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NFL QB Index, Week 15: Tom Brady-Aaron Rodgers MVP race? Kyler Murray, Justin Herbert still viable

Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers feels like an MVP race straight out of 2011. Or 2020. The more things change at quarterback in the NFL, the more the top looks the same as ever.

Four weeks is a long time in an MVP race, so be wary of anyone making confidently declarative statements until it's all over. It was around this point in the 2010 season when Michael Vick was being talked up over Brady; Vick wound up crashing and not getting a vote.

Still, I've mentally crossed off everyone else except Kyler Murray, Cooper Kupp and possibly Justin Herbert if he lights the league on fire over the next month, starting Thursday night. Brady has played the best overall this season, hence the ranking below. But it's not like he's been much better, if at all, compared to a year ago when he wasn't even considered. The field came back to him.

Rodgers is playing out of his mind over the last month, and Murray's level in his 10 starts this season remains so extraordinary that I haven't closed the door on him stealing it at the end. The MVP race feels like the league as a whole in 2021: There may be no truly dominant teams or MVP candidates, but they are still giving out the same trophies in February, so you may as well try to win a few.

NOTE: Up/down arrows illustrate movement from the Week 14 QB Index. Rankings include each team's starting quarterback from the previous game, based solely on 2021 play.

Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · Year 22

2021 stats: 13 games | 68.2 pct | 4,134 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 36 pass TD | 10 INT | 68 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 3 fumbles

Brady chastised himself after the Bucs' OT win, saying that his missed throws let the Bills back in the game. He wasn't wrong, but that ignores his crazy-good ball location in the first half, like on the touchdown to Mike Evans. Brady is in quarterback heaven, with his offensive line peaking and his receivers making difficult grabs look routine. Brady threw it 46 times for 349 yards and two scores against the league's best pass defense, so it's tough to grade him too harshly, even though the Bucs barely moved the ball in the second half. He might cruise to the finish line if he can survive Dennis Allen's Saints defense this week

Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · Year 17

2021 stats: 12 games | 67.3 pct | 3,219 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 27 pass TD | 4 INT | 76 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 3 fumbles

After Tom Brady capped the late-afternoon window with an overtime score, it felt like it was Rodgers' turn to answer on Sunday Night Football. His third-and-18 creation to Allen Lazard, 38-yard score to Davante Adams and the 23-yard teardrop touchdown to Aaron Jones were as pretty a troika of passes I've seen all season. And it's not like Rodgers' other 33 throws were ugly. When the Packers called an RPO late in the game on the goal line, there was no question Rodgers was going to throw it. He knows stats matter, he knows he has a chance for MVP and he knows Adams is going to win one-on-one. His last three games rival any stretch by a quarterback all season.

Kyler Murray
Arizona Cardinals · Year 3

2021 stats: 10 games | 71.6 pct | 2,782 pass yds | 8.7 ypa | 19 pass TD | 9 INT | 267 rush yds | 5 rush TD | 10 fumbles

A few mistakes Monday night will leave a mark in the Cardinals' chances of earning the No. 1 seed and Murray winning the MVP. Tipped passes were a theme, and the closing offensive sequence showed a team that still needs work in situational football. Then again, did you see the plays Murray pulled off? Every other completion was art. DeAndre Hopkins dropped a fourth-down pass in the red zone and James Conner missed a hole on another fourth-and-short, or it would have been a different game. K1 accounted for 405 yards of offense, 49 more than the entire Rams team. It was a crazy game and the Cardinals got beat by a very good division opponent. It happens. 

Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers · Year 2

2021 stats: 13 games | 67.1 pct | 3,822 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 30 pass TD | 11 INT | 268 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 1 fumble

This new quarterback generation is expanding the position's limits. I'd include Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray and Josh Allen in this group, but Herbert's arm may be the most absurd. The wildest part of Herbert's Throw of the Year candidate to Jalen Guyton is that his left tackle was beaten immediately, forcing Herbert to sprint right and reset before launching the ball and taking a hit. On a similarly gorgeous throw across his body to Josh Palmer in the third quarter, the Chargers' play call asked for a moving pocket. That's a play that simply couldn't be in most playbooks. 

Matthew Stafford
Los Angeles Rams · Year 13

2021 stats: 13 games | 67.3 pct | 3,898 pass yds | 8.3 ypa | 33 pass TD | 9 INT | 39 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 3 fumbles

Stafford was unconscious Monday night, setting up the Cardinals early with jab after jab to Cooper Kupp before unfurling an air assault later on. It was his best game as a Ram, which should probably go without saying. Stafford combined clear decision-making all night with unreal accuracy at every level. Whether the performance portends a Brady 2020-like December sprint remains to be seen, but it's a win that changes the shape of this Rams season.

Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · Year 4

2021 stats: 13 games | 65.8 pct | 3,524 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 28 pass TD | 11 INT | 531 rush yds | 4 rush TD | 7 fumbles

Bruce Arians, master of the backhanded compliment even after a win, said the Bills did a "heck of a job" with their designed QB runs before noting he wouldn't put his quarterback in harm's way that much, and Allen was nicked up. Despite tests on Allen's ankle, he was able to finish the game and was still running incredibly fast after his injury. He's day-to-day.

I've been begging for the Bills to run Allen more with the playoffs close, and he was like prime Cam with 109 yards rushing and 308 yards passing (on 54 throws!) during the Bills' frantic comeback. A few off-target throws -- including his failed third-down attempt in overtime -- shouldn't detract much from a day where Allen carried his team. After the blitz fooled Allen so often early in the game, he adjusted like a veteran and made some throws with anticipation he couldn't have made a few years ago. Is he about to take off?

Joe Burrow
Cincinnati Bengals · Year 2

2021 stats: 13 games | 68.8 pct | 3,483 pass yds | 8.4 ypa | 25 pass TD | 14 INT | 72 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 5 fumbles

The pinkie is just fine. Burrow piloted my favorite drive of the season, down seven points with 2:40 to go against San Francisco. Burrow's final two throws in regulation were so good that I wanted Zac Taylor to go for two points because Joe Burrow in that moment could do anything. That is not a Zac Taylor decision, but going run-run-pass once the team entered field goal range in overtime fits right in. Burrow's bad games are never that bad and his good games rival some of the best starts from the big names below. I try to rank these guys based on the entire season, not be a prisoner of the moment. But the tie goes to the guy playing his best lately, like Burrow does, even when his team loses. 

Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders · Year 8

2021 stats: 13 games | 68.3 pct | 3,926 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 18 pass TD | 10 INT | 97 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 9 fumbles

I expected to drop Carr further in the rankings, then I watched the Chiefs game and wondered what else he could do. His teammates lost three fumbles and dropped another ball that turned into an interception. There were a few times K.C. defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo forced Carr to hold the ball too long, but mostly the Vegas offensive line was bodied. It has to be frustrating for Raiders fans to watch sideways passes when they are trailing by 29 points, but Carr usually didn't have any options. I don't think Carr has played much differently this season than a year ago when he finished ranked No. 12 in the QB Index; the field is just worse. 

Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · Year 6

2021 stats: 12 games | 67.9 pct | 3,381 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 24 pass TD | 10 INT | 106 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 9 fumbles

Prescott was part of the Cowboys' offensive problems for weeks, but his big throws made up for it. On Sunday, he was the problem. There were a lot of poor decisions and there were also just some inaccurate throws, like his first interception. He's not taking running lanes when they are available and his timing was off in one of his worst career starts. He's undeniably pressing, a long way from when he owned the No. 1 spot in these rankings.

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · Year 5

2021 stats: 13 games | 65.5 pct | 3,642 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 27 pass TD | 12 INT | 270 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 7 fumbles

Mahomes packed a lot into his 24 throws in Sunday's blowout of the Raiders. He led the Chiefs on six straight scoring drives, including four touchdowns in the first half. He had one of the throws of the season on a third-and-17, when he sprinted to his left toward one sideline, stopped, reared back and chucked a ball all the way to the numbers on the other side, 38 yards down the field. He stayed in rhythm, in the pocket, and thought better of forcing a few red-zone throws. Now he just has to do it against a team other than the Raiders.

Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings · Year 10

2021 stats: 13 games | 66.9 pct | 3,569 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 27 pass TD | 5 INT | 89 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 7 fumbles

At one point Thursday night, Cousins was having the worst game of his otherwise exemplary season and the Vikings were still leading 29-0. Then it got worse. It should not be forgotten that Cousins threw two fourth-quarters dimes -- the touchdown to K.J. Osborne and the third down to Dalvin Cook -- without which Minnesota may not have won. But he was all over the place in the first three quarters, and the interception he threw with five minutes left may have shortened Mike Zimmer's life expectancy.

Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · Year 4

2021 stats: 12 games | 64.4 pct | 2,882 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 16 pass TD | 13 INT | 767 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 6 fumbles

Lamar played just 10 snaps against the Browns before hurting his ankle Sunday. He's never missed a start to injury, only illness, so that's the most snaps he's ever missed with an injury since becoming a starter midway through the 2018 season. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Lamar remains "day to day" on Wednesday, leaving his status for Sunday's game against the Packers up in the air. The Ravens appeared to be nearing the point of no return with injuries ... until they almost won without Lamar. Baltimore is the most unpredictable team in football in this home stretch.

Mac Jones
New England Patriots · Rookie

2021 stats: 13 games | 70.3 pct | 2,869 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 16 pass TD | 8 INT | 68 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 5 fumbles

The notion that the Patriots don't fully trust Jones is laughable. No rookie quarterback has the same responsibilities at the line of scrimmage. He's running the offense. He threw the ball 40 times in the rain against Tom Brady in his fourth career start. He threw it 32 times for 310 yards against the Titans in Week 12 because New England's running game didn't work. The Patriots will ask a lot out of Jones in the coming weeks.

Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks · Year 10

2021 stats: 10 games | 66.6 pct | 2,302 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 16 pass TD | 4 INT | 141 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 5 fumbles

In Week 13, we all tried to convince ourselves Russell Wilson was finally back after a Seahawks win. In Week 14, it was the truth. Russ dug the Seahawks out of a lot of third-and-longs with big plays to Tyler Lockett. He got rid of the ball quickly, mixing efficiency and a scattering of big-time throws. Wilson's trade value was already going to be sky high, but a month more of games like this wouldn't hurt.

Carson Wentz
Indianapolis Colts · Year 6

2021 stats: 13 games | 63.3 pct | 2,948 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 22 pass TD | 5 INT | 167 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 7 fumbles

I did not expect the Colts to be one of the most fascinating teams to track entering the final quarter of the season. Wentz has exceeded expectations overall, but now he faces back-to-back games against the Patriots and Cardinals, which will test how far he's come in Frank Reich's offense. The Wentz of 2019-2020 would inevitably make a handful of killer mistakes against such quality competition. I have no idea what will happen in 2021.

Ryan Tannehill
Tennessee Titans · Year 10

2021 stats: 13 games | 65.7 pct | 2,965 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 14 pass TD | 13 INT | 225 rush yds | 6 rush TD | 7 fumbles

The first year of QB Index, I chronicled the great rookie class of 2012 every week. Tannehill was the forgotten man of that group behind RG3, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, but he was better than expected as a rookie. I wrote at that season's conclusion that I "expect him to at least be a solid NFL starting quarterback."

Nine seasons later, with two of the names above him in those rookie rankings now retired, Tannehill still stands tall in the pocket, taking massive hits on completions and incompletions alike. I'm often surprised when he gets up. It sounds condescending to say I'm proud of Tannehill, but this season has shown a lot. With no speed outside or pass protection around him, he's held up far better than his numbers suggest, elevating his teammates. He's a solid NFL starting quarterback.

Matt Ryan
Atlanta Falcons · Year 14

2021 stats: 13 games | 68.1 pct | 3,104 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 17 pass TD | 11 INT | 48 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 8 fumbles

Anyone reading QB Index each week a) has a problem and b) knows I admire this resourceful version of Matt Ryan. Arthur Smith and Ryan are making the most of an offense built around Cordarrelle Patterson, Russell Gage, Kyle Pitts and a leaky offensive line. With that compliment out of the way, Ryan is approaching the late-career Peyton Manning/Chad Pennington line where his lack of deep arm strength becomes difficult to overcome.

Teddy Bridgewater
Denver Broncos · Year 8

2021 stats: 13 games | 67.6 pct | 2,954 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 18 pass TD | 7 INT | 96 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 1 fumble

Teddy wasn't required to do much against Detroit. Denver ran the ball 18 times in their first 23 plays on the way to an early 14-0 lead. One pretty throw to Noah Fant and a lot of short completions later, Bridgewater led the Broncos to their seventh win of the season. Five of them weren't close!

Jimmy Garoppolo
San Francisco 49ers · Year 8

2021 stats: 12 games | 66.7 pct | 2,937 pass yds | 8.4 ypa | 17 pass TD | 8 INT | 43 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 6 fumbles

Wow them in the end, and you have a hit. This was an average Jimmy G game -- at best -- until his overtime drive, which he nearly didn't get after trying to throw a pick-six late in regulation. Still, that was one sweet drive. He was on time, finding the right receivers and snuck a third-and-5 into a small hole to George Kittle before the game-winner. The drive kick-started with a rare deep throw outside the numbers to Jauan Jennings. When the 49ers get that from Garoppolo, they can beat anyone.

Tua Tagovailoa
Miami Dolphins · Year 2

2021 stats: 9 games | 70.9 pct | 1,945 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 12 pass TD | 6 INT | 69 rush yd | 3 rush TD | 4 fumbles

The Dolphins building an offense out of what Tua does well shouldn't be seen as an indictment of Tua. It's a credit to the coaching staff and the second-year quarterback that they have built a capable attack despite the league's worst offensive line and a poor running game. Tua's limitations this season do not guarantee limitations forever. For an example of how a quarterback can improve significantly from year to year, check out the rising decision-making and timing from an up-and-comer named Tua Tagovailoa.

Jalen Hurts
Philadelphia Eagles · QB

2021 stats: 12 games | 60.1 pct | 2,435 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 13 pass TD | 8 INT | 695 rush yds | 8 rush TD | 6 fumbles

This is a big month for Hurts' future. He can earn a playoff trip and potentially a 2021 starting job with a strong finish. Barring a collapse, however, this year is already a success for Hurts personally because it's set up a long and lucrative career.

Baker Mayfield
Cleveland Browns · Year 4

2021 stats: 12 games | 62.8 pct | 2,603 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 13 pass TD | 7 INT | 107 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 6 fumbles

Baker wasn't bad against the Ravens, but we are grading against a lower bar now. The Browns got three points off a bad PI call and seven more from Myles Garrett, so the offense only scored 14 points otherwise, none on their final six drives. ESPN's Dan Orlovsky believed it was Baker's worst game seeing the field post-snap in years. If a play isn't schemed up for Mayfield lately, it's not happening. And now he's in the COVID-19 protocol.

Ben Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh Steelers · QB

2021 stats: 12 games | 65.3 pct | 3,066 pass yds | 6.7 ypa | 19 pass TD | 7 INT | 10 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 9 fumbles

Roethlisberger has enjoyed two of his best games of the season in successive weeks. He might have done even better last Thursday night if his offensive line -- especially rookie center Kendrick Green -- wasn't scrambled beyond repair to handle the pressures Mike Zimmer sent. The Steelers are averaging 23.3 points per game in their last six outings, with the offense amazingly holding up its end of the bargain more than the defense.

Taylor Heinicke
Washington Football Team · Year 4

2021 stats: 13 games | 66.5 pct | 2,931 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 19 pass TD | 12 INT | 297 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 6 fumbles

A game like Sunday's against Dallas was probably inevitable. At one point, Heinicke was 2-of-12 for 19 yards and a pick. The Cowboys dropped at least three potential interceptions, getting their hands on more Heinicke passes in the first 25 minutes than the quarterback's Washington Football Teammates. Heinicke doesn't have a safe mode.

Jared Goff
Detroit Lions · Year 6

2021 stats: 12 games | 66.2 pct | 2,791 pass yds | 6.4 ypa | 14 pass TD | 8 INT | 87 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 9 fumbles

It turns out Detroit isn't built to play from behind on an afternoon when seven players were activated from the practice squad because so many Lions were sick with either COVID-19 or a non-COVID illness. If nothing else, I admire Dan Campbell's willingness to make the final score look worse by continuing to trust Goff's arm on fourth down.

Justin Fields
Chicago Bears · Rookie

2021 stats: 11 games | 57.6 pct | 1,585 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 6 pass TD | 10 INT | 385 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 10 fumbles

Matt Nagy's play-calling was on point early on Sunday night, creating some schemed-up big plays for the Bears' offense. Fields handled pressure better overall, mostly avoiding hits and making good decisions on when to run, racking up 74 rushing yards. If his pass protection is that bad each week, however, it's going to be a difficult final month. 

Taysom Hill
New Orleans Saints · Year 5

2021 stats: 9 games | 58.6 pct | 495 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 2 pass TD | 5 INT | 278 rush yds | 5 rush TD | 2 fumbles

Hill's injured middle finger impacted his throws early Sunday and may have caused a fumble, but he settled down in the second half against the Jets. More importantly, the combination of Alvin Kamara's return and Hill's running ability is a lot to handle on the ground, especially in short-yardage situations. Taysom has rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns over the last two weeks.

Cam Newton
Carolina Panthers · Year 11

2021 stats: 4 games | 58.7 pct | 467 pass yds | 6.2 ypa | 3 pass TD | 3 INT | 112 rush yds | 4 rush TD | 2 fumbles

I would describe two of Cam's three starts as fine and the other (against the Dolphins in Week 12) as a fiasco. Newton's pick-six on Sunday, along with his removal for P.J. Walker in hurry-up situations, overshadowed the fact the Panthers' offense moved the ball well the rest of the day, especially when Newton ran. He started 6-of-8 for 87 yards. This Cam return could only have worked if Carolina's defense were special, and it clearly isn't.

Trevor Lawrence
Jacksonville Jaguars · Rookie

2021 stats: 13 games | 58.2 pct | 2,735 pass yds | 5.9 ypa | 9 pass TD | 14 INT | 243 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 7 fumbles

The 2021 No. 1 overall draft pick has two touchdowns in seven games since the Jaguars' Week 7 bye. One of those came in the waning moments of a matchup with Geno Smith's Seahawks while trailing 24-0. Lawrence has topped 6.0 YPA one time over that span, and his early-season trait of avoiding sacks is no longer a thing. He's having one of those rookie quarterback seasons that rookie quarterbacks aren't supposed to have anymore, and it's especially depressing to watch because it's getting worse. 

Davis Mills
Houston Texans · Rookie

2021 stats: 9 games | 65.8 pct | 1,737 pass yds | 6.4 ypa | 8 pass TD | 8 INT | 27 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 4 fumbles

We are reaching the point of the season -- over 300 dropbacks for Mills -- where it's OK to admit he's looked as good as or better than Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson. Mills' highs have weirdly been higher, including the start against the Patriots in Week 5 and the first half of last week's Seahawks game, where he started 14-of-14 for 150 yards, including many downfield throws. Mills vs. Lawrence for AFC South rookie quarterback supremacy arrives Sunday

Mike Glennon
New York Giants · Year 8

2021 stats: 3 games | 53.3 pct | 574 pass yds | 5.5 ypa | 3 pass TD | 4 INT | 9 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 2 fumbles

Glennon throwing the ball 80 times over two weeks is probably not what Freddie Kitchens envisioned for his return to play-calling. I'm just going to say it: Mike Glennon is not the Giants' quarterback of the future. 

Zach Wilson
New York Jets · Rookie

2021 stats: 9 games | 56.1 pct | 1,741 pass yds | 6.1 ypa | 6 pass TD | 11 INT | 58 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 3 fumbles

You can almost see Wilson thinking before he throws the ball. He is missing the easy ones in the pocket when he's protected and drifting forever backward when he's not. Those rookie moments aren't balanced by the kinds of fun plays that show off his talent. On days like Sunday -- when the Jets had 62 yards in their first 25 dropbacks, despite strong pass protection -- I find myself wondering if Wilson should even be playing. His receivers' reactions after some throws indicate the same mindset. 

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter.

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