We started with Cam Newton as our preseason No. 1 and Tom Brady not even ranked. Dak Prescott was the promising but untested rookie, and who knew what he could do as the Dallas Cowboys’ starter?
Each week this season we ranked the starting QBs, and for the final edition, we’re overlooking injuries (Carr, Mariota) and just ranking the guys who started the most this season. And in the case of some teams, the multiple guys it took to do the job. It was a roller coaster season of QB rankings. See who finished on top.
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Robert Griffin/Cody Kessler/Josh McCown, Browns
Finally, mercifully, OVER. Cleveland’s 2016 season was a carousel of QB injuries and losses since RG3 went down in the opener. Kessler made some plays as a rookie, but you can bet the Browns will look to draft their next starting QB – their 27th since 1999.
New York was in no hurry to bring back Fitz for 2016, and now they’re in a hurry to send him and his 17 picks packing. Geno Smith suffered a season-ending injury in his first start, Bryce Petty also went down, and rookie Christian Hackenberg couldn’t even get in a game. "I haven't even started looking for a franchise quarterback yet," coach Todd Bowles said this week. Better get started.
The No. 1 draft pick Goff took over the NFL’s worst offense midseason and went winless in 7 starts while the offense fared no better. Coach Jeff Fisher got fired. Goff showed small signs of leadership, but he’ll have to grow a lot to justify LA giving up so many picks to get him.
Cutler and Hoyer suffered season-ending injuries as Chicago dipped to its most losses since 1969 and missed the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years. Cutler has no guaranteed money left on his seven-year extension, so there’s a good chance the Bears cut him loose and look for a fresh start at QB.
No one fell further than Cam in 2016. The reigning MVP had his bell rung in a season-opening Super Bowl rematch with the Broncos and that set the tone for the season as Carolina went 6-10. Newton finished with a league-low 52.9 completion percentage and averaged a career-low 4 yards per carry. By the end he wanted just one thing: "Rest," Newton told reporters on Sunday. "Lots of rest."
Bortles’ sophomore slump was the biggest reason for Jacksonville’s 9-game losing streak that got OC Greg Olson and coach Gus Bradley fired. The Jags finished with double-digit losses for the sixth straight season and missed the playoffs for the ninth consecutive year. But the good news is Bortles plans to have the "best offseason" of his career.
Houston’s $72 million QB struggled with the NFL’s 29th-ranked passing game, got benched in Week 15 and watched the Texans clinch the AFC South behind backup Tom Savage. But Savage suffered a concussion in the regular-season finale, giving Osweiler a chance to redeem himself in Saturday’s AFC wild-card playoff game against the Raiders. That’s more than he got during Denver’s playoff run last year.
Kap was a center of controversy before the season even started and while he eventually got his starting job back, he never got his superstar form back. San Francisco lost a team-record 13 straight and now Kaepernick and Gabbert might follow Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke out the door as the Niners clean house.
Siemian, who had one regular-season snap of experience in replacing Peyton Manning, isn’t the reason the defending champs are sitting out the postseason. But he may not be the answer at QB, either. Denver trailed almost 50 percent of the time this season and failed to lead for a single second in 6 of its 7 losses. "It's not a good feeling," tight end Virgil Green told reporters. "Every year that I've been here we've been contenders, regardless of whether we had Tim Tebow at quarterback or Brock Osweiler or Peyton Manning at quarterback."
It’s been a roller coaster rookie season for the No. 2 pick Wentz, who wasn’t expected to play, then inspired debates about whether he was better than Dak Prescott, then fell back to earth. Still, he set a rookie record with 379 completions, became the first Eagles QB to start all 16 games since Donovan McNabb in 2008 and made believers of his teammates and coaches. "To do the things that he's done just is amazing, and really looking forward to the offseason and building for next year," coach Doug Pederson told reporters.
Welp, Taylor never was expected to play well enough to justify his $27.5 million option for next season, and now the question is whether he will follow OC Greg Roman and Rex Ryan out the door. It could depend on how healthy he is in March. Taylor is just 15-14 as the Bills’ starter, and Buffalo’s passing attack never really got off the ground.
Tannehill finally came into his own during Miami’s six-game win streak, then got struck down by the injury bug. If he doesn’t make it back for the Dolphins' first postseason appearance since 2008, he and Adam Gase at least should make things interesting for the AFC East next season.
Won’t get a chance to pull out any playoff heroics after succumbing to the Steelers. Flacco threw for a career-high 4,317 yards in his return from a torn ACL but struggled to find the end zone, and coach John Harbaugh wants more from the 10-year veteran, who was the third-highest-paid QB this season and limited what Baltimore could do under the salary cap. "We have a quarterback, and he's in that level of compensation, so we need to get him playing at that level," Harbaugh told reporters. "We need to put a group and a scheme around him that puts him in that place."
San Diego struggled through another season of uncertainty, lowlighted by that Week 16 loss at Cleveland, and Rivers had one of his worst seasons, throwing 21 interceptions and losing eight fumbles. He’s 35 with three years left on his contract, no head coach and no clue what fans he’ll have cheering for him next season.
Dalton topped 4,000 yards for the second time despite injuries to almost all his playmakers, but it was a pretty soft 4,000 since Dalton had trouble putting the ball in the end zone all season. He had just 8 INTs, but the bottom line is the Bengals missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
Palmer turned 37 last week but missed just one game, and despite Arizona’s disappointing season, coach Bruce Arians doesn’t sound like he’s ready to move on. "He knows how to give a guy confidence and pick him up and not let him worry about failure," Arians told reporters. "That's what leaders do." But the Cards know that even if Palmer remains their starter, they need to look to the future, too. "That will be one of our main objectives in the offseason," Arians said, "is to make sure the franchise isn't in the situation it was in when Kurt (Warner) left; that the next guy is here and ready to roll."
Didn’t make the huge Year 2 leap we thought he would, but still threw for a team-record 4,090 yards. And while he didn’t end the Bucs’ playoff drought, there’s hope in Tampa and he and Mike Evans could be the new Montana-to-Rice.
When Manning hasn’t been throwing to Odell Beckham, he’s been blocking for him – most recently after OBJ’s Miami trip. It’s been a great season for the New York media, and if Eli can finally start clicking in Mike Sullivan’s offense and repeat his postseason heroics of the past, it still could be a great season for the G-Men, too.
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Sam Bradford, Vikings
Despite Minnesota’s collapse after a 5-0 start, Bradford became THE MOST ACCURATE PASSER IN NFL HISTORY with his 71.6 completion percentage, had career highs in passing yards (3,877), passer rating and interception rate, and “earned the right to be the starting quarterback," coach Mike Zimmer told reporters. Hopefully that doesn’t mean Minnesota knows something bad about Teddy Bridgewater’s chances of playing football again.
Tennessee lost its shot at a playoff spot and its QB to a fractured leg in a brutal Week 16 loss at Jacksonville. But while the Titans missed out on a winnable AFC South title, they finished with a winning record and found their franchise QB during a blistering 8-week stretch in which he threw 21 TDs and just 3 picks, making the Year 2 leap we believed both he and Jameis would.
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Kirk Cousins, Redskins
Choked away Washington’s playoff hopes with a costly interception in Week 17, now the debate over whether he’s a franchise QB will continue – maybe into next season if the Skins tag Cousins again at a cost of $23.94 million. Cousins doesn’t sound too sure of his future with the team. "We haven't been able to talk since July 15, so I don't know if they've bought the engagement ring, if you will," Cousins said in a radio appearance this week.
Luck had his third 4,000-yard season in four years, a career-high completion percentage, the league leader in receiving yards (T.Y. Hilton) and finally a 1,000-yard rusher (Frank Gore). Still, Indy came up short in the very winnable race for the AFC South title.
Smith has thrown just 15 TD passes, and hasn’t thrown 3 in a game since the 2015 season opener, but KC won the AFC West with a Week 17 victory at San Diego. The Broncos are staying home, the Raiders likely are heading home after the opening weekend of the playoffs, and steady Alex Smith and the Chiefs just keep chugging along.
Still has never missed a game despite struggling with injuries, as his rushing numbers hit a career low, and had to do more with less this season. That led to some paltry performances that cost Seattle a first-round bye. But he delivered a huge win over the Pats in a Super Bowl rematch – and perhaps a Super Bowl preview.
Big Ben stayed relatively healthy, coming back from midseason surgery unbelievably fast. He has an abundance of weapons, but rarely has had them all at the same time — Sunday vs. Miami will be the first playoff game he's had both Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell in the lineup. Still, Roethlisberger and the Steelers have won seven straight and scrapped their way to another AFC North title.
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Matthew Stafford, Lions
Despite no Megatron, Captain Comeback set an NFL record with eight fourth-quarter comeback victories this season, but couldn’t do it in the last three weeks, costing Detroit its first NFC North title in 23 years. The Lions still made the postseason, and will try to get their first playoff win since 1991, but Stafford has thrown 5 picks in 4 games since tearing ligaments in his middle finger.
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Drew Brees, Saints
New Orleans didn’t wait to lock up Brees through 2017, and he rewarded the Saints by leading the NFL in passing yards (5,208) and finishing third in touchdown passes (37). But the Saints stumbled to a third-straight 7-9 season.
Carr was having an MVP-caliber season before suffering a broken leg in Week 16. Oakland fans celebrated their first playoff appearance since 2002 and had Super Bowl hopes even as owner Mark Davis announced his intentions to leave town. Now the Raiders will be lucky to get past the wild-card round with third-string rookie Connor Cook starting. Who knows where the Raiders will be next season, but one thing’s for sure: They’ve got a franchise QB in Carr.
Started the season with the weight of replacing Tony Romo, then overcame a Jerry Jones-fueled QB controversy all season, leading Dallas to a 13-3 record and top playoff seed. He’s an insane 51-of-64 for 428 yards with 3 TDs and no INTs since his low point in that second loss to the Giants. Now he could become the first starting QB to win the Super Bowl as a rookie.
Ryan bounced back from some tough losses to secure the NFC South title, return to the playoffs for the first time in four years and even join the MVP conversation. He led the league in passer rating and became the first QB to throw TDs to 13 different receivers in a season. His career resurrection was so strong that now his OC Kyle Shanahan is the hottest coaching candidate.
Went from talk of ‘What’s wrong with Aaron Rodgers?’ to running the table (like he said they could) and taking the NFC North title from Detroit. Rodgers led the league in TD passes (40), throwing 18 TDs and 0 INTs in the past seven games while clicking with Jordy Nelson.
Tom Brady/Jimmy Garoppolo/Jacoby Brissette, Patriots
New England's backups went 3-1 while Brady was banned the first four weeks. When he returned, he didn’t miss a step -- setting an NFL record by throwing 28 TDs and just 2 INTs while going 11-1 to wrap up another AFC East title and No. 1 playoff seed. That's not to mention overcoming the loss of Gronk. Not bad at 39. Brady's the MVP in our book, now he can rub it in Roger Goodell’s face with a Super Bowl win.