QB Index: Who has risen, fallen since Week 1?

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We've reached the point of the season where the weekly rankings for the Quarterback Index don't change a ton. The rankings are based on the season overall, so one week isn't going to move the meter.

There are some exceptions -- like Matthew Stafford's boffo Thanksgiving moving him up four spots -- but the top 10 looks most familiar after Week 12. That's why I decided to look back this week at my preseason rankings for each player, and see why they have beaten or fallen short of expectations. Their 2015 preseason ranking is in parenthesis.

This is the Quarterback Index. The rankings are based on 2015 play only.

Top of the Mountain


1. Tom Brady (4)
2. Carson Palmer (17)
3. Cam Newton (11)
4. Ben Roethlisberger (2)

Moved up: It's amazing that Brady is still defying high expectations in his 16th season. His best game in a month and perhaps his defining game of the season came in Denver, where Peyton Manning watched in a walking boot from the locker room. With Brandon Bolden and Scott Chandler as No. 2 and No. 3 receivers, Brady had the Patriots in position to beat the league's best defense if not for a punt return fumble. New England's first loss of the year was the best case yet for Brady's MVP bid. Forget Deflategate; perhaps he's motivated by a QB Index ranking below Andrew Luck to start the season.

No. 11 felt optimistic before the year for Newton. The weapons around him figured to weigh him down. Instead, the incredible Panthers defense and running game have proven to be more than enough support. Newton's running ability makes the Panthers the hardest run game in the league to defend. And Newton is consistently one of the best passers in the league at in-breaking routes, with his incredible arm strength beating zone defenders to their spot.

Moved down: My optimism on Roethlisberger has not dimmed whatsoever. No quarterback has more impressive throws-per-game than Big Ben. He might be ranked No. 1 on the year if not for his injuries. Roethlisberger threw for 456 yards in Seattle, and could have had 100 more if not for drops and bad officiating. That game was the Steelers' season in a nutshell; they rack up over 500 yards against a great defense, but lose anyway. The Steelers' offensive line is playing outstanding despite injuries.

Top shelf


5. Aaron Rodgers (1)
6. Andy Dalton (22)
7. Russell Wilson (9)
8. Philip Rivers (6)

Moved up: The Dalton Scale has been obliterated. He's no longer the prime meridian of quarterbacks and this Bengals team is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Dalton isn't the main reason why, but he's certainly not getting in the way. While he hasn't kept up his dizzying early pace, Dalton shows off previously unseen aggressiveness. He responds after poor throws or a poor game. Faced with a third-and-26 against a great defense like Arizona, he finds a way to pick up a first down and come back from a 28-14 deficit. He's rewarded Mike Brown's patience.

It's a great sign that Russell Wilson can score 39 points in a game where the Steelers kept him in the pocket. Wilson converted plenty of third-and-longs. Their offense similarly heated up late in the 2012 season and he's part of the top-10 quarterback establishment now like Philip Rivers.

Moved down: Did we crown Aaron Rodgers too soon? That's a question that has been asked around the NFL Media offices as the Packers' quarterback struggled through the last five weeks. I don't buy the argument. Quarterbacks -- even the all-time greats -- go through ups and downs depending on the month and season. When Rodgers is at his best, like September, there is no one better. Perhaps he's not as steady as Peyton Manning in his prime, but no one is that steady. That's why Manning has four MVPs and Tom Brady has two.

That's not to say that Rodgers is above criticism. Manning and Brady are legends in part because they are such great teachers. They make the receivers around them learn or those receivers don't last. For whatever reason, Rodgers has struggled to get through to Davante Adams and Randall Cobb all season. They just can't get on the same page.

Next level


9. Derek Carr (27)
10. Jay Cutler (21)
11. Drew Brees (7)
12. Eli Manning (15)

Moved up: I couldn't have been more wrong on Carr, who has Made the Leap to quality starter in his second season. His weekly consistency and variety of throws are among his most impressive traits. ... Cutler's revival is among the season's most pleasant surprises. Adam Gase has turned Cutler more reliable while also making him less entertaining. He doesn't try as many low-percentage throws.

Moved down: Brees is hardly falling off a cliff. But he's a function of an offense that now can be overwhelmed by top competition like the streaking Texans. Brees doesn't have the receivers to win outside, and is facing a lot of pressure up the middle. It would be fascinating to see Brees play in a system without Sean Payton if the coach leaves town.

The massive middle


13. Matt Hasselbeck (N/A)
14. Matt Ryan (6)
15. Jameis Winston (26)
16. Alex Smith (20)
17. Marcus Mariota (26)
18. Matthew Stafford (13)
19. Tyrod Taylor (30)
20. Blake Bortles (23)
21. Ryan Fitzpatrick (29)
22. Kirk Cousins (28)
23. Teddy Bridgewater (23)

Moved up: I watched Hasselbeck take apart the Bucs on NFL Gamepass, and then play in Super Bowl XL on NFL Network on Wednesday. Ten years after his big game appearance, Hasselbeck looks better than ever. He is calm enough to direct traffic during a play. He controls the opposition's safeties on a string. And he occasionally does stuff like this in homage to his old teammate Brett Favre:

Jameis Winston's season has enjoyed a consistent upward trajectory. While the Bucs' offense can be streaky in a game -- they explode for one half at a time -- the overall body of work from Winston has been steady. He and Marcus Mariota are roughly 10 spots above their preseason ranks. The Bucs and Titans have to be thrilled to have lasting solutions at the trickiest position in sports.

Tyrod Taylor's season hasn't been nearly as consistent and it's been headed downhill of late overall. But his performance in Kansas City showed off his willingness to go downfield and ability to make big-time throws. They had 296 yards in a half! Ultimately the Bills have got far more from Taylor this season than they could have expected. ... The same is true for Ryan Fitzatrick and Kirk Cousins. They haven't held their teams back. They are products of the teams around them. Cousins can help the Redskins win a blowout against the Saints and lose a blowout to the Panthers and not look that different individually in the games. He's provided hope that he could have an Alex Smith-like career.

Moved down: Matthew Stafford is a strange guy to put in this category because he's played like a top-10 quarterback over the last three games. His performance against Philadelphia was the highest-graded game I have for him since starting this column in 2013. When he is playing with confidence, it's a lot of fun to watch. A strong stretch run will erase any chance of the Lions moving on from him this offseason. Still, this up-and-down season is indicative of his career. He's a younger Jay Cutler.

Moved down: Matt Ryan's struggles have been overstated, but he isn't having the great year I expected. He misses too many throws and mixes in mental mistakes more regularly. When one happens, it tends to snowball. He has multiple picks in five games and has struggled to close out games since Atlanta's hot start. He's had one truly good game since Week 4.

The next tier


24. Brock Osweiler (N/A)
25. Josh McCown (31)
26. Brian Hoyer (32)
27. Blaine Gabbert (N/A)
28. Ryan Tannehill (14)

Moved up: Marc Sessler said that McCown was the best Browns quarterback since Tim Couch except for half a season of Derek Anderson, which is both true and depressing. There's no guarantee McCown will be back next year, but they could do worse than having him compete with a draft pick if they move on from Manziel. ... Osweiler has improved dramatically in each of his three appearances. It's too early to draw any conclusions, but it felt like he essentially ended Peyton Manning's career last week with that win over the Patriots. ... Gabbert wasn't ranked before the season but it's safe to say no one outside of NFL Media's Maurice Jones-Drew and the 49ers expected him to look so promising. He's shown off a terrific arm and ability to anticipate throws.

Moved down: Throw on Ryan Tannehill's 2012 tape, and then watch this year. What has improved? The Bill Lazor marriage fell apart fast, and Tannehill sounds happy about it. The next Dolphins coach's prime job will be improving Tannehill because his next three base salaries are guaranteed.

The Replacements


29. Matt Cassel
30. Mark Sanchez
31. Nick Foles
32. Matt Schaub

If you are curious, Joe Flacco graded out around Eli Manning for the season. Tony Romo finished around Alex Smith primarily because of his regrettable Thanksgiving performance. Sanchez does not figure to have a chance to start again elsewhere anytime soon.

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