NFL 2014-15 Preview: Which QB Will Win the Game of Throws? - Rolling Stone
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Game of Throws: Who is the NFL’s Top QB?

As the NFL gears up for another arms race, which QBs have the most firepower?

peyton manning nfl quarterback

Peyton Manning

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Are you ready for a modicum of football?!?

The 2014-15 NFL season kinda sorta kicked off on Sunday night with the annual Hall of Fame Game, which saw the Bills and Giants play to a final score of “something” to “who cares.”

And while the action on the field was minimal – and the penalties plentiful – all that mattered was  last night, one player snapped a brown oblong to another player, while a bunch of other players tried to wrap their arms around him and prevent numbers from going on a scoreboard. That means that football is back, and we’re seven months away from crowning the winner of Super Bowl XLIX.

So let’s rap about quarterbacks, shall we?

Though football hipsters are quick to point out that teams have won Super Bowls with forgettable quarterbacks like Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer, the truth is most teams will live or die by their QB. Especially in an age where teams are passing it with record regularity and defenses are spending big cash (and high draft picks) on secondary players to stop them.

Consider that last season, the worst QBs to make the playoffs were Andy Dalton and Alex Smith. Dalton broke franchise records for yards and touchdowns in a single season – impressive even if it was for the Bengals – while Smith threw 23 touchdowns and only seven interceptions in Andy Reid’s (Mid)West Coast Offense.

Do you need a great quarterback to be a great team? Not exactly. But if you have a bad one, you’d better have one of the greatest defenses of all time, like the Bucs and Ravens did when they won those championships with mediocre signal-callers. And who are the five greatest QBs heading into this season? Here are my picks, complete with their rapper spirit animal. Because we all know Peyton’s bumping that new Fredo Santana tape.

Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

2013 stats: 5,477 yards, 55 TD, 10 INT, 115.1 rating

2013 W/L record: 13-3, lost Super Bowl to Seahawks

Ridiculous truth: Through his first nine games last season, Manning had 33 touchdown passes. Only one other player finished the entire season with more than 33 TDs (Drew Brees, 39).

Rapper spirit animal: Snoop Dogg

In 1993, Peyton Manning was being recognized as the best high school football player in the country, and Snoop made his debut with Doggystyle. More than 20 years later, both have lived up to the hype, and both are still relevant in their respective games.

Last year, at the age of 37, Manning broke NFL records for passing yards and touchdowns in a single season, leading the Broncos to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1998. He doesn’t just complement the players like Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, he elevates them to heights they’d only reach by playing with one of the greatest QBs of all-time. Sure, his age may be an issue, but Brett Favre put up his best statistical season at age 40, and there’s no reason to think Manning won’t continue to dominate in 2014.

Snoop Dogg may not be the best rapper in the game right now, but was still featured on a top five single in 2014 with “Wiggle” by Jason Derulo. And if you don’t believe in the power of an O.G., just check in with Eric Decker after he spent 2014-15 catching passes from Geno Smith instead of Manning.

Ooh-wee, might need to get him some of those sticky-icky-icky gloves to wear.

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

2013 stats: 2,536 yards, 17 TD, 6 INT, 104.9 rating

2013 W/L record: 6-2 (not including loss to Bears where he was injured after two passes), lost in wild card round to 49ers

Ridiculous truth: Rodgers has five seasons with a passer rating over 100, tied with Manning for second-most all time behind Steve Young, who had six. Rodgers has only been a starter for six seasons.

Rapper spirit animal: Jay Z

And now you know for certain that the Packers’ empire will fall without Rodgers, because they started the season 5-2 with him, and went 0-4-1 without him before eeking out a one-point win against the horrible Atlanta Falcons. Rodgers returned in Week 17, beat the Chicago Bears 33-28 and miraculously led the team to an NFC North title.

Without their star quarterback, Green Bay was a bad team with a terrible defense. With Rodgers, they were just as good as they’ve been over almost any point of the last five years, only losing to the 49ers in the playoffs on a 33-yard Phil Dawson field goal as time expired.

Much like Shawn Carter, there has never really been a time when Rodgers hasn’t been successful, and there’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue well into the 2020’s. Without him, the Packers can’t even “hova” above .500.

He’s not just a football player, he’s football, player.

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

2013 stats: 5,162 yards, 39 TD, 12 INT, 104.7 rating

2013 W/L record: 11-5, lost to Seahawks in divisional round

Ridiculous truth: Since 2008, Brees has thrown 229 touchdowns, 42 more than any other player. That’s the same number as Eli Manning has in his entire career, and 21 more than Kurt Warner had in his.

Rapper spirit animal: Pharrell

While Pharrell has been incredibly successful for a long time, he’s only become a phenomenon thanks to “Happy.” On a list of elite artists in the hip-hop game, he absolutely belongs, but is it possible he’s also underrated?

Despite the fact that Brees would make anyone’s list of elite quarterbacks – a future Hall of Fame player who could surpass Dan Marino for third all-time in career touchdown passes within the next two years – he has never won the league MVP award. He’s made the AP First Team All-Pro list just once. Since joining the Saints in 2006, he’s led the league in completion percentage three times, in yardage four times and touchdowns four times, but at 6-foot-zip, he’s stood in the shadows of Manning and Tom Brady for much of this century.

And he’s done it for a franchise that has been to the playoffs as many times with him (five appearances in eight years) as they had in their previous 39 years without him. Will history remember Pharrell and Brees as the giants they are, or will everything be boiled down to a big ass hat and a birthmark?

Tom Brady, New England Patriots

2013 stats: 4,343 yards, 25 TD, 11 INT, 87.3 rating

2013 W/L record: 12-4, lost to Broncos in AFC title game

Ridiculous truth: Brady has 11 double-digit win seasons in his career, only Manning (13) has more and only four players have done it more than six times.

Rapper spirit animal: Eminem

A scrawny kid from Michigan begins his career as an underdog, overcomes the odds to shock the world and become the best in his game? The only way this comparison could be more perfect would be if Tom Brady went by the nickname Teeanbee.

No late-drafted QB (199th overall in 2000) has had as much success as Brady, and don’t be fooled for a second by his “down season” in 2013. The rest of the league isn’t that lucky. Despite the Patriots losing Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead – and with Rob Gronkowski playing in less than half of their games – Brady still led New England to their third-straight conference championship game.

And over the final eight games of the year, Brady threw for 2,519 yards, 16 touchdowns, 5 picks, and a rating of 99.2. When his weapons are healthy, like they were in Week 9 against the Steelers, Brady threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns in a 55-31 victory. He’s still as good (or better) than anyone.

When the real Tom Brady stands up this year, you’ll remember that he’s the real Brady, all the other Tom Brady’s are just imitating. Don’t forget about Bré.

Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

2013 stats: 4,478 yards, 32 TD, 11 INT, 105.5 rating

2013 W/L record: 9-7, lost in divisional round to Broncos

Ridiculous truth: Since becoming a starter in 2006, Rivers hasn’t missed a single start and his 7.9 yards per pass attempt is second only to Rodgers in that time. As you can see, he also leads all QBs in ridiculous intensity (thanks Reddit).

Rapper spirit animal: Kid Cudi

Even though I intentionally didn’t put this list in order, it’s tough to escape the fact that if you name the top five QBs, there’s going to be one guy that a lot of people disagree on. After an internal struggle that lasted “Day ‘n’ Nite,” I settled on Rivers, a player whose 2013 supporting cast included a 33-year-old tight end, a 21-year-old rookie receiver, a “scat back” that kept getting discarded to the waiver wire and a number two receiver that hadn’t been relevant since 2008.

But none of that kept Rivers from putting up top-five numbers across the board. Working with arguably less than even Brady, Rivers was first in completion percentage, fourth in touchdowns, yards per attempt and passer rating, and fifth in yardage. Beyond that, he was also tied for second in fourth-quarter comebacks.

You could put a younger player here with more potential, but only a few could even hope to be as good as Rivers has been. With 35 more touchdown passes, he’ll surpass players like Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Y.A. Tittle and Dan Fouts in career scores.

Like Cudi, he’s been flying under the radar, and it’s possible that the best has yet to come. So long as Rivers doesn’t release a WZRD album.

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