Trailing 17-7 late in the third quarter in Baltimore, Drew Brees stared at a third-and-8 in his own territory. It was the Saints’ sixth possession of the Week 7 game, the sun was down and they were running out of chances. The Ravens sent a perfectly timed safety blitz, a free rusher that should have proved decisive, but Brees found a way to complete a pass with safety Tony Jefferson draped all over him. Seventeen fourth-quarter points later, the Saints kept their undefeated road record intact. These are the moments an MVP season is made of.
My midseason QB Index rankings include some separation at the top, with Brees and Patrick Mahomes ahead of the field. Aaron Rodgers is a strong No. 3, with a deep group of quality quarterbacks behind him.
There have never been so many quarterbacks playing so well at the same time, a reality reflected in the league’s overall passing numbers. If this is the NFL’s equivalent of a juiced-ball era, I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.
NOTE: This is the Quarterback Index. The QBs are ranked based on 2018 play alone. The arrows reflect the changes since the first-quarter 32-man rankings. The quarterback who played the majority of snaps for each team from Weeks 5-8 is listed here.
It’s difficult to write about Mahomes without sounding hyperbolic, so why fight it? He appears to expand the possibilities at the position. Mahomes’ ability opens up new options for Andy Reid’s play-calls and creates different, dazzling routes Mahomes takes to execute them.
2018 stats: 8 games | 65.6 pct | 2,526 pass yds | 8.9 ypa | 26 pass TD | 6 INT | 119 rush yds | 2 rush TD
Brees’ quiet Sunday night in Minnesota knocked him a peg below Mahomes in my rankings, but Saints fans should consider it a great sign that they could win comfortably on the road while only needing 120 yards from Brees.
2018 stats: 7 games | 77.4 pct | 1,990 pass yds | 8.2 ypa | 14 pass TD | 1 INT | 9 rush yds | 2 rush TD
Rodgers is playing at an exceptional level, but the margin for error in Los Angeles was too small for the Packers offense to go three-and-out three times, punt five times and take a safety.
2018 stats: 7 games | 61.3 pct | 2,283 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 13 pass TD | 1 INT | 116 rush yds | 0 rush TD
This is what Rivers looks like with support. He’s faced the third-lowest pressure rate on deep passes this season, according to PFF, helping him to throw downfield darts all year. This week’s matchup in Seattle is a perfect heat check for both sides.
2018 stats: 7 games | 69.1 pct | 2,008 pass yds | 9.1 ypa | 17 pass TD | 2 INT | -1 rush yds | 0 rush TD
Goff had a play last week where he had his eyes downfield, spying Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels just as he flashed in front of him. As a rookie, Goff would have taken a sack in that spot. As a second-year player, Goff would have thrown it out of bounds. This season, Goff escaped to his left before quickly resetting and throwing a pea 35 yards downfield to Brandin Cooks.
2018 stats: 8 games | 67.6 pct | 2,425 pass yds | 9.6 ypa | 17 pass TD | 5 INT | 62 rush yds | 0 rush TD
Ryan ranks third in QBR, sixth in DVOA and 12th according to PFF. He’s playing too well to completely rule out a Falcons run back to playoff contention.
2018 stats: 7 games | 71.1 pct | 2,335 pass yds | 8.9 ypa | 15 pass TD | 2 INT | 67 rush yds | 2 rush TD
This is not exactly the team Cousins thought he was joining, but the Vikings are getting just what they hoped for at quarterback. Case Keenum would be 3-5 with this year’s Vikings squad.
2018 stats: 8 games | 70.7 pct | 2,521 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 16 pass TD | 4 INT | 78 rush yds | 1 rush TD
Take Carson Wentz, playing at this level, and put him on the 2018 Chiefs. He would probably be an MVP candidate.
2018 stats: 6 games | 70.7 pct | 1,788 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 13 pass TD | 2 INT | 89 rush yds | 0 rush TD
How refreshing it is to see the Colts suddenly supporting Luck with a running game and to see his receivers make plays for him. Luck’s feel for the position is better than ever and perhaps no one is better at finding the balance between avoiding sacks and delivering strikes just before being hit.
2018 stats: 8 games | 65.8 pct | 2,187 pass yds | 6.4 ypa | 23 pass TD | 8 INT | 63 rush yds | 0 rush TD
If this is what decline looks like, Brady could do a lot worse. The deep ball has mostly been missing from the Patriots offense and Brady’s timing is not as razor sharp with his receivers, but there still isn’t a better problem solver alive.
2018 stats: 8 games | 67.5 pct | 2,200 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 16 pass TD | 7 INT | 29 rush yds | 2 rush TD
A ton of big plays on very few attempts is an intoxicating brew for Pete Carroll. Wilson has thrown for nine touchdowns with only one interception over the last three weeks while averaging 10.95 yards per attempt on only 20.3 attempts per game. That outrageous efficiency can’t continue, but Wilson has clearly found a comfort level in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense.
2018 stats: 7 games | 65.9 pct | 1,556 pass yds | 8.5 ypa | 16 pass TD | 4 INT | 77 rush yds | 0 rush TD
Long one of the streakiest quarterbacks alive, the arrival of offensive coordinator Norv Turner has added a welcome level of professional predictability to Carolina. It makes you wonder how Newton’s career would look if he hadn’t spent his first seven seasons working with Mike Shula.
2018 stats: 7 games | 66.4 pct | 1,646 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 13 pass TD | 4 INT | 309 rush yds | 4 rush TD
When you need a game-winning drive, 2018 Andy Dalton is your man. His second quarter of the season wasn’t as strong as his first, but Dalton has done a laudable job of creating more plays on his own and responding at the biggest moments.
2018 stats: 8 games | 63.4 pct | 2,102 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 17 pass TD | 8 INT | 41 rush yds | 0 rush TD
His slow start to the season weighs down his overall grade, but Stafford was playing as well as any quarterback during a three-game stretch starting in Week 4. He’s very capable of playing an efficient style of offense with fewer pass attempts but enough big plays to complement a suddenly potent running game.
2018 stats: 7 games | 67.6 pct | 1,912 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 14 pass TD | 6 INT | 43 rush yds | 0 rush TD
Big Ben’s offensive teammates are making him look better rather than the other way around for the first time since early in his career. That makes the Steelers incredibly dangerous, because Roethlisberger’s history says his play will improve.
2018 stats: 7 games | 65.3 pct | 2,290 pass yds | 7.7 ypa | 14 pass TD | 7 INT | 44 rush yds | 1 rush TD
After taking 25 sacks in the first six weeks, Watson has only been sacked once in the team’s last two games (both wins). A lot has gone wrong for Houston, from the offensive line to injuries to the running game, for most of the season, but Watson has stood up well to most challenges.
2018 stats: 8 games | 64.4 pct | 2,176 pass yds | 8.3 ypa | 15 pass TD | 7 INT | 230 rush yds | 1 rush TD
I want a version of NFL Films’ Sound FX, except Flacco’s internal monologue is mic’d up and we only hear what he’s thinking when he’s lined up at wide receiver.
2018 stats: 8 games | 61.1 pct | 2,259 pass yds | 6.6 ypa | 12 pass TD | 6 INT | 45 rush yds | 0 rush TD
I asked my podcast co-host Anthony Jeselnik for a summary of Prescott’s season. His response: "He’s got a good head on his shoulders and his feet squarely underneath him."
2018 stats: 7 games | 62.1 pct | 1,417 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 8 pass TD | 4 INT | 236 rush yds | 2 rush TD
Carr will light up an opponent if he’s protected well like he was against the Colts in Week 8, although that’s true for the majority of players on this list. Carr has thrown two more interceptions under pressure, however, than anyone in football, according to PFF, despite rarely being pressured compared to his competition. Combine those numbers with Carr’s insanely high completion percentage (72!) and I’m not really sure what to make of his partnership with Jon Gruden.
2018 stats: 7 games | 72.0 pct | 2,027 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 10 pass TD | 8 INT | 36 rush yds | 1 rush TD
This is not exactly a vintage Alex Smith season, but I’m a little surprised about the undercurrent of disappointment and derision surrounding his year. His numbers are similar to his average season in Kansas City except 2017, he’s fourth in fewest interceptions per pass attempt and the Redskins are winning.
2018 stats: 7 games | 63.2 pct | 1,561 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 8 pass TD | 2 INT | 97 rush yds | 1 rush TD
Not quite as bad as his reputation this season and not nearly as good as the Broncos need or hoped, Keenum is having a predictably roller-coaster year to mirror his roller-coaster career. The last two weeks against Arizona and Kansas City offer hope that his level will stabilize.
2018 stats: 8 games | 63.9 pct | 2,110 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 10 pass TD | 10 INT | 35 rush yds | 1 rush TD
The Browns took a hard left turn three weeks ago from one of the league’s most exciting stories to every other Browns season of the decade. In the first two of those losses, Mayfield played better than his numbers showed. Against Pittsburgh, he had the worst game of his career by far. And then the two most important voices in his ear since the day he was drafted were fired.
2018 stats: 6 games | 58.3 pct | 1,471 pass yds | 6.6 ypa | 8 pass TD | 6 INT | 91 rush yds | 0 rush TD
Mariota has only thrown 73 more passes since the first-quarter rankings. Tennessee’s run-run-drop approach on offense and Mariota’s adjustment to Matt LaFleur’s system has led to him holding the ball too long in the pocket and struggling with when to deploy his running skills. Mariota looks better than his traditional stats show, but the reality is that he has thrown 16 TDs with 20 interceptions over the last two years and the Titans have the No. 28 passing offense, according to Football Outsiders.
2018 stats: 6 games | 66.0 pct | 1,030 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 3 pass TD | 5 INT | 185 rush yds | 1 rush TD
It’s as if Winston broke sometime near the start of overtime against Cleveland in Week 7. After two starts full of his typical assortment of overstuffed stats, big throws and big mistakes, Winston finished the game against the Browns as if his entire career in Tampa depended on it and he couldn’t handle the weight. Four interceptions in Cincinnati later, his Bucs career may indeed be over.
2018 stats: 4 games | 64.9 pct | 1,181 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 6 pass TD | 10 INT | 109 rush yds | 1 rush TD
The most valuable aspect to Bortles’ contract is that it’s somehow redirected the blame for this season on him, rather than the decision makers who have watched him play at this very level for five years running.
2018 stats: 8 games | 60.3 pct | 2,021 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 10 pass TD | 8 INT | 261 rush yds | 1 rush TD
He’s the most divisive quarterback in football, at least according to the stats. ESPN’s QBR has him ranked seventh overall and his fantasy stats are undeniably large. DVOA has him 20th, while the graders at PFF have him ranked as the worst pure passer in football by a wide margin. My rank is closer to PFF because of all the interceptions he’s lucked out of thanks to drops by defenders, and all the open receivers that he’s missed.
2018 stats: 7 games | 64.6 pct | 1,814 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 15 pass TD | 6 INT | 296 rush yds | 2 rush TD
In Year Three of Manning’s decline, everyone finally started to admit it was happening. Manning has thrown the ball better at times in 2018, but his lack of mobility and tentative decision making is a killer combination. If the Giants had better prepared for this moment, this bye week would be the time Manning would be replaced. Instead, the team has little choice but to keep playing him.
2018 stats: 8 games | 68.3 pct | 2,377 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 8 pass TD | 6 INT | 19 rush yds | 0 rush TD
The win against the Colts provided a showcase for how he could perform with excellent protection and open receivers. Both may be hard to come by down the stretch, but all the tools are there for a big second-year leap. He ranks this low because his off weeks are really off.
2018 stats: 8 games | 55.2 pct | 1,705 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 11 pass TD | 10 INT | 61 rush yds | 1 rush TD
He was undeniably an upgrade over ninth-year veteran Sam Bradford and has more pretty throws than his rookie counterparts outside of Baker Mayfield. I try to keep that in mind during the stretches when Rosen looks as frazzled as you’d expect on this Cardinals team.
2018 stats: 6 games | 55.6 pct | 1,072 pass yds | 6.3 ypa | 5 pass TD | 6 INT | 48 rush yds | 0 rush TD
The 49ers have had terrible injury luck, although Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury has provided cover for a team that shouldn’t be this bad. It’s not all on Beathard, who is ranked No. 24 according to PFF and ranks No. 30 in DVOA.
2018 stats: 6 games | 60.4 pct | 1,252 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 8 pass TD | 7 INT | 69 rush yds | 1 rush TD
Osweiler got too much credit for the team’s win against Chicago in Week 6, not enough credit for his effort in a loss to Detroit in Week 7 and then turned back into a pumpkin against Houston as Brocktober crawled to a close.
2018 stats: 4 games | 64.1 pct | 895 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 6 pass TD | 3 INT | 17 rush yds | 0 rush TD
It isn’t coach Sean McDermott’s fault that Josh Allen hurt his elbow, but it is McDermott’s fault that the Bills’ offense — possibly the worst of the modern era halfway through the season — isn’t any more or less effective starting Allen or Anderson, just weeks off the golf course.
2018 stats: 2 games | 60.0 pct | 465 pass yds | 6.6 ypa | 0 pass TD | 4 INT | -1 rush yds | 0 rush TD
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.
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