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QB Index: Divisional Round QBs ranked by who you'd want for next three seasons

Now that the 2020 NFL regular season is over, editors Ali Bhanpuri, Tom Blair, Gennaro Filice and Dan Parr will be focusing the QB Index exclusively on the surviving playoff quarterbacks, limiting the field this week to the eight quarterbacks who still have a role to play in the story of the 2020 campaign. And while the regular-season rankings attempted to take into account both in-season production and past history to create a holistic hierarchy of every starting QB in the game, the rankings for the Divisional Round were made according to one simple question: Which QB would you most want to build around over the next three years, beginning with the 2021 season? Balancing both 2020 production and broader NFL (and postseason) track records, this ranking reflects the quarterbacks we'd choose to anchor a franchise in the near future.

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · Year 4

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 1 | Blair: 1 | Filice: 1 | Parr: 1

2020 stats: 15 games | 66.3 pct | 4,740 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 38 pass TD | 6 INT | 308 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost

Next game: vs. Cleveland Browns | Sunday, Jan. 17 at 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS, CBS All Access, ESPN Deportes)

Parr: This should register among the easiest calls to make in QB Index history. Mahomes might have cost himself a second MVP trophy with a finish to the regular season that wasn't up to his usual standard (a passer rating below 100 since Week 12, gasp). That said, anyone who would choose a different player for the top spot in this exercise is either being disingenuous or horribly misguided.

Mahomes is already well on his way to G.O.A.T. status. He ranks first in win-loss record (42-9), pass yards per game (306.4), pass yards per attempt (8.4), touchdown-to-interception ratio (127:26) and passer rating (108.5) among quarterbacks who have made at least 15 starts since 1970, per NFL Research.

And he's 25 years old. So, the most mind-blowing part of all of this is that his prime years are still ahead of him. There's a reason the Chiefs were willing to sign him to the richest contract in sports history last summer. It was smart business to hand him half a billion dollars over the next decade.

There's no doubt about who projects as the NFL's QB1 for the foreseeable future.

Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · Year 16

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 2 | Blair: 2 | Filice: 4 | Parr: 2

2020 stats: 16 games | 70.7 pct | 4,299 pass yds | 8.2 ypa | 48 pass TD | 5 INT | 149 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost

Next game: vs. Los Angeles Rams | Saturday, Jan. 16 at 4:35 p.m. ET (FOX, FOX Deportes)

Parr: Rodgers acknowledges, at 37 years old, that the clock is ticking, and more loudly than ever after the arrival of Jordan Love via a first-round pick last April. But no one played the position better than Rodgers in 2020.

He just became the only player in NFL history with 45 or more pass TDs and five or fewer INTs in a single season. He's the first player in the past 10 seasons to lead the NFL outright in pass TDs (48) and passer rating (121.5, second-best mark of all time to his own record of 122.5 set in 2011). Think of all the amazing QB play we've seen in the past decade, and yet Rodgers still found a way to do something we hadn’t seen over that span.

Back to the age thing. It's no longer unusual for top quarterbacks to play at a high level into their early 40s. He could even change teams and continue to make mincemeat of defenses if the Packers decide to hand the reins to Love at some point in the next three years -- if Tom Brady can do it, so can Aaron!

The gap between Mahomes and Rodgers is a lot wider than the one between Rodgers and Josh Allen/Lamar Jackson on this list, but there are no signs of the decline some were predicting for the soon-to-be three-time MVP.

Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · Year 3

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 4 | Blair: 4 | Filice: 2 | Parr: 3

2020 stats: 16 games | 69.2 pct | 4,544 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 37 pass TD | 10 INT | 421 rush yds | 8 rush TD | 6 fumbles lost

Next game: vs. Baltimore Ravens | Saturday, Jan. 16 at 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC, Universo)

Blair: There is probably only one quarterback on this list (or currently in our universe) who I'd want for ANY situation, and Allen isn't that person at this point. But that's OK. Because I'm not dropping him into an existing system or surrounding him with a talent-poor roster. I'm building AROUND him -- which means I can just copy what the Bills did.

Unlike the QBs from Allen's class who have struggled (or the vast majority of discarded young QBs, for that matter), Allen has played for the same head coach (Sean McDermott) and offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll), with the same general manager (Brandon Beane) running the front office, for all three years of his career. Allen's had time to grow and learn, while the McDermott-Daboll-Beane triad has had time to implement a plan to magnify Allen's strengths and minimize his weaknesses. This increases my confidence that Allen's 2020 breakout is not an out-of-nowhere surprise but rather a true blossoming, the best-case scenario for developing a highly drafted quarterback in an era when it's practically impossible to let someone learn on the bench. Consider how Allen's steady year-to-year improvement has tracked with the increasing quality of his top receiving target each season (per Next Gen Stats):

2018: Zay Jones, 67 targets; 74.5 passer rating when targeting Jones.

2019: John Brown, 110 targets; 103.7 passer rating when targeting Brown.

2020: Stefon Diggs, 166 targets; 115.4 passer rating when targeting Diggs.

The Bills are clearly giving him what he needs to thrive, in both supporting talent and coaching. There's still a bit of chaotic energy to Allen's game that might always make him a bit turnover-prone, but sign me up for three more seasons of a burgeoning dynamo who can burn you with his legs and his arm.

Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · Year 3

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 3 | Blair: 3 | Filice: 3 | Parr: 4

2020 stats: 15 games | 64.4 pct | 2,757 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 26 pass TD | 9 INT | 1,005 rush yds | 7 rush TD | 4 fumbles lost

Next game: at Buffalo Bills | Saturday, Jan. 16 at 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC, Universo)

Blair: Like Allen, Jackson is ensconced in stability and continuity, blessed with the gift of playing his whole career thus far with a coach and front office that know how to use him. And it was very difficult for me to pick between the two -- to me, they are functionally tied in terms of three-year outlook. For now, I'll give the edge personally to the man with the MVP award. Jackson's passing production took a bit of a hit this season, but he's still a game-wrecking force with the power to manufacture wins more or less by himself, and there just aren't that many people you can say that about in the scope of human history.

I realize one might have concerns about the long-term health of the first quarterback to log consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, or about his ability to eventually adapt his game when his speed starts to decline. But drop those worries off the nearest cliff. First, Jackson is still only going to be turning 27 years old at the end of our three-season imaginary building window. Second, he seems to have a knack for avoiding cringe-inducing contact. Third, he's demonstrated enough promise as a passer (he's also the only player to ever log two seasons with 600-plus rushing yards, 1,000-plus passing yards, a passer rating of 90 or better and a completion percentage over 63) to suggest he might be able to grow and adjust his approach as needed down the road.

Ultimately, though, the chief argument in Jackson's favor is that my blurb could have consisted entirely of links to both this highlight and this highlight.

Baker Mayfield
Cleveland Browns · Year 3

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 6 | Blair: 5 | Filice: 5 | Parr: 5

2020 stats: 16 games | 62.8 pct | 3,563 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 26 pass TD | 8 INT | 165 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 4 fumbles lost

Next game: at Kansas City Chiefs | Sunday, Jan. 17 at 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS, CBS All Access, ESPN Deportes)

Bhanpuri: As the lone evaluator to rank Baker Mayfield behind Tom Brady in this exercise, it's fitting both passers landed in my writing rotation this week. I know I'll likely become persona non grata in the Dawg Pound for suggesting a 25-year-old former No. 1 overall pick doesn't have as bright a short-term outlook as a 43-year-old fit for the History Channel, but for as well as Baker has played, I still can't quite shake the lingering concern that the dreaded decision-making errors from early in his career could return en masse. (I accept that might be more my problem than his.) Since entering the league in 2018, Mayfield is tied for the most giveaways per start (1.2) of any quarterback with at least 30 starts. (Brady, by comparison, has averaged 0.7.)

That said, Baker's undoubtedly undergone a noticeable transformation since teaming with coach Kevin Stefanski, logging eight turnover-free outings this season -- as many as he had in 2018 and '19 combined. Five of those eight, including last week's gritty wild-card performance, came after the team's Week 9 bye. During that stretch, Cleveland went on a 7-2 run to earn its first Divisional Round appearance since the '94 season. If this new-and-improved Mayfield is indeed here to stay (Stefanski's scheme should play a major role in making this happen), then congrats to Browns fans worldwide: You've got yourself a true franchise quarterback. Wouldn't be the first time Baker has made me look silly.

Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · Year 21

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 5 | Blair: 6 | Filice: 6 | Parr: 6

2020 stats: 16 games | 65.7 pct | 4,633 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 40 pass TD | 12 INT | 6 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 1 fumble lost

Next game: at New Orleans Saints | Sunday, Jan. 17 at 6:40 p.m. ET (FOX, FOX Deportes) 

Bhanpuri: If the rules of this arbitrary exercise allowed for it, I would've ranked Josh Allen 4A and Tom Brady 4B. That's how confident I am in the 43-year-old's short-term prospects. I can hear the hate already: His lack of mobility makes him a liability. Is that so? His arm is shot. Oh yeah? He won't succeed without Bill Belichick. OK. He's old. … That one's true. Like all the G.O.A.T.s, Brady is a master at using slights -- both of the perceived and manufactured variety -- to squeeze the most out of his ability. And with seemingly few slights left to settle, he might just resort to using his own words as motivation to extend his career through his age-46 season.

Hard to believe, but Brady -- winner of 10-plus games in 17 consecutive seasons (excluding the torn ACL year) -- might actually be underrated right now. His 126.9 passer rating over the Bucs' final four regular-season games is his highest mark to close out a campaign in his 21-year career -- by 10.7 points! He's also rediscovered his deep ball, posting the most touchdowns (seven) and second-highest completion percentage above expected (19.3%) on passes of 20-plus air yards since Week 12, per Next Gen Stats. So, no, I'm not concerned about his age or how his body will hold up. In fact, I expect Brady to be better next year, considering how much continuity affects a QB's success. Sign me up for another three years of elite quarterbacking from No. 12. I'll gladly gamble on Years 2 and 3 for a shot at Super Bowl LVI.

Jared Goff
Los Angeles Rams · Year 5

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 7 | Blair: 7 | Filice: 7 | Parr: 7

2020 stats: 15 games | 67 pct | 3,952 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 20 pass TD | 13 INT | 99 rush yds | 4 rush TD | 4 fumbles lost

Next game: at Green Bay Packers | Saturday, Jan. 16 at 4:35 p.m. ET (FOX, FOX Deportes)

Filice: Exactly 500 days ago, the Rams handed Goff the biggest guarantee in NFL history: $110 million on a four-year, $134 million extension. This came seven months after a Super Bowl appearance and three months after Sean McVay dismissed any concerns about ongoing contract negotiations in declarative fashion: "Any of the things or narratives that are out there -- Jared Goff, as long as I'm fortunate enough to be in this role, hopefully this guy is stuck with me for a long time." Hm. Exactly how long is a long time? Because in the wake of two lackluster regular seasons from Goff, new narratives are out there -- except this time, the calls appear to be coming from inside the house. Twelve days after Goff's late-December thumb surgery, McVay chose to start former undrafted free-agent signee John Wolford over the former No. 1 overall pick in last week's wild-card game. After Wolford was knocked out of the game in the first quarter, Goff retook the reins and the Rams prevailed, 30-20. In the postgame, Goff expressed his displeasure with starting the day on the bench to NFL Media's Michael Silver. Now Goff's officially back in the saddle for Saturday's Divisional Round game at Green Bay. As for the quarterback's relationship with his head coach? According to Silver, "It's complicated."

Drew Brees
New Orleans Saints · Year 20

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 8 | Blair: 8 | Filice: 8 | Parr: 8

2020 stats: 12 games | 70.5 pct | 2,942 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 24 pass TD | 6 INT | -2 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost

Next game: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Sunday, Jan. 17 at 6:40 p.m. ET (FOX, FOX Deportes)

Filice: Happy 42nd birthday, Drew! Nobody wants you anymore! I kid. Brees' unanimous placement at the bottom of this list isn't exactly a slight to the future first-ballot Hall of Famer. Everyone knows why he's here. Just ask NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, who said this past Sunday, "I have yet to talk to one person who believes that Drew Brees will play in 2021." So, yeah, that kinda quashes the idea of banking on Brees' next three years -- well, unless you're NBC Sports. If this is indeed Brees' last hurrah, can he ride off into the sunset with a second Lombardi Trophy in tow? In Sunday night's Divisional Round finale, he'll have to get past 43-year-old Tom Brady in the first ever playoff matchup between quadragenarian quarterbacks, per NFL Research. Brady's undoubtedly spinning it better than Brees at this point, but if past is prologue, it'd be unwise to dismiss the Saints' signal-caller. Brees is 5-2 in his career vs. Brady -- including the Saints' regular-season sweep of the rival Bucs this season -- and the individual numbers aren't close:

Brees vs. Brady: 64.9 comp%, 8.2 ypa, 18:1 TD-to-INT, 117.0 passer rating.

Brady vs. Brees: 63.5 comp%, 7.1 ypa, 9:11 TD-to-INT, 79.1 passer rating.

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