After 17 years in the NFL, Peyton Manning is no longer one of the top five quarterbacks in the league. The 38-year-old is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer, holding the majority of the league’s top career passing records. But this season, despite leading the league in touchdown passes, several other quarterbacks moved past Manning and into the elite.
Manning was certainly on pace to remain in the top five, but his play in the last four games represented a precipitous decline compared to his work in the first 12 weeks of the season. In the last four games he’s posted 85.3, 56.9, 125.6 and 61.8 passer ratings, while throwing six interceptions to five touchdowns.
The Broncos have won three of those four games, but at the most clutch time of the season against Cincinnati in Week 16, when they were looking to keep pace for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, Manning folded with four interceptions.
There’s no question Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, boasting 4,454 passing yards, 39 touchdowns to 15 interceptions, and a 102.9 average passer rating. But the five quarterbacks below posted some equally impressive if not better numbers, and came through in clutch moments throughout the season.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (4,635 yards, 30 TDs, 8 INTs, 103.8 rating)
On the cusp of the postseason and possibly a first-round bye, Roethlisberger is in the midst of his best season as a pro. He’s already set a new career-high in passing yards and is likely to do the same in touchdown passes.
Another victory over Cincinnati locks up the first Steelers division title since 2011, and Roethlisberger deserves the majority of the credit. The AFC North was the toughest division in the league this season, and in his last two division games Roethlisbeger’s tossed nine touchdowns to zero picks, putting Pittsburgh in line for the title and a Super Bowl contender.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (4,601 yards, 38 TDs, 16 INTs, 95.4 rating)
The player who will be compared to Manning for the rest of his career, Luck once again claimed the AFC South and was on pace to lead the league in both yardage and touchdowns, and still can. For the third straight year Luck’s improved his accuracy and passer rating, and he became the youngest player to reach the 12,000-yard threshold in a career, all with Indy in line to secure the No. 2 seed. Luck also bested Manning in Week 1 by leading two fourth-quarter touchdown drives for the win.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots (4,029 yards, 33 TDs, 9 INTs, 98.3 rating)
Brady was in danger of joining Manning outside the top five after an atrocious start to the season with four touchdowns to interceptions and two games with less than 200 yards passing. Since then Brady’s led the Pats to the top seed in the AFC and he’s notched his fourth straight season, and seventh overall, with 4,000-plus yards. If it weren’t for the last two players on this list, Brady would be in line for his third MVP trophy.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys (3,406 yards, 32 TDs, 8 INTs, 114.4 rating)
Locking up his first trip to the postseason and double-digit victory total in five years, Romo torched Indianapolis for four touchdowns last week and the NFC East title as well.
After that performance he now leads the league in passer rating with a new career-high of his own, and is tops in the NFL with a 70.3 completion percentage. If Dallas can climb to a top two seed in the NFC, Romo might collect his first MVP.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (4,155 yards, 36 TDs, 5 INTs, 111.0 rating)
The personification of a well-oiled quarterback machine, Rodgers is asked every game to carry the Packers offense and he’s done so with incredible accuracy. He does have top receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, as well as running back Eddie Lacy, but Rodgers is consistently tabbed with leading Green Bay attack downfield on every series. For six straight years Rodgers has posted a passer rating of 100 or better, and he’s thrown only two interceptions in the last seven games.