Pressure Rankings: NFL Quarterbacks Feeling the Most Heat Going Into the Playoffs

The 2016 NFL postseason field features 12 teams and an array of interesting quarterbacks. Every imaginable quarterback profile is represented in this season’s tournament.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson

There are immensely experienced old dudes, precocious rookies, future Hall of Famers, future waiver-wire nominees, living legends, nobodies, proven postseason winners and regular-season standouts that flame out at playoff time.

All 12 starting quarterbacks face a certain type of pressure in the quest for the Super Bowl, and I’m not talking about the pass rush. But some of the 2016 playoff quarterbacks have more to prove than others, and they’ll feel a more intense heat.

Beginning with those coping with the least amount of stress and working our way to the QBs that will endure the most excruciating strain to succeed, here are my QB Pressure Rankings for the 2016-2017 NFL Postseason.

No. 12: Oakland Raiders QB Connor Cook

He’s a rookie from Michigan State, drafted in the fourth round. He’s never started an NFL regular-season game; his league experience is limited to 21 passing attempts in last week’s 24-6 loss at Denver to close the regular season.

Cook is starting Saturday’s AFC wild-card game at Houston for one reason: injuries to starter Derek Carr and primary backup Matt McGoin. Little is expected of Cook. This is a no-worries opportunity for Cook to lead the Raiders to an upset and put himself in position to push aside the unimposing McGoin and become Oakland’s No. 2 QB next season.

No. 11:  Miami Dolphins QB Matt Moore

Moore, 32, has been in the league for nine seasons as a reserve in Carolina and Miami and has done a solid job when pressed into a starting role. Moore has a 15-13 record as an NFL starter, and that includes winning two of Miami’s final three regular-season games in relief of injured starter Ryan Tannehill.

Moore has pitched well in relief this season, passing for eight touchdowns (with only three INTs) and crafting a sharp 105.6 passer rating. But does anyone realistically expect Moore to do the hero thing by knocking off Big Ben and the Steelers at Pittsburgh in Sunday’s AFC wild card game? Nope.

No. 10: Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson

Five seasons into his NFL career, Wilson already has started two Super Bowls, winning one. He’s a widely respected leader and exceptional playmaker. But Wilson has been physically bruised and dented all season, and is operating behind a young and erratic offensive line. The Seattle rushing attack lacks power and punch. I just don’t expect Wilson to be a miracle man right now; there are too many malfunctioning parts in the Seahawks’ offense.

No. 9: New England Patriots QB Tom Brady

Brady has won four Super Bowl rings. He’s led the Patriots to six AFC Championships and 22 postseason wins. He’s 15-3 in his postseason career in games at Foxborough, and the Patriots own home-field advantage in the AFC tournament. Brady won’t have to board a flight unless the Patriots qualify for the Super Bowl in Houston.

There’s always pressure on the great ones to sustain their extraordinary success, but let’s be honest here: if the Patriots get upset in the AFC playoffs, the defeat would have little if any impact on Brady’s supreme legacy.

No. 8: New York Giants QB Eli Manning

Eli isn’t the most consistent QB; the quality of his performance fluctuates from game to game, and he floated another 16 ugly interceptions this season (with 26 TD throws.) But Peyton’s baby brother already has won two Super Bowls — outgunning Brady both times — and additional postseason success is just a bonus at this stage of his career. Another slice of cake.

No. 7: Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

I had mixed feelings on where to place Prescott on this listicle. Prescott has been terrific this season, playing a lead role in the Cowboys’ surprising 13-3 record and top seed in the NFC. If Dallas stumbles in the playoffs, the failure would be painful. But we’re talking about a rookie QB here — and a fourth-round draft pick at that.

No rookie quarterback has started a Super Bowl, let alone won it. And despite his brilliant showing in 2016, Prescott is a lousy series or quarter away from dealing with silly fans and media that pine for favorite Dallas pinup man Tony Romo to be reinstalled as the Cowboys’ starting QB. At this point, Prescott is playing with house money.

No. 6: Houston Texans QB Brock Osweiler

After signing a fat free-agent contract Osweiler has flopped in his first year with the Texans, playing poorly, losing poise and getting benched late in the season. He wouldn’t be starting Saturday’s game vs.Oakland, but the Texans had no choice after plugged-in starter Tom Savage went down with an injury. I guess there’s added pressure on Osweiler because his opponent, Cook, is an unproven rookie. But Osweiler has been so bad, I don’t think Texans fans wouldn’t be startled by a loss to the Raiders.

No. 5: Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith

He’s already viewed with suspicion; I don’t think many if any Chiefs fans are confident in Smith’s ability to lead a team to a string of postseason wins and a spot in the Super Bowl. The epitome of a so-called game manager, Smith does a good job during the regular season when surrounded by plus talent.

But as his career 2-3 postseason record indicates, Smith is still Smith … he’s still what we thought he was, and is. Pressure? Sure. But seeing that most observers are skeptical of Smith and expect nothing more than an average postseason performance from him, the pressure is mitigated by simple pragmatism.

No. 4: Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

The big man has started three Super Bowls, winning two. He’s started 17 postseason games, winning 11. His postseason resume includes three fourth-quarter comebacks and four game-winning drives. But on the flip side, Roethlisberger turns 35 in March and has absorbed tremendous physical punishment during his career. How many more shots will he have at winning a third Super Bowl ring?

And despite the two Super Bowl triumphs, Ben’s overall postseason ledger includes 19 interceptions and an ordinary 84.3 passer rating. Going into Sunday’s home AFC wild-card game against Miami, Roethlisberger is 1-4 in his last five postseason starts –and has four touchdowns and five INTs in the four losses. He needs to reverse the trend.

No. 3: Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford

Big arm, big stats, big expectations, and a bunch of big comeback wins … and an 0-2 postseason record. Not that the two postseason losses were all on Stafford; after all he’s averaged 350 yards passing in the two playoff starts, with a postseason passer rating of 92.4. That’s good.

But a TD/INT ratio of four touchdowns and three picks isn’t so hot, and at some point Stafford has to get it done in the month of January — that time of year when the great ones sign in and make their mark. An upset win at Seattle would help change the perception of Stafford (a native Texan) as an All Hat, No Cattle kind of quarterback. That isn’t fair to him. But it is what it is.

No. 2: Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers seems younger than his age (33), but still … how many more chances will he get to win that second Super Bowl? Rodgers has started 13 postseason games, and the Packers have gone 7-6. After winning four of his first five postseason starts, the Packers have lost five of their last eight — and three of the losses were at home. But context is required here. We shouldn’t forget that several of Rodgers’ postseason defeats were heartbreaking, last-minute jolts. It’s wrong to blame Rodgers for the mediocre postseason record during his time as the leader of The Pack; his offense averaged 26.3 points in the six setbacks.

And Rodgers’ overall postseason play — which includes 27 touchdowns, only eight TDs and a superb 98.2 passer rating — is up to his high standards. That said, the Packers and Rodgers are on a wild roll as they venture into another postseason with Sunday’s game against the visiting Giants. With Rodgers throwing 15 touchdowns with no thefts and sizzling with a crazy-good 121 passer rating, the Packers won six in a row to end the regular season, catapulting to the top of the NFC North. The expectations are soaring now — perhaps unrealistically so — and Rodgers will have to be daring, dangerous and flawless to push the Packers to the Super Bowl. He’s great, but the demands being put on him these days are extremely high.

No. 1: Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan

Ryan had a killer regular season, flying the Falcons to 11 wins and an NFC South title and putting up gaudy and outrageous numbers that include a 70 percent completion rate, an average of 309 yards passing per game, 9.3 yards per passing attempt, 38 touchdown passes with only seven INTs, and a league-best 117.1 passer rating. (If I had an MVP vote, I’d cast it for Ryan.) And during his nine seasons as Atlanta’s starter, Ryan has hoisted the Falcons to 10+ wins five times, and has four Pro Bowls to his name.

But Ryan and the Falcons have been massively disappointing in the postseason, losing four of five games — with two of the losses coming by 27 and 22 points. For his part, Ryan has thrown nearly as many interceptions (seven) as TD passes (nine) with a skimpy average of 5.9 yards per passing attempt. Given Ryan’s special 2016 season and his general regular-season excellence through the years, there’s no excuse for another feckless Falcons’ crash. Ryan can’t fall to 1-5 in the postseason and still be considered an elite quarterback. No quarterback in this tournament is under more pressure than Ryan.

Thanks for reading …


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