Ranking 8 NFL Playoffs QBs remaining, from the best to Baker Mayfield

This year’s group of eight quarterbacks left in the divisional round of the playoffs is a grab bag of skepticism and doubt.

Like the doubt that comes with changing teams three times in a year and taking the only team that wanted you to start into the second round of the playoffs. Or people saying that rookie quarterbacks can’t be considered for MVP or win playoff games. Or teams rejecting the opportunity to sign or even negotiate with a quarterback who actually did win MVP and was free to talk to other franchises last year.

Another QB was only a “throw-in” for a trade designed to move a bigger name at the position, while another was the last pick of the draft, and another sat three years behind the starter waiting for his turn.

Even Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen had people questioning if this year was “their year”.

No matter the level of doubt you had going into the playoffs, they’re here now. These are the eight quarterbacks left in the playoffs, ranked from best to least-best.

1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs

Of the two Super Bowls won by quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs, Patrick Mahomes has two. So until further notice, I’m going to go with that.

Does Mahomes have the worst supporting cast remaining in the playoffs? Travis Kelce had his worst season since becoming “Travis Kelce”, the offensive line has been ranked middle of the league, rookie Rashee Rice had nearly twice as many targets as the next-closest receiver on the Chiefs, and Kansas City had the highest rate of drops (6.9%) in the NFL.

This could help explain why Mahomes numbers were down and why he won’t be winning his third MVP, but even a “bad year” for Mahomes has his team in the divisional playoffs.

Kansas City’s offense has had to adapt with Tyreek Hill or a legitimate number one receiving threat and because of that Mahomes ranked 30th in intended air yards per attempt (6.5) and 31st in completed air yards per pass attempt (4.1), but Chiefs receivers were first in yards after catch (2.552) by almost 400 yards over second place. Mahomes had the highest completion percentage of his career (67.2%), ranked third in on-target percentage (80.7%) and had the third-lowest bad throw percentage (13.3%) among quarterbacks with at least nine starts.

The 2023 season won’t stand out on Mahomes’ resume like 2018 or 2022, his two MVP campaigns, but in some ways it is more impressive.

2. Josh Allen, Bills

To let you know how the AFC playoffs are going, the “preeminent quarterback rivalry of the decade” is happening before we even get to the conference championships.

Mahomes vs. Allen is what we’ve been living for and though the Chiefs won the postseason meetings in 2020 and 2021, this time Josh Allen is at home. No, not entirely because of this, but largely because of this:

Maybe the only play more exciting than a Josh Allen touchdown right now is a Josh Allen interception. Criticize his decision making if you want, Allen’s “go big or go home” mentality will inevitably end in a Super Bowl eventually, if not several, and he’s the only reason Buffalo’s even in the conversation. Allen’s four-straight appearances in the divisional round is the most by a Bills quarterback since Jim Kelly and Buffalo had never posted five seasons in a row with double-digit wins…until now.

The Bills have won seven of their last eight and Allen has scored 22 touchdowns in that run. It’ll be disappointing if Allen doesn’t have at least two touchdowns in this game, but maybe even more disappointing if he doesn’t add in a pick. Every throw is a journey.

3. Lamar Jackson, Ravens

The pressure is on for Jackson to beat the Texans this weekend because he’s dangerously close to winning his second MVP before he wins his second career playoff game. Lucky for Lamar, this is also the best team he’s been surrounded by and the best he’s played in a career that runneth over in highlights.

With a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken and a pair of receiver additions in Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham, Jr., Jackson posted career-highs in completion percentage (67.2), passing yards (3,678), Y/A (8.0), and pass attempts (457). For the first time in his career, Lamar was above the league average in Y/A, Comp%, TD%, INT%, Passer Rating, and Net Y/A, and he did so while still rushing for 821 yards and five touchdowns.

A Lamar Jackson run is still one of the most dangerous rushing plays in the NFL, but you can’t sleep on his ability to throw downfield. Jackson had the most scrambles (65) and RPO runs (25) in the NFL, and by a good margin.

4. C.J. Stroud, Texans

When measuring quality of play at this moment, experience is of no consequence, and C.J. Stroud is playing well beyond his years as a rookie. He was as good as any quarterback in the first round of the playoffs, if not the best, competing 76% of his passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns against a Browns defense thought to be the best in the league.

Before the draft we were talking about his S2 score, now we’re talking about his PFF grade. The only number that matters to the Texans is “1”. As in, the Texans won 1 playoff game and they think C.J. Stroud can win at least 1 more.

It is not a stretch to say that Stroud would start over any quarterback left in the NFC playoffs. It’s not that a team wouldn’t be very happy with Jordan Love or Brock Purdy, but if they’re being honest then every team would rather have C.J. Stroud. Not because he’s on a rookie contract. Because he’s playing like a top-10 quarterback week in and week out, which I don’t think you can say about the quarterbacks left in the NFC.

If not, all the quarterbacks in the NFC regardless of current situation.

Since returning from injury, Stroud has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games, has completed over 75% of his passes in each game, and he just gets a little bit better every week. Stroud is a big game hunter too: His 9.0 intended air yards per attempt ranked first among all QBs with at least 10 starts.

With Nico Collins emerging as a verifiable number one receiver this season, maybe the only thing that could hold the Texans back from an upset is the midseason loss of Tank Dell. Houston would have had that much more firepower on offense, but even without Dell the Texans are going to be a tough out because they have Stroud.

5. Jordan Love, Packers

If Jordan Love isn’t already considered a consensus top-10 quarterback, having thrown 21 touchdowns and one interception in his last nine games, there won’t be any skeptics left should he upset the 49ers and take Green Bay to the NFC Championship. If that happens, forget everything I said about him being behind Stroud.

If by some chance, the Packers can take a first half lead against the 49ers and carry it to halftime, that’s where Love has excelled this season. He has thrown 15 touchdowns and no interceptions when Green Bay has the lead, compared to 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions when the Packers are trailing. We know that Kyle Shanahan is usually the one fearful of blowing a fourth quarter lead, but in this case it really would behoove the 49ers to pull ahead and pull away.

In his first season as a starter, Love has a chance to do something that Brett Favre didn’t do until his fourth season at the helm and Aaron Rodgers didn’t do until his third: Reach the conference championship game.

We’ll be having a very different conversation about Jordan Love in the offseason if that happens.

6. Brock Purdy, 49ers

Though he might be sixth on this list, Purdy may as well embrace skepticism and let the games do the talking for him. It’s working for him so far.

After leading the NFL in passer rating (113), QBR (72.7), Y/A (9.6), and TD% (7%), while ranking fourth in completion rate (69.4%) and third in touchdowns (31), for a team that earned the number one seed, Purdy has reached the maximum level of what he can do to prove himself while not being seriously considered for MVP.

People will say that Purdy is here because he has Kyle Shanahan as a head coach, Christian McCaffrey in the backfield, Trent Williams protecting his blindside, and Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk catching passes from him. Okay. Isn’t it better to be the quarterback on the best team and thriving than to be one any team that doesn’t have a good support system in place?

I’m sure Purdy will take the advantages he has in San Francisco with less credit than going to a bad team and getting more credit.

Win the next three games and the only thing they’ll be saying about Brock Purdy at that point is, “He’s a Super Bowl winner”.

7. Jared Goff, Lions

Who is in the top-six of this conversation is rather easy, there’s a clear drop-off in between Purdy and the other two, even if that may be a little unfair. Purdy has only been a starter for barely more than a year, but unlike Goff he’s at least someone we all know was in the MVP conversation this season.

Still, either Jared Goff or Baker Mayfield is going to be starting in the NFC Championship game this year.

The 2023 season has been Goff’s best since he helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl in 2018. Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has something to say about that—he might be the first Sean McVay since Sean McVay—and it will be interesting to see how Detroit’s season goes in 2024 when Johnson leaves for a head coaching job.

For right now, Goff has Johnson, a top-5 offensive line, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jameson Williams, and two really good top-10 running backs.

Is this the best version of Jared Goff we’ve ever seen? Probably. But even when he’s better, the “Why did you do that?” or “How could you miss that?” Jared Goff has continued to show up this year and is likely to be seen again.

8. Baker Mayfield, Buccaneers

Every playoffs has at least one quarterback who is crashing the party and this time it’s a former number one overall pick who switched teams three times in less than a year. But Baker Mayfield didn’t just fall backwards into the divisional round of the playoffs, he earned it.

Going to perhaps the only team that would give him a fair chance to start, Mayfield turned a slow start into being hot at the right time: In his last 12 games, Mayfield has 23 touchdowns, six interceptions, a little over 3,000 yards, and a passer rating just under 100. Now he’s coming off arguably his best start in a Bucs uniform, tossing three touchdowns in a blowout win over the Eagles.

It’s fair to say that every quarterback left in the playoffs will still be with the same team next season, including Mayfield even though he only signed a one-year deal in free agency. The Bucs will likely extend him after the season because they now have proof that winning the division and advancing in the playoffs is possible with Mayfield at quarterback. Do they have enough talent on the roster to elevate Mayfield into winning a Super Bowl this year?

If we’ve learned anything, it’s that we always count out Baker Mayfield a little too soon.

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