Ranking the Quarterbacks Remaining in the NFL Playoffs
Quarterback play is one of the most easily scrutinizable aspects of football. But, in turn, it's also one of the most cherished -- even if it's not always deserved.
The focus on these signal-callers gets even more magnified in the playoffs. I mean, Joe Flacco got a monster deal because of his 2012 playoff run.
So what's more apropos than ranking the quarterbacks left in the playoffs as of the Divisional Round?
I realize these ranks might ruffle some feathers, but they aren't my eye-test ranks. They're how the quarterbacks fared at the end of the regular season in terms of our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP measures how well above or below a player played compared to expectation. Think of it this way: a 10-yard pass on 3rd-and-9 to enter the red zone isn't the same as a 10-yard pass on 3rd-and-20 that leads to a punt, so they aren't weighted equally.
More specifically, these quarterbacks are ranked according to their Total NEP scores, which includes passing and rushing totals, because there are some mobile quarterbacks in the mix.
8. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Total NEP: 57.14
The first mobile quarterback, Cam Newton, comes in at eighth. His Total NEP of 57.14 indicates that he gave the Panthers 57.14 points or the chance to score them -- it's not his fault if he makes the plays but his team misses a field goal or a running back fumbles it away. That ranks last among remaining quarterbacks but was only 16th in the NFL.
The reason he's last -- mainly -- is because his Passing NEP, which counts only the points gained on his drop backs, was just 18.40. That ranked just 25th in the NFL, directly behind Kirk Cousins (19.58). His per drop back Passing NEP was just 0.04, tied with Brian Hoyer.
His Rushing NEP, though, was 38.74, second among all quarterbacks and nearly 11 points above third place (Blake Bortles (27.84)).
7. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Total NEP: 101.64
Flacco ranked seventh among the eight remaining quarterbacks in Total NEP this year, but he did have his best Passing NEP season ever (89.35). He also put forth two of the five-best single games in terms of Passing NEP this year.
Flacco actually ranked eighth among all quarterbacks this year in Rushing NEP (12.29) and fourth among the remaining playoff quarterbacks. His rushing ability is an understated aspect of his repertoire, and while he isn't quite on par with the best of the best in the playoffs, he is coming off his best regular season to date, and he has certainly shown the ability to be on their level every now and again.
6. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Total NEP: 109.50
Wilson's Passing NEP was just 47.65, 15th in the NFL this year. His Success Rate, indicating the percentage of passes that added positively to his Passing NEP, was just 42.91%. That ranked 31st among the 37 quarterbacks who had at least 200 drop backs this year. He landed directly behind Mike Glennon (42.92%).
So, Wilson's passing isn't his forte, and that's fine -- because his Rushing NEP of 60.50 was best in the league among quarterbacks. It's also the the second-best quarterback season in our database since 2000. Michael Vick totaled 68.31 Rushing NEP in 2004.
5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Total NEP: 114.02
Andrew Luck started out the year on fire, racking up passing stats at will. But things slowed down for him, but he still managed to finish with a Passing NEP of 110.33, sixth best in the league. His Success Rate (47.59%) was the only mark under 50.00% among the top-eight passers in terms of Passing NEP. This indicates, more or less, that he relied more on big plays rather than consistent gains for his successes in comparison to the other guys in the top eight.
Surprisingly, though, the gap between his Total NEP and Passing NEP is small, which indicates his rushing wasn't much of a help. He actually tallied a Rushing NEP of just 3.68, worse than the next guy on the list -- who isn't much of a runner.
4. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Total NEP: 131.05
Yep. Tom Brady ended the year with a better Rushing NEP than Luck did. Brady's Rushing NEP was 7.36 on the year. Sure, he ran the ball only 20 times (to Luck's 48), but good things happened when the comically-immobile Brady took off.
As for his passing, though, Brady ranked fifth in the league in Passing NEP (123.69). Brady also had the best single-game performance this year. I could drone on about Brady, sure, but he landed inside the top five in Passing NEP and Passing NEP per drop back and 10th in Success Rate. Classic Brady.
3. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Total NEP: 147.13
Tony Romo had an outstanding year, and there's no arguing with that. Romo ranked fourth in the league in Passing NEP (145.10). Among passers with at least 200 drop backs, he was second in Passing NEP per drop back (0.31) and tops in Success Rate (54.84%).
Romo was the only quarterback in the top 13 in Passing NEP not to drop back more than 500 times (he had 465 drop backs), making his cumulative Passing NEP even more impressive. Easily Romo's best season, he bested his second-best Passing NEP by nearly 20 points (126.43 in 2007).
2. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Total NEP: 155.65
It says a lot about Peyton Manning that it felt like an off year for him. Manning finished second in the NFL in Passing NEP (167.47). Yes, that's higher than his Total NEP. He's not a runner, but he did manage to lose 11.82 points for the Broncos on five attempts, -2.36 points per rush. That's easily the worst mark among all quarterbacks this year. (Tom Savage was at -1.83 per rush on four carries.)
Manning ranked fourth in Success Rate (52.93%) and third in Passing NEP per drop back (0.27). Sure, he was over 100 points off his Passing NEP from last year (dropping from 278.52 to 167.47), but Manning is still playing at the top of the league.
But this next guy was just flat out better than everyone this year.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Total NEP: 214.56
Aaron Rodgers did work this season.
He had the best Passing NEP in the league (188.41) and the best Passing NEP per drop back (0.34). His Success Rate (53.47%) was second among all passers with at least 200 drop backs.
As for rushing, he was fourth among all quarterbacks, posting a Rushing NEP of 25.85. Of the quarterbacks with at least 10 carries, his Rushing NEP per carry (0.78) ranked second. (To Jay Cutler (0.86)).
Rodgers' Total NEP of 214.56 is the seventh-best Total NEP by a quarterback since 2000. Without a doubt, Rodgers, based on regulars season play, gives Green Bay the edge over every other team in the playoffs.