There is no more high-profile position in sports than an NFL quarterback. Each team may approach this postseason with a 53 man roster, but all the headlines, all the tweets, and all the buzz are going to center around who is calling the signals and throwing the passes with the postseason games on the line.
Playoff games can make or break quarterbacks. And they can be the difference in determining whether or not you’re one of the all-time greats that will go down in history or a fading memory.
Of the twelve quarterbacks to enter into this posteason, it may be a surprise that only four of them have lifted the Lombardi Trophy before as a starting quarterback – Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Nick Foles. For each of them, another Super Bowl would add another chapter to their legacy and standing in NFL history. For the others, it represents an opportunity they may never see again to become a legend in their own right.
Below we’ve ranked the twelve playoff quarterbacks for this postseason and what a Super Bowl might mean for their legacy. And we’ll start with a name that might be a surprise…
12. Tom Brady (Patriots)
It may be really weird to see Tom Brady at the beginning of any list revolving around playoff quarterbacks instead of the end, but this list is one of the few where it makes sense. Seriously, what would another Super Bowl add to Tom Brady’s already secure legacy as the most successful championship quarterback in the history of the NFL? Brady has absolutely nothing to prove at this point in his career as he’s already quarterbacked the biggest and best dynasty in NFL history. Is a sixth title really going to add that much to his legacy? Would you think any less of Michael Jordan if he was only 5-0 in the Finals with 5 MVPs instead of 6-0 and 6 MVPs? What about if John Wooden had won only 9 titles instead of 10 at UCLA? Probably not. It’s the same with Brady. His legacy is secure no matter what happens in this postseason or any other.
Welcome to the Elite?
11. Mitchell Trubisky (Bears)
This isn’t anything against Mitchell Trubisky, but he won’t be the reason the Bears win the Super Bowl. Trubisky may have more upside than any modern era quarterback the Bears have had, but like usual Chicago will go as far as their elite defense will lead them. Forgive me for speaking these words into the universe, but Trubisky’s job this postseason will be to manage the game and not make mistakes. Yes, he’s a former #2 overall pick that wouldn’t automatically have to be thrown in with the Trent Dilfers of the world as QBs that were carried to a Lombardi Trophy, but he wouldn’t turn into Peyton Manning overnight with a ring either.
10. Dak Prescott (Cowboys)
Like Trubisky, the Cowboys will lean on their defense and (more specifically perhaps) Ezekiel Elliott for a deep postseason run. Prescott has put up some good numbers in his first three seasons in Dallas, but he’s far from the NFL’s top passers statistically. In fact, he ranked 14th-16th this year in passing yards, touchdowns, and quarterback rating, which is about as middle of the road as you can get. Then again, there’s nothing like winning the Super Bowl as quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, so that’s sure to give him a legacy boost as well. If anything, it’ll guarantee him a spot as a lead network analyst in 15 years once Troy Aikman or Tony Romo retire from broadcasting.
9. Lamar Jackson (Ravens)
At the beginning of the season, Jackson would probably be the least likely person on this list to be in the conversation because he wasn’t even expected to regularly feature, sitting behind Joe Flacco. However, the Ravens have completely revolutionized their offense into a spread option college-style attack that suits Jackson’s unique dual-threat ability. This is a tricky one because if Jackson leads the Ravens to the Super Bowl in his rookie season, it could signal a sea change across the NFL and open the minds of coaches into thinking that a spread offense heavy on quarterback runs could actually work in the NFL. However, we’ve never seen it sustained at the NFL because of longevity and durability reasons for those quarterbacks. So even if Jackson does shockingly win it all with the Ravens, it would need to be carried over multiple seasons in order for it to have a true lasting impact.
8. DeShaun Watson (Texans)
The former Clemson star may be the most naturally gifted passer in this group of young quarterbacks. In his first full season, Watson put up 4,000 yards in spite of playing behind a porous offensive line that allowed 62 sacks. That was enough for Watson to place in a tie for fifth all-time for most sacks suffered in a season. That’s not great for his long-term prospects after coming off a torn ACL in his rookie campaign. A Super Bowl victory would immediately vault Watson into the upper echelon of quarterbacks, though, where he should reside for a long, long time…. assuming he will stay healthy.
The Miracle Man
7. Nick Foles (Eagles)
The Eagles backup-turned-savior is certainly the most unique name on this list because of what he accomplished last postseason, coming off the bench to lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl and even outdueling Tom Brady and the Patriots in the process. Now Foles is tasked with trying to put together a sequel that hopes to live up to the original. Can he do it? Sure! Why not? Philly won five of their last six to sneak in (thanks in part to the Vikings folding down the stretch) and Foles started the last three including a road victory against the vaunted Rams. If Foles is somehow able to do it again this postseason he will undoubtedly go down in history as the greatest backup quarterback of all-time. Of course, he probably has earned that moniker already. At least if he goes back-to-back he may even find his way into a permanent starting job next season.
6. Russell Wilson (Seahawks)
Once a quarterback wins a second ring, it doesn’t matter so much what the stats may say, the Hall of Fame becomes a distinct possibility. We all thought the Seahawks were on their way to being the NFL’s next great dynasty when they were one yard away from going back-to-back in Super Bowl 49. However, Russell Wilson was intercepted by Malcolm Butler, and the Seahawks would-be dynasty went into a bit of a backslide. The Legion of Boom is gone now and this is Wilson’s team (however controversial that may be), so a championship this season from a Wild Card spot would cement his place in NFL history as a two-time winner.
5. Andrew Luck (Colts)
It just has to be a relief for Colts fans to see Andrew Luck playing, let alone returning to the form he displayed before his mysterious shoulder injury that kept him away for the entire 2017 season. Luck’s career started so brightly in Indianapolis, but it seems like his standing should be higher than it is amongst the NFL’s elite. It shouldn’t seem possible, but it’s probably true that Luck has flown under the radar thus far, partly due to his team’s success and partly due to injury. Yet, at 29 he should be entering into his prime as a quarterback. If he’s able to lift the Lombardi and build on it, we could be seeing another quarterback blossom into a Hall of Famer with the Colts.
4. Philip Rivers (Chargers)
Even without a ring, Philip Rivers is probably a future Hall of Famer. Yes, he has played in an era that is insanely friendly to quarterbacks and has benefitted as such. But when he does decide to hang it up, he will be Top 10 all-time in passing yards, touchdowns, quarterback rating, and completion percentage. That will be tough to leave out of the Canton conversation on its own merit. Of course, a Super Bowl trophy would make it a no-brainer and finally bring Rivers into the conversation with the likes of Brees, Rodgers, and Brady instead of on the outside looking in.
The New G.O.A.T.
3. Jared Goff (Rams)
This season feels like the beginning of a passing of the torch in some respects. The last 10-15 years have been dominated by a small handful of elite quarterbacks both statistically and in the playoffs. Among active quarterbacks, in some order you have Brady, Brees, and Rodgers as the top three dominant forces at the position with a shoutout to Eli and Big Ben for their two Super Bowls a piece.
This year two second-year signal callers have staked their claim as the next generation of that elite class of quarterbacks – Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes. Goff looked dangerously close to bust territory after a rocky rookie season, but the transition from Jeff Fisher to Sean McVay has made him into an All-Pro. Goff may not have put up numbers as gaudy as Mahomes did in Kansas City, but his relationship with McVay looks like the second coming of Drew Brees and Sean Payton. An early Super Bowl for both of them would lay the foundation for a pairing that could set the NFL record book alight over the next decade or more.
2. Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs)
A Super Bowl win would simply be the capstone for Patrick Mahomes in what is one of the greatest statistical seasons any quarterback has ever produced. Mahomes is the MVP frontrunner after becoming only the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 50 TDs in a season this year in his first full year as a starter. Mahomes’ gifts for playing the position are simply extraordinary and anything is truly possible when it comes to the numbers he can put up over a career.
But don’t discount what winning a Super Bowl would mean to the Chiefs and their fans. Kansas City hasn’t won a home playoff game since 1994, losing six in a row. They haven’t been to the Super Bowl since Super Bowl IV and the days of Hank Stram. That’s an awfully big curse to try to break so a lot of weight is going to be on his shoulders. If he’s able to pull it off on top of all the numbers he’s put up to, the sky is the limit for what Mahomes’ legacy could be.
1. Drew Brees (Saints)
It’s almost impossible to state how much a second Super Bowl would mean to Drew Brees’ legacy as a quarterback. He will own almost every major NFL passing record when he retires and broke one of the most hallowed NFL records of all this year when he surpassed Peyton Manning’s all-time passing yards mark in Week 5 against the Redskins. Manning’s TD mark of 539 should fall in Week 5 or 6 next year and assuming Brees outlasts Tom Brady (a year and a half his senior) that record will be his as well. It’s not just yards and touchdowns, though. Brees also is the current all-time leader in completion percentage, 300 yard games, 400 yards games, yards per game, and completions.
In spite of all the records, all too often Brees is passed over in the discussion of greatest ever because of his lack of Super Bowls. His one victory in Super Bowl XLIV certainly puts the Super Bowl Rubber Stamp of Validation on his career, but there is a huge difference when comparing one Super Bowl victory to four (like Montana) or five (like Brady). Two Super Bowls would at least put him equal with Peyton Manning and bring him into his rightful place alongside those others as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Of course, the fact that the Saints “only” have one Super Bowl is far from Brees’ fault. For most of his time in New Orleans, he’s had a bottom-third defense to try to carry to success. But with a very good young defense we’ve seen what Brees and the Saints are capable of as they go into the postseason as Super Bowl favorites after a 13-3 season. It’s more than a little ironic that Brees doesn’t have to do it all on his own this postseason when there’s so much that can be potentially added to his legacy.