Johnny Manziel, Brock Osweiler among QBs with most to prove

Quarterbacks are always under pressure.

But in the final quarter of the 2015 season, some have more to prove -- and some have more at stake -- than others.

So let's take a look, Schein Nine style, at the quarterbacks playing for the most down the stretch.

1) Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns

This is Johnny's career.

Manziel hasn't proven to be reliable off the field, as we saw with the saga of his nightclub video and recent benching, a move that coach Mike Pettine explained by saying there was "an obvious shortcoming" when it came to trust and accountability. According to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, the team felt "betrayed" by Manziel's conduct, with a lack of honesty regarding the video serving as a contributing factor.

But then Josh McCown went on injured reserve and Austin Davis played like Austin Davis, so, well ... Johnny's back! And now it's up to Manziel to make the most of this opportunity.

I've long been in the play Johnny Manziel because you have nothing to lose camp. The 2-10 Browns need to find out what they have at quarterback for 2016. Manziel's numbers as a starter this season (1-2 record, 4:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 94.0 passer rating) are better than they were last season (0-2 record, 0:2 TD-to-INT ratio, 29.6 passer rating). But there are questions about his consistency, as reflected in his season-long stat line (59.4 percent completion rate, 155.5 yards per game, 88.4 passer rating). Whether his game can translate is still something of a gray area -- as is his ability to be the guy.

If Manziel can play solid football over the final quarter of the season -- and, crucially, if he can stay out of trouble -- he will get a chance in 2016, whether it's in Cleveland for whoever's coaching the Browns or elsewhere. If he plays really well, he could end up starting next season. If he struggles, he'll revert to backup status.

And if he continues to be an off-field question mark, he won't be worth the headache.

2) Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

You like that!

For most of the season, Cousins has lived up to the words he shouted after Washington's 24-point comeback to beat the Bucs in October, providing much to like. His completion percentage (68.6) leads the league, and he's posted a respectable passer rating (92.4) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (17:10). But his inability to beat the Cowboys on the most recent installment of "Monday Night Football" was frustrating.

Cousins and the offense had nothing working until he hooked up with DeSean Jackson late. If Cousins had played well enough to win, the team would have been in prime position to take the NFC East. Instead, they blew it. Now they're in a three-way tie atop the division at 5-7, and they're facing a final four-game stretch that includes three road contests. And Washington is 0-5 away from D.C. this year.

I'm a Cousins fan. I think he can be a solid, winning quarterback for Washington under Jay Gruden, providing the kind of positional stability this organization needs more than anything else. But Cousins is also going to be a free agent this offseason. Washington will have to make a decision. The final quarter of the season is potentially worth millions of dollars to this quarterback.

3) Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos

I wrote on Monday that Osweiler is a major upgrade over the 2015 version of Peyton Manning, and that I think Osweiler should take every snap for the Broncos the rest of the way. He's proven capable, going 3-0 as a starter. Like Cousins, Osweiler is set to be a free agent this offseason. Unlike Cousins, Osweiler's been tasked with shepherding a 10-2 squad to the playoffs without incident, ideally while securing a top seed and a first-round bye -- after which he'll be asked to help carry Denver deep into postseason action.

Osweiler has run Gary Kubiak's offense incredibly well. Consider that in the three-game span with Osweiler starting, Denver had the NFL's 10th-best offense, putting up 371.7 yards per game, while it ranked 28th in the 10-week span during which Manning started, putting up 331.7 yards per game. If Osweiler can keep it going and maintain his hold on his post even after Manning gets healthy, that would equal long-term financial and job security.

4) Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers

I've called him the worst backup quarterback behind Brandon Weeden. And I'm thrilled for Gabbert that he has proven me dead wrong.

In four starts for the Niners this year, Gabbert has been, well, good, posting a 2-2 record, 240.8 passing yards per game, a 5:3 TD-to-INT ratio and an 89.5 passer rating. And I'm more surprised than you are.

Gabbert has shown confidence, athleticism and some accuracy -- things he didn't seem to possess as a first-round bust with the Jaguars from 2011 to 2013. We saw this in his most recent effort, when he used his legs (75 rushing yards and one big rushing touchdown) and nice touch to beat the Bears in Chicago in overtime last week.

Quarterbacks don't exactly grow on trees in this league. If he can continue at this pace, Gabbert will at least be given a chance to play in San Francisco next season.

This is not a drill, people. Pigs may fly. Blaine Gabbert is a relevant NFL quarterback. And much credit to him for making it so.

5) Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles

The only ability I wondered about with Bradford entering 2015 was his availability -- I wasn't concerned about the former Rams QB's talent. But a healthy Bradford floundered miserably to start his first season in Philly, going 4-5 with an 11:10 TD-to-INT ratio.

Then, after suffering through his seemingly obligatory injury issues and missing Weeks 11 and 12, Bradford returned to Chip Kelly's lineup to make clutch throws and beat the New England Patriots last week.

Go figure.

Is Bradford the answer? Frankly, I think he can be the starter, as long as he's paired with a more reliable backup than Mark Sanchez. But how he performs over the next four weeks -- with the Eagles in position to possibly win the Dumpster fire known as the NFC East -- should provide more clarity. It's not hyperbole to think Bradford, in the final year of his contract, is playing for both his Philly future and his reputation as a starter in the NFL.

6) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

I can't believe I'm writing this, but the three-time Pro Bowler has simply been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL this year.

Yes, he ranks fifth in total passing yards (3,481) and sixth in completion percentage (66.0). But look deeper. Since Oct. 25, he's thrown as many picks (nine) as he has touchdowns -- that's inexplicable. He completed 54 percent of his passes and was picked off three times against a bad Colts defense en route to a Week 11 loss in which Atlanta blew two 14-point leads. He's thrown 13 picks thus far, putting him on pace to push his career high (17), while he's on track to finish with his lowest touchdown total (23) and passer rating (87.9) since 2009. He's also tied for the most red-zone picks in the NFL (four).

Atlanta has fallen from a 6-1 playoff favorite to a 6-6 also-ran on the fringes of wild-card contention. The 30-year-old Ryan's standing with the franchise is likely secure, but it would behoove him to push the Falcons to a strong finish -- a tall order, given that they still have to play the Panthers twice.

7) Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets

You assume the Jets will be in the quarterback business next year. But the question is, at what level?

Because the 33-year-old Fitzpatrick has outkicked all expectations in New York this season. The longtime journeyman has been reliable, developing amazing chemistry with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.

There's always that "yeah, but" feeling when you watch Fitzpatrick play, as in, "The Jets are winning, yeah, but I feel like Fitzpatrick is due for a turnover." But the reality is, he's thrown one pick or less in nine games -- and New York is 7-2 in those contests. Notably, the Jets are 0-3 when he throws multiple picks.

Fitzpatrick has only had one real dud recently, and that was against Houston in Week 11. And he responded with back-to-back wins against the Dolphins and Giants, putting up a 6:0 TD-to-INT ratio and a 112.6 passer rating in that two-game span. If Fitzpatrick can guide the Jets -- currently sitting on an AFC wild-card spot -- to the playoffs, it most certainly increases the likelihood that the future free agent will gain some stability and be back with the team in the same capacity in 2016.

8) Brian Hoyer, Houston Texans

Hoyer has responded well since being given the starting job (again) in Week 6, providing stability and calm and putting up a 4-2 record to help push the Texans back into playoff contention after the team got off to a 1-4 start -- the opposite of Ryan Mallett-esque drama. But Hoyer isn't a difference-maker.

That said, if he can maintain his solid and positive impact in helping steer Houston to the playoffs, that should mean Hoyer will keep his starting job under Bill O'Brien in 2016, even if it's to keep the seat warm for a youngster.

9) Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills

I think Bills coach Rex Ryan loves this guy. And while at times his play has been uneven, that's the result of natural growing pains for a player who'd started precisely zero games entering 2015. The bottom line is, Taylor (64.9 percent completion rate, 2,171 passing yards, 8.0 yards per attempt, 17 touchdowns to 4 picks and a 104.3 passer rating in 10 starts) has the goods to succeed in the NFL.

But now, it's about becoming the leader and securing a bigger contract than the deal he's currently on. Can you imagine how entrenched Taylor would be if he was the quarterback who finally ended the Bills' epic playoff drought? And that's not to mention the extra money he's primed to make if Buffalo reaches the postseason, which, according to Ian Rapoport, totals up to $3 million more in incentives and performance bonuses.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.