Air Index

Presented By

QB Index: Which Championship Sunday passer most needs to win Super Bowl LV?

Now that the 2020 NFL regular season is over, NFL.com editors Ali Bhanpuri, Tom Blair, Gennaro Filice and Dan Parr will be focusing the QB Index exclusively on the surviving playoff quarterbacks, limiting the field this week to the four quarterbacks who still have a role to play in the story of the 2020 campaign. And while the regular-season rankings attempted to take into account both in-season production and past history to create a holistic hierarchy of every starting QB in the game, the rankings for Championship Sunday were made according to one simple question:

Which QB most needs to win Super Bowl LV?

Rank
1
Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · Year 16

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 2 | Blair: 1 | Filice: 1 | Parr: 1

2020 stats: 16 games | 70.7 pct | 4,299 pass yds | 8.2 ypa | 48 pass TD | 5 INT | 149 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost


Next game: Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Sunday, Jan. 24 at 3:05 p.m. ET (FOX)


Filice: Since taking the Packers' reins from Brett Favre a dozen seasons ago, Rodgers has earned something truly rare in the modern take economy: universal acclaim. OK, maybe not universal -- the allure of contrarianism's far too great for pure take harmony -- but Rodgers engenders widespread appreciation from all corners of the football-watching world. Rival fans in the NFC North? Shoot, they go beyond reverence to something more instinctual: FEAR.


It's not just the hyper-efficient statistics, but the manner in which they're compiled. It's the way Rodgers initially manipulates defenses with pre-snap checks and hard counts. It's the way he effortlessly extends plays with deft pocket mobility and delivers off-platform lasers with the flick of a wrist. And it's how he carries himself through it all, smirking his way through four quarters of defense detonation before casually broadcasting his postgame reward: a nice glass of scotch. The whole package presents a cool, cocksure master of his craft, a James Bondian quarterback.


But despite Rodgers' mass appeal, his résumé remains surprisingly limited in one particular area: Super Bowl titles.


Yes, Rodgers has a ring -- having won the only Super Bowl he's ever played in, a decade ago -- but his opponent on Sunday has six of 'em. And while Tom Brady is indeed the G.O.A.T., Rodgers routinely generates some all-time discussion of his own. My colleague Adam Schein calls him the most talented quarterback ever. Personally, I've spent years saying that, at his best, Rodgers plays the position at the highest level I've ever seen. But the one-ring thing remains a wet blanket on his case for inner-circle Hall of Fame status.


At age 37, Rodgers' chances at nabbing a second title could be waning. Unsurprisingly, he downplayed the pressure of this moment during his Wednesday press conference. Asked if he ponders how many more chances he'll get to play in games like this, Rodgers dismissed the line of thinking with a Marianne Williamson flair: "My future is a beautiful mystery." Maybe so. But this is unquestionably a golden opportunity to burgeon his legacy.


At NFL Honors three Saturdays from now, Rodgers is poised to receive his third league MVP trophy. What if he backs that up with a second Lombardi Trophy the following night? Maybe universal acclaim can be achieved.

Rank
2
Tom Brady
Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · Year 21

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri:1 | Blair: 3 | Filice: 2 | Parr: 2

2020 stats: 16 games | 65.7 pct | 4,633 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 40 pass TD | 12 INT | 6 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 1 fumble lost


Next game: at Green Bay Packers | Sunday, Jan. 24 at 3:05 p.m. ET (FOX)


Bhanpuri: Tom Brady's trophy collection at Gillette Stadium had grown so out of control after 20 years of dominance, he seemingly had to switch settings just to find more cabinetry for his accolades. The three-time MVP already ranks as the NFL's all-time leader in passing touchdowns (581) and is one below-average season away from also owning the league's career completions and passing yards marks -- records that only a 40-something-year-old Patrick Mahomes might possibly someday sniff.


So why does Brady, a six-time champion and the all-time winningest QB (by a wide margin), need another Lombardi Trophy? Because a Super Bowl LV victory -- at age 43, in his first year with a new team, to wrap one of his most prolific statistical seasons ever, during a pandemic -- would elevate the G.O.A.T. QB to simply The G.O.A.T. Even now, legends like Jerry Rice and Jim Brown have legitimate claims to the No. 1 spot in pro football's individual hierarchy. A ring this year for TB12 unequivocally ends that debate for good. 


Brady already has the longevity, stats, awards and epic performances that make him worthy of being the first active player enshrined into the Hall of Fame. But a win on Feb. 7 would take his legacy to even greater heights. It would mean he accomplished a feat that eluded even sport-redefining G.O.A.T.s such as Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky (and his childhood hero, Joe Montana): completing a hardware-winning stint with a second team. Capping the Bucs' 2020 campaign with four straight playoff wins -- after the franchise had ZERO over the previous 18 years -- would nullify any and all counterarguments to his greatness. (Though I'm sure some stubborn and bitter folks will foolishly still try.)


Outright ownership for No. 1 of all time is on the line in the coming weeks. The stakes couldn't be any higher.

Rank
3
Josh Allen
Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · Year 3

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 3 | Blair: 2 | Filice: 3 | Parr: 3

2020 stats: 16 games | 69.2 pct | 4,544 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 37 pass TD | 10 INT | 421 rush yds | 8 rush TD | 6 fumbles lost


Next game: at Kansas City Chiefs | Sunday, Jan. 24 at 6:40 p.m. ET (CBS)


Blair: As the youngest quarterback on this list, the 24-year-old Allen is not exactly steeped in Super Bowl neediness. He will likely get many more postseason opportunities with the ascending Bills, and a loss to the Chiefs -- or in Super Bowl LV -- would not overshadow the progress Allen has made, or darken Buffalo's long-term outlook.


HOWEVER, Allen also has the least-defined career of anyone else here. We know who Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes are; capturing a second (or seventh) ring will alter their legacies significantly but not rewrite them completely. Allen, meanwhile, would jump from the relatively crowded ranks of young QBs with potential to the exclusive club of Super Bowl winners, of which there are just 34 thus far. He'd also become the seventh QB in NFL history to win a Super Bowl with three years of experience or less, joining Brady, Mahomes, Joe Montana, Russell Wilson, Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger. As blindingly bright as Allen's future looks today (it's practically generating its own energy), nothing is guaranteed in a league (and world) of constant churn -- just ask Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo how much they could have used a Super Bowl triumph when they had the chance. Whatever happens going forward, claiming the Lombardi Trophy now would set at least one portion of The Josh Allen Story in stone. This is why I gave him the slight edge in my rankings over Brady, who has already penned multiple volumes of his personal narrative.


Finally, there is the matter of money on the line. Rodgers, Brady and Mahomes have all already acquired or secured plenty of cash, while Allen, like Mahomes in the 2019 playoffs, is still working on a rookie contract, with his first chance at an extension coming up this offseason. It's always good to have accomplishments to point to when seeking a raise -- like, say, winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history.


Rank
4
Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · Year 4

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 4 | Blair: 4 | Filice: 4 | Parr: 4

2020 stats: 15 games | 66.3 pct | 4,740 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 38 pass TD | 6 INT | 308 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost


Next game: vs. Buffalo Bills | Sunday, Jan. 24 at 6:40 p.m. ET (CBS)


Parr: Mahomes remains in concussion protocol as of this writing, so his status for Sunday's AFC Championship Game remains uncertain. But the reasons he needs this season's title the least of the four remaining quarterbacks stem from where he's going and where he's been.


UPDATE: Mahomes said on Friday that he's cleared concussion protocol.


A year ago, he became the youngest player in NFL history with an MVP award and a Super Bowl victory to his name. Consecutive championships would undoubtedly enhance his legacy, but we're talking about a 25-year-old who plays for a perennial contender. He'll be back, and potentially on a regular basis. We can't say the same thing with any confidence for Brady and Rodgers, despite their stunning elusiveness in fighting off Father Time.


The age difference between Mahomes and Allen is fairly negligible, with Allen just eight months Mahomes' junior. Unlike Mahomes, though, Allen is pursuing his first Lombardi. He hasn't entered the league and shattered earth with the same force as his colleague to the west (to be fair, no one has). Remember, the Chiefs snapped a 50-year title drought last season. That weight is gone in Kansas City, a burden mercifully lifted by Mahomes and Co. Allen has his own 55-year-old dragon to slay, and plenty of hearts to mend from postseason misfires of the Bills' past.


Another crown for Mahomes is a luxury -- one to be cherished, no doubt -- but it's not a necessity right now.

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.

Related Content

Gamepass_vert_web_r

See all the Action

Replay every game all season.