It's about that time again. Time for an offseason tradition unlike any other!
OK, I'm not exactly reinventing the wheel here. But you like talkin' quarterbacks. And I like talkin' quarterbacks. So ranking the divisions by quarterback is just another avenue to appealing conversation.
Before we embark on this annual exercise, though, I want to reiterate one thing:
These rankings are a projection for 2020. The past is taken into account, sure, but this list is meant to be an educated guess on what we'll see in the coming season.
So, without further ado, let's get into it. Here is how I see the NFL's eight divisions stacking up in terms of strength at the game's most important position:
1) NFC South
I really don't think there's much of a debate here. Brady is the G.O.A.T., and he's still playing at a much higher level than some people seem to think. In fact, I expect Brady to be amazing in Year 1 with the Buccaneers, throwing the ball to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Brady hasn't had a receiving duo this good since peak Randy Moss/Wes Welker, and the QB ran roughshod over the league with those guys. I think Evans is the second-most-talented receiver Brady's ever thrown to (minus the cup of coffee with Antonio Brown). Evans and Godwin will be the top receiving tandem in football in 2020. Oh, and old friend Rob Gronkowski will help Brady early as a security blanket, with the G.O.A.T. tight end joining a position group that already includes enticing weapons O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. In New Orleans, Brees is still great. And adding a veteran stud (Emmanuel Sanders) across from the best receiver in the game today (Michael Thomas) will make the 41-year-old quarterback even better than he was last year, when he again led the NFL in completion percentage (74.3) and posted another sparkling touchdown-to-interception ratio (27:4). A healthy Alvin Kamara helps, too. Although Ryan has a league MVP under his belt, the Falcons QB inexplicably remains underrated. Guy's a stud, still squarely in the prime of a Hall of Fame-caliber career. With the dynamic duo of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley out wide, Ryan will enjoy another season of domination. Bridgewater is clearly the fourth-best quarterback in this division -- and I'm a huge Teddy B fan. He was so good subbing for an injured Brees last year, winning all five of his starts while racking up a 9:2 TD-to-INT ratio. I love him in Joe Brady's offense, which will have Bridgewater slinging it to a whole bunch of catch-and-run playmakers. Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield and the explosive receiving trio of D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel and Robbie Anderson? Matt Rhule's first Panthers team should create some fireworks.
2) NFC West
At age 31, Wilson is a megastar and already a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He makes everyone around him better. He has a mind meld with Tyler Lockett, and don't sleep on D.K. Metcalf making another leap to true stardom in Year 2. Russ headlines the division. Kyler pushes it forward. The 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year is going to take his game to new heights in 2020, with the second-best receiver in the league (DeAndre Hopkins) now in the fold with the great Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. Kliff Kingsbury's offense is so quarterback-friendly, and Murray has the raw skills to fully exploit every advantage. Jimmy G had a really solid season in 2019. Yes, he missed Emmanuel Sanders on a throw that could've won the Super Bowl. But he is a really good quarterback. Not great, but really strong. And I think Goff is in that class, too. We've seen moments of domination from the Rams' signal-caller. We've seen moments of frustration. I like his rapport Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and his talented tight ends. I still believe in Goff in Sean McVay's offense.
3) AFC West
Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL bar none. He's the best player in the league. He's the best player in sports. So yeah, his presence alone raises this division higher than some might have anticipated. That said, I also like the other quarterbacks in his division. I've always been a Carr supporter and believe he will lead the Raiders to at least nine wins this year. Lock really showed a lot in his five starts as a rookie last December. And this offseason, John Elway smartly snagged the 23-year-old QB another proven backfield commodity in free agency (Melvin Gordon) and a pair of dangerous wideouts in the draft (Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler). I expect big things from Lock this year. I'm a huge fan of Taylor, who figures to begin the season as the Chargers' starting signal-caller. In fact, I expect the Bolts to bounce back and make the playoffs with Taylor's smarts, accuracy, athleticism and ability to spread the ball around. And I'm kind of obsessed with Herbert. I loved that draft pick for Los Angeles' long-term prospects. It might not happen immediately, but Herbert's going to be a star in this league.
4) AFC North
Jackson was the unanimous NFL MVP because he was unstoppable, leading the league with 36 touchdown passes and shattering Michael Vick's QB record with 1,206 rushing yards. And he's still just 23 years old. I expect Jackson to be even more dominant on the deep ball in 2020. Meanwhile, I'm on record saying Mayfield will get right back on the track to greatness with a new, real, buttoned-up coach calling the shots, as opposed to the Freddie Kitchens buffoonery from last year. Kevin Stefanski will make a big difference. So will the improvements on the offensive line. And a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. It's not like we didn't see enticing play from the former No. 1 overall pick as a rookie. He has it. So does the No. 1 overall pick from this year. Burrow really has it -- and I expect him to show it right away, especially with all the fine weaponry at his disposal (receivers A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, as well as running back Joe Mixon). Roethlisberger is back from elbow surgery. I'm skeptical on him staying healthy for a full year at age 38. But he is a Hall of Famer -- and a healthy Big Ben dominates. So I'm conflicted. If/when he isn't healthy? We saw the Mason Rudolph/Duck Hodges movie last year. We know how that ends.
5) NFC North
Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers. And that means he's still playing at the level of a top five quarterback of all time. My love for Stafford in 2020 has been well-documented: Last week, I listed Detroit as the most likely worst-to-first candidate, largely because of No. 9; in May, I predicted Stafford will lead the league in passing yards. As the third-best QB in this division, Cousins is better than most of his QB3 counterparts in this file. He's solid, always falling in that 8-16 range in QB rankings. And that big playoff win in New Orleans matters. Then there's the Bears' QB room ... Woof! Trubisky is terrible at professional football. Foles washed out of Jacksonville before the ink was dry on his $88 million deal. I'm sorry, Chicago. At least the Jordan documentary was great!
6) AFC South
Watson is amazing -- and especially great with the game on the line. Even though DeAndre Hopkins was inexplicably shipped to Arizona, Watson will still be able to work his winning-time magic with a crop of solid wideouts at his disposal. Tannehill was arguably one of the best quarterbacks in the league during the 2019 regular season. While it is impossible to expect the same domination in 2020, he's now entrenched as The Guy in Nashville. In theory, he should be more comfortable. I expect Rivers to bounce back in a major way behind the Colts' incredible offensive line. He's not done. Minshew was a solid rookie, and Doug Marrone really likes him.
7) AFC East
Ahead of the NFC East? Yep. Actually, I considered pushing this group even higher up the board. And I would've, if I knew Tua would start Week 1. If he's healthy, he should play right away: He has the skills to be an instant star. Regular readers know how high I am on Allen, who significantly improved in Year 2. I already listed the Bills QB as my leading dark-horse MVP candidate in 2020. I still think Darnold has star potential, too. After the first half of his 2019 campaign was upended by mono, the Jets' field general started to flourish down the stretch, with a 13:4 TD-to-INT ratio over his final eight games. While nobody really knows what to think about Stidham, I think an expecation of sound-and-solid play is fair.
8) NFC East
Wentz is a flat-out stud. Prescott should shine under Mike McCarthy. There is slight pause on both, with the Jalen Hurts implementation in Philly and Dak's contractual ambiguity in Dallas. But for the sake of conversation, I think both situations play themselves out in a positive way. While Hurts' presence equals drama in a city that loves it, Wentz is still special. He can rise above sports talk radio chatter. The jury is very much still out on both Jones and Haskins as they head into Year 2. Neither set the world on fire last fall. (Sure, Jones had some productive games, but his general ball security was a serious issue.) By the end of the coming season, when it comes to stacking up all of the quarterbacks in the AFC East and NFC East, I won't be at all surprised if Jones and Haskins rank Nos. 7 and 8. And that's what cements this ranking for the division.