Anyone who has spent more than a week watching the NFL knows it can be difficult to separate perception from reality. Statistics and win-loss records help, but even cold, hard numbers can be misleading.
This is worth remembering when evaluating quarterbacks. Some signal-callers are exactly who they seem to be -- Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers are playing every bit as well as their stellar stats and records suggest, for example -- but the truth about others is harder to ascertain, as the bold-faced numbers sometimes do not tell the whole story. When it comes to assessing these players, it's best to either dig up more instructive statistics or simply rely on one's own two eyes to piece together a complete picture. A quarterback's win-loss record can be especially difficult to trust.
Below, I've identified three quarterbacks who are outplaying their stats, two quarterbacks whose win-loss records are masking lackluster performances and two quarterbacks who are shining for losing teams.
OUTPLAYING THEIR STATS
Statistically speaking, Newton has been no better than a middle-of-the-pack quarterback: Among qualifying signal-callers, he ranks 14th in yards per game (253), 18th in yards per attempt (7.24) and 23rd in completion percentage (61.7). But I don't expect him to stay in the middle for long, as his continually improving health (following offseason ankle surgery and a preseason rib injury) has resulted in better play over the past few weeks.
When Newton made his season debut in Week 2, I'd say he was at 50 percent capacity. During last week's tie with the Cincinnati Bengals, Newton looked to be at about 75 percent capacity, completing 63 percent of his passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns against one pick -- and, perhaps more importantly, rushing 17 times for 107 yards and a score while taking zero sacks. He's just so much more mobile than he was early on this year, able to move around so much better. Even allowing for his absence in Week 1, Carolina (3-2-1) wouldn't be atop the NFC South if not for him.
Hoyer has completed just 60.4 percent of his passes (ranking 27th) for a relatively pedestrian 245 yards per game (19th). But while the Browns don't have him throwing the ball very much -- just 149 attempts in five games -- he's making plays when it matters. In yards per attempt, Hoyer (8.22) ranks ahead of Peyton Manning (8.01) and behind just three other quarterbacks (Philip Rivers, Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton). And he's completing 55.8 percent of passes that travel 15 or more yards in the air, tops among quarterbacks with at least 20 such attempts.
This penchant for coming through when it counts clearly translated to success in Sunday's big win over the Steelers: Though Hoyer finished with a paltry 17 attempts and just eight completions, he still managed to rack up 217 yards, which breaks down to 12.8 yards per attempt and a whopping 27.1 per completion. Moreover, Hoyer is not making mistakes. He's one of just two full-time starters with one interception on the season (Aaron Rodgers is the other). With Hoyer under center, the Browns have notched just two giveaways all year, tying them with the Chargers and Seahawks for the fewest in the NFL.
The Browns have the same record (3-2) this year as they did through five games last season, but they seem to be playing better -- they could easily be 4-1 or even 5-0 if not for two close losses -- and I think Hoyer is a big part of that. The Cleveland native has the long-suffering fans behind him, and his teammates must respect him for the professional way he handled the competition with rookie Johnny Manziel in the preseason. I'm still not sure if the Browns can make the playoffs with Hoyer or how far he'd be able to carry them if they did, but the bottom line is, he's a steady presence at the game's most important position.
The 0-5 Raiders are worse at this point than they were last year (2-3 through five games), but they have a huge plus at quarterback in Carr. Like all rookies, the second-round draft pick has had his ups and downs, and his undistinguished stat line reflects that: He's completed 61.1 percent of his passes (25th in the NFL) for 203 yards per game (29th), notching 6.08 yards per attempt (31st) and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 8:5. But there's one set of numbers that speaks louder than all the rest: four touchdown passes in 23 minutes. That's how many scoring tosses Carr managed to complete in a three-point loss to a much better Chargers team on Sunday -- despite the fact that San Diego possessed the ball for 14 more minutes than the Raiders did.
That performance -- which included touchdown passes of 77 and 47 yards -- showed this Oakland team is not like its predecessors in terms of downfield ability, and it demonstrated Carr's promise. He has great touch on the ball and outstanding competitiveness. He's a mature guy, but he's also a fighter, and I see plenty of big days ahead from him.
Stafford has piled up the yardage (1,592 through six games, eighth in the NFL) while leading the 4-2 Lions to a tie for first place in the NFC North. And at least one of the losses (to the Billsin Week 5) had as much to do with three missed field-goal attempts as anything else. But he just doesn't seem to be playing that well right now. Consider that his per-game average (265) puts him outside of the top 10 (13th, to be exact). Yes, this offense has been hampered by the poor health of Calvin Johnson, but there are still plenty of talented pieces; Stafford and Co. should be scoring more than they are (at 19.3 points per game, Detroit ranks 27th in scoring offense). Minnesota's pass defense has been fairly stingy this season, but Stafford still should've been able to put up more than 185 yards on Sunday, with or without Megatron on the field. At least the quarterback was turnover-free in that game.
For the most part, Stafford's bad habits don't seem to be affecting him as much this year as they did last year. Still, he sometimes plays too fast, leaning on his natural ability (which is formidable, it must be said) rather than doing things by the book. He's completing just 33.3 percent of passes that travel 15 or more yards in the air. Stafford is one of those guys you'd like to see be more consistent, to regularly make the key play or score the crucial touchdown when it's needed.
Foles is accumulating passing yards at a respectable pace, collecting 271 per game (10th in the NFL) for a total of 1,628 (fifth). And the Eagles are 5-1 and tied for the NFC East lead. But Foles just doesn't seem to be making plays like he did during last year's unbelievable season (touchdown-to-interception ratio of 27:2, 9.1 yards per attempt, 119.2 passer rating). He's improved as the 2014 season has progressed, but he just has not been as sharp as one might've expected. DeSean Jackson's absence is surely a factor, but then, the Eaglesdo still have talented pass catchers, including Jeremy Maclin and Zach Ertz, so it's tough to pin all of Foles' troubles on that.
DON'T BLAME THESE STEADY STARS
A three-game losing streak has the 2-4 Falcons staring up at the Panthers in a not-very-good NFC South, but in terms of personal performance, Ryan has kept up his end of the bargain. Through six games, he's thrown for 308 yards per contest (fourth-best in the NFL) with 12 touchdowns against seven interceptions -- and of those seven interceptions, just one was what you would consider "highly pickable." In other words, he is not losing games for the Falcons.
So what is? Their defense, which has allowed 170 points, a 13-point increase -- nothing to sneeze at -- over Atlanta's total at this point in 2013. Ryan has the offense working at a respectable clip (the Falcons rank third in total offense and are tied for fifth in scoring offense), but he simply can't make up for the leaky defense. He has played up to expectations, producing at a level that should be translating to wins, but the defense is ultimately holding this squad back.
The Saints are 2-3 -- marking their worst start under Sean Payton since 2008 -- but I'm confident the blame does not lie with Brees. The 35-year-old veteran has not become slow or heavy-footed, and there doesn't seem to be a drop-off in his velocity or accuracy. When I saw him warming up before New Orleans' Week 4 loss in Dallas, he was really spinning the ball. In fact, when he came over to talk to me, I told him I didn't think I'd ever seen him throw the ball better.
New Orleans' big problem -- as is true of their NFC South neighbors in Atlanta -- is defense. Through five games in 2014, the Saints have given up 141 points -- almost twice as many as they'd allowed through five games in 2013. Their turnover differential is also an unhelpful minus-7. Brees is still the elite player he's been, but his defense hasn't come to play in 2014.