The National Football League Playoffs have finally arrived after, what seemed like, the strangest season the NFL has experienced in a long time. Super Bowl champions prove that an entire team effort is needed to pull off a title run. However, history shows the top teams in the NFL have a quarterback that can take over when the rest of the team is struggling.
The 2016 NFL Playoffs presents a unique group of quarterbacks from future hall of famers in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, to unproven young guns in Teddy Bridgewater and A.J. McCarron.
Here are how the NFL playoff quarterbacks rank:
1.) Tom Brady – New England Patriots
If there is anyone that you can trust to pull off huge performance after huge performance in the biggest stage in sports, it is Tom Brady.
The 4-time Super Bowl champion has continued to prove why he is one of the best signal callers of all time after posting over 4,000 passing yards, 36 touchdowns to only seven interceptions, and a 64.0 completion percentage.
He did all of this despite not having wide receiver Julian Edelman for the second half of the season, and the best tight-end in the NFL in Rob Gronkowski, who was banged up for the majority of the final regular season stretch.
With a first round bye, it is hard to see the Patriots not make it to San Francisco in February.
2.) Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers
Speaking of a guy that did everything with virtually nothing, look no further than, soon-to-be Most Valuable Player, Cam Newton.
Newton led Carolina to the top seed in the NFC with a, nearly perfect, 15-1 record. With 35 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing, it seemed virtually impossible to stop the ultimate weapon in the regular season.
This will be Newton’s third playoff appearance in four years, so he is no stranger to the bright lights. With the ability to take over a game at any point with his arm or legs, Newton seems destined to carry Carolina to the Super Bowl.
Remember back in 2012 when Colin Kaepernick ran wild against the Packers, Falcons, and Ravens in the playoffs? That shows just how valuable a mobile quarterback can be in the post season where the game is much tighter and more aggressive than the regular season.
3.) Carson Palmer – Arizona Cardinals
It showed last postseason in the loss to Carolina just how much the Cardinals needed Carson Palmer.
After recovering from yet another torn ACL in his knee, Palmer is having a record breaking season. Pro Football Focus’ top-rated quarterback has helped Arizona claim the second seed in the NFC after throwing for 35 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 passing yards.
Despite being 36 years old, Palmer has posted a career best in passing touchdowns and passing yards. He has the “clutch gene” to take over a game when the defense is struggling.
Although Palmer has never won a playoff game, this season has proven that he can play at a top level against the league’s best, including wins over the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers this season.
4.) Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks
Remember early on in the season when the Seahawks seemed to be collapsing from the inside out? A horrible offensive line to go with a lack-luster receiving core and a struggling secondary? It seems like that mess of a season has come and gone thanks to the play of Russell Wilson.
Nobody is heading into the postseason as red-hot as Wilson is. Early in the year it seemed like Wilson was struggling to see the entire field and was simply holding on to the football too long. Then, in the second half of the year, Wilson caught fire throwing for 26 touchdowns to only two interceptions in the remaining eight games.
Seattle certainly knows how to play playoff football. With Wilson playing at a career best and the defense getting back to their dominating ways, we may be in for another Seahawks title run.
5.) Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers
Roethlisberger is probably the most overlooked star at the quarterback position, and a future hall of famer.
After losing Le’veon Bell to a torn ACL, Roethlisberger battled injuries of his own and carried the Steelers to the playoffs.
A few years back, Pittsburgh was a defensive juggernaut with a balanced offensive attack. Now, with a young defense developing, “Big Ben” has shouldered the load. He had a career best 64.0 completion percentage and 21 touchdowns.
With Antonio Brown, Roethlisberger sometimes forces throws, and finished the season with 16 interceptions. However, his willingness to take shots down the field will keep opposing defenses on their toes. There are some strong secondaries he will face in the AFC, so Roethlisberger will have to be on top of his game.
6.) Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
Rodgers will eventually back into form, right?
If the Packers receivers can win some one-on-one battles, the Packers could be a dangerous team in the NFC.
Rodgers seems to have lost faith in the Packers offense, but if the Packers can rebound against the Redskins, look out.
7.) Alex Smith – Kansas City Chiefs
The third playoff appearance for Alex Smith presents him the biggest opportunity.
With the red-hot Chiefs winning 10 straight games, Kansas City gets to play Brian Hoyer and the Texans in the Wild Card round.
Smith has always been seen as a “game manager,” however with Jeremy Maclin in the offense, Smith has been far more aggressive throwing 20 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. His 3,486 passing yards were a career best this season. Amith also posted 500 rushing yards and can be a lethal weapon for the Chiefs.
Smith has the experience, and the skill set, that could help Kansas City make a deep run in the postseason.
8.) Kirk Cousins – Washington Redskins
Cousins has been an interesting case all season long. After being named the starter in August, Cousins had a stellar season leading the NFL with a 69.8 completion percentage.
When Washington’s offense gets into a rhythm, Cousins is one of the most efficient passers in the NFL. However when the Redskins offensive line struggles, Cousins breaks down.
According to Pro Football Focus, when Cousins is pressured, he has a 54.4 completion percentage with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. When Cousins is protected, he has a 77.4 completion percentage with 22 touchdowns and only four interceptions. The difference is astronomical.
If the opposing pass rush applies pressure, Cousins may be more prone to making mistakes.
9.) Teddy Bridgewater – Minesota Vikings
It is hard to figure out Teddy Bridgewater. He is an accurate quarterback with incredible vision and pocket movement, yet often Bridgewater is caught holding onto the football too long.
Simply said after two seasons, the former Louisville quarterback is a work in progress. However, Bridgewater has been progressing despite being the quarterback that has faced the most pressure in the NFL. Bridgewater has felt the heat on 46.7 percent of his drop backs. He takes what the defense gives him, which many young quarterbacks do not do.
Bridgewater only threw 14 touchdowns, but had an impressive 65.3% completion percentage. Pro Football Focus has Bridgewater as the fifth most accurate passer in the NFL.
The Vikings need to find a way to take shots down field with Diggs and Wallace in order for Minnesota to have success. Bridgewater is most efficient with throws to the outside of the field.
If the offensive line holds up and the play action play calls are effective, Bridgewater could help lead Minnesota on a deeper run than many think they will.
10.) Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
Look, Peyton Manning is one of the best signal callers of all time, but Denver made a huge mistake giving him the nod over Brock Osweiler.
Osweiler was getting comfortable in the offense, and seemed to have the arm power that Denver needed to push the ball down field in the cold conditions. He helped Denver take down the Patriots and the Bengals, but because of one bad half, Kubiak pulled him for Manning.
Manning’s arm still looks extremely weak, and if the Broncos get caught in a shootout, Manning may not be able to hold up. If the defense can carry Denver, they have a chance.
However, with the run game being as inconsistent as it is, Osweiler is the better choice over Manning.
Nine touchdowns to 17 interceptions with the worst completion percentage since his rookie year tells me Denver could be one and done. Remember: even when Peyton was healthy, he still struggled to push the ball down field in the playoffs.
11.) A.J. McCarron – Cincinnati Bengals
McCarron has shown some positive signs that he can play with the NFL’s best defenses.
For being a first time starter, McCarron has shown poise and an ability to read defenses better than expected.
The offense has not really skipped a beat without Dalton, however McCarron is not yet the game changer that can carry Cincinnati.
Lucky for him, Marvin Lewis has built one of the NFL’s deepest rosters.
12.) Brian Hoyer – Houston Texans
Bill O’Brien did a heck of a job coaching this Houston Texans team to the postseason. Yes, the AFC South was weak, but the Houston defense has proven it can take over when the offense struggles.
With Brian Hoyer, expect much of the same inconsistency he has struggled with all season. If Hoyer can limit the turnovers and push the ball to DeAndre Hopkins, Houston has a chance to do some damage.
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