When the NFL playoffs for the 2022 season begin on Saturday, we’ll see some of the league’s best talent in the middle. Eleven of the top 15 finishers in Total QBR made it into the field. Eight of the 14 playoff teams’ predicted starters were first-round picks (along with two of the backups). All seven AFC teams could start under-30 quarterbacks, and up to six passers could make their first playoff starts, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
These guys are all going to be big factors in whether their teams get into the deep playoffs, and I see a lot of quarterbacks here fighting for a Super Bowl title this year.
Ranking all 14 starting callers is not easy. I created the following 1-14 list based on how each passer is playing right now and what I expect from them as we head into the postseason. I tried to take the environment out of each quarterback and evaluate their ability and current form for themselves, regardless of team size, playcalling, or supporting lineup on offense. Here’s how I would stack the quarterbacks right now based on how I’ve seen them on tape throughout the season.
The first name on the list wasn’t too difficult to place, but it got harder from there.
Mahomes is the NFL’s Stephen Curry. He has the amazing ability to just slow down everything around him and use his immense football sense to do pretty much anything he wants with football, no matter the situation. He finished the season with a league-leading 77.6 QBR and threw 41 touchdown passes, his most since a 2018 MVP season. His arm talent is off the charts and there’s not much he can’t do.
I suppose there’s a bit of concern though that he gets too playful with football at times. He threw 12 interceptions a year after throwing 13. There’s something “I’ll just try that” about his game, and it’s not always necessary. But the thing about Mahomes is that he usually makes it anyway.
Burrow doesn’t just play quarterback out there — he plays against defense. He knows exactly what is needed and how to play against any opponent. With three seasons under his belt and a run to last year’s Super Bowl, he sees the field better than anyone in football. And he now has consecutive years of 34 or more TD throws ahead of him despite mediocre coverage.
There aren’t too many flaws in his game. I love what I see on tape by Burrow pretty much every weekend. His arm strength may not be on par with some of the other QBs listed here, but he still completed 13 downfield passes (at least 25 air yards) this season.
No game is dead with Allen under center. He’s the NFL’s ultimate playmaker, whether it’s with his rushing ability or his huge arm. And when Allen’s at his game, he’s the hottest quarterback in football. According to research from ESPN Stats & Information, Allen has the best TD-to-INT ratio (14-1) in playoff history among QBs with at least 150 pass attempts. His 71.2 QBR was second this year behind Mahomes and his 7.1 yards per dropback was fourth.
However, Allen’s greatest strength may be his greatest weakness. He has to learn to curb his competitiveness at times. He seems to get into that mode where he feels like he has to do everything himself and that can get him in trouble. His 29 interceptions over the past two seasons lead the league.
Hurts has a butterfly effect on the rest of the Eagles roster. You can only see how much he changes this team when he’s under the center and he creates problems for opposing attacks. Hurts forces opponents into true 11-on-11 football with precise passing and the ability to run the ball like a traffic jam.
He completed 66.5% of his passes this season and threw just six interceptions, and his 66.7 QBR finished fourth. And only Jamaal Williams had more rushing TDs than Hurts’ 13. He can be chasing the big game too much, but then again, he’s got AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith out there running routes for him.
Everyone knows about Herbert’s huge arm and his ability to hit the ball. But I think he’s getting better with his eye manipulation as well. That fits at this point with arm talent. He’s very good at keeping or moving defenders with his eyes to dissect defenses and find gaps. Some of his key targets got hurt at stretches this season, but he still threw 25 TD passes and completed 68.2% of his shots.
Herbert can be a bit strict out there sometimes. By that I mean he has such an impressive football sense that he can actually progress too quickly. He moves off things too quickly, and a little more patience might allow some recipients to open up.
Is there a player who faces more pressure in these playoffs? I would go as far as to say that there hasn’t been one in the last 10 years. Consider how much the Ravens are leaning on him, how important this performance is to his next contract, how self-reliant he is and the fact that he’s now missed five games in each of the last two seasons. That being said, Jackson is one of probably five players who can take on the postseason full force with his talent if they are healthy. This is a breakthrough ability of Super Bowl caliber. His 64.7 QBR is third among active QBs since his call-up in 2018, behind only Mahomes and Allen.
But the injuries will be a factor; He hasn’t played since early December (knee) and there’s still no guarantee he’ll play in the wild card round. I also don’t trust the Ravens’ air offensive enough in the pass-friendly AFC playoffs. If Jackson could toss it himself I’d feel better, but the lack of go-to-wide receivers limits his advantage.
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Brady is back in the playoffs and you can never rule him out. He can still hit the shots outside the numbers in one-on-one situations. But his touchdown count was down 18 from last season, and his yards per attempt (6.4) was the lowest in a season since 2002.
The good news for Brady? He gets the ball out quickly.
The bad news for Brady? He gets the ball out quickly.
With poor offensive line protection this season, Brady has avoided pressure by using the fast play, averaging 2.45 seconds before the pass (the fastest in the NFL). That’s a good thing, too, because Brady’s 6.7 QBR under pressure ranks 29th. But it’s also bad because it limits offense. The Bucs can only get the ball down with game action, and they just don’t do it enough.
Jones attacks midfield very well and shows high-end ball placement. His 75.9% completion rate on shots between hashes ranks second in the NFL. And he’s become a quick offensive asset for the Giants, picking up nearly 600 yards with his feet in 2022.
However, I wonder if his “good” is good enough. Can Jones lead the Giants to a string of playoff wins? The supporting cast doesn’t have the same talent as other NFC contenders, so Jones has to take over at times.
Lawrence is playing for free right now. He’s a fearless quarterback that forces you to defend every blade of grass on the field, vertically and horizontally. His TD to INT ratio in his rookie year was 12-17 but rose to 25-8 in 2022. His completion percentage also increased from under 60% to 66.3%. However, you’ll still see some adrenaline-pumping failures. After all, he is only 23 years old.
Smith is as good at making progressions as any of these quarterbacks. He’s quick to say “no” when it’s not there and move on, and he’s confident in what his eyes are telling him. That helped him an NFL-leading completion rate of 69.8% and the sixth-best QBR in the league (61.1). But he holds the ball a little too long, resulting in a higher sack count. He finished 46 that season, placing third most.
Few quarterbacks have the caliber of supporting cast that Cousins have in Minnesota. That starts with Justin Jefferson, whose presence on the field allows him to be more aggressive. But he is occasionally too aggressive and trusts his eyes too much. As a so-so quarterback, Cousins must adhere to a certain playing style in order to be successful. He helped the Vikings to 13 wins, but his 49.8 QBR was 23rd in the league.
That may seem like little, but Prescott is entering the playoffs fresh off the worst season of his career. The ball was just always in the wrong place and he doesn’t seem to see the field clearly. He missed five games early in the season but still took the league lead in interceptions (15). Prescott also left the bag too quickly and didn’t have enough confidence in the protection.
But I’ll say this: Prescott is damn good out there. He has an unshakeable mentality and that can go a long way in the postseason. And its connection to the receiver CeeDee Lamb is excellent.
2022 NFL Playoffs
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That’s not really a knock. It’s just an unknown. We haven’t seen Purdy play enough to know what he’ll do in the playoffs. But in his limited time starting for the Niners, he’s mostly known where to go with football. His eyes are always in the right place. His 65.6 QBR would place him fifth in the league if he qualifies and he has yet to lose a game. But how will he deal with the pressure of the postseason? What will happen if/when San Francisco is 0:14 behind?
Thompson is in line to start in the wildcard round, with Tua Tagovailoa excluded. As a seventh-round rookie third-stringer, he’s still very inexperienced, throwing just 57.1% of his throws and averaging 5.1 yards per attempt in seven games (two starts). But he has some mobility and explosive arm strength. The ball jumps out of his hand as a pitcher, although he’s often overly aggressive and needs to weave in a little more touch on some of his passes.
Others who could play
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins: Tagovailoa is eliminated for the wild card round but could eventually play if Miami advances. His 68.5 QBR placed third this season and he sees things before they happen. He can throw over or around defenders as well as anyone in the league, and he was very efficient in his breakout year, averaging 8.9 yards per attempt (first in the NFL).
Teddy Bridgewater, Miami Dolphins: Bridgewater is instinctive and aggressive – but not careless – with football. He’s still struggling with a dislocated little finger on his throwing hand.
Tyler Huntley, Baltimore Ravens: Huntley is a good rhythmic passer, and while he’s not Jackson, he still has some rushing ability. We’re still awaiting confirmation that Jackson will play in the wild card round.
Anthony Brown, Baltimore Ravens: Brown could be forced into action if both Jackson and Huntley are unable to play in the wild card round. The undrafted rookie has completed just 44.9% of his shots in two games and is yet to throw a TD pass.