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NFL's best and worst quarterbacks this season

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

We're in the golden age of quarterbacking in the NFL. At no point in history have there been this many capable and competent quarterbacks across so many teams in the NFL. A combination of rules changes, an influx of talent, improvement in offensive strategy and a greater understanding of the game by young players has led to some really fun to watch football.

Half the league -- 16 teams -- feature significant contributions from a player taken in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft (or NFL Supplemental Draft) in the last three years.

Of course, not all of those contributions are great. Or even good. At the very least, while we're getting more and more talent into the league, not all of the hires are home runs. Such is life in any venue and it's only intensified when it comes to something as competitive as quarterbacking in the NFL.

Six weeks into the season seemed like as arbitrary time as any to put together our top five best quarterbacks and top five worst. These are the top and bottom five as of right now. It is a snapshot of the 2013 season in this moment, six weeks in. You will hate the list anyway. Let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter @WillBrinson.

Five Best Quarterbacks

1. Peyton Manning, Broncos -- A laughably easy choice at the top spot. No one's playing as well as Peyton right now and it's not particularly close. His 25/38, 277-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Jaguars was a pretty major disappointment given his performance in the five games before. He's completing 74.2 percent of his passes and is still somehow on pace for 5,800 passing yards. Ryan Clady went down and Manning didn't skip a beat. Manning has four receivers -- Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker -- on pace for 1,000 yards this season. It's not even clinical. It's a virtuoso performance. You should be watching and you should be appreciating.

2. Drew Brees, Saints -- We'll see how Brees plays if Jimmy Graham is lost for any extended period of time. That's a major concern. But six games in, Breesus is dealing. The Saints offense struggled outside against the Buccaneers and the Saints but give credit to those defenses. Brees looks like he's getting back on the same page with Sean Payton too, really clicking at times this season. His yards per attempt is up to 8.3, which is where it was in 2011 before dipping to 7.7 last year. His completion percentage is up (66.2), his interceptions are dipping (he's not forcing as much) and Brees is on pace for a third consecutive 5,000-yard season. Ridiculous.

3. Philip Rivers, Chargers -- I'm as surprised as you are to see Rivers here. But he's completing a stunning 72.6 percent of his passes through six weeks and has the Chargers with three more wins than anyone expected. Rivers is averaging more than 300 yards per game, which is something he hasn't done since, well, ever. (His career high was 294.4 in 2010.) Rivers yards per attempt is back above eight for the first time since that year as well. But perhaps the most impressive thing about the way Rivers is playing? Who he's playing with. His offensive line is still a shadow of the unit he played with in San Diego's hey day. And Rivers top targets are an older Antonio Gates, rookie Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown. The former first-round pick is having incredible, MVP-level success this season in spite of everything around him.

4. Tony Romo, Cowboys -- The one enduring image for most folks is Romo's interception against the Broncos late. That's a misguided notion. Not only does it feed a silly narrative but, as my colleague Ryan Wilson adeptly pointed out, it ignores the fact that Romo had his foot stepped on during the pick in question.

Let's toss that one performance-blinding throw out the window and look at Romo's actual production though. And the reality is he's been outstanding. Romo doesn't have a game with less than 60 percent completions and is hitting on 70.2 percent of his passes for the season. He has just three picks all year, against 14 touchdowns. Neither his raw numbers (282.2 yards a game passing) or efficiency (7.77 YPA) are absolutely mind-blowing. But Romo's been incredibly consistent, efficient and smart through six weeks of the season. As it stands right now, Romo's on pace to have -- by far -- the best season of his career. And it's one of the best starts in all of the NFL, quarterback-wise.

5. Aaron Rodgers, Packers -- If we're building teams, Rodgers is still the No. 1 choice. He showed, with an absolute cannon toss to Jordy Nelson, just how much talent he's got in terms of arm strength and accuracy. Enjoy:

Now consider that Rodgers worked most of the preseason without Nelson, will be without Randall Cobb for the next six to eight weeks, lost Greg Jennings this offseason and will be forced to rely heavily on Jermichael Finley and James Jones.

He's not in the middle of his greatest stretch of six games like Peyton or anything. And with a renewed focus on Eddie Lacy and the running game lately it's possible that Rodgers stats slip a little moving forward (it would be a mistake to put too much emphasis on the run, of course). Then again two games against the Vikings, one against the Giants and one against the Eagles in his next six could mean an explosion regardless of who's catching the ball.

His last three weeks aren't world-beater games. But he's averaging more than 325 passing yards a game, and a big ole' 8.95 yards per attempt is quite stout. He's not getting the hype but he's just plugging along at an elite level.

Hon. Mention: Andrew Luck, Colts; Matthew Stafford, Lions

Five Worst Quarterbacks

5. Carson Palmer, Cardinals -- It's not necessarily all Palmer's fault. The Cardinals offensive line isn't very good and he doesn't have much time to throw. It complicates matters that Bruce Arians wants to take shots down the field. And he's close to on pace for 4,000 yards. He'd hit 3,955 at his current 247.2 yards per game pace, but that assume he stays healthy for 16 games. Palmer is 34, has been sacked 13 times and isn't finding his weapons -- Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts -- as often as Arizona needs him to. He doesn't have a game without an interception yet this season (and only has one with more touchdowns than picks) and only has two games where he topped 65 percent completions.

4. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Titans -- Fitzy got tossed in an unfortunate situation with the Titans. Jake Locker suffered an injury and the former Bills starter was called upon in relief against the Jets. He did well, going 3-for-8 with a touchdown and 108 passing yards, but the Titans were already shellacking New York. The next two games? Not nearly as good. He gets credit for going against a pair of stout defenses in the Titans and Seahawks, but he's been really bad. He completed 51 percent of his passes against KC with 247 yards, one score and two picks. Against Seattle (in Seattle, which is even tougher) he managed no touchdowns, two picks, a 58 percent completion rate, 171 passing yards and a 5.90 YPA. Things get a little bit easier, with the 49ers coming up before Fitzpatrick can catch his breath during the bye and then the Rams and Jaguars after that. But as Pete Prisco and Pat Kirwan like to say, Fitz is still slinging that helium balloon and with Chris Johnson failing to alleviate any pressure via the running game, it's hard to expect a turnaround in his performance.

3. Eli Manning, Giants -- How did we get here? (This is not my beautiful house.) We'd all moved on to debating about the elite status of someone else (Joe Flacco), convinced that Eli was just fine and wouldn't ever struggle again and all of a sudden he's completely fallen off a cliff. Manning is completing 53.7 percent of his passes and leads the NFL with a whopping 15 interceptions. He's on pace to become just the second player in NFL history with more than 40 interceptions in a season and while he might stop throwing as many bad passes, it's hard to imagine the raw number coming down. The Giants are terrible on defense so Eli will keep tossing the rock. He can't seem to get on the same page as his receivers, which leads to mistakes. The offensive line is horrible -- he's being sacked 6.5 percent of the time, the highest rate of his career -- and that won't make life much easier. This is not Eli's beautiful life.

2. Brandon Weeden, Browns-- Let's be clear. Any time your'e benched for Brian Hoyer, things are not going well. Weeden technically was "injured" and "replaced" by Hoyer but he had it coming either way. A three-pick and 49 percent completion day to open the season against Miami got things started off on the wrong foot. The perfect bookend for that nightmare? The game-sealing interception he threw against the Lions Sunday. It is, arguably, the worst pass attempt in the history of the NFL.

Think about this pick for a second. It is first-and-10 and the Browns have the ball down seven points at midfield. Weeden is (sort of) chased out of the pocket, (sort of) rolls left and (sort of) throws -- against his body, no less! -- an underhanded pass toward the sidelines into double coverage. It's the perfect storm of terrible decision making.

1. Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars -- Technically Chad Henne is still the starter. He should get one more week. But my money is on the Jags wringing out every last ounce of bad quarterbacking from Gabbert as they fight and claw their way toward Teddy Bridgewater at the top of the draft. In three games this year, Gabbert has completed an impressive(ly bad) 48.8 percent of his passes. He hasn't topped 185 yards once, despite attempting 86 passes (a phenomenal 5.59 YPA on the year). And he has thrown one touchdown against seven interceptions. That one touchdown was a 67-yard touchdown to Justin Blackmon and it accounts for more than 7 percent of Gabbert's yardage for the season! It's not fair to merely sit and mock Gabbert, as his situation isn't great. But he truly is the worst quarterback in the NFL, by a wide margin.

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