The Top 10 Quarterback Performances of 2014

Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning were the two best quarterbacks this year according to our metrics, but they didn't make this list. Who did?

With the way the NFL operates now, it seems that any quarterback can put up a big game in the right matchup. Even if the season-long consistency isn't there, one eye-popping performance is almost never out of the question.

I mean, just look at Geno Smith in Week 17 against the Miami Dolphins. Geno's Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) after Week 16 was a dreadful -19.24, ranking 32nd out of the 36 passers with at least 200 drop backs through the week. That means Geno lost the Jets nearly 20 points with his accumulated drop backs and that a league-average quarterback could have been expected to be 20 points better than Smith had been to that point. Really, though, 30 of those 36 passers were above zero, so Geno was well off the path of average quarterbacking.

So what did he do against the 'Phins, who then ranked ninth in pass defense per our metrics? He went out and dropped a Passing NEP of 24.49, easily the top mark of the week, and Eric Decker ended up with the fourth-best single-game by a wide receiver all year.

Even though Geno jumped up to 28th in Passing NEP on the year, he just barely missed out on a top-10 passing performance. Maybe he wasn't lying about his showing flashes of being Pro-Bowl caliber.

So with Smith's posting the 11th-best single game of all quarterbacks and proving that anything is possible, who's in the top 10? Let's find out!

10. Matt Ryan, Week 3
Passing NEP: 24.67
Passing Yards: 286
Passing Touchdowns: 3

Matt Ryan's Week 3 performance -- and to be honest, the rest of the top 10 -- isn't exactly as improbable as Geno's was, but Ryan, who finished eighth in Passing NEP on the year, had his best showing early in the season. This game, of course, was the now infamous 56-14 drubbing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football.

Ryan did his damage on just 24 attempts (completing 21 of them), and his dominance also led to Julio Jones's 9-catch, 161-yard, 2-touchdown line -- good for the seventh-best game by a wideout on the year.

9. Andrew Luck, Week 3
Passing NEP: 25.43
Passing Yards: 370
Passing Touchdowns: 4

Days after Ryan's game, Andrew Luck posted a monster game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Like Ryan, Luck didn't finish out the game, which the Colts ultimately won 44-17, but he was off to a hotter start in terms of NEP than anyone in the league.

Luck's Passing NEP peaked at 140.90 after Week 13. Then, Luck began to struggle, though, and struggle hard. Luck's late-season follies dropped his Passing NEP to 110.33, just seventh-best in the NFL. Still, his early-season self was impressive, as you'll see soon enough.

8. Tom Brady, Week 6
Passing NEP: 25.65
Passing Yards: 361
Passing Touchdowns: 4

Tom Brady's Week 6 was big, but it wasn't actually the biggest of the week. More on that later. Brady slung it around all over Buffalo, something that can't be taken for granted. Buffalo finished the year with the second-best defense overall and the second-best pass defense, according to our Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP metric, which adjusts for schedule strength.

The game was close in the first half, and Brady threw 2 second-half touchdowns of longer than 40 yards: a 43-yarder touchdown to Brian Tyms and a 56-yarder to Brandon LaFell. Those types of big plays in close games add significantly to NEP.

7. Eli Manning, Week 16
Passing NEP: 26.14
Passing Yards: 391
Passing Touchdowns: 3

Brady's Super Bowl foil of years past, Eli Manning, owns the seventh-best Passing NEP game of 2014. The Giants put up 37 points on the Rams in St. Louis, who scored 27 of their own.

Manning's first touchdown came on a 2nd-and-8 on the St. Louis 9-yardline. His second was on a 3rd-and-3 on their 7. Turning potential field goals into touchdowns is an NEP booster. Consider this, then, while knowing his third touchdown came with a seven-point lead late in the third quarter. On 3rd-and-10 on their own 20, almost a lock for a possession ending in a punt, Manning hooked up with the unstoppable Odell Beckham Jr. for an 80-yard touchdown.

Manning's Passing NEP of 62.37 was 12th-best this year and a very welcome sight after posting a -43.56 last year, giving him a turnaround of 105.93 points.

6. Ben Roethlisberger, Week 9
Passing NEP: 27.18
Passing Yards: 340
Passing Touchdowns: 6

The unfortunate loss of Le'Veon Bell might hinder Ben Roethlisberger's chance at adding another Super Bowl ring to his hand, but this was absolutely Roethlisberger's best passing season. Roethlisberger's best Passing NEP prior to this season came in 2007: 89.97.

This year, he finished at 159.10, good for third in the NFL. Weeks like Week 9, the second-consecutive six-touchdown game, sure helped.

Of his 6 touchdowns, 5 came from at least 18 yards away -- not guaranteed touchdown territory for sure -- and 3 of them were longer than 30 yards. Touchdowns from distance boosted his Passing NEP, but he didn't quite crack the top five with this performance.

5. Joe Flacco, Week 4
Passing NEP: 27.97
Passing Yards: 327
Passing Touchdowns: 3

Despite a scoreless first quarter, the Baltimore Ravens put up 38 points on the Carolina Panthers in Week 6. Joe Flacco connected for 3 touchdowns, all longer than 20 yards and all while the game was within 14 points. Big plays in a close game helped Flacco to a top-five Passing NEP performance.

Two of his three touchdowns came on third downs, too, including the first: a 61-yarder to Steve Smith. This wasn't even Flacco's best, though.

4. Andrew Luck, Week 4
Passing NEP: 28.33
Passing Yards: 393
Passing Touchdowns: 4

Just like he narrowly bested Matt Ryan in Week 3, Luck did the same to Flacco in Week 4. The Colts led 14-0 after the first quarter and 20-10 at the half before pulling away to win 41-17 by the final buzzer. Luck didn't exactly have to carry his team in a close game, so why was his Passing NEP so high?

Well, 393 yards and 4 touchdowns is no small feat regardless of context, but Luck converted a serious 21 first downs through the air, and two more first downs were picked up on defensive pass interference calls, further boosting the point gain the Colts saw on Luck's drop backs. Throw in a 37-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton to put the Colts on the one-yard line -- even though Trent Richardson walked in the touchdown -- and Luck's passing generated a ton of points in addition to what the raw stats indicate.

3. Joe Flacco, Week 6
Passing NEP: 29.49
Passing Yards: 306
Passing Touchdowns: 5

Three weeks after Ryan torched Tampa, Flacco piled on the stats against the Bucs, who finished the year as the second-worst pass defense in the NFL, according to our metrics. Basically 16 minutes into the game, Flacco had already tallied 5 touchdowns. Flacco attempted only seven passes in the second half, curbing his Passing NEP. But by the time straggling fans found their seats, he had already done enough damage for the third-best single-game performance by a quarterback this season.

His second top-five game helped him attain a season-long Passing NEP of 89.35, good for 10th in the league and by far the best of his career. His second-best season came in 2009 (56.40).

2. Ben Roethlisberger, Week 8
Passing NEP: 33.83
Passing Yards: 522
Passing Touchdowns: 6

Against the Indianapolis Colts, Roethlisberger put up a game that wasn't too different than Luck's Week 4 tilt -- only Roethlisberger did it better. Ben racked up 25 first downs on his passes while taking over the game and throwing for 6 touchdowns.

The Steelers pulled away at various points, but the game was close enough -- and finished 51-34 -- that Roethlisberger never really entered garbage time, either. Plus, three receivers had catches of at least 47 yards: Antonio Brown (47), Heath Miller (49), and Martavis Bryant (52).

Somehow, though, this wasn't even the best game of Week 8.

1. Tom Brady, Week 8
Passing NEP: 35.05
Passing Yards: 354
Passing Touchdowns: 5

Even though Roethlisberger's raw stats were better, it was Brady and Rob Gronkowski who owned Week 8 in terms of NEP. Brady posted the top Passing NEP game -- and Gronk put forth the best tight end performance -- of the year.

Why was Brady better? Well, he had all five of his touchdowns by the 12:42 mark in the third quarter, helping the New England Patriots to a 45-7 lead just after halftime. And as for first downs, Brady also had 25 like Roethlisberger. But he did it on just 35 attempts. (Ben threw it 49 times.)

Brady misfired only five times, going 30-of-35, and did practically no wrong. Brady finished the season fifth in Passing NEP at 123.69, two spots behind Roethlisberger, but it was Brady who had the single-best game of the year.