QB Index: Why win-loss record is overrated

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Russell Wilson is playing better than he did a season ago, yet the back-to-back NFC Champions are 2-4. Sam Bradford, ranked dead last in ESPN's QBR stat for the season, has shown no progress the last two weeks while throwing five interceptions. The Eagles won the two games by 42 points combined.

The Baltimore Ravens are enduring their worst-ever franchise start at 1-5, yet Joe Flacco essentially is playing the same way he plays every season. Philip Rivers, who has finished as a top-seven quarterback in the year-end QB Index the last two seasons, is ranked at No. 6 based on this season's play. The Chargers are 2-4.

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Just about everyone who watches and covers baseball knows that wins and losses is an overrated stat for starting pitchers. Yet it remains tough for the football populace to come to terms with putting win-loss records into context. Quarterbacks get too much blame when teams lose, and they certainly get too much praise when they win. Football remains the ultimate team sport, and that's even true when it comes to the game's most important position. It's why Kyle Orton has a better winning percentage than Joe Namath, and no one is putting him in the Hall of Fame. Put Rivers on the Bengals, Broncos and Panthers -- they'd still be undefeated. Put him on the Eagles and they might be counting magic numbers in Philadelphia.

Instead, we'll watch Rivers try to overcome an offensive line that only appears to suit up three players each week. That's part of the fun of this column: Trying to isolate the most important position in the ultimate team sport.

This is the Quarterback Index. The rankings below are based on this season's play only.

The Big Two


1. Tom Brady
2. Aaron Rodgers

Back-to-back mortal weeks from Rodgers helps Brady reach the top spot for the first time this season. Brady is playing in September and October like he often does after Thanksgiving. He refuses to make a mental mistake. (And when he does, like a bad delay of game against Dallas, Bill Belichick will yell at him for it.)

It's crazy to see a passing game built out of pick plays and Rob Gronkowski dominate the rest of the league, but that's what's happened thus far. Brady's movement skills have also been uncanny. I've always thought his pocket presence and ability to avoid the rush was his defining skill, but it waned after his first decade in the league. Now it looks better than ever, and Brady is making more plays on the move than he probably wants to. That's especially important with rookies on the offensive line and a shaky situation at left tackle. The Around The NFL Podcast Mailbag took a great question this week that asked if Brady and Belichick could make any NFL roster a playoff team. We ultimately decided yes.

As Chris Wesseling wrote this week, the bye came at a perfect time for the Packers. They were not moving the ball consistently the last three weeks, instead becoming too reliant on Rodgers' occasional magic. He's not finding receivers open early in the down.

Top Shelf


3. Andy Dalton
4. Carson Palmer
5. Cam Newton
6. Philip Rivers
7. Russell Wilson

My daughter's Halloween parade is next Friday, and Andy Dalton is the third best quarterback in the NFL. It's an amazing time to be alive. ... The fourth quarter has been Russell Wilson's worst quarter the last two weeks, but that doesn't mean we should ignore the rest of the game. I've watched every Wilson-Cam battle, and this one showed the progress that both players have made. Wilson made smart decisions on when to throw to Jimmy Graham and made his usual outstanding throws on the run. Wilson played a very clean game and moved the ball well overall despite an erratic running game. On balance, Wilson is playing better this season than he did a year ago when the Seahawks were the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Cam, of course, is also playing better for similar reasons to Wilson. He's steadier. The fourth quarter was the best moment of his career in part because he showed again he can do it all from the pocket. He was deadly accurate and composed on tight coverage throws up the seams. Until the game-winner, the Seahawks didn't give him anything. He beat good coverage and showed off touch to go with his usual fireballs.

Next level


8. Matt Ryan
9. Drew Brees
10. Derek Carr
11. Eli Manning
12. Tyrod Taylor
13. Joe Flacco
14. Blake Bortles
15. Jay Cutler
16. Andrew Luck
17. Teddy Bridgewater
18. Marcus Mariota
19. Ryan Fitzpatrick

Ryan drops a tier this week while Drew Brees moves closer to his normal position in the quarterback hierarchy. Ryan isn't playing poorly overall, but he is lacking the splash plays to make up for his intermittent brain farts. Kyle Shanahan has improved the Falcons' offense dramatically, but he hasn't improved Ryan's play overall. The Falcons are another example of why win-loss is overrated for quarterbacks. He's not any better than a year ago, when he was very good. ... Brees showed he can still carve up a defense against Atlanta when not pressured against. New Orleans doesn't play a particularly good pass rush until Week 13 against Carolina, so he could go on a run.

The Giants' offensive plan is death by a thousand cuts. It's not supposed to be fun to watch. When the Giants can't even protect Eli on three step drops, the whole thing falls apart. ... Flacco keeps chugging along at a B-minus level, but is that different than his whole career? The offensive line and running game have played better the last two weeks, and Flacco had some truly sweet completions in San Francisco. It wouldn't surprise me if the Ravens' offense starts putting up a lot more points. ... Andrew Luck has always been less consistently accurate than the top-shelf quarterbacks, but he's spraying passes more than ever this season. It's hard not to think his injury is a factor.

Remember when the NFC North was supposed to be loaded with quarterbacks for the next-half decade? Sunday's Bears-Lions game was the perfect encapsulation of Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford. Fireworks and numbers, signifying little when it comes to the standings. Cutler's best play is to run around and make an outrageous deep toss to Alshon Jeffery. Cutler's performance this season has been lost in the shuffle but he's made enough wow plays the last two weeks to be considered an average starter. Just like he has most of his career. The ending to the Week 5 Chiefs game was one of the craziest finishes by a quarterback all year. This score to Marquess Wilson was one of my favorite throws of the year:

Middle of the Pack


20. Colin Kaepernick
21. Alex Smith
22. Peyton Manning
23. Nick Foles
24. Josh McCown

Smith is the new prime meridian of quarterbacks. If your quarterback is below him, you need to think about looking for a new quarterback. ... Kaepernick, like most NFL quarterbacks, is going to excel with spotless protection. That's happened the last two weeks. The 49ers did a nice job setting up their big plays and run game by going pass-wacky early against the Ravens. Defenses are daring Kaepernick to beat them. He had a few throws in the game that reminded everyone why he was such a sensation in 2012. ... This Peyton Manning season remains fascinating and a good Rorschach test for NFL analysts. You can find some promising throws the last two weeks from Manning. You also can find more head-scratching decisions than we've never seen from him before, and a coach who is sometimes afraid to let Manning make a mistake. ... Josh McCown's final three drives against Denver proved to be a master class in wasting opportunity.

The Final Countdown


25. Matthew Stafford
26. Jameis Winston
27. Sam Bradford
28. Kirk Cousins
29. Ryan Tannehill
30. Brian Hoyer
31. Brandon Weeden 
32. Mike Vick

Pour one out for Vick, who seems unlikely to get another chance to start in the NFL again. He was never boring. ... Bradford was once known for his accuracy, but that has deserted him this season. That shouldn't be a huge shock coming off multiple ACL surgeries. Even his big completions often don't take advantage of how open his receivers are, because they have to wait for Bradford's pass to get there.

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