Air Index

QB Index: Ranking most trustworthy passers in the NFL playoffs

Now that the 2020 NFL regular season is over, NFL.com editors Ali Bhanpuri, Tom Blair, Gennaro Filice and Dan Parr will be focusing the QB Index exclusively on the surviving playoff quarterbacks, limiting the field this week to the 14 quarterbacks who still have a role to play in the story of the 2020 campaign. And while the regular-season rankings attempted to take into account both in-season production and past history to create a holistic hierarchy of every starting QB in the game, the rankings for Super Wild Card Weekend have been made with playoff trustworthiness in mind. Balancing both 2020 production and broader NFL (and postseason) track records, this ranking reflects the quarterbacks we'd feel most comfortable riding with into the highest-stakes portion of the calendar.

Rank
1
Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · Year 4

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 1 | Blair: 1 | Filice: 1 | Parr: 1

2020 stats: 15 games | 66.3 pct | 4,740 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 38 pass TD | 6 INT | 308 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost


Next game: Bye


Blair: I'm aware Mahomes had a so-so final three regular-season games (four picks, 87.6 passer rating). I realize he likely fell behind Aaron Rodgers in the MVP race. I suppose he'll even probably lose again in the playoffs at some point in his life. But I know there are few things more trustworthy in this universe right now than Patrick Mahomes on a football field. The fact that we can slot him on top of this list, without blinking, when he's 25 years old -- an age when Rodgers went 6-10 in his first season as a full-time starter and Tom Brady barely won more games than he lost (going 9-7 in 2002) -- speaks to just how special Mahomes is. Putting anyone else here would be silly.

Rank
2
Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · Year 16

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 4 | Blair: 2 | Filice: 2| Parr: 2

2020 stats: 16 games | 70.7 pct | 4,299 pass yds | 8.2 ypa | 48 pass TD | 5 INT | 149 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost


Next game: Bye


Blair: It might be easy to forget in the wake of one of the best seasons of his career, but Rodgers' last playoff appearance didn’t go so hot. Since then, though, he's looked supremely comfortable operating in Matt LaFleur's offense and nurturing an otherworldly connection with Davante Adams. Could you even say Rodgers' apparent trust in the scheme and players around him in 2020 is why we at the QB Index have so much trust in him this postseason? You sure could!

Rank
T-3
Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · Year 21

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 2 | Blair: 6 | Filice: 3 | Parr: 3

2020 stats: 16 games | 65.7 pct | 4,633 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 40 pass TD | 12 INT | 6 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 1 fumble lost


Next game: at Washington Football Team | Saturday, January 9 at 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)


Blair: It still seems right to me to slot Brady below two younger quarterbacks (Josh Allen and Ryan Tannehill) who have been more consistent this season. But that limb I climbed out on is feeling a lot creakier after I reviewed Brady's easy destruction of the Falcons in Week 17 -- and after I learned from NFL Research's notes packet that Brady is personally responsible for more playoff victories (30) than Washington, his opponent this weekend, has managed in its organizational history (23). There is every chance I will be wishing for a retroactive edit by the end of Saturday night.

Rank
T-3
Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks · Year 9

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 3 | Blair: 3 | Filice: 4 | Parr: 4

2020 stats: 16 games | 68.8 pct | 4,212 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 40 pass TD | 13 INT | 513 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 4 fumbles lost


Next game: vs. Los Angeles Rams | Saturday, January 9 at 4:40 p.m. ET (FOX)


Blair: Wilson's last few weeks have been relatively light on razzle-dazzle (over Weeks 16 and 17, he completed just 2 of 9 deep passes for 69 yards and a passer rating of 59.0), which is in keeping with the Seahawks' recent aerial slowdown. But tell me you're willing to doubt a player who has Wilson's playoff seasoning. (He's about to log his 16th postseason start, which will give him the second-most in a player's first nine seasons in the Super Bowl era, per NFL Research.) Watch him make magic out of certain disaster and tell me you wouldn’t want him under center with everything on the line. Wilson has the capability to power a title run, and that counts almost as much as emotional honesty when it comes to scoring trust points.

Rank
5
Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · Year 3

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 5 | Blair: 5 | Filice: 5 | Parr: 5

2020 stats: 16 games | 69.2 pct | 4,544 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 37 pass TD | 10 INT | 421 rush yds | 8 rush TD | 6 fumbles lost


Next game: vs. Indianapolis Colts | Saturday, January 9 at 1:05 p.m. ET (CBS)


Bhanpuri: After the record-setting season Allen just wrapped, he has every reason to feel confident, loose and untouchable. He led the Bills to 13 wins -- including a season sweep of the AFC East (with a +82 scoring differential) -- captured the franchise's first division title since 1995, annihilated his previous career bests in basically every statistical category and became Buffalo's all-time single-season leader in both passing yards and touchdowns


So why did we collectively rank him fifth on this list? Well, as remarkable as Allen's 2020 season was, the four guys above him have several MVP-caliber seasons on their Hall of Fam résumés already -- and just a tad bit more playoff experience. Last year's roller-coaster ride of a performance in the Wild Card Round, while unquestionably entertaining, wasn't quite the reliable, complete effort that instills trust. That said, if Allen's next few weeks resemble his previous 17 weeks, it'll go a long way to quelling the quiet reservations we still hold for the third-year quarterback.

Rank
6
Ryan Tannehill
Tennessee Titans · Year 9

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 6 | Blair: 4 | Filice: 8 | Parr: 6

2020 stats: 16 games | 65.5 pct | 3,819 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 33 pass TD | 7 INT | 266 rush yds | 7 rush TD | 1 fumble lost


Next game: vs. Baltimore Ravens | Sunday, January 10 at 1:05 p.m. ET (ESPN/ABC)


Bhanpuri: Reasonable minds could argue that Tannehill deserves better on this list, especially after following up his Comeback Player of the Year campaign (which included two playoff wins) with the same touchdown-to-giveaway ratio (40:8) as Patrick Mahomes and a higher passer rating (106.5) than both Russell Wilson (105.1) and Tom Brady (102.2). Derrick Henry is unquestionably the engine of Tennessee's offense, but let's not pretend like Tannehill hasn't steered the team to safety during dire times. Since the start of last season, the Titans QB has the most game-winning drives (nine) and is tied with Wilson for the most fourth-quarter comebacks (seven), per Pro Football Reference. Is Tannehill forever destined to be punished by football evaluators for Henry's dominance?

Rank
7
Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · Year 3

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 7 | Blair: 7 | Filice: 6 | Parr: 7

2020 stats: 15 games | 64.4 pct | 2,757 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 26 pass TD | 9 INT | 1,005 rush yds | 7 rush TD | 4 fumbles lost


Next game: at Tennessee Titans | Sunday, January 10 at 1:05 p.m. ET (ESPN/ABC)


Bhanpuri: The Ravens enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the NFL, winners of five straight with a returned-to-form Lamar Jackson at the helm. The reigning MVP has the fourth-highest passer rating (115.8) and third-most total touchdowns (15, tied with Ryan Tannehill) among QBs, and the sixth-most rushing yards (430) of any player during Baltimore's streak. And yet he finds himself at No. 7 in this exercise. Why? He knows. The apprehension born from his two underwhelming playoff performances is overblown, but it's not completely unfounded. What better way to "erase that narrative" than to exact some revenge on Tannehill's Titans for his first career playoff win.

Rank
8
Drew Brees
New Orleans Saints · Year 20

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 9 | Blair: 8 | Filice: 7 | Parr: 8

2020 stats: 12 games | 70.5 pct | 2,942 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 24 pass TD | 6 INT | -2 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost


Next game: vs. Chicago Bears | Sunday, January 10 at 4:40 p.m. ET (CBS, Nickelodeon, Amazon Prime)


Filice: While Tom Brady -- with his six rings and 40 touchdowns at age 43 -- boasts top-three trustworthiness in this exercise, the postseason's other quadragenarian quarterback leads off the bottom half of the list. Brees' placement above Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger, though, is notable. Some of this undoubtedly stems from the environment the 41-year-old inhabits. Of these three post-prime passers, Brees is protected by the best tackle tandem (Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk) and flanked by the best running back (Alvin Kamara). He takes orders from the best play-caller (Sean Payton) and throws footballs to the best receiver (Michael Thomas). But I sense another advantage for Brees: He's the most comfortable in his current skin. While Big Ben's clearly still adapting to his surgically reconstructed elbow and Rivers is navigating Year 1 with a brand new team, Brees has been doing his precision-over-power thing for years now in New Orleans. Oh, and this could be the franchise icon's final season. Trust in the power of the swan song!

Rank
9
Philip Rivers
Indianapolis Colts · Year 17

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 8 | Blair: 11 | Filice: 9 | Parr: 10

2020 stats: 16 games | 68.0 pct | 4,169 pass yds | 7.7 ypa | 24 pass TD | 11 INT | -8 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble lost


Next game: at Buffalo Bills | Saturday, January 9 at 1:05 p.m. ET (CBS)


Filice: Rivers has a 5-6 career playoff record, with four of those wins coming in the Wild Card Round. His postseason completion percentage (59.4) and passer rating (84.2) taint the shiny marks he's compiled over 17 regular seasons (64.9 and 95.2). And the good folks at NFL Research cite that he has the most games played (244), passing yards (63,440) and passing touchdowns (421) of any quarterback to never win a Super Bowl. None of this stuff is fun. BUT, in his inaugural regular season with the Colts, he finished much better than he started. In the first half of the season, Rivers posted a 10:7 TD-to-INT ratio and 91.9 passer rating. In the second half? Those figures vaulted up to 14:4 and 102.2. So he's comin' in hot. Is this the year Phil finally gives his future Hall of Fame case some legit postseason heft?

Rank
10
Ben Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh Steelers · Year 17

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 10 | Blair: 10 | Filice: 10 | Parr: 9

2020 stats: 15 games | 65.6 pct | 3,803 pass yds | 6.3 ypa | 33 pass TD | 10 INT | 11 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble lost


Next game: vs. Cleveland Browns | Sunday, January 10 at 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)


Filice: The last time we saw Roethlisberger in action -- in Pittsburgh's skid-ending, division-clinching Week 16 win over Indianapolis -- he appeared to get back on track. It wasn't just that he passed for a season-high 341 yards, but he also seemed to rediscover something that's largely been missing since he went under the knife to repair three torn flexor tendons in his right elbow: the deep ball. Check out this recent development on passes of 20-plus air yards:


Deep passing in Weeks 1-15: 15-63 (23.8%), 493 yards, 7.8 ypa, 9:4 TD-to-INT, 72.8 passer rating.

Deep passing in Week 16: 3-6 (50.0%), 98 yards, 16.3 ypa, 2:0 TD-to-INT, 135.4 passer rating.


And as you can see here and here, both of those deep TD strikes in Week 16 were indeed dimes. Random downfield dividends in one game or a sign that Ben's ready to go big again?

Rank
11
Baker Mayfield
Cleveland Browns · Year 3

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 11 | Blair: 9 | Filice: 11 | Parr: 11

2020 stats: 16 games | 62.8 pct | 3,563 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 26 pass TD | 8 INT | 165 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 4 fumbles lost


Next game: at Pittsburgh Steelers | Sunday, January 10 at 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)


Filice: In his first NFL playoff game, Baker has to hit the road to face Cleveland's forever tormenter without his head coach and Pro Bowl left guard. The third-year pro has struggled mightily against pressure all season and the Steelers pressure opposing quarterbacks at the highest rate in the NFL. Did I mention that the last time the Browns won a playoff game, Mayfield was three months away from birth? Hard to put a whole lot of trust in the guy after that cold rundown.

Rank
12
Alex Smith
Washington Football Team · Year 16

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 12 | Blair: 13 | Filice: 13 | Parr: 12

2020 stats: 8 games | 66.7 pct | 1,582 pass yds | 6.3 ypa | 6 pass TD | 8 INT | 3 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost


Next game: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Saturday, January 9 at 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)


Parr: Smith's return from 17 leg surgeries is one of the best stories of the season. It would become even more miraculous if he could somehow lead an upset of the Bucs on Saturday night, but he's questionable with a calf injury as of this writing and it's been a month since he finished a game with more touchdowns than interceptions. We have a hard time shaking Smith's rough performance against an Eagles defense that was without key starters and the fact that he hasn't thrown a deep ball for a TD all season. If he is indeed able to go, his trademark efficiency might not be enough to topple TB12 and Co.


(UPDATE: Smith will be inactive against the Bucs on Saturday, the team announced. Tyler Heinicke will start in his place.)

Rank
13
Jared Goff
Los Angeles Rams · Year 5

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 14 | Blair: 12 | Filice: 12 | Parr: 13

2020 stats: 15 games | 67 pct | 3,952 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 20 pass TD | 13 INT | 99 rush yds | 4 rush TD | 4 fumbles lost


Next game: at Seattle Seahawks | Saturday, January 9 at 4:40 p.m. ET (FOX)


Parr: Goff, who underwent surgery on the thumb of his throwing hand less than two weeks ago, is uncertain to play on Saturday. The question of whether the Rams would be better off starting backup John Wolford, who led L.A. to a Week 17 victory in Goff’s absence, is quite valid and a potential preview of offseason scuttlebutt to come for the franchise. Perhaps the only things keeping the former No. 1 overall pick from the bottom of these rankings are the two playoff wins he has under his belt and the not-so-distant memory of him throwing for 350-plus yards in a big win over a division rival last month.


(UPDATE: John Wolford will start for the Rams against the Seahawks, while Goff will serve as the team's backup, per NFL Network's Omar Ruiz.)

Rank
14
Mitchell Trubisky
Chicago Bears · Year 4

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 13 | Blair: 14 | Filice: 14 | Parr: 14

2020 stats: 10 games | 67.0 pct | 2,055 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 16 pass TD | 8 INT | 195 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost


Next game: at New Orleans Saints | Sunday, January 10 at 4:40 p.m. ET (CBS, Nickelodeon, Amazon Prime)


Parr: How do you mend a broken quarterback? In Trubisky's case, by giving him shorter, quicker throws and using plenty of play-action. Now, heading into his matchup with the Saints' top-five defense, he wants to get away from what worked for him in the last six weeks? That’s interesting. Maybe the better question is, will it even matter? It's hard to trust a guy with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9:8 in his starts against teams that finished the season with a defense ranked in the top half of the league dating back to the start of the 2019 campaign.

The Air Index presented by FedEx ranks NFL quarterback performances all season long. Check out the weekly FedEx Air NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote.

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