2019 NFL playoffs: Ranking the 12 quarterbacks, from Patrick Mahomes to Tom Brady to Lamar Jackson

A season defined by historically awesome quarterback play shifts into its next gear. Welcome to the NFL playoffs, where 12 legitimate Super Bowl contenders, most of them led by top-tier quarterbacks, will vie for the Lombardi Trophy.

This year's playoff field is stacked, and so is the list of NFL quarterbacks. Both MVP candidates, Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees, lead the top seeds. Philip Rivers is playing some of the best ball of his Hall-of-Fame worthy career, and he led the Chargers to the same win total as the Chiefs. Tom Brady is still around, and the Patriots have yet another first-round bye. Andrew Luck is back. Russell Wilson is still here. The list goes on. A season defined by historically awesome quarterback play will be decided by an incredible bunch of quarterbacks.

With that in mind, we decided to rank all 12 of the playoff starting quarterbacks. Before we begin, a few notes. One, history does matter, which is why you'll find Brady near the top of the list, but it's not the only determining factor in all of this, which is why you won't find Brady at the absolute top of the list. More of an emphasis was placed on this season. In that sense, they're more like power rankings. Finally, two statistics that are cited frequently throughout this story are DYAR and DVOA, both of which are Football Outsiders' metrics. You can read about them here, but the short version is that DYAR represents a quarterback's total value and DVOA represents a quarterback's value per play.  

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Enough delaying. On to the list.

12. Ravens' Lamar Jackson

Jackson is the obvious pick for the last spot on this list, but that shouldn't be considered an insult. It's already an achievement to have made the playoffs considering how Jackson's NFL career began. Taken with the final pick of the first round, Jackson was always regarded as a developmental prospect. He's developing rather quickly. When he took over as the starter, the Ravens were 4-5. They proceeded to win six of their final seven games with Jackson, and their only loss came to the Chiefs in Kansas City in overtime. 

Obviously, Jackson's not the entire reason why the Ravens went 6-1 down the stretch. The defense has been playing out of its mind. But Jackson's ability to run the ball and the problems it creates for opposing defenses has sparked this run. Since taking over, he's rushed for 556 yards and four touchdowns, while the Ravens, as a team, have averaged 229.6 rushing yards per game. 

Jackson ranks last on this list because of his shortcomings as a passer. This does not mean I think Jackson won't eventually make the leap and become an elite passer. He threw the hell out of the ball during his college career.

He's just not there yet. In the regular season, he completed 58.2 percent of his passes, averaged 7.1 yards per attempt, threw six touchdowns and three interceptions, and posted an 84.5 passer rating. In short, he was better than Joe Flacco as a passer. But he's not better than the other quarterbacks on this list.

11. Bears' Mitchell Trubisky 

The Bears' Super Bowl hopes come down to which version of Trubisky shows up. In his second season as a pro and his first with Matt Nagy, Trubisky posted a solid stat line given how early it is in his career, but also submitted an overall inconsistent season. In 14 games, he completed 66.6 percent of his passes for 3,223 yards, 24 touchdowns, 12 picks, and a 95.4 passer rating, adding 421 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. His legs are a real weapon. He's capable of making every throw. But he also misses a ton of openings. In six starts, he finished with a passer rating below 80. In six starts, he finished with a passer rating above 100. He finished the season ranked 18th in DYAR and 20th in DVOA, but third in QBR.

The good news: Trubisky ended on a strong note. In the final three games of the season, all of which the Bears won, Trubisky completed 75.9 percent of his passes for 644 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 109.7 passer rating. If he plays like that in the playoffs, the Bears can win the Super Bowl. It's just difficult to trust him at this point in his career -- much like Jackson.

10. Eagles' Nick Foles

Trubisky is probably a better quarterback than Foles, but Foles' history vaults him above Trubisky. We all know the legend of Saint Nick by now. A year ago, Foles took over for MVP-candidate Carson Wentz and proceeded to lead the Eagles to a championship. During that playoff run, Foles threw for 971 yards and six touchdowns, and he eventually won Super Bowl MVP. Filling in for Wentz again this past December, Foles led the Eagles to three-straight wins that only just barely pushed them inside the playoff bubble. Two of those wins came against the Rams and Texans. In those three games, Foles threw for 962 yards and six touchdowns. Once again, Foles is playing his best football at the most important period of the season. 

9. Cowboys' Dak Prescott

For all of the flak Prescott gets, he submitted yet another solid season. In three full seasons as the Cowboys' starter, he's now averaging 3,625.3 passing yards, 22.3 touchdowns, 8.3 interceptions, a 96.0 passer rating, 314.7 rushing yards, and six rushing touchdowns per season. 

Since the Amari Cooper acquisition this season, he's been a completely different player. 


Comp. % YPA TDs INTs Rating

Pre Cooper

62.1

6.9

8

4

87.4

With Cooper

71.3

7.7

14

4

103.0

Fun fact: Since he entered the league in 2016, Prescott leads the league in game-winning drives with 14.

8. Texans' Deshaun Watson

Behind the worst offensive line in football, despite getting sacked a league-high 62 times, and coming off a torn ACL, Watson proved his bonkers rookie season wasn't a fluke. In a full 16-game season, he completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 4,165 yards, 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and 103.1 passer rating -- and don't forget about his 551 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. He finished 10th in DYAR, 11th in DVOA, and 14th in QBR. Ultimately, his lack of postseason experience, which isn't at all his fault, hurt him.

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7. Rams' Jared Goff

If the regular season had ended after that epic Rams win over the Chiefs, Goff would've ranked near the top of this list. At that point in the season, he was averaging 322.5 yards, 2.4 touchdowns, and 0.5 interceptions per game. But a slump late in the season caused Goff to slide toward the middle of this list. After that Chiefs game, Goff averaged 228.2 yards, 1.2 touchdowns, and 1.2 interceptions per game. 

By the end of the season, he'd still pieced together a great season with 4,688 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. By DYAR and DVOA, he ranked sixth. And by QBR, he ranked 11th. 

It's just that defenses have proven they can rattle Goff by applying pressure, which partly explains his late-season slump. Furthermore, Goff lacks the kind of postseason experience the other quarterbacks (except Mahomes, who is above Goff for obvious reasons) have. There's no shame in finishing behind the quarterbacks still to come. It's an incredible group.

6. Colts' Andrew Luck

It hasn't just been a resurgent comeback season for Luck. He's also kinda reinvented himself in the process. In Frank Reich's offense, Luck has adapted to throwing quicker timing routes. And it's working. Luck, who was sacked 41 times in 2016, got sacked only 18 times this season. He also completed a career-high percentage of his passes (67.3) and threw for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns. Luck is almost a lock to win Comeback Player of the Year. It's warranted. He went from not being able to throw a football to ranking seventh in DYAR, ninth in DVOA, and fifth in QBR.

5. Seahawks' Russell Wilson

The Seahawks ran the ball more than every other team besides the Ravens, but that shouldn't discredit Wilson's contributions. Truth be told, Wilson nearly slotted in behind Luck on this list, but Wilson's efficiency and postseason success vaulted him above Luck. Wilson threw a touchdown on 8.2 percent of his passes. Luck threw a touchdown on 6.1 percent of his passes. Wilson averaged 8.1 yards per attempt. Luck averaged 7.2 yards per attempt. Wilson is 8-4 in postseason play with a Super Bowl ring and a 94.1 passer rating. Luck is 3-3 with a 70.8 passer rating in his postseason career. Both quarterbacks played stellar football this season. But give Wilson the edge for his efficiency and postseason resume.

4. Chargers' Philip Rivers

At the age of 37, Rivers is playing some of the best ball of his career. He finished the season ranked eighth in completion percentage, third in yards per attempt, tied for sixth in touchdown passes, and fifth in passer rating. Impressively, he finished behind only Mahomes and Brees in both DYAR and DVOA. There's an argument to be made that Rivers was the third-best quarterback in football this season (he finished third on our final MVP ballot), but Rivers doesn't crack the top three of his list because of someone named Tom Brady.

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3. Patriots' Tom Brady

It's not that Brady was bad this season, it's just that he wasn't the Brady we're used to seeing. A year after winning MVP at the age of 40, Brady finally started to show some signs of aging, checking in at eighth, seventh, and sixth in DYAR, DVOA, and QBR. At the same time, even when he's not at his best, he's still good enough to throw for 4,355 yards, 29 touchdowns, and a 97.7 passer rating. Add in the fact that he's arguably the greatest quarterback of all time who has won five Super Bowls, and it's impossible to put Brady any lower than the three spot. That said, he just can't move any higher than No. 3 because of how well the two quarterbacks ahead of him played during the regular season. Brady might be the greatest quarterback of all time, but he's not playing like the best quarterback in football at this very moment. Again, that doesn't make him bad all of a sudden. He just isn't playing as well as he did a year ago, and the two quarterbacks ahead of him submitted nearly perfect seasons.

2. Saints' Drew Brees

Brees might not have as much career postseason success as Brady, but he has won a Super Bowl. He has all-time career records. And unlike Brady, he's coming off an incredible season that saw him complete an NFL-record 74.4 percent of his passes for 3,992 yards and 32 touchdowns (he sat out in Week 17). He ranked second in DYAR, DVOA, and QBR. He led the league in passer rating. And if not for Mahomes' historic season, he would've finished atop this list. 

1. Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes

Mahomes has no postseason experience, but he still leads our list. That's how historically awesome his regular season was, when he became the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns. He finished first in DYAR, DVOA, and QBR. He did it in jaw-dropping fashion, from his no-look passes to his fourth-down bombs on the run. He rarely played poorly. In four losses, Mahomes averaged 336.5 passing yards per game, and threw 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. If you extrapolate his statistics in those four losses to a 16-game season, Mahomes would've thrown for 5,384 yards and 60 touchdowns.

It's impossible to hold his lack of postseason success against him considering this is his first season as a starting quarterback. At this very moment, Mahomes is the best quarterback on the planet. And I'm not sure it's particularly close. He was our unanimous MVP for a reason. 

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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