Statistical production, raw talent, supporting cast, level of competition, individual awards and records are help to define hierarchies in sports debates. However, in the NFL, greatness is defined most about winning and losing. Sure, coaching, scheduling, injuries and many other factors influence the ability for any given NFL team to succeed on Sundays.
But who is under center playing quarterback is still the most important piece to the Super Bowl puzzle. With that in mind, who is the best quarterback in the NFL today? Who is the worst? Who gives your team the best possible chance to win the Lombardi Trophy in 2013? Don't worry, Athlon Sports has the answer.
The NFL's Best Quarterbacks in 2013 (age as of Sept. 1 and win-loss records):
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (29)
W/L: 52-26 (5-3) YPG: 254.8 QBR: 104.9 TD-INT: 171-46 Rush: 1,442 yds TD: 18
There is little doubt that Rodgers isn't the best player at his position right now. He is only 29 years old, already has one Super Bowl Championship, has posted the most efficient single season by any quarterback in history (122.5, 2011) and has won 46 games in the last four seasons (46-16). His uncanny ability to extend plays with his legs and fire accurately on the run makes him the perfect athlete to play the modern role of dual-threat quarterback. He wins, doesn't turn the ball over, is an elite athlete and is the consummate professional off the field. He is the best in the game today.
2. Drew Brees, New Orleans (34)
W/L: 99-70 (5-4) YPG: 270.1 QBR: 94.3 TD-INT: 324-86 Rush: 570 yds TD: 9
Brees gets the slight nod over Tom Brady and Peyton Manning based somewhat on his age. At 34, Brees still has a few more seasons of elite-level play than either Brady or Manning. And elite level of play means back-to-back 5,000-yard passing seasons and three in the last five years. He has never been the most talented or physically gifted but the intangibles are off the charts, the leadership is second to none and he has been a winner every step of his career — a state champion in Texas at Austin (Texas) Westlake, a Big Ten champ at Purdue and Super Bowl champ in 2009 for the Saints.
3. Tom Brady, New England (36)
W/L: 136-39 (17-7) YPG: 253.1 QBR: 96.6 TD-INT: 334-123 Rush: 748 yds TD: 14
The big edge for Brady in the statistical category comes in the win-loss column. He has won nearly twice as many playoff games as any other active NFL quarterback and has won more than 77 percent of his career starts. He is second only to Rodgers in quarterback efficiency for his career among quarterbacks with more than one year of starting experience. With three Super Bowl titles and five Super Bowl appearances on his resume there is nothing else to prove. That said, he is 36 years old and probably has just a couple more seasons left of elite play.
4. Peyton Manning, Denver (37)
W/L: 154-70 (9-11) YPG: 265.6 QBR: 95.7 TD-INT: 436-209 Rush: 728 yds TD: 17
Manning could easily lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl championship in 2013 and should he accomplish the ultimate goal for a second time in his career, it is likely he would walk away from the game like another famous Denver signal-caller. At 37 and having been forced to sit out all of 2011, Manning doesn't have much time left in this league. Yet, from a preparation and football IQ level, he has few peers ever in the history of the game and that won't change anytime soon. His age is the only thing that keeps him from the top spot.
5. Eli Manning, New York Giants (32)
W/L: 78-57 (8-3) YPG: 230.1 QBR: 82.7 TD-INT: 211-144 Rush: 395 yds TD: 4
The numbers aren't nearly as impressive as compared to Rodgers, Brees, Brady or Manning and, in fact, the younger Manning's stats pale in comparison to those quarterbacking juggernauts. He doesn't throw for as many touchdowns or yards. He turns the ball over more. And he doesn't win regular-season games at an elite rate. But he has more Super Bowl championships (2) than each of the aforementioned quarterbacks with the exception of Brady. Manning has proven he has what it takes to perform in clutch situations and his calm, quiet demeanor helps him succeed in the world's largest media market.
6. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis (23)
W/L: 11-5 (0-1) YPG: 273.4 QBR: 76.5 TD-INT: 23-18 Rush: 255 yds TD: 5
This is optimistic, certainly, but Luck is the best NFL pro prospect since John Elway entered the league in the mid '80s and Luck just posted the single greatest rookie season by an NFL quarterback... ever. He is a special talent who is cut from the Rodgers mold of athletic ability, leadership, intelligence, toughness and accuracy. Few can throw on the run like Luck, and, since he is bigger than Rodgers, may end up being better than the Packers' signal-caller. There is no weakness to Luck's game.
7. Matt Ryan, Atlanta (28)
W/L: 56-22 (1-4) YPG: 243.0 QBR: 90.9 TD-INT: 127-60 Rush: 500 yds TD: 5
Calm under pressure is the name of the game for Ryan. Few have ever won games right out of the gate like Ryan — he has five winning seasons in five years — but he simply needs to finish games when it counts the most. He posted a career best in completion percentage (68.6) and QB Rating (99.1) a year ago while increasing his touchdown total for a fifth consecutive season. He overcame a big hurdle by getting his first career postseason win last year, but the Falcons crumbled around him against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game. Take one or two more steps for Atlanta and Ryan will be in the Rodgers class of talent and success.
8. Joe Flacco, Baltimore (28)
W/L: 54-26 (9-4) YPG: 220.4 QBR: 86.3 TD-INT: 102-56 Rush: 430 yds TD: 7
He isn't the fastest, smartest, strongest, most successful or most efficient. But few players in the history of the sport have ever posted a postseason run like Flacco did in the 2012 playoffs. He threw 11 touchdowns against no interceptions and carried his team to a Super Bowl championship with pristine quarterbacking play. At nine playoff wins, Flacco has as many as Peyton Manning and one more than Eli. Like Ryan, he's never had a losing season as an NFL quarterback.
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (31)
W/L: 87-39 (10-4) YPG: 235.0 QBR: 92.7 TD-INT: 191-108 Rush: 1,036 yds TD: 14
The Steelers won one Super Bowl because of Big Ben and won another one in spite of Big Ben. He has an uncanny ability to prolong the action and make brutally tough plays in the face of certain disaster. There is no doubt that Roethlisberger is a big winner for a franchise that is one of the most demanding in the league. He is just 31 years old, but he has taken a beating and it is beginning to cost him. Big Ben hasn't played 16 games in a season since 2008 and has missed eight games over the last three seasons.
10. Tony Romo, Dallas (33)
W/L: 55-38 (1-3) YPG: 212.7 QBR: 95.6 TD-INT: 177-91 Rush: 508 yds TD: 5
From a statistical standpoint, Romo is one of the most underrated signal-callers in the game today. For an organization that is poorly managed from the top, Romo's career QB rating trails only Rodgers, Brady and Peyton Manning among quarterbacks with more than one year of starting experience. He has produced big numbers with little to no support from a running game and/or offensive line and it has led to multiple injuries. That being said, winning once in four postseason tries — including a memorable fumbled snap — and losing each of the last two regular-season finales with postseason berths hanging in the balance will always keep him being considered as one of the NFL's elite.
11. Robert Griffin III, Washington (23)
W/L: 9-6 (0-1) YPG: 213.3 QBR: 102.4 TD-INT: 20-5 Rush: 815 yds TD: 7
The former Heisman Trophy winner has all of the physical tools to become one of the game's greatest players. He has electric speed, a huge arm, great size, high football IQ, great work ethic and tremendous toughness. However, fans in D.C. have already seen how fragile his style of play can be on the NFL level. To that end, a second major knee injury in three years last fall doesn't bode well for a long career in the NFL unless RG3 can modify his style of play to protect himself.
12. Russell Wilson, Seattle (24)
W/L: 11-5 (1-1) YPG: 194.9 QBR: 100.0 TD-INT: 26-10 Rush: 489 yds TD: 4
Wilson has a lot of Drew Brees to his game. Undersized, savvy, hard-working, underrated athletically and a lightning-quick right arm. Cut from the Rodgers-Luck dual-threat cloth, Wilson is constantly looking to extend the play and make a big throw. He can run around and pick up first downs with his legs if need be, but he's also adept at throwing on the run. This, and his compact frame, gives him a better chance at staying healthy over other true dual-threats. His statistical and win-loss records as a starter both in college and his first year in the pros speak for themselves.
13. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (25)
W/L: 19-13 (0-2) YPG: 220.8 QBR: 83.9 TD-INT: 47-29 Rush: 272 yds TD: 5
He won't ever be confused with the most talented in the league and his long-term upside may still be in question. But Dalton simply wins games. He has two winning records and two playoff appearances in as many years for a team not normally accustomed to playing in the postseason. He is efficient, more athletic than expected and plays to his strengths.
14. Matthew Stafford, Detroit (25)
W/L: 17-28 (0-1) YPG: 284.6 QBR: 82.8 TD-INT: 80-54 Rush: 323 yds TD: 7
Stafford is the exact opposite of Dalton. He is dripping with elite athletic talent from his burly frame to supercharged right arm but seems to be lacking in the intangibles section. He returned the Lions to the postseason, which is no easy feat, but he also has missed extended time due to injuries and regressed last fall. His 2013 might be one of the most important in the NFL.
15. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco (25)
W/L: 5-2 (2-1) YPG: 115.6 QBR: 97.9 TD-INT: 10-3 Rush: 413 yds TD: 5
College football fans were not surprised in the least by the Niners' postseason sensation a year ago. One of the most dynamic college quarterbacks to ever play the game is forcing NFL defenses to find ways to slow him down. He has a cannon for a right arm, a huge frame and tremendous feet and speed. Time will tell if he can protect himself from the big hits.
16. Cam Newton, Carolina (24)
W/L: 13-19 (0-0) YPG: 247.5 QBR: 85.3 TD-INT: 40-29 Rush: 1,447 yds TD: 22
Newton has certainly outperformed expectations in his first two seasons. Many doubted his accuracy, attitude and ability to run a pro offense. He still turns the ball over too much and needs to be more efficient but his production in two short years have proven many of those doubters wrong. The next step for Newton will be proving he can consistently win games on this level.
17. Jay Cutler, Chicago (30)
W/L: 51-42 (1-1) YPG: 229.2 QBR: 84.0 TD-INT: 136-100 Rush: 1,116 yds TD: 6
That "1-1" postseason mark is a pretty glaring number for a player as accomplished as Cutler. He has over 21,000 yards passing and nearly 150 touchdowns, but has been to the playoffs just one time in seven years. He has just two winning seasons over that time and is on his second team. He is turnover prone and has had plenty of attitude issues. Time is running out for Cutler to prove he is a legitimate franchise quarterback.
18. Sam Bradford, St. Louis (25)
W/L: 15-26-1 (0-0) YPG: 223.3 QBR: 77.3 TD-INT: 45-34 Rush: 216 yds TD: 2
There is some Andy Dalton to his game in that he doesn't appear to be the most gifted of athletes and his fragility is a huge concern. But in the right situation with an actual offensive line, Bradford has a chance to make a big statement this year. He topped 3,500 yards in each of his 16-game seasons and has a surprisingly solid 14-17-1 record during those two years for a team that has been long considered a doormat.
19. Matt Schaub, Houston (32)
W/L: 44-38 (1-1) YPG: 186.0 QBR: 91.9 TD-INT: 120-70 Rush: 328 yds TD: 4
There isn't much else to learn about the former Virginia Cavaliers quarterback. When healthy, he is a solid player who is capable of winning games and producing big numbers. He also played just 11 games in 2007 and '08 and just 10 in '11. One has to be on the field to win games and time is running out for the 32-year-old.
20. Philip Rivers, San Diego (31)
W/L: 70-42 (3-4) YPG: 240.4 QBR: 94.5 TD-INT: 189-93 Rush: 338 yds TD: 3
Consider Rivers a more volatile version of Jay Cutler. The mouthy signal caller has had a fall from grace unlike anything this league has ever seen. There is no doubting his physical talent, but Rivers has gone from leading the NFL in yards (4,710 in 2010) to becoming a walking turnover and .500 quarterback. Rivers is 15-17 with 35 interceptions and 24 lost fumbles in the last two seasons.
21. Carson Palmer, Arizona (33)
W/L: 54-67 (0-2) YPG: 241.5 QBR: 86.2 TD-INT: 189-130 Rush: 372 yds TD: 7
Palmer will likely never be given his due as a solid NFL quarterback. He helped rebuild a perennial doormat when he led the Bengals back to the postseason and, frankly, Joe Montana at his best couldn't win in Oakland these days. He just posted his best yardage total in six seasons, topping 4,000 yards for just the third time, and now has Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd at his disposal. Expect a rejuvenation.
22. Michael Vick, Philadelphia (33)
W/L: 56-44-1 (2-3) YPG: 167.6 QBR: 80.6 TD-INT: 123-82 Rush: 5,551 yds TD: 34
The issue has been and will always be health with the player who takes more hits than anyone else in the NFL. Since coming back from prison, Vick has played in 12, 12, 13 and 10 games in four seasons and doesn't seem to be capable of changing his style of play. Until that happens, he is much more of liability than a champion.
23. Alex Smith, Kansas City (29)
W/L: 38-36-1 (1-1) YPG: 178.5 QBR: 79.1 TD-INT: 81-63 Rush: 761 yds TD: 4
Has anyone noticed that Alex Smith has played eight years in the NFL? He has a winning career record and is 19-5-1 over his last two seasons as a starter with just 10 total interceptions during that span. He also isn't playing for Jim Harbaugh any longer and is dealing with concussion issues. But still, eight years?
24. Jake Locker, Tennessee (25)
W/L: 4-7 (0-0) YPG: 169.9 QBR: 78.4 TD-INT: 14-11 Rush: 347 yds TD: 2
The Titans quarterback has awesome athletic ability but some glaring question marks. First, he simply isn't that accurate of a passer and, generally, that cannot be corrected. A 55.5 percent career completion rate won't win games in the NFL. Additionally, he has a long track record of injuries that have already impacted his pro career.
25. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets (26)
W/L: 33-29 (4-2) YPG: 195.0 QBR: 71.7 TD-INT: 68-69 Rush: 342 yds TD: 12
Where to begin? The facts are that Sanchez is a winning quarterback for his career who has played in two AFC Championship games — out-performing Tom Brady in the process — and progressed statistically in his first three years. However, he regressed massively a year ago and has never become a play-maker. The leash is awfully short.
26. Ryan Tannehill, Miami (25)
W/L: 7-9 (0-0) YPG: 205.9 QBR: 76.1 TD-INT: 12-13 Rush: 211 yds TD: 2
The athletic ability is incredibly impressive and the first-year numbers are more than adequate. That said, there are still major doubts about his ability to be a pro quarterback. A year of small developmental steps and another 7-9 record would set him up for much bigger expectations in 2014.
27. Matt Flynn, Oakland (28)
W/L: 1-1 (0-0) YPG: 29.3 QBR: 92.0 TD-INT: 9-5 Rush: 14 yds TD: 1
The numbers tell the picture of what is known about Flynn. He has two career starts, one major contract and one major trade. On his third team in as many years, Flynn will finally get a chance to prove himself on the NFL level after winning a national title at LSU.
28. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland (29)
W/L: 5-10 (0-0) YPG: 225.7 QBR: 72.6 TD-INT: 14-17 Rush: 111 yds TD: 0
Entering his second season at 29 years old isn't ideal and he did little a year ago to prove he was deserving of his first-round status. However, he also proved he belonged in the NFL year last year and should grow in Year 2. The upside is limited but he is serviceable for the time being.
29. Christian Ponder, Minnesota (25)
W/L: 12-14 (0-0) YPG: 177.3 QBR: 77.1 TD-INT: 31-25 Rush: 472 yds TD: 2
Ponder helped lead the Vikings to the playoffs last year but questions still remain about his ability to make plays in key spots against tough competition. He did win his final four starts last season and played big against the Lions, Texans and Packers, but he still has much to prove.
30. EJ Manuel, Buffalo (23)
W/L: N/A YPG: N/A QBR: N/A TD-INT: N/A Rush: N/A TD: N/A
There is a ton to like about the young first-round pick from Florida State. He has excellent mental make-up and will be a tremendous leader in the huddle. He is big, fast, physical, was one of the most efficient passers to play for the Seminoles, and is one of only two players in college football history to start and win four bowl games. There should be doubts but there is a lot more upside with Manuel than most acknowledge.
31. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay (25)
W/L: 24-32 (0-0) YPG: 227.4 QBR: 79.8 TD-INT: 78-63 Rush: 902 yds TD: 4
Since his days at Kansas State, Freeman has been a turnover machine. He has 63 interceptions and 36 fumbles in four NFL seasons after 34 interceptions in three college seasons. That is 97 interceptions in seven seasons of football. There is a reason Mike Glennon was drafted.
32. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville (23)
W/L: 5-19 (0-0) YPG: 155.0 QBR: 70.2 TD-INT: 21-17 Rush: 154 yds TD: 0
Many times in the NFL a player falls into a horrible situation and is given very little chance to succeed. That is certainly the case with Gabbert, however, he has shown little in the way of true NFL upside.