At this point in last year's calendar, the Saints were 12-2 and on track to earn home-field advantage throughout the postseason. This year, the Saints sit at 11-3 and require some help in order to earn the top seed in the NFC. Yet, despite finding themselves in slightly worse circumstances this time around, the Saints might actually be better equipped to make a Super Bowl run this year. 

What's more important than home-field advantage? Having an all-time great quarterback who might actually be peaking instead of fading as the calendar flips from autumn to winter.

Last year saw Drew Brees compete with Patrick Mahomes for league MVP until Thanksgiving, which is when Brees morphed into a White Walker for the remainder of the season. In Brees' first 11 games last season, he completed 76.4 percent of his passes, averaged 8.8 yards per attempt, threw 29 touchdowns and two interceptions, and posted a 127.3 passer rating. In his final four regular-season games, Brees' completion percentage fell to 69.2 percentage, his average yards per attempt plummeted to 6.4, he threw three touchdowns and three interceptions, and his passer rating dropped to 84.7. His poor form mostly continued into the postseason. For as much attention as the botched pass-interference incident received (rightly so), the Saints probably beat the Rams if Brees plays up to his standards. He didn't.

It was unclear at the time and it's still unclear today if Brees' late-season struggles were the result of an unreported injury, his body wearing down as the season progressed, or something entirely unrelated. Here's what we do know: It doesn't appear to be happening this year. 

Since Brees returned from a thumb injury that prevented him from starting five games, he's been on a torrid stretch. In his past seven games, he's completed 76.3 percent of his passes, averaged 7.8 yards per attempt, thrown 19 touchdowns and two interceptions, and posted a 119.1 passer rating. In his past two games -- small sample size alert! -- against the 49ers and Colts, he completed 82.9 percent of his passes, averaged 9.4 yards per attempt, threw nine touchdowns and no interceptions, and posted a 145.3 passer rating. 

Maybe that injury was actually a blessing in disguise. If his decline last season was due to his body breaking down -- he is 40, after all -- maybe his extended break a couple months ago wasn't actually a bad thing. Maybe it's enabled him to remain fresh for the stretch run of the season. 

Again, we're working with small sample sizes here. He could play poorly in the next two weeks and the postseason, and render the past two months insignificant. But after what transpired last year, Brees' recent wave of success as the calendar flips from autumn to winter is encouraging. It should terrify the rest of the playoff field considering a year ago, without Brees playing at a high level, the Saints were an egregious missed penalty away from making it to the Super Bowl. If the Saints are getting this version of Brees in January, they should be regarded as the frontrunners in the crowded NFC regardless if they wind up with home-field advantage.

After his record-setting performance on Monday night, when he broke the all-time touchdown passes record and did so with only one incompletion (which will haunt him), Brees found a way to move on up the leaderboard in this week's edition of quarterback power rankings. Before we get to the rankings, a reminder of the rules:

  • One quarterback per team. Whichever quarterback started in Week 15 will be the quarterback selected. 
  • Recent success matters more than past success. These are power rankings. That's why you won't see Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, at No. 1. We're valuing performances this season more than performances in previous seasons. We're valuing performances last week more than performances four weeks ago. As a result, don't be surprised if the rankings fluctuate in a major way each week.
  • But reputation and history do matter, because they're tools we're using to predict future success. All-time greats get a bit of a boost.
  • There's more to the rankings than wins and losses. Wins are not a quarterback stat. While we're definitely taking into account wins and losses, it's not the only thing that matters. You'll see a ton of other stats listed -- like DYAR, DVOA, total QBR, and completion percentage above expectation. For an explainer on those stats, click right here and here. Yes, the eye test matters too.  

Onto the rankings.

QB Rankings Week 16
Lamar Jackson Baltimore Ravens QB
He just isn't slowing down. Against the hapless Jets, before he got yanked in yet another fourth quarter in what is becoming a Ravens tradition as they continue to dismantle foe after foe, he threw five touchdowns to extend his lead in that department. On our leaderboard, he retains his lead. He doesn't appear to be on the verge of letting it go before the end of the season. He's almost unstoppable.

Last week: 1

Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs QB
In a snowstorm, Mahomes snapped his slow streak. In his three prior games, Mahomes completed 59.4 percent of his passes, averaged 6.3 yards per attempt, threw three touchdowns and two interceptions, and generated a 79.6 passer rating. Against the Broncos' 11th-ranked defense by DVOA, in an environment that loosely resembled Hoth (minus the AT-ATs), Mahomes completed 79.4 percent of his passes, averaged 10 yards per attempt, threw two touchdowns and a pick, and generated a 115.7 passer rating. He's back.

Last week: 2

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Drew Brees New Orleans Saints QB
He was nearly perfect on Monday night.

Last week: 4

Russell Wilson Seattle Seahawks QB
Tough break for Wilson, who didn't play poorly enough to deserve to get dropped, but Brees' performance on Monday night and Mahomes' snow game made it difficult for me to keep Wilson in his place. He was his normal brilliant self against the Panthers, completing 76.9 percent of his passes, averaging 11 yards per pass, throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions, and accumulating a 137.7 passer rating. You could very easily rearrange 2-4 and I wouldn't be mad about it. They're all great. Dont @ me.

Last week: 3

Kirk Cousins Minnesota Vikings QB
Cousins continues to play at a top-five level. Let's give him his due. He has the Vikings at 10-4, marking his first 10-win season as a starter. And he's still a statistical monster, completing over 70 percent of his passes, averaging 8.4 yards per attempt, and throwing 20 more touchdowns (25) than interceptions (5). He's also third in completion percentage above expectation.

Last week: 6

Ryan Tannehill Tennessee Titans QB
What a world we're living in with Cousins and Tannehill ranked above the likes of Deshaun Watson, Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, and Aaron Rodgers. But Tannehill continues to play at an elite level since the Titans made him their starter. His play suffered a little in a loss to the Texans, but he still accounted for three touchdowns. And don't blame him for the interception, which was more akin to a fumble by his receiver. By DVOA, which measures value per play, he ranks seventh. He also leads the league in completion percentage above expectation.

Last week: 5

Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys QB
After falling out of the MVP race, Prescott submitted his best outing in a few weeks with 9.2 YPA and two touchdowns in a win over the Rams. But his numbers were boosted by his 59-yard touchdown to Tavon Austin that only occurred because two Rams defenders ran into each other. Still, his overall body of work remains impressive: first in DYAR, fourth in DVOA, and third in total QBR.

Last week: 7

Deshaun Watson Houston Texans QB
Watson's productive day was spoiled by two interceptions in the end zone, but he still helped the Texans earn a huge win over the Titans as they look to wrap up the AFC South. He's ninth in DYAR, 11th in DVOA, and seventh in total QBR.

Last week: 8

Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons QB
It hasn't been Ryan's best season. It definitely feels like his first non-elite season in a while. But he's still been good by normal standards and he was pretty damn good against a tough 49ers defense, throwing for 210 yards and two scores without turning the ball over. And oh yeah, the Falcons won, with Ryan throwing what was essentially a walk-off touchdown. That'll work.

Last week: 11

Jimmy Garoppolo San Francisco 49ers QB
This was Garoppolo's worst performance in a month and it surprisingly came against the Falcons 26th-ranked defense by DVOA. I'm not worried about the 49ers in the long term and Garoppolo has already proven he's good enough to help the 49ers reach the Super Bowl, but neither the team nor the quarterback were good on Sunday.

Last week: 9

Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers QB
We keep waiting for the Packers' offense to break out, but it seems more likely that it's never going to come. Rodgers submitted his second straight poor performance, this time in a win over the Bears. Over his past two weeks, Rodgers has completed 55.7 percent of his passes, averaged 6.5 yards per pass, thrown two touchdowns and zero picks, and posted an 86.6 passer rating. Not great.

Last week: 10

Kyler Murray Arizona Cardinals QB
Against the Rams and 49ers, Murray endured what we'll call growing pains, taking 11 sacks and throwing four picks. But he responded nicely against the Browns on Sunday, throwing for 219 yards and a touchdown with one interception. Most importantly, he didn't take a single sack. He also rushed for 56 yards. Nobody should doubt his potential. He's going to be a monster in Year 2.

Last week: 14

Carson Wentz Philadelphia Eagles QB
The bad: He fumbled three times, demonstrating a shocking lack of pocket awareness on more than one occasion. The good: He completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, threw three touchdowns, didn't get picked off, and finished with a 109.3 passer rating. His efficiency remains a concern. He's averaging 6.5 YPA after averaging 7.6 YPA the past two seasons.

Last week: 18

Jameis Winston Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB
Maybe it's time to give Winston his due. Yes, the turnovers are a problem. He leads the league in picks by a wide margin. But he's also averaging 8.3 yards per attempt and he's thrown for 30 touchdowns, which does help offset all of his interceptions. Over the past two weeks, he's thrown for 914 yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 115.8 passer rating. It's not perfect, but it also works. The Buccaneers are very quietly 7-7 with Winston as their quarterback. He's probably going to get another year or two in Tampa Bay with Bruce Arians and it's getting more and more difficult to argue against it -- and that's coming from one of his biggest critics over the past few years.

Last week: 21

Tom Brady New England Patriots QB
It's beginning to get a bit repetitive, but I'll say it again: It's not all Brady's fault. Lack of separation remains a problem. But Brady also isn't faultless in the Patriots' offensive woes. His accuracy was off against the Bengals, with his overthrow of Mohamed Sanu in the end zone particularly sticking out. Put it this way: The Bengals' defense entered Sunday ranked 30th in DVOA and Brady completed only 51.7 percent of his passes and averaged 4.4 yards per attempt. Only four quarterbacks have a worse completion percentage above expectation this season.

Last week: 13

Gardner Minshew Jacksonville Jaguars QB
It's almost like Minshew has always been a better option for the Jaguars and never should've been benched for Nick Foles. With Minshew back under center, the Jaguars went into Oakland and overcame a 13-point deficit in the second half to spoil the Raiders' final game at the Coliseum. In the process, Minshew threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over. What impresses me is that Minshew has a good understanding of his limitations (namely, his arm strength) and is therefore able to limit his mistakes.

Last week: 20

Derek Carr Oakland Raiders QB
Carr getting booed off the field by Oakland fans is a fitting final image to his Raiders career. The Raiders can save $16.5 million in cap space by cutting him after the season. This season has added even more evidence to the theory that Carr is an adequate, but not a good quarterback. The Raiders should aim higher.

Last week: 17

Josh Allen Buffalo Bills QB
It's difficult to be too harsh on Allen for his underwhelming performance in a win over the Steelers given just how good that Steelers defense has been this season. Still, Allen was not good against the Steelers and he hasn't been good the past two weeks after a mighty impressive (by his standards) eight-game stretch culminating with that win over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. In the two games since, he's completed under 50 percent of his passes and averaged 4.5 yards per attempt.

Last week: 16

Philip Rivers Los Angeles Chargers QB
Coming off the best performance of his topsy-turvy season, Rivers submitted an absolute stinker in a 29-point loss to the Vikings, during which he was picked off three times. It's beginning to look more and more like this could be the end for Rivers. There's going to be a few quarterback openings in the offseason, so don't write him off yet, but his penchant for throwing interceptions is concerning. He's already up to 18.

Last week: 12

Jared Goff Los Angeles Rams QB
Like Rivers, Goff was coming off a good outing. Like Rivers, Goff did not play well on Sunday. Through 15 weeks, Goff ranks 17th, 18th, and 26th in DYAR, DVOA, and total QBR, respectively. He has the third-worst completion percentage above expectation. He carries a $36 million cap hit next year, which leads the league. Yikes.

Last week: 15

Baker Mayfield Cleveland Browns QB
You know the state of quarterbacking in the NFL isn't great when Mayfield is ranked this high. His numbers are down across the board and his ball placement has been an issue all season long.

Last week: 24

Jacoby Brissett Indianapolis Colts QB
Frank Reich continues to back Brissett even though the evidence continues to suggest Brissett is better suited to be a backup. Since he came back from injury, he's completing 58.5 percent of his passes, averaging 6.4 yards per pass, and has thrown four touchdowns and three picks in five games. That's not good enough. Over the course of the entire season, he ranks 14th in DVOA and 20th in total QBR. The Colts need to improve their downfield passing game next season.

Last week: 19

Sam Darnold New York Jets QB
After hitting rock bottom in October and then skyrocketing up the rankings in November, Darnold has stabilized. The loss to the Ravens wasn't necessarily his fault, but it's discouraging to see the same mistakes over and over again, with the interception deep in Ravens territory on first down late in the first half sticking out.

Last week: 22

Ryan Fitzpatrick Miami Dolphins QB
Fun Fact: Fitzpatrick leads the Dolphins in rushing. A 29-yard touchdown to DeVante Parker late in the game boosted his stats from an otherwise blah performance in a loss to the Giants.

Last week: 28

Mitchell Trubisky Chicago Bears QB
Trubisky being this high is a result of some dreadful quarterback play below him. He was not good against the Packers. If the Bears had gotten B-level quarterback play, they would've won. Instead, they got D-level quarterback play from Trubisky. He's clearly not their long-term answer.

Last week: 23

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Dwayne Haskins Washington Redskins QB
Progress! The rookie submitted the best performance of his career in a narrow loss to the Eagles with 9.3 YPA (greatly aided by Terry McLaurin's 75-yard touchdown that was mostly YAC), two touchdowns, and no interceptions. The Eagles' secondary is terrible, but give Haskins credit for taking them apart.

Last week: 31

Eli Manning New York Giants QB
Congratulations to Manning for getting a swan song, but he was his normal bad self during the win over the hapless Dolphins with three interceptions. But hey, he's back to .500 as a starter in his career, which is just too fitting.

Last week: 26

Drew Lock Denver Broncos QB
That was brutal. Lock did not adjust to the snow nearly as well as Mahomes and struggled mightily against a suddenly very good Chiefs pass defense. His interception was brutal, but that's what the Broncos had to have expected when they inserted the second-round pick into the starting lineup. Growing pains. He's shown enough already for the Broncos to be mildly encouraged heading into 2020.

Last week: 25

Andy Dalton Cincinnati Bengals QB
Does anyone know why Dalton insisted on continually targeting Stephon Gilmore? Since Dalton was reinstated as the starter, he's completed 57.6 percent of his passes, thrown two touchdowns and five picks, averaged 6.2 yards per attempt, and has accumulated a 62.5 passer rating. So no, he is not increasing his trade value.

Last week: 27

Kyle Allen Carolina Panthers QB
With 15 interceptions in his past eight games, it's safe to say he is not the Panthers' long-term solution at quarterback. Remember when some people talked themselves into Allen permanently replacing Cam Newton? Good times. It's Will Grier's turn to audition now, but the Panthers waited way too long to make this move. He should've been starting for the past few weeks.

Last week: 30

David Blough Detroit Lions QB
He'll always have that first half against the Bears on Thanksgiving before it all went to hell.

Last week: 32

Devlin Hodges Pittsburgh Steelers QB
Mike Tomlin said he was making the switch from Mason Rudolph to Hodges because Hodges doesn't kill the Steelers. So much for that. Hodges' four interceptions killed the Steelers on Sunday night.

Last week: 29