Posted: Wednesday September 5, 2012 5:57AM ; Updated: Wednesday September 5, 2012 1:25PM
Michael Rosenberg
Michael Rosenberg>INSIDE THE NFL

In quarterback league, the best way to rank teams is by their QBs

Story Highlights

Recent history has shown that if you don't have elite QB, you can't win Super Bowl

In these rankings, correlation between quarterback play, team success is strong

Look at Denver, where Broncos became contender after adding Peyton Manning

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The NFL season begins tonight with a nationally televised game between defending Super Bowl champion Eli Manning and Super Bowl hopeful Tony Romo. They have teams attached to them, too. But the NFL increasingly feels like a video game where you only control the quarterback. Everybody else runs around, catches passes, makes tackles and gives out bounties, but the quarterbacks decide the game.

We all know the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. But lately I have been thinking: Is it TOO MUCH of a quarterback-driven league? If you don't have an elite quarterback, can you really win a Super Bowl? A breakdown of the last nine Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks: Tom Brady (2), Ben Roethlisberger (2), Eli Manning (2), Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers. All six could go to the Hall of Fame.

Some of this perception is self-fulfilling -- when a quarterback wins the Super Bowl, we declare him elite, and when another quarterback fails to win a Super Bowl, we say he is not. Most fans would say Eli Manning is one of the best in the game and Romo is not quite there. But look at their regular-season numbers:

Romo: 64.5 completion percentage, 149 touchdowns, 72 interceptions, 96.9 rating.

Manning: 58.4 completion percentage, 185 touchdowns, 99 interceptions, 82.1 rating.

Perhaps we need to re-evaluate how we feel about Romo. Still, quarterbacks are so integral to NFL success that they have changed the way teams draft, how they build teams, and perhaps most importantly, how I write my NFL season preview. I was going to look at this NFL season in typical fashion: By ranking teams in predicted order of finish. I would carefully choose facts that back up my opinions while ignoring the facts that strongly imply I am an idiot.

But then I had an idea.

I decided to rank the teams in each division in order of who has the best quarterback. This is subjective, of course, but it works if you assume I am right about everything (Try it -- it's fun!). I think you will find that even though I ranked in order of quarterback play, it LOOKS like I predicted the order of finish. The correlation between quarterback play and team success is even stronger than I realized. OK, here we go.

AFC East

1. Patriots

QUARTERBACK: Tom Brady

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A PATRIOTS FAN: I can't wait for the Patriots to go 14-2 again so I can blame the two losses on Bobby Valentine. Also, this is the most fun team to cheer for in sports: Always good in a league where nobody else is always good, with a brilliant coach and a quarterback who makes you wish you were him for a day.

2. Bills

QUARTERBACK: Ryan Fitzpatrick

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A BILLS FAN: That defense could be scary good. But Fitzpatrick's meltdown last year makes me think he will do it again. I hate to sound like Clint Eastwood talking to a chair, but do you want a Harvard guy as your quarterback? The Bills might be just good enough to make me believe in them until they tear my heart out. The good old days are here again!

3. Jets

QUARTERBACK: Martim Sanbow

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A JETS FAN: I always figured that if any team in the league split its quarterback duties between a handsome playboy who isn't very good and a handsome virgin who isn't very good, it would be the Jets. Thank you, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, for making that happen. The Tebow experiment is worth a try, since Sanchez alone was not going to win a Super Bowl, but the Jets offense went backward so often in the preseason that by the end of the last game, it was July. I liked my coach better when he was fat.

4. Dolphins

QUARTERBACK: Ryan Tannehill

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A DOLPHINS FAN: Go Heat!

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

QUARTERBACK: Ben Roethlisberger

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A STEELERS FAN: Big Ben, I love you. Especially since you cleaned up your personal life. You did, right? Say you did. OK, just nod slowly and go out and break your nose for us again. Thanks, dude.

2. Baltimore Ravens

QUARTERBACK: Joe Flacco

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A RAVENS FAN: My team is the model for the theory that quarterbacks mean too much. If all quarterbacks were equal, and the rest of the players on the field determined who won and lost, wouldn't the Ravens be the most successful franchise of the last 15 years? Of course they would. But there is something about Flacco that makes me believe in him. At least a little.

3. Cincinnati Bengals

QUARTERBACK: Andy Dalton

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A BENGALS FAN: I fear Dalton will epitomize the Marvin Lewis era in Cincy: Promise at the beginning, followed by success, followed by the realization that some years will be good, some will be bad, but none will be great because this is Cincinnati and we are doomed, doomed, doomed.

4. Cleveland Browns

QUARTERBACK: Brandon Weeden

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A BROWNS FAN: Beer me.

AFC South

1. Houston Texans

QUARTERBACK: Matt Schaub

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A TEXANS FAN: My Oilers never played in the Super Bowl in almost three decades of trying, then left for Tennessee, where (of course) they played in the Super Bowl. Then my Texans came along, defined mediocrity for a while, and finally emerged as a Super Bowl contender last year. Then our top two quarterbacks got hurt. We need to borrow a couple of those writers who complained about the Red Sox all those years and have them write about us. Anyway, if Schaub has a Super Bowl run, he will make everybody re-evaluate the rest of his career (64.3 completion percentage, 92.2 rating).

2. Indianapolis Colts

QUARTERBACK: Andrew Luck

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A COLTS FAN: Between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, we might have 30 consecutive years of Hall of Fame quarterback play, except for 2011, when Manning was hurt and the team Dan Orlovsky-ed itself into landing Luck. I shan't complain about anything again. Ever.

3. Tennessee Titans

QUARTERBACK: Jake Locker

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A TITANS FAN: Locker is going to be a star, just like he was in college. What? He wasn't a star in college? Um ...

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

QUARTERBACK: Blaine Gabbert

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A JAGUARS FAN: I Googled "Blaine Gabbert" and the second suggestion was "Blaine Gabbert bust." Also, I bet if I Googled "cheap and lazy Internet columnist device" it would suggest "Google (blank) and you get (blank)." Anyway, if Gabbert does indeed go bust, at least I can say that, as a Jaguars fan, I saw this coming. This makes me feel better, except that it doesn't.

AFC West

1. Denver Broncos

QUARTERBACK: Peyton Manning

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A BRONCOS FAN: Remember when I argued with my buddies about whether Tim Tebow was the answer? Has any argument in the history of the universe seemed silly as quickly as that one did?

2. San Diego Chargers

QUARTERBACK: Philip Rivers

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A CHARGERS FAN: My only problem with Rivers is that the Chargers could have had Eli Manning and did have Drew Brees, and they chose Rivers. But then they made the brilliant move of hiring Norv Turner as coach, thereby shielding Rivers from blame when the Chargers collapse again.

3. Oakland Raiders

QUARTERBACK: Carson Palmer

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A RAIDERS FAN: Palmer has not had a good season in six years, but the Raiders haven't had a good season in 10 years, so hey, we're lucky to have him.

4. Kansas City Chiefs

QUARTERBACK: Matt Cassel

WHAT I WOULD THINK IF I WERE A CHIEFS FAN: I can't tell if I want my team to win 10 games and give Cassel another year or two, or to win five and give us a chance at a new quarterback.

 
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