Ranking the Quarterbacks in the 2015 NFL Playoffs

As the playoffs approach, which team has the biggest edge at quarterback based on analytics?

Football is a team game, and defense wins championships.

But there's a universal fixation on the quarterback position for a reason, and there is also a reason why teams that rely on passers such as Nick Foles always need to keep their expectations in check.

Speaking of Nick Foles and expectations, he vastly underperformed this season, based on our Net Expected Points (NEP) data. (Get it? Net Expected Points? Ha!)

The way NEP works is that it compares a player to historical expectation level. An easy way to understand of NEP is to consider that a 10-yard pass will look the same in the box score whether it came on a 3rd-and-8 in the red zone and extended a likely scoring drive or whether it came on 3rd-and-18 and led to a punt from a team's own 30-yard line.

NEP rewards the first play and knocks the second. Over a full season, these things add up and can really separate the garbage stats from the big-time performers.

So how do the 12 14 postseason quarterbacks stack up by Total Net Expected Points (combined Passing and Rushing NEP)?

14. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos | Total NEP: -7.95

We all know the Peyton Manning story by now, but this is dismal. Among 43 quarterbacks with at least 125 drop backs this year, Manning's Total NEP ranked 39th. His Passing NEP (also -7.95) was a little better, ranking 37th. On a per-drop back basis, his Passing NEP was -0.02, 35th in the group. All of those marks, though, are worst among his playoff peers.

13. A.J. McCarron, Cincinnati Bengals | Total NEP: 17.66

A.J. McCarron was pretty solid this year, but you wouldn't know it from his Total Net Expected Points (31st among 43 qualified quarterbacks). However, he attempted just 131 drop backs. His Passing NEP per drop back (0.14) ranked 12th in that group and is 8th among playoff quarterbacks, though it was a big drop from 7th-ranked Cam Newton's 0.20.

12. Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos | Total NEP: 26.78

Welp. The Broncos have two potential starting quarterbacks, as head coach Gary Kubiak is staying quiet on who is getting the nod. Either choice, however, isn't great. Of course, both passers split time, but even when controlling for volume, Brock Osweiler wasn't a good passer -- same as Manning. His Passing NEP per drop back of 0.08 ranked 25th among qualified quarterbacks and is 11th-best among playoff passers.

11. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings | Total NEP: 41.09

Teddy Bridgewater didn't make a jump this year, but he did make a splash with his legs. His Rushing NEP of 22.61 ranked fifth among quarterbacks. That's a big reason why Bridgewater's Total NEP ranked 23rd among those 43 quarterbacks yet his Passing NEP (18.48) ranked 29th. Per play, his passing efficiency (0.04) was 33rd, better than only Manning among the playoff group.

10. Brian Hoyer, Houston Texans | Total NEP: 44.18

Brian Hoyer missed some time but played well enough to keep the Texans afloat in the playoff race this year. His total impact ranked a respectable 21st, and his cumulative Passing NEP (39.56) and per-play mark (0.10) both ranked 20th.

9. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers | Total NEP: 57.62

Last year, Aaron Rodgers led the league in Total NEP (214.56). That mark was -- and still is -- the seventh-highest total since and including the year 2000. This year, he ranked 18th in Total Net Expected Points and 22nd in Passing Net Expected Points. Per play, his Passing NEP of 0.06 ranked only 30th among 43 qualified passers.

8. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs | Total NEP: 77.18

Yeah, Alex Smith topped Aaron Rodgers. His total score ranked 16th at the position, but his per-play passing (0.08) ranked just 22nd. Still, he was roughly 20 points better than Rodgers this year in terms of total impact. His second-place rank -- in the entire league -- in Rushing NEP (34.72) surely helped.

7. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers | Total NEP: 125.84

Ben Roethlisberger started the year on fire but was hit with a inexplicably-not-season-ending knee injury in Week 3 against the St. Louis Rams. He still managed to finish seventh at the position in total impact. His per-play passing efficiency (0.25) ranked fifth at the position and fifth among playoff passers.

6. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals | Total NEP: 139.26

Andy Dalton's Total NEP was actually lower than his fifth-ranked Passing NEP (140.47) because of his negative impact while rushing. However, his Passing NEP per play mark of 0.35 topped the entire league. 

5. Kirk Cousins, Washington | Total NEP: 146.02

Kirk Cousins' breakout year is inspiring hope in Washington D.C. -- and for good reason. Cousins wound up fifth among all quarterbacks in Total NEP and seventh in Passing NEP per play, so his success wasn't just a result of volume.

4. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers | Total NEP: 146.24

So, yeah, Newton narrowly bested Cousins in terms of Total NEP this year, and Cousins actually topped him in Passing NEP (136.29 to 105.04) and per-play passing efficiency (0.24 to 0.20). However, Newton led the league in Rushing NEP (41.20), adding about a touchdown more in expected scoring on the ground than second-place Alex Smith (34.72).

3. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks | Total NEP: 160.25

Unlike previous seasons, Russell Wilson finished as a top quarterback because of his arm and not his legs. Wilson wound up third in Total Net Expected Points but was also fourth in Passing NEP (160.25) and third in Passing NEP per play (0.30). That's what a historic second-half can do.

2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots | Total NEP: 179.99

Tom Brady did it again -- somehow. He finished second in both Total NEP and Passing NEP (165.92). And, sure, he finished second in drop backs (660; Philip Rivers had 702, Drew Brees had 658, and Blake Bortles had 657), but his per-drop back efficiency (0.25) still ranked fourth at the position.

1. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals | Total NEP: 190.20

Carson Palmer, at times, barely had to throw at all for his team to win. But when he did air it out, good things happened. Palmer's Passing NEP (186.49) also topped the league, and his per-drop back mark (0.33) was second only to Dalton's 0.35. Combined with David Johnson's second-ranked Rushing NEP among running backs (18.41), Palmer led the Cardinals to the best schedule-adjusted offense in the league this year.