NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints

It remains #RankingSzn here at CBS Sports as we try to survive the summer months of the NFL calendar -- the only portion of the year that can actually be described as the offseason -- before the upcoming season finally arrives, assuming it does, in fact, arrive. As such, after we spent two weeks ranking the top-10 players at every single position group, from quarterbacks to kickers, it's now time to rank divisions by position groups. Today, we're beginning with the most important position group in sports. No, not kickers. Quarterbacks.

Below, you'll find all eight divisions ranked by their four starting quarterbacks. But first, it's important to note that all four quarterbacks per division matter. That's why you'll see the AFC West, which boasts the league's best quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, ranked so low. The other three quarterbacks dragged down Mahomes and the AFC West. Again: All four quarterbacks matter. Balance matters.

The rankings are based on the following factors:

  • How good were each of the starting quarterbacks last year?
  • How good have each of the starting quarterbacks been to this point in their career?
  • How good will they be next year? Not the next five years. Only 2020.

With all that in mind, onto the list itself. 

8. AFC East

Even if Brady were still around in New England and Newton hadn't replaced him, the AFC East would still likely be the worst division in football in terms of quarterback play. I loved the Patriots' decision to sign Newton as a low-risk, high-upside replacement for Brady. If he's healthy, Newton might actually elevate the Patriots' offense. It was as recently as the first 11 games of the 2018 season that Newton looked like a good NFL quarterback. But injuries have taken their toll ever since, making Newton an unknown. He could be the best quarterback in the division or the worst. Heck, there's even a chance if he's not healthy enough that Jarrett Stidham could emerge as the Patriots' starter. It all comes down to his health. 

Assuming Newton is healthy enough to win the starting job, I have no idea who will be the second-best quarterback in the division. Will it be Allen, who still has accuracy issues? For all of the alleged steps he took a season ago, he still finished the season 28th in DVOA and 26th in total QBR. His improvement might've been overstated. He needs to take a big step forward in Year 3 if the AFC East is going to outplay its position on this list. 

Maybe it'll be Darnold, who got dealt a bad hand a year ago when mono sidelined him at the beginning of the season. But through two seasons (26 starts), Darnold is completing 59.9 percent of his passes, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt, and has thrown 36 touchdowns and 28 interceptions for an 81.1 passer rating. There's still time for him to ascend, but through two seasons, Darnold hasn't yet demonstrated his ability to play quarterback in the NFL at a high level.

Maybe it'll be Tua. But he'll be a rookie after a truncated offseason, not to mention there are questions about his health. The more-likely scenario sees Fitzpatrick starting come Week 1. By now, as Fitzaptrick enters his 16th NFL season, we all know his limitations.

Does upside exist in the AFC East? Absolutely. If Newton is healthy and the three young quarterbacks play up to their potential, the AFC East will outperform their position on this list. But a whole lot needs to go right for that to happen.

Can Josh Allen take a step forward this season? USATSI

7. AFC West

Mahomes is the best player in football regardless of position, making him the best quarterback in football by a wide margin, but even he couldn't elevate the AFC West. Nobody really doubts Mahomes' credentials after his MVP season and his Super Bowl winning season, so let's just move onto the other three.

Maybe Lock will develop into a good or great quarterback. I don't doubt his potential. But he's an unknown after a five-start rookie season. He has many traits that are easy to like, but traits don't automatically translate to success in the NFL. Maybe he finds success in Year 2. Maybe he doesn't. The point is, we just don't know after a five-start rookie season. It could go either way.

In Los Angeles, the Chargers are likely to begin the season with Taylor, whose ceiling as a quarterback is probably a league-average starter, but Herbert is waiting in the wings. My best guess is that we'll see both quarterbacks start more than one game. I also think neither will perform particularly well. Taylor is capped by a low ceiling, and Herbert is going to need time to adjust to the NFL.

Finally, there's Carr and Mariota in Las Vegas. Carr actually played well by his standards in 2019, but his same flaws that have capped his potential throughout his career still exist. In six seasons, he's averaging 6.9 yards per attempt. While there's a chance Mariota will usurp him, it's been a few seasons since Mariota has played at a high level. You have to go all the way back to 2016. Over the past three seasons, he's averaging 10.3 touchdowns and 8.3 interceptions per season. Ryan Tannehill stealing his job and then immediately elevating the Titans to a team that came one win away from the Super Bowl certainly doesn't help Mariota's case.

In the end, the AFC West has one great quarterback and three quarterbacks who could all conceivably play at a low level in 2020. That's why the division is ranked this low, despite Mahomes' presence. That said, if you wanted to flip the AFC West with the NFC East because of just how much better Mahomes is than everyone else, I wouldn't argue. 

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
Patrick Mahomes is keeping the AFC West from being in the basement of these rankings. USATSI

6. NFC East

I found the NFC East among the most challenging divisions to place on this list. At the top, you've got two top-10 quarterbacks in Prescott and Wentz. This is neither the time nor place to argue about which quarterback is better, but we should all come together to agree that they're both top-10 players at their position group. That gives the NFC East a pretty high floor. 

The only problem being, there's two big unknowns behind them in New York and Washington. While Jones certainly flashed potential at times as a first-round rookie, he also struggled consistently, particularly with holding onto the football. In a 12-start season that also included one series in a 13th game, Jones fumbled 18 times. So while Giants fans might be quick to point out that Jones threw for 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a 87.7 passer rating on a bad Giants offense, it's important to note that the fumbles matter almost as much as the interceptions. None of this is intended to predict that Jones is going to be a bust. It's just meant to be a reminder that he still has a long ways to go. Maybe he'll eventually get there, but it also might take another season or two based on what we saw in 2019.

Haskins might need even longer. While the last two starts of his rookie season -- when he completed 72.1 percent of his passes for 394 yards, four touchdowns, no picks, and a 131.3 passer rating -- offer hope for a better future, he still finished the season with a 58.6 completion percentage, 6.7 yards per attempt, seven touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a 76.1 passer rating. Improvements are needed. Given the state of the Redskins, that could take more than one season. 

Which is why the NFC East finished on the bottom half of this list. Balance matters. With two top-10 quarterbacks and two bottom-tier starters who have a lot to prove, the NFC East lacks consistency at quarterback. 

I gave the edge to the NFC East over the AFC West because they have two top-10 quarterbacks compared to the AFC West's lone top-10 quarterback. But if you wanted to give the AFC West the edge because of how good Mahomes is, I'd buy it. I think it can swing either way.

If Daniel Jones fixes his fumbling problem, the NFC East could be higher on this list next year.  USATSI

5. AFC South

There's a lot of potential for the AFC South to make their placement here look silly -- as in, there's a good chance this division performs a lot better than fifth in terms of quarterback play during the upcoming season. I wanted to acknowledge that first. There's just a lot of unknowns.

Watson isn't an unknown. Even though he lost DeAndre Hopkins this season, everything he's done in his career to this point demonstrates that he should be able to overcome the loss of his best receiver. We've already seen him overcome the league's worst offensive line to drag the Texans to the playoffs. At this point, he's supporting cast proof. But behind him are three question marks. 

Tannehill shocked the world a season ago by turning into one of the league's best quarterbacks, leading the Titans to a 7-3 record, completing 70.3 percent of his passes, averaging 9.6 yards per attempt, throwing 22 touchdowns and six interceptions, and posting a 117.5 passer rating. But it remains to be seen if he can repeat that performance in 2020, because the degree of difficulty was high. Tannehill wasn't checking the ball down underneath and watching his receivers manufacture big plays. Instead, he was throwing the ball deep downfield into tight windows and was still coming away with a tremendous amount of success. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Tannehill averaged the third-most air yards per attempt (9.6) while throwing into tight windows at the sixth-highest rate (19.6). Tannehill both deserves credit for how well he played in 2019, but also a reasonable measure of doubt that he can do it again in 2020. That doesn't mean he'll be bad. It just means he might not complete 70 percent of his passes, average nearly 10 yards per attempt, and throw a touchdown on 7.7 percent of his passes again. He's probably going to regress.

Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, Rivers is need of a bounceback after a disappointing final season in Los Angeles. Rivers threw only three more touchdowns (23) than interceptions (20) last season, and finished 15th in DVOA and 24th in total QBR -- a bad season, by his standards. There're both reasons to believe in a comeback (he was good under Frank Reich in San Diego) and a decline (he's 38 years old). I tend to think he'll play better than he did in 2019, but not as great as he did during his peak.

Finally, there's Minshew entering Year 2 after a surprisingly solid rookie season as a sixth-round pick. Replacing Nick Foles, Minshew graded out as as the 22nd best quarterback by DVOA and the 29th best quarterback by total QBR, even though he managed to throw for 21 touchdowns compared to only six interceptions, so there's still plenty of room for him to grow. He's a huge unknown given his age, relative inexperience, and up-and-down rookie season. Not helping him is that he plays for the Jaguars, a team that could end up with a top-five pick even if he plays well.

With one sure thing and three question marks, I'm hedging my bets by ranking the AFC South in the middle of the pack with the understanding that it could severely outplay its ranking if enough things go right during the upcoming season.

Deshaun Watson lost his top receiver, but he tends to make those around him better.  USATSI

4. NFC North

Obviously, the Bears' starting quarterbacks are holding the rest of the division back. Whether it's Trubisky or Foles who emerges as the starter  -- I suspect it'll be a combination of the two -- the Bears clearly have the worst quarterback situation in the division. Put it this way: It'd be considered a success if the Bears were to get mere competent quarterback play in 2020. The bar is mediocrity. 

The rest of the division is good, though. While Rodgers has undeniably declined, he's still a good quarterback, checking in at 13th in DVOA from a season ago. Meanwhile, Stafford was on pace to throw for nearly 5,000 yards, 38 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions before a back injury ended his campaign at the midway point of last season. At the time of his injury, he was playing like a top-five quarterback. Finally, there's Cousins, who remains underappreciated. Since he became a full-time starting quarterback in 2015, he's completing 68.1 percent of his passes averaging 4,215.4 yards, 27.4 touchdowns, and 10.4 interceptions per season, and has accumulated a 99.6 passer rating. Those might not be great numbers. But they are good numbers.

The NFC North only has one weak link and three good-to-great quarterbacks. That's good enough for them to finish in the middle of the pack.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford (left) and Aaron Rodgers help elevate the NFC North to No. 4 in these rankings.  USATSI

3. AFC North

There's a reasonable case to be made that the AFC North will be the best division by quarterbacks in one year. There's just a few what ifs. Mayfield needs to rebound after a disappointing 2019 season that came after a good rookie year. Joe Burrow needs to prove why he was the consensus top pick in this year's draft. And Big Ben needs to overcome the elbow injury that wrecked his 2019 season. All three of those what ifs could happen. Mayfield was legitimately good in 2018. Burrow holds as much potential as advertised and he's joining a team with some decent players at the skill positions. And Big Ben was great as recently as 2018 before his 2019 season was doomed from the start.

At the top is Jackson, who doesn't need to rebound or prove his worth in 2020. After a record-setting MVP season, Jackson's status is secure. He's the best quarterback in the division, maybe the second-best quarterback in the entire league, and he still could continue to get better considering he's only 23 years old and just came off his first full season as an NFL starting quarterback. 

So then, why is the division ranked at No. 3 instead of No. 1? It's because I can also see a scenario where Mayfield doesn't improve, Burrow undergoes growing pains as a rookie on a bad team, and Big Ben shows his age. It can go either way. By ranking them as high as No. 3, I tend to think at least two of the three unknowns will play well in 2020. 

Lamar Jackson leads what is mainly a young group of quarterbacks in the AFC North. USATSI

2. NFC West

Wilson is either the second-best quarterback in football behind only Mahomes or the third-best quarterback depending on how you feel about Jackson. Either way, Wilson leads this collection of talented quarterbacks after willing the Seahawks to 11 wins in 2019.

The second-best quarterback in the division, as of this very moment, is Garoppolo, who in his first full season as a starting quarterback, ranked 11th in DVOA and 12th in total QBR. There's still room for him to grow. But it also wouldn't be surprising if it was Murray who emerged as the second-best quarterback in the NFC West by the time the upcoming season ends. After a Rookie of the Year season, Murray is set up to thrive in Year 2 with the arrival of Hopkins. 

Bringing up the rear is Goff, who is on a downward trajectory after a disappointing 2019 season. Still, it's worth remembering that in 2017 and 2018, Goff averaged 4,246 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 9.5 interceptions per season. And for as bad as he was in 2019, he still ranked 18th in DVOA. It wasn't like he was suddenly the worst quarterback in football. He just went from good to average. Am I confident in a rebound? Not entirely. But I also think he can remain an average quarterback, which doesn't drag down the entire division, especially if Garoppolo and Murray keep improving, and Wilson keeps playing at an MVP level as he has for the past few seasons.

Kyler Murray is part of a talented group of quarterbacks in the NFC West.  USATSI

1. NFC South

There's an argument to be made that even before Brady and Bridgewater arrived in Tampa Bay and Carolina, respectively, that the NFC South was already the best division in terms of quarterback play. 

Brees isn't slowing down. In his age-40 season, he led the league in completion percentage, and posted career-highs in touchdown percentage and passer rating. On the other hand, Ryan is showing signs of a slow decline -- understandable, really, given he's 35 years old and not every quarterback can age like Brees and Brady -- but he was still good enough to throw for 4,466 yards and 26 touchdowns a season ago. With a strong supporting cast, Ryan has a chance to rebound in 2020 or at the very least, maintain his current level of play.

The two newcomers have strengthened the division. Bridgewater is still a bit of an unknown after spending the past few seasons as a backup quarterback, but he flashed plenty of potential filling in for Brees last year, leading the Saints to a 5-0 record as a starter. In those five starts, he completed 69.7 percent of his passes, averaged 241 yards per game, and threw nine touchdowns and two interceptions, and posted a 103.7 passer rating. Finally, there's Brady, who experienced one of the worst seasons of his career in 2019 at the age of 42, but that season, during which he graded out as an average, but not bad quarterback, came in an offensive devoid of playmakers. In Tampa Bay now with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate, Brady should rebound. Given everything he's accomplished in his career, he gets the benefit of the doubt.

As such, the NFC South might just have the best collection of quarterbacks out of the league's eight divisions.