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NFL QB Index, Week 17: Joe Burrow and Josh Allen hit top five, while Kyler Murray tumbles

Josh Allen had an MVP performance on Sunday in Foxborough. I am a curmudgeon who believes the year-end award should encapsulate the entire season -- and that Allen's previous cold stretches disqualify him, even in a down year for quarterbacks. His 2021 campaign is clearly inferior to his 2020 campaign, but do Bills fans really care about individual hardware when Allen can help his team win more important trophies if he keeps playing like that?

Allen all but levitated while helping Buffalo become the first team to avoid punting in 474(!) games against a Bill Belichick-coached defense. Many of his throws were unguardable. He made timing throws from the pocket with anticipation, and he made athletic tosses against his body that broke all rules. He led the Bills in rushing. It was the second half of the Bucs game for all four quarters, and when Allen plays like that, he is virtually unstoppable.

A performance that dominant to take the division lead deserves extra credit, vaulting Allen back into the top five over some quarterbacks who have been steadier. He may not deserve MVP, but an extended intro in QB Index during a holiday week is nearly as prestigious, and a Super Bowl appearance could be next if he keeps this up.

NOTE: Up/down arrows illustrate movement from the Week 16 QB Index. Rankings include each team's starting quarterback from the previous game, based solely on 2021 play.

Rank
1
Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · Year 17

2021 stats: 14 games | 68.0 pct | 3,689 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 33 pass TD | 4 INT | 86 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 3 fumbles


Rodgers has shown an incredible feel for managing his risks considering the limitations around him in a given week. He knows when to push and when to pull back. On Christmas evening, like so many times this season, he did just enough. The Packers survived despite scoring just three points after halftime and throwing for only 202 yards by going 3-for-4 in the red zone and not turning the ball over. That’s a learned habit. Rodgers now has three more touchdowns than Brett Favre in a Packers uniform, while throwing 193 fewer picks

Rank
2
Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · Year 22

2021 stats: 15 games | 66.8 pct | 4,580 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 37 pass TD | 11 INT | 81 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 4 fumbles


The Bucs made a game's worth of targets to Antonio Brown out of heavy personnel work for a week. It's almost as if Brady and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich are going to try on different outfits over the next few weeks as they adjust to their injury-plagued new offense, seeing what fits best. The 44-year-old QB had his highest Pro Football Focus grade since Week 1 in an impeccably clean game.

Rank
3
1
Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers · Year 2

2021 stats: 15 games | 67.1 pct | 4,394 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 33 pass TD | 14 INT | 299 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 1 fumble


Yes, the Chargers lost to the Texans on a day when Los Angeles' defense had one of the five worst performances of the season. Anyone who believes Herbert played poorly didn’t watch. The Bolts scored on five of their seven possessions before Herbert’s garbage-time pick-six, not punting once. He got greedy and was late on a deep throw before halftime, trying to conjure the magic he had against the Giants a few weeks back. Herbert ranks third in QBR, third in Pro Football Focus’ grades and third in DYAR, so it’s not all about style points. The cold, hard numbers like him too.

Rank
4
2
Joe Burrow
Cincinnati Bengals · Year 2

2021 stats: 15 games | 69.9 pct | 4,165 pass yds | 8.7 ypa | 30 pass TD | 14 INT | 108 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 5 fumbles


So that’s what it looks like when the Bengals let Burrow cook. The pass-happy approach is what I’ve been hoping for all season, and Burrow sizzled against the Ravens. His pocket movement is elite and he is moving through his reads at laser speed. His instincts of how to overcome the pass rush -- before and after the snap -- set him apart. Sixteen years after Carson Palmer looked like the NFL’s QB3 behind Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, Burrow is reaching that territory. Brady somehow remains. 

Rank
5
2
Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · Year 4

2021 stats: 15 games | 65.0 pct | 4,048 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 34 pass TD | 12 INT | 619 rush yds | 4 rush TD | 8 fumbles


Allen yelled, “I don’t know who the f--- they thought I was,” in the tunnel post-game after the Bills' triumph, which reminded me of one of the great sports quotes of all time: “Who do you think you are? I am!”  

Rank
6
2
Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · Year 5

2021 stats: 15 games | 66.1 pct | 4,310 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 33 pass TD | 13 INT | 302 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 9 fumbles


Even among Chiefs enthusiasts, there was a thirst to see the offense put together four consistent quarters against a non-Raiders defense. Mahomes checked that box Sunday, at least until he sat out most of the fourth. Mahomes' calm staying in the pocket while delivering third-and-long throws was reassuring because he'll need that in the playoffs. He also led Kansas City to 33 points in just eight drives without Travis Kelce while barely targeting Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs have solved their offensive line issues, and Byron Pringle looks ready to step up as a valuable role player. Be afraid.

Rank
7
4
Kyler Murray
Arizona Cardinals · Year 3

2021 stats: 12 games | 69.1 pct | 3,284 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 21 pass TD | 10 INT | 344 rush yds | 5 rush TD | 13 fumbles


It's almost as if the Cardinals' offense isn't as explosive without three of its four best players. DeAndre Hopkins, James Conner and Rodney Hudson were all desperately missed on Christmas night, as Kyler searched for repeatable offense. Aside from a few splash plays, it was a whole lot of contested 7-yard throws to Zach Ertz and Christian Kirk. Situational football is not a strength, and Murray's early-season magic touch has worn off. It hurts me to move him down considering he was No. 2 at the season's midway point, well ahead of Joe Burrow and Josh Allen. But Kyler's three missed games combined with this mini-slump and the strong play of the guys ahead of him is too much to ignore.

Rank
8
3
Matthew Stafford
Los Angeles Rams · Year 13

2021 stats: 15 games | 66.9 pct | 4,339 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 36 pass TD | 13 INT | 44 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 4 fumbles


These WYD games from Stafford that happened at times in Detroit have come with him to Los Angeles. Perhaps it was Mike Zimmer's defensive looks, but Stafford looked unsure about what he was seeing and where he was throwing from the very first drive. He tossed 24 passes to receivers not named Cooper Kupp, totaling 88 yards. He finished with four turnover-worthy plays and his third 2021 game graded under 60 by PFF. It shows a measure of progress from the Rams that they were able to win this one.

Rank
9
1
Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · Year 6

2021 stats: 14 games | 68.7 pct | 3,928 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 29 pass TD | 10 INT | 126 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 11 fumbles


That was nice to see. Piling up 322 yards and four touchdowns by halftime was a show of force -- and hopefully a confidence booster for Prescott after a slump. Some of his throws on the run in both directions were sensational. His footwork is as good as any quarterback, and he made sure all his receivers ate during an unconscious 19-for-20 start. With the Cardinals and Eagles up next, the soft part of the Cowboys' schedule is over.

Rank
10
1
Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders · Year 8

2021 stats: 15 games | 68.7 pct | 4,363 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 20 pass TD | 12 INT | 109 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 12 fumbles


Carr led the league in fumbles in 2018 and 2020. He now has 12, which ties his career high. Carr's rising turnover total -- with two more on Sunday -- is the biggest blemish in an otherwise excellent season. He was patient against the Broncos, barely letting the ball hit the ground, effectively playing keep-away. It's Week 17 and the Raiders are tied for the last playoff spot. Carr is the biggest reason why.

Rank
11
Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings · Year 10

2021 stats: 15 games | 66.4 pct | 3,971 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 30 pass TD | 7 INT | 116 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 11 fumbles


Kid Cuzi is ranked sixth in PFF's grades overall, but only 15th over the last six weeks, as the Vikings' offense has taken on water. The change has coincided with Cousins playing more aggressively, which is what everyone -- from Mike Zimmer to the QB Index -- asked for. Only Russell Wilson is throwing a higher depth of target over that span, and Cousins' deep accuracy and turnovers have taken a turn for the worst. It's not that Cousins was bad against the Rams. He was Kirk Cousins, and a bit unlucky. But after a lot of honking by people like me about this strong Cousins year, he's found his usual level, like the 7-8 Vikings, just trying to stay alive for one more week.


UPDATE: Cousins is being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and won't play Sunday, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.

Rank
12
2
Ryan Tannehill
Tennessee Titans · Year 10

2021 stats: 15 games | 66.7 pct | 3,327 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 15 pass TD | 14 INT | 265 rush yds | 7 rush TD | 9 fumbles


That was a classic Ryan Tannehill game. The Titans' offense was stuck in mud for a half and he took a sack or two too many, but Tannehill hung in there to convert eight third-and-longs, including a third-and-15 and a third-and-23. With the game in the balance, Tannehill's legs were the difference, like they are so often in the red zone. It was another example why Tannehill is a cut above that middle tier of quarterbacks who should be replaced, a group that includes his counterpart from last Thursday in Nashville.

Rank
13
3
Carson Wentz
Indianapolis Colts · Year 6

2021 stats: 15 games | 62.8 pct | 3,230 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 25 pass TD | 6 INT | 188 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 7 fumbles


Carson Wentz laughs at your three-man rushes, Vance Joseph! Given time to improvise behind a makeshift offensive line, Wentz turned back the clock in a season-defining drive to beat the Cardinals. It was one of Wentz's best performances all year, as he didn't force the action when plays weren't there to be made. After hitting the COVID-19 list Tuesday, his status for Sunday's game against the Raiders could come down to whether he's asymptomatic, according to the NFL's newest guidelines.

Rank
14
2
Mac Jones
New England Patriots · Rookie

2021 stats: 15 games | 67.2 pct | 3,313 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 18 pass TD | 12 INT | 113 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 6 fumbles


Trailing early against the Bills, Jones started throwing passes up for grabs like a rookie. It wasn't all on him; the Patriots scored three touchdowns in seven meaningful drives before it was decided. Still, there is no denying that Jones' play and the Patriots' offense as a whole have declined against better competition.

Rank
15
2
Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks · Year 10

2021 stats: 12 games | 64.9 pct | 2,639 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 18 pass TD | 5 INT | 154 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 5 fumbles


When Wilson hit D.K. Metcalf for a 41-yard touchdown early in the snow, it felt like it was going to be a quality Russ day. Then the fourth quarter happened. For a second straight week, Pete Carroll was critical of Wilson for taking an unnecessary sack, one that backed up a field goal attempt that was ultimately missed. The Seahawks mismanaged their subsequent drive that started in Bears territory and let Nick Foles take the lead. Wilson was given 1:01 to drive for a game-winning field goal. The 'Hawks didn't get a first down, with Wilson failing on a scramble and missing throws on back-to-back plays. Really, he hasn't consistently played well since the first couple months of the 2020 season.

Rank
16
1
Jalen Hurts
Philadelphia Eagles · Year 2

2021 stats: 14 games | 61.1 pct | 2,930 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 16 pass TD | 9 INT | 740 rush yds | 10 rush TD | 9 fumbles


It looked like the Eagles wanted to test what it would be like if Hurts didn't run at all in a game. Like most Hurts starts this year, the result was promising, if uneven. Hurts started 3-of-10 for 12 yards and could have had two turnovers in his first two drives. The crowd booed the team entering halftime with the score tied at 3-3, then the Eagles put up 31 more. The streakiness of the offense is a trend, but Hurts' arm talent is better than advertised. The quality of his throws are better than his decisions, like a lot of young quarterbacks.

Rank
17
1
Matt Ryan
Atlanta Falcons · Year 14

2021 stats: 15 games | 67.9 pct | 3,555 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 19 pass TD | 11 INT | 73 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 9 fumbles


I don't know why it's so difficult to write something new about Matt Ryan each week. I do know Ryan is lucky to have Kyle Pitts, who only seems to catch passes while tapping his toes on the sideline or just as he's about to get smashed by an oncoming defender. Ryan was sharp against the Lions, like he is any time he gets a modicum of pass protection.

Rank
18
3
Jimmy Garoppolo
San Francisco 49ers · Year 8

2021 stats: 14 games | 68.0 pct | 3,494 pass yds | 8.5 ypa | 19 pass TD | 10 INT | 50 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 7 fumbles


Yes, Jimmy was playing better for a while. But anyone watching the 49ers every week sees how open the receivers are, how many yards are made after the catch, how things change if the protection isn't spotless. Garoppolo hit a lot of those throws Thursday, but every incompletion felt like a catastrophe, whether it was a turnover, an interception, a near-interception or a bad read on fourth down. The misfire downfield to a wide open Kyle Juszczyk was one of many moments where the game could have ended in San Francisco's favor, if Garoppolo had just made a play.

Rank
19
1
Tua Tagovailoa
Miami Dolphins · Year 2

2021 stats: 11 games | 70.1 pct | 2,339 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 15 pass TD | 9 INT | 89 rush yd | 3 rush TD | 6 fumbles


It's not a huge surprise that the Dolphins' offense managed just 13 points in New Orleans after the Saints shut out the Bucs. Miami's offensive line looked every bit the group ranked dead last in pass blocking by PFF and ESPN's pass-block win rate, but Tua still made too many mistakes with three turnover-worthy plays. This Dolphins offense has a small margin for error with the Titans and Patriots up next, and Tagovailoa has not played his best since Miami's bye week.

Rank
20
NR
Nick Foles
Chicago Bears · Year 10

2021 stats: 1 game | 68.6 pct | 250 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | 8 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumbles


Football can be fun even when it doesn't matter because when does it ever matter? Foles bested 2012 classmate Russell Wilson on Sunday in the snow by completing a classic game-winning drive. The first play was a 30-yard dart to Darnell Mooney, one of many Foles completed while being hit during the game. Jimmy Graham's jump-ball score on third-and-14 and Damiere Byrd's Catch of the Year candidate on a two-point conversion was one of the silliest two-play sequences I've seen all season. Football can reward you if you just stick around, something Nick Foles knows better than anyone.

Rank
21
NR
Baker Mayfield
Cleveland Browns · Year 4

2021 stats: 13 game | 62.4 pct | 2,825 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 15 pass TD | 11 INT | 118 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 6 fumbles


That felt like bottom, although Mayfield still has two division games left. A few of Baker’s four interceptions included bad luck, but he also got away with another that was dropped. There is no explaining away how limited the Browns' passing attack remains. Baker’s location is spotty, as he finished 2-of-9 for 21 yards, one score and three picks on throws over 10 yards Saturday, per Next Gen Stats. When Mayfield isn’t accurate, he’s not making up for it with any other attributes. 

Rank
22
1
Ben Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh Steelers · Year 18

2021 stats: 14 games | 65.2 pct | 3,373 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 20 pass TD | 8 INT | 10 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 10 fumbles


Every Steelers reception is either a tightly contested 4-yard grab, a checkdown to Najee Harris or a fantastic play by Diontae Johnson or Chase Claypool. This is not a repeatable formula. Roethlisberger is starting to predetermine throws, like on his flea-flicker interception in Kansas City. The only question left is whether he’ll get to enjoy one last win.

Rank
23
NR
Taylor Heinicke
Washington Football Team · Year 6

2021 stats: 14 games | 64.8 pct | 3,052 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 20 pass TD | 14 INT | 296 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 6 fumbles


Heinicke admitted how hard COVID-19 hit him, and he didn’t look ready to play Sunday night. His two starts against Dallas ended any small chance Heinicke had to compete to start for Washington next season, but that’s not such a bad thing. He’s under contract in Washington in 2022 and makes for a quality, low-cost backup for a team that needs help most everywhere else.

Rank
24
NR
Josh Johnson
Baltimore Ravens · Year 14

2021 stats: 4 games | 67.1 pct | 638 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 5 pass TD | 2 INT | 28 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 2 fumbles


Someone needs to give Josh Johnson an actual contract. In his 14th season as the ultimate football journeyman, Johnson has two 300-yard performances in two tries this year. He’s not only better than any emergency options offered this season; he’s better than the majority of NFL backups. He has prototypical size, makes good decisions and was accurate against the Bengals, leading the Ravens to three touchdown drives out of six before garbage time. 

Rank
25
4
Davis Mills
Houston Texans · Rookie

2021 stats: 11 games | 66.6 pct | 2,200 pass yds | 6.7 ypa | 12 pass TD | 9 INT | 28 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 4 fumbles


His best games this season have been better than those authored by the top two picks in the draft. Those games are becoming more frequent. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly is scheming up open receivers, and Mills is keeping the ball off the ground when protected, hitting his first seven throws against the Chargers. The difference Sunday was that Mills kept pushing, making a handful of terrific throws that offer real hope about his future. The Texans were still throwing late on first down up 27-23 in the red zone, and he rewarded that faith by hitting fellow rookie Nico Collins in stride for a game-sealing score. At minimum, Mills is going to have a long NFL career and was a good use of a third-round pick.

Rank
26
1
Cam Newton
Carolina Panthers · Year 11

2021 stats: 6 games | 54.8 pct | 684 pass yds | 5.4 ypa | 4 pass TD | 5 INT | 225 rush yds | 5 rush TD | 4 fumbles


Newton played 26 snaps to 44 for Sam Darnold, perhaps a way to let Cam play in front of the home crowd one more time. Neither quarterback performed well in the blowout loss to Tampa Bay. Newton had another interception where he was hit as he threw, a trait that goes back to his prime. On Wednesday, Matt Rhule announced Darnold will be back in the starting lineup Sunday.

Rank
27
1
Trevor Lawrence
Jacksonville Jaguars · Rookie

2021 stats: 15 games | 58.7 pct | 3,225 pass yds | 5.9 ypa | 9 pass TD | 14 INT | 301 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 9 fumbles


If T-Law’s next coach wants to see Lawrence’s strengths and weaknesses as a pro, the Jets game is a great place to start. There were a lot of quality NFL throws in his 39 attempts. He was late on many, especially down the field. His instincts and situational awareness have a lot of room for improvement. Am I being too hard on Lawrence to put the lack of clarity in big moments on him along with his lackluster coaching staff? 

Rank
28
NR
Drew Lock
Denver Broncos · Year 3

2021 stats: 4 games | 59.7 pct | 380 pass yds | 6.1 ypa | 1 pass TD | 2 INT | 8 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 2 fumbles


On one hand, the Broncos had eight first downs in Lock’s first start of the year. Ten of their 13 points came on drives combining for 5 yards. Then again, Lock’s receivers did him no favors, short-circuiting three drives with drops. The two Broncos running backs combined for 8 yards on 14 carries, and the defense couldn’t get him off the field. PFF graded Lock with the third-best start of Week 16!

Rank
29
3
Zach Wilson
New York Jets · Rookie

2021 stats: 11 games | 56.7 pct | 2,013 pass yds | 6.1 ypa | 7 pass TD | 11 INT | 161 rush yds | 4 rush TD | 4 fumbles


The kid can run. Wilson averaged just 4.6 yards per attempt against one of the league’s worst defenses and nearly threw a few picks, but it was nice to see Wilson make plays in any form to help his team win. A big third-and-9 throw late was also impressive, and he is undoubtedly skilled at evading rushers when he lets his athleticism take over. 

Rank
30
NR
Tim Boyle
Detroit Lions · Year 4

2021 stats: 3 games | 68.4 pct | 264 pass yds | 4.6 ypa | 1 pass TD | 3 INT | 0 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles


Boyle's first start of the season -- against the Browns back in Week 11 -- was a fiasco. His second start -- this past Sunday against the Falcons -- was solid enough, until the game-ending interception in the red zone. Jared Goff is in line to return to action this week after clearing COVID protocols.


UPDATE: Goff is doubtful to play Sunday, Lions head coach Dan Campbell said on Friday.

Rank
31
NR
Ian Book
New Orleans Saints · Rookie

2021 stats: 1 game | 60.0 pct | 135 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 0 pass TD | 2 INT | 6 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles


The best thing you can say about Ian Book is that he wasn’t Jake Fromm. Book’s first start looked exactly like you’d expect from a fourth-string, third-day rookie quarterback playing behind seventh- and eighth-string offensive tackles against the NFL’s best blitzing team, with the worst collection of pass catchers in football. 

Rank
32
NR
Jake Fromm
New York Giants · Year 2

2021 stats: 2 games | 41.4 pct | 107 pass yds | 3.7 ypa | 0 pass TD | 1 INT | 12 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble


Fromm’s first career start was the flipside of Taylor Heinicke’s playoff performance against the Bucs. Fromm had 25 yards and a pick on 17 throws and a few tosses that made excitable FOX announcer Jonathan Vilma exclaim “Ewww” as politely as he could. Maybe it was “Oooo.” It was a tough scene. 

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter.

The Air Index presented by FedEx ranks NFL quarterback performances all season long. Check out the weekly FedEx Air NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote after Sunday Night Football.

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