You don't have to be the `85 Bears or the 2000 Ravens to win games without an elite quarterback.
Four division leaders – New England, Arizona, Cincinnati, New York Giants – have QBs ranked in the top 12 in passer rating while the other four first-place teams – Indianapolis, Denver, Carolina, Minnesota – have QBs ranked in the bottom 12.
Passer rating isn't the best judge, but it's an accurate measure of a quarterback's consistency over the course of a season.
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Tom Brady (111.1), Carson Palmer (108.0), Andy Dalton (104.6) and Eli Manning (96.9) are having excellent years. Their performance is directly linked to team success.
The Patriots wouldn't be 9-0 with anyone other than Brady under center. The Cardinals (7-2) proved last year they can't win without Palmer.
The Bengals started 8-0 because Dalton played like an MVP candidate. The Giants only go as far as Eli Manning's arm takes them.
On the flip side, Peyton Manning (67.6) and Andrew Luck (74.9) are having their worst years. Cam Newton (84.8) and Teddy Bridgewater (84.6) don't rack up passing stats, but they do other things well.
So, how are the Broncos (7-2), Colts (4-5), Panthers (9-0) and Vikings (7-2) in first place in their divisions?
The Broncos were 7-0 before losing two in a row and now Manning is taking time off to get healthy. An outstanding defense was the main reason Denver won. Having the strongest kicker in the game in Brandon McManus also helped.
But Manning delivered some clutch drives, too. When he ran the hurry-up, no-huddle offense he's most comfortable operating, Manning played like the five-time MVP we've known. He has struggled because he's still adapting to Gary Kubiak's offense, he's banged-up and he's just old for football.
''We've had team wins,'' Manning said. ''Obviously, we've had a lot of close games, and we've managed to do some things well at the right time in the fourth quarter in many of the games. We've definitely played hard for 60 minutes every game, and we've played together. All three phases have done some good things at some critical times in order to help us win.''
Until Manning returns, it's Brock Osweiler's team.
''It's not just going to be on Brock, there are going to be 10 guys out there with Brock,'' cornerback Aqib Talib said. ''We're confident in our offense. They're going to go and put it together.''
The Colts (4-5) aren't winning much, but they're in the weak AFC South. Luck will be sidelined for a while because of an injury, so Indianapolis might be out of first place when he returns.
For now, 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck steers the offense and he was 2-0 in his previous appearances for a sidelined Luck this year.
''We're only going to go as far as we take ourselves,'' veteran receiver Andre Johnson said.
In Newton's case, numbers are misleading. His passing stats (56.3 completion percentage, 15 TDs, nine interceptions) are mediocre, but he's the best running QB (366 yards, 6 TDs) and he makes big plays in important spots.
''One thing about Cam is you can spy him and run with him, but then can you tackle him?'' Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said.
As for Bridgewater, the Vikings are carried by Adrian Peterson. They also have a stingy defense and strong special teams. Bridgewater only has seven TD passes, but he manages games well, avoids mistakes and has made clutch plays.
''We're awfully good on defense, we play the field position game as well as any team I've been around in a long time,'' Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner said.
Teams like New Orleans (4-6), San Diego (2-7) and Tennessee (2-7) prove it takes more than great quarterback play to win games. Drew Brees (101.3), Philip Rivers (100.7) and Marcus Mariota (98.3) are ranked in the top 10 in passer rating, but their teams are losing for other reasons. The Saints can't stop anyone on defense. The Chargers can't win close games. The Titans can't win a home game – 10 straight losses and counting.
Dallas (2-7) and San Francisco (3-6) are examples of teams who haven't won because of poor quarterback performances. The Cowboys went 0-7 without Tony Romo. The 49ers benched Colin Kaepernick after eight games.
AP Pro Football Writers Dave Campbell and Arnie Stapleton and AP Sports Writers Michael Marot and Steve Reed contributed to this report.
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