Like Romo, Tannehill is at his best when he's not asked to carry the offense. Miami's offensive line gave him fantastic protection against Chicago and leaned on the Bears in the run game. Left tackle Branden Albert has quietly been a difference-maker. Tannehill's running ability and use of the zone read has also created problems for defenses, which keep getting drawn toward the line of scrimmage before Tannehill hits the open areas of zone coverage. Miami is evolving into Eagles-lite. Tannehill's accuracy has been on-point.

The offensive line's success can be seen in the play below. Tannehill has all day to throw, and is able to go through his progressions like a veteran to his third or fourth option for a score.

Moving down


Jay Cutler: He's like the anti-Philip Rivers. When pressure arrives, Cutler gets jumpy and starts making bad decisions. His pass protection hasn't been as strong this season, and Cutler had another game of just missing deep throws down the field. He's just as likely to throw for 350 yards and three scores this week in New England as he is to turn the ball over three times. That's just who Cutler is.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast discusses the top 10 under the radar Pro Bowl candidates for 2014. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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