Week 17 was littered with fantastic quarterback performances.
Joe Flacco kicked the week off with a chaotic, yet effective showing against a staunch New York Jets defense. Dak Prescott was immaculate against the Detroit Lions on Saturday night. Kyler Murray pulled off the upset of the week with a heroic win over the Philadelphia Eagles. A pair of young NFC North quarterbacks, Justin Fields and Jordan Love, both showed out.
None of those guys were quite as electric as Lamar Jackson vs. the Miami Dolphins. Jackson was the story of the week, not only for the performance itself but because the 56-point showing solidified the MVP award as his.
After all the criticisms of not having MVP-caliber stats, Jackson tossed a casual 321 yards and five touchdowns. Jackson produced 1.08 EPA per dropback, the highest mark in a game since, uh, himself against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019.
So, while there was a lot of good quarterback play to celebrate this week, none were more deserving than the soon-to-be MVP.
Week 18 Quarterback Rankings
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Previous Ranking: 1
After a complete meltdown last week, Patrick Mahomes was stable and efficient against the Bengals. He whipped a few vintage throws down the field, but he was largely a distributor and a dang good one. He largely did it without targeting Travis Kelce, too. Mahomes instead fed Rashee Rice and leaned heavily on Isaih Pacheco, both in the screen game and as a checkdown option.
This was a good "get right" game for the Kansas City Chiefs as the postseason approaches.
2. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Previous Ranking: 2
Lamar Jackson is the 2023 NFL MVP.
Jackson was undeniable on Sunday. Almost every pass felt predestined by some higher power to fall right into his receivers' hands. Jackson made many incredible plays, ranging from twitchy pocket movements to keep himself clean to uncorking bombs down the field to take advantage of blown coverage.
No throw was better than his rocket to Odell Beckham Jr. down the right side. After sliding up in the pocket, Jackson ripped one tight to the sideline to Beckham. The throwing window was the size of a keyhole and required Beckham to make an acrobatic catch, but both quarterback and receiver delivered.
It was a special performance from Jackson and Co. from start to finish.
3. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Previous Ranking: 3
Sunday's win over the Patriots was a "Josh Allen, The Runner" kind of game.
Buffalo's passing game never found a rhythm. The New England Patriots had everything gloved up from start to finish. Sometimes that's just what happens when Bill Belichick has seen your offense enough times and has the right defensive backs for the task.
Allen came through with his legs, though. He was a hammer in the ground game, especially in the red zone. Allen's only two touchdowns of the day were rushed from the 1-yard line. He had 11 carries for 44 yards.
While not Allen's best game statistically, it does nothing to change my opinion on where he ranks among his peers.
4. Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
Previous Ranking: 4
Play with fire long enough, and you'll get burned. That was the story of Matthew Stafford on Sunday.
For the most part, the New York Giants didn't let Stafford do his typical gunslinging. Stafford played a reserved game and mostly favored the underneath areas. When he did let it loose, the Giants pounced. Stafford threw two picks in attack mode right over the middle of the field.
I'm not all that moved, though. Stafford has largely avoided those interceptions all season. One game of stumbling isn't going to scare me.
5. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Previous Ranking: 5
Dak Prescott was outrageous against the Lions on Saturday night.
Prescott and CeeDee Lamb were utterly unstoppable in the short to intermediate range. Lamb was open every time Prescott needed him, especially on third down. It was as impressive a QB-WR connection as we have seen all season.
And when Prescott needed to uncork it, he did. The off-script 92-yarder to Lamb stands out, but Prescott also nailed an absurd throw to Brandin Cooks early in the fourth quarter to jumpstart a touchdown drive. Prescott finished that same drive with a delightful corner throw to Cooks to take the lead.
Lamar Jackson probably has the MVP award locked up, but man, Prescott deserves a spot on the podium, at least.
6. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Previous Ranking: 6
Trevor Lawrence didn't end up playing in Week 17. He finally took a game off after weeks of incurring injury after injury. Technically, his status for Week 18 is still up in the air, but it's hard to imagine he will miss the season's final game with the playoffs on the line.
7. C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans
Previous Ranking: 7
I'll be honest. I was mildly worried about C.J. Stroud 's return to action after missing two weeks because of a concussion. That concern was misplaced.
Stroud was his usual brand of awesome against the Tennessee Titans. A final line with one touchdown and 6.7 yards per attempt doesn't sound like much, but Stroud was doing an excellent job getting the ball out and throwing with the top-shelf accuracy he's known for. Watching a player as young as Stroud operate like a sharp veteran is remarkable.
8. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Previous Ranking: 8
Kyler Murray is still an outstanding quarterback. I've been trying to say it since he returned this season. On Sunday, though, Murray's play spoke for itself.
After a slow-ish start, Murray went nuclear. Play after play, Murray was threading throws into tight windows. He pushed the ball outside the numbers and laced it over the middle. In the pocket, he was surgical. Outside of it, he was magical.
This performance was a reminder that Murray is a quarterback who can single-handedly go out and win football games.
9. Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Previous Ranking: 9
Philadelphia’s offense has been uneven this year despite its production, but it's hard to blame Jalen Hurts or the Eagles for their catastrophic loss on Sunday.
For most of the game, Hurts did his part. The offense didn't ask much of him as a passer, but he made all the right throws and connected on a few critical downfield shots, including one to Julio Jones (he's an Eagle, remember?).
Hurts faltered at the end, though. With 32 seconds left and an outside chance to win the game, Hurts made two consecutive short throws before a scramble on the third play. Those plays didn’t do nearly enough to move the ball down the field to give the Eagles a real chance at winning.
Granted, that's a low-percentage situation anyway, but it would have been nice to see Hurts do something.
10. Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks
Previous Ranking: 10
The Seattle Seahawks may have suffered an upset loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it was no fault of Geno Smith’s.
Smith played one of his best games of the season. He accessed every level of the field and constantly found ways to keep the offense ahead of the sticks. Things only fell apart on third down, which has been an issue with the Seahawks all year, given their pass protection issues.
The Seahawks need a little help to get into the playoffs, but I'd bank on Smith giving them their best shot against the Cardinals this week.
11. Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers
Previous Ranking: 12
Jordan Love is so serious. Week after week, Love improves and shows he can win. He throws to all different parts of the field, depending on what the defense gives him.
Against the Minnesota Vikings, that meant attacking the perimeter and taking calculated shots down the field. Love excelled at both. His best throw of the day was an absolute screamer right down the middle to Jayden Reed. It was an Aaron Rodgers-esque flick off his backfoot to split the Vikings' deep defenders.
There's still reason to be a little cautious about placing Love in the top, top tier of quarterbacks, but this dude is clearly here to stay.
12. Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers
Previous Ranking: 14
Brock Purdy was back to business as usual against the Washington Commanders. Who would have thought?
There's not much to say, but Purdy's off-script touchdown to Brandon Aiyuk sums up the difference between this week and last.
You can appreciate Brock Purdy’s “point” and Brandon Aiyuk’s re-direction in response to it with this All-22 angle. pic.twitter.com/gVEEcw8DU1— Steph Sanchez (@Steph49K) January 2, 2024
When Purdy tried to create against the Ravens, they swarmed him behind the line of scrimmage and slammed passing windows closed. The Commanders, by contrast, let Purdy bail to his right and throw back across his body to the middle of the end zone to find Aiyuk.
13. Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
Previous Ranking: 13
In its entirety, this was neither Jared Goff's best nor his worst game. It was fine.
However, the end of the game was impressive. Goff threw an interception in the middle of the fourth quarter while trailing. For him, that would typically be a mistake that spirals out of control and completely ruins the game right then and there.
But that wasn't the case. In a rare feat of mental toughness, Goff battled right back on the next drive and strung together a handful of throws to get the Lions into the end zone. The drive gave the Lions a chance to win or tie the game, which led to the whole eligible/ineligible debacle on the two-point play that should have won the game for Detroit.
Maybe it's corny or reductive, but Goff earned some points with me for battling back after a catastrophic mistake.
14. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Previous Ranking: 11
Tua Tagovailoa didn't do anything "new" that scares me in his loss to the Ravens. I'm just growing tired of what he is and his limitations.
Tagovailoa is undeniably accurate over the middle. He's got a quick trigger and knows how to hit receivers in perfect stride. However, Tagovailoa seldom processes anything post-snap and will more often than not throw blindly into the middle of the field because he is so used to those throws being open. Even as the Ravens' coverage squeezed and squeezed those routes, Tagovailoa kept throwing them anyway.
Also, Tagovailoa isn't a consistent thrower outside the numbers. He can throw a go-ball but struggles driving the ball on out-breaking routes. That was evident in this game.
Again, none of that is "new" with Tagovailoa. Those have always been his faults, even while he's produced at an exceptionally high level. It's just deflating to see him without any convincing answers when presented with an elite defense.
15. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Previous Ranking: 15
Justin Fields keeps making the Chicago Bears' offseason more challenging.
Fields rocked on Sunday. On the one hand, you got all the peak plays you expected from him. Fields had an outrageous third-and-8 scramble that he converted and a pinpoint touchdown throw to DJ Moore in the back left corner of the end zone. Only so many people on the planet can make those plays.
But more than that, Fields was consistent. He wasn't making the boneheaded and frantic mistakes he is still too often prone to. That's not to say he was perfect, but he looked like a stable quarterback.
If that's the version of Fields the Bears can always get moving forward, they would be cooking. It's just tough to feel confident about Fields playing that way consistently, given his history.
16. Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Previous Ranking: 16
Baker Mayfield's whole deal this year is that he's embraced being a gunslinger. He is grippin' it and rippin' it. Well, the law of gunslinging is that sometimes things don't go your way.
That was the case for Mayfield on Sunday.
While Mayfield did connect on a handful of great throws, he also threw two picks. Both were underthrown. The first was a deep throw about five yards short intended for Trey Palmer, while the other was an out route thrown well behind the receiver. Both throws were the right decision and well-timed, but the ball placement just wasn't there. It happens.
Mayfield will get a chance to redeem himself against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
17. Derek Carr, New Orleans Saints
Previous Ranking: 18
The Saints-Buccaneers game's flow was perfect for how Derek Carr wants to play. The Saints' defense was forcing turnovers left and right, which meant all Carr needed to do was play complementary football and slowly work the ball down the field.
Carr did just that. He hardly attacked vertically, but he was surgical in the underneath area, letting the Saints control the ball and put up a modest 23 points. It was not a sexy performance, but it didn't need to be.
18. Joe Flacco, Cleveland Browns
Previous Ranking: 19
Nobody is playing quarterback with fewer inhibitions than Joe Flacco. He is just chucking the football. Nothing can or will deter him from doing so. It's an anxiety-inducing play style, but it's hard to argue against the results thus far.
19. Tyrod Taylor, New York Giants
Previous Ranking: 20
Tyrod Taylor enters a rare category of players whose passing chart is so funny that it has to be included in their section. So few quarterbacks have earned that honor this season, but Taylor made it happen with his performance against the Rams.
Taylor threw 41 passes, most of which were within seven yards of the line of scrimmage and between the numbers. That hardly seems possible. To his credit, Taylor was very good at executing in that range. It just wasn't aggressive enough to get the offense over the hump.
The chart is made even funnier by Taylor's 50-plus-yard bomb to Darius Slayton. It was a beautiful throw, truly one of the prettiest deep passes of the entire season. When put together with his other 40 passes, though, it just feels out of place, almost cruelly so.
20. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
Previous Ranking: N/A
Will Levis suffered a foot injury early in Sunday's game, prompting veteran Ryan Tannehill back into the lineup.
Tannehill looked exactly like himself, for better and or worse. He was fearless in the pocket to a fault. Tannehill took five sacks, many of which were his fault. That pocket bravery also led to some sweet throws over the middle and down the field, though, which has always been his specialty.
The Titans are out of the playoff hunt, but they at least have a chance to ruin the Jaguars' season in Week 18.
21. Sam Howell, Washington Commanders
Previous Ranking: 22
The Commanders tried to bench Sam Howell. Nature did not let them. Jacoby Brissett suffered an injury during the week of practice, forcing Howell back into the lineup.
As you can imagine, for a player already spiraling, Howell wasn't very good against the 49ers. Some of the aggression and playmaking returned, which is a nice little silver lining, but the inconsistency and recklessness were as maddening as ever.
Brissett might get the Week 18 start, but it doesn't ultimately matter for an eliminated Washington squad.
22. Jake Browning, Cincinnati Bengals
Previous Ranking: 23
The wheels are coming off the Jake Browning wagon.
From a process perspective, Browning didn't do anything differently this week than in previous weeks. He was aggressive enough over the middle and willing to occasionally give his guys chances down the field.
Execution was the problem. Browning's arm and accuracy failed him in a way that wasn't present in his early starts.
That said, we should appreciate Browning for what he did this season. The Bengals ultimately missed the playoffs, but his quality play allowed them to hang on longer than they should have.
23. Gardner Minshew, Indianapolis Colts
Previous Ranking: 24
Shane Steichen took a load off of Gardner Minshew's shoulders in Week 17. Rather than ask him to drop back 50 times, Minshew only dropped back about 25 times while the run game took over.
Minshew did his job on limited reps. He was mainly an underneath distributor, but Minshew delivered when Steichen dialed up a shot to Alec Pierce. It was a good, stable performance from a quarterback typically prone to volatility.
Gardner Minshew: "F it, Alec Pierce down there somewhere" pic.twitter.com/dZwgEVg74H— NFL UK (@NFLUK) December 31, 2023
One more game like that, and the Colts might be in the postseason.
24. Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers
Previous Ranking: 25
After arguably Bryce Young's best performance as a pro a week ago, he fell right back into the depths of hell against the Jaguars.
Young was a disaster. The Jaguars' fierce pass rush got to him constantly, and he had zero answers. Young took six sacks and generally struggled to find anything within the rhythm of the offense.
That's not all his fault, of course. Any quarterback would unravel in those conditions. It is concerning, however, that the first-overall pick continues to show that he has no reliable answer for when the game is thrust upon his shoulders.
25. Aidan O'Connell, Las Vegas Raiders
Previous Ranking: 26
Within 15 yards, Aidan O'Connell is a perfectly capable NFL quarterback. He's smart, he's decisive, and he's accurate enough. O'Connell can make all the throws that keep an offense on schedule.
However, week after week, O'Connell struggles to make the game-altering throws. Sunday's game against the Colts was another example. O'Connell did well to keep the offense moving but struggled to attack the middle of the field or vertically.
That's fine, given what we should expect O'Connell to be. He's a high-end backup, and that's exactly what he's playing like.
26. Taylor Heinicke, Atlanta Falcons
Previous Ranking: 27
Taylor Heinicke was a nightmare against the Bears.
The Falcons are used to turnover-heavy performances from their quarterbacks, but at least Desmond Ridder typically did so while being efficient on his other throws. That was not the case with Heinicke on Sunday. Heinicke barely completed one-third of his throws, and nearly half of his 163 passing yards came on a 75-yard Tyler Allgeier screen touchdown.
Heinicke also got banged up, so he may not start in Week 18, but it's not worth taking him off the list yet.
27. Bailey Zappe, New England Patriots
Previous Ranking: 28
A slew of Bailey Zappe interceptions completely took the Patriots out of a winnable game.
The first two were on the quarterback. Zappe's first interception was a contested throw on a snag route. The tight end was never open, and Zappe forced it, resulting in a tip-drill interception. Unlucky, but also ill-advised. Zappe's second pick was another contested quick throw that never had a shot — Bills CB Rasul Douglas jumped a slant.
In fairness to Zappe, the third pick wasn't his fault. On third-and-11, Zappe clearly wanted to throw some sort of sight adjustment to Jalen Reagor, but Reagor kept running down the field. Zappe threw the ball straight to a Bills defender because of the miscommunication.
Zappe wasn't good, but whatever. It's not like changing quarterbacks would do anything for the Patriots now.
28. Jarrett Stidham, Denver Broncos
Previous Ranking: N/A
Congratulations to Jarrett Stidham for winning his first game as an NFL starter. That's a cool moment for a player who has been a backup since entering the league.
Funnily enough, the offense wasn't that different than it was with Russell Wilson. So much of the passing offense was screens and quick game, with failed deep shots interspersed throughout. Stidham made the right throws within the 1-10-yard range and kept the ball out of harm's way. That was enough to beat a sleepwalking Chargers squad.
29. Nick Mullens, Minnestoa Vikings
Previous Ranking: 29
There's no way of knowing who will start at quarterback for the Vikings. It probably doesn't matter anyway.
I will just put Nick Mullens here because he gives them the best plays. Can you rely on him to make those plays consistently? No, but at least they're there. Betting on that potential and volatility should be Kevin O'Connell's move this week.
30. Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh Steelers
Previous Ranking: 30
I don't understand the Mason Rudolph renaissance any more than you do.
Rudolph just played a clean, efficient game against the Seahawks. Most of his throws were in the short area, either pure quick-game concepts or checkdowns when plays got drawn out. Rudolph even had no issue throwing the ball away when things unraveled instead of forcing nasty throws into coverage.
I don't think Rudolph's current formula is enough to make any noise in the playoffs, but he's been better than I thought he would be through two games.
31. Trevor Siemian, New York Jets
Previous Ranking: 31
A couple of 50/50 throws to Garrett Wilson were the only thing separating Trevor Siemian from total disaster on Thursday night.
Siemian was mainly a disaster. Even aside from the pick-six to Ronnie Hickman, Siemian struggled to push the ball down the field all night. The entire offense consisted of screens, checkdowns, and shallow crossing routes.
32. Easton Stick, Los Angeles Chargers
Previous Ranking: 32
Easton Stick cut the sacks out of his game in Week 17. He took just a single sack against the Broncos after a combined 10 sacks in his previous three appearances.
Unfortunately, that didn't solve everything. Stick did his part in the underneath area and threaded a few intermediate throws but connected on nothing down the field, leading to an offense that tried to grind out long drives but couldn't.