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NFL QB Power Poll

The Sports Guy ranks the men under center with a little help from the movies, plus Week 15 picks

Why spend 7,500 words writing a QB Power Poll that breaks down 2012’s NFL quarterbacks by tiers named after sports-movie quarterbacks? Isn’t the better question “Why not?” Let’s get this party started.

THE PAUL CREWE TIER

Movie: The Longest Yard
Connection: “The very best of the best.”

1a. Tom Brady
1b. Aaron Rodgers

Do I need to make it clear that we’re talking about the Burt Reynolds version of The Longest Yard (and not the inferior Adam Sandler version)? I don’t need to make that clear, right? Any “Who was the G.O.A.T. of sports-movie QBs?” argument that doesn’t end with everyone nodding and saying, “You’re right, it was definitely Burt Reynolds” is invalid. Even if it’s a wildly dated movie now (including the cringe-worthy domestic-violence scene that opens things up), Reynolds’s charisma and football talents still hold up 38 years later. It’s probably the single best performance of his career. I watched it recently and thought, This is like Russell Wilson on his greatest day. Why there wasn’t a Longest Yard sequel remains one of the biggest Hollywood mysteries — Reynolds made two Smokey and the Bandit movies and two episodes of Cannonball Run, for God’s sake. He couldn’t have run back his finest movie? At the very least, Paul Thomas Anderson should have tweaked Boogie Nights so Jack Horner was actually Paul Crewe — ex-convict football star turned lucrative porn producer. For Amber, for Rollergirl … for Little Bill. Let’s do it.

Back to Brady vs. Rodgers, a fun argument because Rodgers is on pace to duplicate everything Brady has already done statistically — if Rodgers’s next five seasons play out exactly like these last five, that projects to 40,000-plus yards, 325-plus passing TDs, two rings and the highest QB rating ever (and he won’t even be 35 yet). Right now, Brady has thrown for 43,812 yards (10th all time) and 329 TDs (fifth all time), and he currently has the second-highest QB rating ever. But if you’re judging them simply by the “Who’d you take for this season?” and “Who’d you take for one game if your life depended on it?” questions, Brady gets the nod because of the following point: Just in 2012 alone (dating back to January), we watched the Giants (twice!), 49ers and Seahawks rough Rodgers up and (to borrow a Mike Lombardi phrase) change his eye level — instead of looking downfield, he was looking at the line of scrimmage because he was worried about where the next wallop was coming from. You might excuse two of those games, but four?

If you’re comparing 2011 and 2012, Rodgers was better last season …

2011 Rodgers: 4,643 yards, 45 TDs, 6 INTs, 86.2 QBR, 122.5 rating, 48.4% DVOA
2011 Brady: 5,235 yards, 39 TDs, 12 INTs, 72.7 QBR, 105.6 rating, 34.4% DVOA

But Brady has been superior this season …

2012 Brady: 3,833 yards, 29 TDs, 4 INTs, 80.6 QBR, 104.2 rating, 42.9% DVOA
2012 Rodgers: 3,297 yards, 29 TDs, 8 INTs, 70.79 QBR, 103.7 rating, 17.2% DVOA

So you’d have to give Brady the slightest of edges, and that’s before we even bring up the whole, “Hey, you realize the Patriots have a puncher’s chance of scoring 600 points this season, right?” thing. Three quick Brady points before we keep going.

• Including playoffs, the New England Patriots are 150-44 in Tom Brady’s starts and 297-340-9 in Anyone Else’s starts.

• If the Patriots happen to win this Super Bowl (note: They’re favored in Vegas right now, although that’s almost always the kiss of death), Brady would tie Montana’s record (four rings), break Elway’s record (six Super Bowl appearances) and make history in the following sense: How many times can you remember an athlete 35 years old or older still being the most important player in a team sport? Michael Jordan … yes. Barry Bonds … yes (with a massive asterisk). I think that’s the entire list? (Yes, same stakes for Peyton Manning here.)

• Even if Brady never wins another Super Bowl, he secured a place in the Boston sports pantheon with Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Bobby Orr and Ted Williams a long time ago. There was a great moment late in that Texans game when Brady scrambled for a first down, took a decent lick, popped up and unleashed one of those old-school, exaggerated fist-pump/screams that used to be a staple of his early days. The fans ate it up for the simple reason that Brady never does that stuff anymore. These days, he’s older, cooler, more detached, more self-aware. He’s been there before.

At the same time, that fist-pumping dude was the one who won us over in the first place — back when he wasn’t putting up monster numbers, when he was flanked by mediocre running backs and glorified possession receivers, when you had to talk yourself into him being better than a machine like Peyton Manning because he managed the game and knew how to lead and came through when it mattered. Over the years, he morphed into one of those machines — now he puts up the same crazy numbers as everyone else. He’s so technically efficient, so methodical, so good at what he does, that you almost forget he’s the same kid from that 2001 season who made you think the Patriots could beat the Rams even though, on paper, it seemed to be freaking impossible. So there was real history behind that moment, one of those things that can’t be understood unless you spent the past 12 years watching Tom Brady play football for a living. These next few years are going to be fascinating.

THE JOE PENDLETON TIER

Movie: Heaven Can Wait
Connection: “Wait, are you getting help from God or something?”

1c. Peyton Manning
You could have talked me into throwing Manning into the previous tier, but that means (a) we would have lost the Heaven Can Wait reference (underrated ’70s movie), (b) I wouldn’t have been able to mention Warren Beatty (shockingly competent as a QB), and (c) we would have been living a lie. Why? Because post–neck surgery Peyton Manning hasn’t beaten ANYBODY yet. Check it out.

Losses: Houston, Atlanta, New England.
Wins: Oakland (twice), San Diego (twice), Kansas City, Cincy, Carolina, Tampa, New Orleans, Pittsburgh.

Look, it’s been a brilliant comeback; it’s been incredibly entertaining to have him back. I’d actually vote for Manning for “Most Valuable Player” (through 14 weeks) just because it took Manning less than three months to transform them into 2005 Colts West. But can we see Denver beat one good team before we officially nudge The Artist Formerly Known As Mr. Noodle into that Brady/Rodgers group? Win in Baltimore on Sunday and we can talk. Regardless, I thought this was Manning’s finest season: He reinvented himself in a different city while playing the single most complicated position in any sport AND learning the strengths and weaknesses of an entirely new crew of teammates AND figuring out his own post-surgery limitations AND dealing with the mental strain of knowing that one brutal hit could ruin him … and he did this on the fly. And Sports Illustrated picked LeBron for Sportsman of the Year? Come on.

THE LANCE HARBOR TIER

Movie: Varsity Blues
Connection: “There’s a big billboard of me on my front lawn and nobody is saying a word because I’m a franchise f-ing QB.”
1

4. Eli Manning
A particularly strange Eli season — he managed to destroy tens of thousands of fantasy seasons (including mine) while simultaneously coming up huge in the two biggest Giants games they had (San Francisco and Green Bay). Maybe he’s not the guy you’d want week in and week out for five solid months, but he’s still holding the “Guy You’d Want For One Big Game” belt until somebody pins him. He’s the Bob Backlund of NFL QBs, basically.2

Unrelated: Is anyone else worried that Roger Goodell might rig the playoff officiating to ensure a “Manning vs. Manning in Archie Manning’s old stomping grounds!” Super Bowl and throw the media off story lines like, “Hey look, the guy who screwed over our football team is in town hosting the Super Bowl!” and “Hey look, it’s the guy who acted so inappropriately and recklessly with Bountygate that his old boss had to come in and undo everything he did!” What does it say about the Roger Goodell era that I’m actually worried about this? Don’t think your perfectly timed Time magazine cover story/puff piece with those crazy abolishing-the-kickoff ideas threw everyone off the rancid scent of the Bountygate verdict, Roger. That was a David Stern move. Didn’t work.

5. Drew Brees
No Sean Payton, an interim interim head coach for the first six weeks, tons of bad mojo … you could definitely see this semi-underwhelming Brees season coming. My only concern: Remember Brett Favre in that 2001-05 stretch, when his team was still winning and Favre’s numbers were still good, only the media kept overlooking his carelessness (especially in big games) because they were so smitten by the whole “Brett Favre is having fun out there!” thing? There’s a 50 percent chance that Brees has morphed into this decade’s Favre, which probably means we should confiscate his cell phone right now to be safe. We can’t say for sure until Payton returns, though.

6. Ben Roethlisberger
7. Matt Ryan

Roethlisberger is Bizarro Matt Ryan — whatever happens in the regular season and no matter how banged up he is, his reputation for coming through in big games will always prevail. (Two rings and one of the greatest throws in Super Bowl history will do that for you.) Meanwhile, Ryan might be the first “Nobody Believes In Me!” QB. He’s headed for something like 4,800 yards, 33 TDs, 13 wins and a no. 1 seed. He’s made the playoffs in four of his five seasons (counting this one). He has led an astonishing 22 game-winning drives in five seasons, and his pseudo–Hail Mary from his own 1-yard line to Roddy White against Carolina had to be the single best throw of the season. And as Barnwell pointed out two weeks ago, the only real criticism against Ryan (his poor playoff performances) can be flipped with one good postseason.

So why are the Giants fans, Packers fans and Niners fans dying to play Atlanta in the playoffs? Why doesn’t Ryan strike fear into the hearts of anyone? Why did I have him at no. 9, behind two rookie QBs, before ultimately thinking better of it? I asked Grantland’s Rembert Browne, a die-hard Atlanta fan, why outsiders don’t believe in Matty Ice yet. His response …

“Matt Ryan doesn’t strike fear in the hearts of potential playoff opponents because there’s no reason to be afraid of him yet. If he wasn’t my quarterback and all of my emotions weren’t wrapped up in his every football field action, I’d rag on him like big-playoff-game LeBron, pre-2012. Or big Grand Slam–match Andy Murray, pre-2012. Yes, both have long been otherworldly talents, but even non-gamblers would bet on an underwhelming performance when it really counted.”

(Translation: We’re kinda, sorta, maybe behind you, Matt Ryan!)

THE STEAMIN’ WILLIE BEAMAN TIER3

Movie: Any Given Sunday
Connection: “Get out of my way, I’m taking over the league”

8a. Andrew Luck
8b. Robert Griffin III

I can’t wait to flip my opinion on this rivalry 572 more times before everything’s said and done. Right now, it’s all about durability — I would have written “Griffin takes too many scary hits” even before Sunday’s scariest-of-the-scary hits nearly knocked him out for the season. He’s like one of those reckless center fielders who can’t stop careering against the wall at warp speed because they’re always trying to make the greatest play ever. Can you shut that switch off, or lower it a little? Griffin has to figure out how. I can’t remember a non-Patriots QB who made me scream “No! No! Slide!” more than Griffin — it’s like having one of your kids out there. Even Redskins fans would admit that Luck is a safer bet at this point, and they’re the ones calling Griffin “Black Jesus.”

Meanwhile, here’s the best thing you could say about Luck’s rookie season: We’re watching the greatest Colt ever (and one of the greatest QBs of all time) submitting one of the greatest comeback seasons in sports history and single-handedly willing another franchise into becoming a Super Bowl contender … and the Colts fans don’t give a shit! NONE OF THEM CARE! How many NFL rookies could have pulled that off? Marino in ’83, Luck in ’12, Griffin in ’12 … and we’re done.

THE RONNIE “SUNSHINE” BASS TIER

Movie: Remember the Titans
Connection: “The feel-good late bloomer has arrived!”

10. Josh Freeman
Fatter Freeman (2011): 15 games, 3,592 yards, 16 TDs, 22 INTs, 74.6 rating, 45.3 QBR
Skinny Freeman (2012): 13 games, 3,192 yards, 25 TDs, 8 INTs, 91.1 rating, 59.3 QBR4

Important Freeman note: Even though it’s his fourth full NFL season, he’s only 24 years old — one year older than Luck, three years younger than Ryan, six years younger than Roethlisberger, 11 years younger than Brady and 35 years younger than Charlie Batch. He’s already thrown for 12,000 yards and 76 touchdowns, so let’s say he has five more seasons like the one he’s having right now and averages, say, 3,800 yards and 30 TDs every year. Conceivable, right? Including the last three 2012 games, that projection would put Freeman around 32,000 career passing yards and 225 TDs before he turns 30. Even “Sunshine” Bass saving the 1971 Titans seemed more realistic.5

THE JONATHON MOXON TIER

Movie: Varsity Blues
Connection: “Sit back, shut up, stop overthinking it and enjoy the movie.”

11. Russell Wilson
Even if I’ve been wrong about 10,000 things in this column over the years, I can always say I called “shotgun” on the Russell Wilson Bandwagon. But here’s what I never anticipated back in September when I picked Seattle to make the Super Bowl and everyone mocked me (you did, you mocked me) — 2012 has been The Year Of The Rookie QB, The Year Of The Replacement Refs, The Year Peyton Came Back, and The Year Goodell Totally Lost Control Of The Car So Badly That His Dad Had To Take The Wheel (probably in that order). In The Year Of The Rookie QB, wouldn’t it make sense for one of them to actually play in the Super Bowl?6

THE SHANE “FOOTSTEPS” FALCO TIER

Movie: The Replacements
Connection: “I gotta be honest, something still makes me nervous about you.”

12. Matthew Stafford
If Stafford were an NBA player, he’d be one of those good-stats-only guys who drops 30 every night for a lottery team. You know, kinda like Kobe Bryant right now. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) But he’s another guy who’s younger than you think: only 24, just like Freeman, with 77 passing TDs and nearly 12,000 passing yards in the bank already. Are you ready to live in a world someday in which the all-time passing leaders are Skinny Josh Freeman and a guy who looks exactly like Knight from Real World? Me neither.

13. Matt Schaub
You know how the best cable dramas always have two or three shaky actors in crucial roles because they didn’t have a big enough budget to splurge on every part, so they had to roll the dice with a couple of unknowns and hope for the best? Sometimes discount casting hurts the show (like the excruciating Governor in The Walking Dead); sometimes you can work around it (like Bobby Bacala in The Sopranos or Betty Draper in Mad Men); and sometimes nobody ends up caring as long as there’s a chance for nudity (like Mrs. Brody in Homeland).

For whatever reason, I was thinking about this when Matt Schaub seemed so overmatched on Monday night — everything was set up for one of 2012’s best football games, only ESPN cast the wrong guy in the role of “Opposing QB From The No. 1 Seed Who Goes Into Foxborough And Duels Tom Brady In An Epic Shootout.” It just wasn’t in him. If you had Boardwalk Empire‘s budget or Game of Thrones‘ budget, you’d cast a better QB here — instead, it’s like having the poker-faced redhead who wears baggy sweaters in The Killing when you’re saying to yourself, “I really wish they had just splurged for Julianne Moore.” I’m making this the cutoff line for quarterbacks who aren’t good enough to win the Super Bowl unless they have a lot of help. Matt Schaub, you need a lot of help.

THE STAN GABLE TIER

Movie: Revenge of the Nerds
Connection: “I could totally see you tormenting nerds and then having it backfire on you.”

14. Jay Cutler
Inside the NFL miked Cutler for last week’s Vikings-Bears game and left me more confused than ever about him. He seemed like just as big of a sarcastic dick as always, only his teammates seemed to enjoy the hell out of him. There was a spectacular moment when Brandon Marshall and Cutler were sitting on the bench — Marshall told Cutler to just throw the ball up for him and he’d get it with his 43-inch vertical leap, followed by an amused Cutler questioning that number and saying lately it’s been more like 36, then both of them laughing. You could tell they liked each other. Is Jay Cutler secretly a good guy, one of those seemingly withering a-holes who actually isn’t that withering once you actually know him? Can we mic him for every game? Why do I feel like I’d watch a half-hour show every week called Jay Cutler Mic’ed Up And More Sarcastic Than Ever? Of anyone after the Schaub Cutoff Line, he’s the one guy I could see slapping together a playoff run at some point. Just not this year. They’re not good enough.

(Of course, it’s also quite possible that God planted him on Earth to torture Bears fans … this can’t be ruled out.)

THE JOHNNY UTAH TIER

Movie: Point Break
Connection: “We’re starting to wonder if 88 percent of your perceived success might be that you have a memorable name.”

15. Tony Romo
Everything has been said about Romo. As for Johnny Utah, what are the odds that a bunch of bank-robbing surfers would have recognized him? If he was famous enough for them to recognize him, how could the FBI decide that he’s someone who should be working undercover? If he was that good in college, why didn’t he dominate the beach football game? Was there a more unlikely actor to play TWO famous college quarterbacks in different movies than Keanu Reeves? And yet, why did I find him strangely believable both times, like a slightly more athletic Scott Mitchell? Of the big stars who have played quarterbacks in sports movies, Reynolds was the most believable (by far), Jamie Foxx was right behind him, and then Brendan Fraser and Keanu were tied for third. Brendan Fraser and Keanu Reeves!

THE JOE KANE TIER

Movie: The Program
Connection: “Everything looks terrific on paper … so why is this movie limping along?”

16. Cam Newton
Randall Cunningham’s famous 1990 season that became immortalized in Tecmo Super Bowl forever and ever: 3,466 passing yards (30 TDs), 942 rushing yards (5 TDs).

Cam Newton’s “disappointing” 2012 season: 3,220 passing yards (16 TDs), 640 rushing yards (7 TDs) … and he has three games to go. Don’t sell your Cam rookie cards yet, please. It’s pretty tough to succeed as a QB without good coaching, a good front office or any weapons. That’s my expert opinion.

As for The Program, it’s a fairly unwatchable movie with truly bizarre casting (half the actors were 10 years too old for their parts) that ended up enduring from a pop culture standpoint because of Lattimer’s steroid abuse. How many people have made a Lattimer joke over the years about a real-life athlete who was either caught for cheating or clearly stopped cheating (because his body didn’t look the same anymore) and had his performance subsequently decline, followed by some sort of “Uh-oh, he might need to pull a Lattimer” joke? Hell, I just made one last weekend! (I won’t tell you the context.) And yes, this will always be the unintentionally funniest scene in a sports movie where they were trying to bang home the point that someone needed to cut down on the PEDs.

17. Joe Flacco
He’s submitting the most mundane contract year of all time — Baltimore’s fans wouldn’t freak out when he left, and no other team’s fans would celebrate if their team signed him.

(Cut to Arizona’s fans screaming, “Not true! NOT TRUE! We would throw Joe Flacco a parade!!!!!!!!!!”)

THE RIFLEMAN TIER

Movie: All the Right Moves
Connection: “I love the idea of you, even if the actual results have been mixed.”

18. Colin Kaepernick
He even plays like Rifleman, right? I loved Rifleman — we needed 20 more scenes with him. I still can’t believe that …

A. The All the Right Moves TV series never happened. It absolutely would have worked. Friday Night Lights crossed with a Pennsylvania steel town, basically. There’s still time.
B. Rifleman’s coach didn’t take the safety.7

THE MIKE WINCHELL TIER

Movie: Friday Night Lights
Connection: “Just manage the game for me, please.”

19a. Sam Bradford
19b. Alex Smith8
21. Andy Dalton

Fairly deep QB crew this season, right? You wouldn’t be despondent if any of these three guys were your QB … well, unless you kept one of them over Robert Griffin III. As for Lights, it remains a very good sports movie that was completely, totally and irrevocably overshadowed by the ensuing television show. They should rename it something else for cable purposes — call it something like Fourth and Long or Lone Star Football.

THE RENO HIGHTOWER TIER

Movie: The Best of Times9
Connection: “For whatever reason, this movie just ain’t working anymore.”

22. Philip Rivers
I knew Rivers hit rock bottom when this e-mail trickled into my mailbox last weekend (courtesy of Daniel in Tallahassee): “My friend is starting Brandon Weeden (Yes, that Brandon Weeden) over Phillip Rivers in the first round of our fantasy football playoffs. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN YOUR 2012 SAN DIEGO CHARGERS!” Yikes.

The case for trading for Rivers this offseason: Threw for nearly 13,000 yards, 92 TDs and just 33 picks from 2008 through 2010 … Norv Turner … you can call him “Phil” or “Philip” depending on what mood you’re in … just turned 31 years old … Norv Turner … despised by at least half of the AFC’s fan bases, so at the very least, you’d finally have a QB that other fans hated … Norv Turner … over the past four years, San Diego replaced LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Darren Sproles and Vincent Jackson with Ryan Mathews When He Stays Healthy, The Artist Formerly Known As Antonio Gates, Robert Meachem … Norv Turner … he’s trapped behind one of the worst offensive lines ever assembled … needs a change of scenery as much as any QB in recent memory … Norv Turner.

The case against trading for Rivers: Didn’t get it done in two different Round 2 home games with a 14-win team (2006) and a 13-win team (2009) … he’s thrown for 48 TDs and counting these past two years, but he’s also thrown 35 picks and fumbled 20 times … his crunch-time performances have been so excruciatingly bad that it’s actually surprising when he doesn’t screw up a game … ranks 30th in QBR this season (between Christian Ponder and Kevin Kolb) … his body language has been so consistently awful that I fully expect him to become the Lakers’ new starting point guard any day now.

The verdict: I still love the idea of a “Romo for Rivers” trade. Either it would rejuvenate both guys, or it would end up being this generation’s version of the watershed Dan Pastorini/Ken Stabler trade in 1980, when Oakland and Houston flipped their struggling starters and ended up with these comically bad results.

Stabler (16 starts): 3,202 yards, 13 TDs, 28 picks, 7 fumbles
Pastorini (5 starts): 932 yards, 5 TDs, 8 picks, 3 fumbles … broke his leg

Important note: That trade won the 1980 Raiders the Super Bowl! Jim Plunkett replaced Pastorini in Week 6, the Raiders took off and the rest was history. As I was I rereading Dr. Z’s excellent 1980 Sports Illustrated story about Stabler’s ugly return to Oakland — the Raiders blitzed the hell out of him — the following excerpt jumped out at me:

That night Pastorini was in the Oakland Hyatt House, where the Oilers were staying. He brooded. He got into a scuffle with Houston Post sportswriter Dale Robertson, whom he had jammed with last year, and wound up chasing him through the parking lot. ‘He never caught me,’ Robertson said. Pastorini got into his car. A few people tried to restrain him. Fifteen minutes later the car was wrapped around an elm tree in a residential neighborhood in Alameda, and Pastorini wound up in the hospital, getting his face stitched. He wasn’t in his usual spot behind the Raider bench Sunday, leading cheers.

(Please add that anecdote to your “Crazy sports stories from the ’70s and ’80s that would have been 100x more fun during the Twitter/sports-blog era” files. Thank you.)

THE TIM TEBOW TIER

Movie: Fourth & God II: God Willing
Connection: “In progress … “

23. Tim Tebow
Only last year, Tim Tebow took over a 1-4 football team, led it to the NFL playoffs and threw an 80-yard touchdown pass in overtime to win a nationally televised playoff game. I’m not giving up on a Fourth & God sequel yet. You can’t make me.

THE BIRD WILLIAMS TIER

10
Movie: Wildcats
Connection: “Definitely green, but there’s some undeniable potential here.”

24a. Jake Locker
24b. Ryan Tannehill
24c. Nick Foles

Of these three guys, I like Locker the most — he’s the third-best athlete at that position behind Griffin and Newton. Meanwhile, the “Tannehill vs. Foles” debate was so close that it could only be decided by fringe criteria like “Who has a hotter wife/girlfriend?” (I haven’t seen Mrs. Foles, but there’s no way she’s beating Mrs. Tannehill. Sorry.)

THE DAVID GREENE TIER

Movie: School Ties
Connection: “Well, at least you got into Harvard.”

27. Ryan Fitzpatrick
From a reader named Chris in Livonia: “Since the Jim Kelly/Marv Levy era, here have been Buffalo’s starting quarterbacks in chronological order: Todd Collins, Alex Van Pelt, Rob Johnson, Doug Flutie, Drew Bledsoe, J.P. Losman, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Likewise, here’s the Bills head coaches since then: Wade Phillips, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey. And let’s not forget that Brian Brohm started games at QB for the Bills and Perry Fewell was an interim coach. The last time this team made the postseason, I was in third grade, and I stand here before you a senior in college. What is the point in continuing with this sad sack of a franchise?”

(I … I don’t know.)

THE PAUL BLAKE TIER

Movie: Necessary Roughness
Connection: “You’re a little too old for this role and we both know it.”

28. Matt Hasselbeck
Some things you may or may not have known about Hasselbeck: He has thrown for close to 5,000 yards with 25 TDs and 19 picks in just 21 Tennessee starts (not bad, right?) … he’s 80-72 lifetime as a starter … he has won five playoff games … he’s thrown for 201 TDs (32nd all time) and his career TD/INT ratio is +54 … he’s thrown for almost 35,000 yards (21st all time) … he has the 42nd-highest QB rating of all time (82.2) … he’s played in three Pro Bowls (one more than our next guy) … and you could have talked me into sticking him seven spots higher if I had three more drinks in me.

29. Carson Palmer
Look, anytime you can trade a first-rounder and a second-rounder to go 7-15 with someone who last made the Pro Bowl midway through Dubya’s second term, you have to do it.

30. Brandon Weeden
The bad news: Advanced metrics aren’t his buddy. He’s 35th out of the 36 qualified QBs in QBR with a jaw-droppingly low 26.1 mark (that’s out of 100). His QB rating is a little better — 72.8, ranking him 32nd out of the 36 qualifiers. Football Outsiders gives him a minus-18.1 DVOA, with only five QBs doing worse. Throwing in his age (29) … I mean … none of this is good.

The good news: He’s 5-foot-8. Oh, he’s also nearly 10 points ahead of the Trudeau Line — something I created three years ago when I was trying to figure out a Mendoza Line for QBs. As I explained it at the time, “I wanted someone obscure; after all, nobody was more obscure than Mendoza. I wanted somebody bad. And I wanted a funny-sounding name. Well, who better than Jack Trudeau? Played for nine years, lost his first 11 starts, 42 TDs, 69 INTs, 103 sacks, never played in a playoff game, 63.3 lifetime QB rating. The Trudeau Line. Perfect.” Weeden isn’t even close to the Trudeau Line, Cleveland fans! Hold your heads high!

THE JAMIE O’HARA TIER

Movie: Rudy
Connection: “Sorry, I can’t separate all the baggage from the actual football performance right now. I just can’t.”

31. Mark Sanchez
Does Vince Vaughn’s post-Rudy career add to the rewatchability of Rudy or take away from it? I can’t be the only one who watches Rudy now half-expecting the QB to tell Rudy that he always has to double down on 11, or say “You wanna dance, Burgundy?” Same for Sanchez in New York — I can’t separate the baggage from the actual performance anymore.

My big question: Should Sanchez be higher or lower? Do we judge him by his four playoff wins, or by his jarringly bad 2012 season (29.1 QBR, -20.4 DVOA)? Didn’t the Jets screw him over by putting Tebow’s breath directly on his neck from April on? Has anyone been saddled with a lamer group of running backs and receivers? When I get snarky e-mails like this one (from Daniel in Cleveland) — “When Trent Dilfer told you that all the quarterbacks in the 2009 draft class would hand the keys over to Mark Sanchez to let him drive, do you think he meant as a newly employed chauffeur?” — are they fair or unfair? Would you call Sanchez “damaged goods” at this point, or does he just need a change of scenery?

My take: The Jets and Eagles were the two worst possible franchises for Sanchez’s specific 2012 experience. Even the kids who root for those teams are bitingly sarcastic. For instance, here’s an e-mail from Amnon in Bergenfield: “I took my kids to the Jets-Cardinals game. Early in the third quarter a safety announcement played over the PA. It said, ‘to report an issue at the stadium text 78247.’ My ten-year old daughter turns to me and deadpans, ‘Can we report that Sanchez sucks because it is a serious issue at this stadium?'” Anyway, I think he needs a change of scenery. The Raiders would be perfect for him. I’m serious.

THE SETH MAXWELL TIER

Movie: North Dallas Forty
Connection: “Everything looks fine except for this one gaping flaw … “

32. Kevin Kolb
33. Chad Henne
34. Matt Moore
35. Kyle Orton

All four guys have had, for lack of a better word, moments. And yet … you wouldn’t feel great if they were starting for your team, either. Oh, if you haven’t seen Forty, here was the flaw — Mac Davis played Nick Nolte’s QB even though he couldn’t have been more than 5-foot-7 in real life. And it’s never addressed! Nobody ever says anything like, “There’s never been a tiny scrambling QB like Maxwell!” or anything. We’re supposed to just pretend he’s not tiny. It’s the sports-movie equivalent of watching Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher.11

THE DODGE CONNELLY TIER

Movie: Leatherheads
Connection: “I have a sinking feeling that we’re going to pretend this movie never happened.”

36. Christian Ponder
37. Blaine Gabbert

What’s enough of a “Sorry, this guy sucks” sample size? Seems like we’re already there with Gabbert. And we’re getting there with Ponder even though he got destroyed by Percy Harvin’s injury — do you realize Minnesota’s best remaining receiving “threats” are Kyle Rudolph (45 catches, 412 yards, 8 TDs), Michael Jenkins (34 catches, 360 yards, 1 TD), Jerome Simpson (15 catches, 176 yards, 0 TDs) and Devin Aromashodu (11 catches, 182 yards, 0 TDs)? Even so, you’d think Adrian Peterson’s incredible season would at least allow Minnesota to successfully run 10 play-action passes per game, right? I’m more anti-Ponder than pro-Ponder, although I can see both sides. I just don’t think he’s that good. What’s his ultimate ceiling? Poor Man’s Rich Gannon?

Quick tangent: The 2011 draft was a good example of my Draft Cluster theory. Sometimes with the NBA draft or NFL draft, you end up with a glut of prospects at a certain position, with the sheer numbers getting everyone irrationally excited about the players within that group. And for whatever reason, that irrational excitement keeps going and going for years until everyone realizes, “Wait, what the hell just happened?” In 2011, Newton, Locker, Ponder, Dalton, Gabbert, Kaepernick and Ryan Mallett were all considered top-40 picks during a spring when an inordinate number of teams needed to hit the “reset” button at QB. Six went in the top 33 (with Mallet falling to Round 3) for the always-dangerous reason, “Everyone wants a QB this year; I need to get mine before they do.” (That’s how you ended up with moments like “J.J. Watt going one spot after Gabbert” and “Ryan Kerrigan going five picks after Ponder.”) From there, everyone just blindly thought these guys were going to produce — after all, THAT WAS AN AWESOME QB DRAFT, RIGHT???? You can’t say “Give Ponder and Gabbert more time because those were high draft picks” because the circumstances that led to those selections were fairly unique. You are who you are. And from what we’ve seen, there’s just no real evidence that either guy is very good. Anyway …

THE CAP ROONEY TIER

Movie: Any Given Sunday
Connection: “You’re barely, barely, barely, barely, barely, barely hanging on.”

37. Michael Vick
38. Brett Favre
39. Kurt Warner
40. John Elway

I’d rather have all four of these guys than any of the next ones — and that includes Elway. I don’t care if he’s 52. By the way, does anyone else watch the NFL Network waiting for Larry Fitzgerald to storm the set, tackle Kurt Warner and start whaling away at him while screaming, “YOU DITCHED ME! YOU RUINED MY LIFE! YOU RUINED MY LIFE!” Or is it just me?

THE JOHNNY WALKER TIER

Movie: Johnny Be Good
Connection: “Serious question: Was the producer drunk when he green-lit this movie?”

42. Brady Quinn
43. Matt Cassel

Did the geek from Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club actually play a hotly recruited high school quarterback who had Uma Thurman as his smoke-show girlfriend? Yessir. This actually happened.

I’m starting to wonder if Belichick winning 11 games with Matt Cassel was more impressive than all three Super Bowls. Meanwhile, a Denver reader named Marcus nailed Quinn’s situation: “Last year, one of your most insightful predictions was Romeo Crennel getting hired after a meaningless December hot streak, then providing easy betting fodder in 2012 as he returns to being Romeo Crennel. I can’t wait for this to happen again with Brady Quinn. Quinn had quite possibly his best game as a pro against Carolina two weeks ago (132 QB rating, got his coach to say things like “He is somewhat a born leader”). Now you have Mr. No Expectations looking to finish off a four game streak of glory against the Browns, Raiders and Broncos that will have Skip Bayless screaming ‘Brady Quinn is shining now that he has had a chance!’ and Scott Pioli giving him a Sanchez contract as his last hurrah. Next season — Brady Quinn returns to Brady Quinn. And bettors everywhere rejoice. Not that implausible right?”

(Shhhhhhhhh! Don’t jinx this!)

THE ROD TIDWELL’S ATTEMPTED INJURER TIER

Movie: Jerry Maguire
Connection: “Hey, who’s that dude who keeps throwing floaters over the middle to Arizona’s best receiver and repeatedly trying to concuss him?”
12

44. John Skelton
45. Ryan Lindley

It’s been one of the most incredible Bad QB runs we’ve ever seen — combined, they’ve notched 14 interceptions, six fumbles, 24 sacks, four TAINTS (touchdowns after interceptions), one FART (fumble and returned touchdown) and just two passing TDs. By any conceivable metric, they’ve been historically atrocious: QB rating (55.4 for Skelton, 42.6 for Lindley), QBR (13.9 for Skelton, an incredible 6.8 for Lindley) and especially DVOA (-35.7 percent for Skelton, -64.9 percent for Lindley). They’ve also destroyed poor Fitzgerald’s career … and he was only headed toward becoming one of the three best receivers of all time before this happened.

Fitzgerald’s last seven games: 21 catches, 222 yards, one TD
Fitzgerald’s previous 130 games: 729 catches, 10,045 yards, 76 TDs

Fact: In Fitzgerald’s last four games, he was targeted 37 times … and caught six passes. SIX!

So what are we watching here? Could this be the most dire quarterbacking situation in the modern history of football? The short answer … NO! It’s not even close. Dan Pastorini threw two TDs and 14 picks by himself in 1981. In a two-year span from 1975 to 1976, the great Joe Namath threw 19 TDs and 44 picks. In 1988, Vinny Testaverde threw 13 TDs and 35 picks. In 1999, Jake Plummer threw 9 TDs and 24 picks. In 1987, Mark Malone threw 6 TDs and 19 picks. In 1986, the great Jack Trudeau went 0-11 for the Colts with 8 TDs and 18 picks. And those aren’t even the A-list examples from after the AFL/NFL merger in 1970.

• In 1970, Joe Kapp threw 3 TDs and 17 picks for my beloved Patriots, going 1-9 and finishing with an impossible 32.6 QB rating.

• In 1998, Bobby Hoying started 7 games, threw 0 TDs and 9 picks, got sacked 35 times and became the first QB to throw 160 or more passes without throwing a touchdown pass.

• The three QBs for the 1974 Falcons (Bob Lee, Pat Sullivan, Kim McQuilken) finished with 4 touchdown passes, 31 picks, 50 sacks and a collective 27.8 QB rating

• My favorite example, if only because I had my “Sports Guy” column by then and they provided such endless comedic fodder: In 1998, Craig Whelihan and Ryan Leaf double-handedly ruined a potentially good Chargers season by combining for 10 TDs, 34 picks, 37 sacks and a 44.0 QB rating over the course of 16 unbearable weeks.13 That’s still the gold standard for me.

Then again, Lindley and Skelton have three more games left, including two against fearsome defenses playing for a playoff spot (Chicago and San Francisco). Could they leapfrog the imaginary Whelihan/Leaf line? Could they finish with something crazy like three TDs and 25 INTs? Is all of this leading to Fitzgerald running a deep sideline route, then saying “Screw it” and just continuing to run toward the tunnel, never to be seen again? And how bad would it have to get for Hollywood to make a sports movie about it someday? I just hope it’s better than Leatherheads or Johnny Be Good.

Filed Under: NFL, Series, Sports, The Sports Guy

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Bill Simmons is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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