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Best QB by NFL Season Since 2000
By Will Laws
Here's our picks for the best QB for each NFL Season Since 2000
Whenever Aaron Rodgers feels the need to celebrate a touchdown, he pulls out his signature "championship belt." The move has become so beloved, it spawned a string of ubiquitous commercials.
It also sparked a story idea. What if the NFL handed out a real championship belt to the best quarterback at the end of every season? Now, the Most Valuable Player award has essentially become a quarterback award (QBs have won eight of the last nine MVPs), but it only takes the regular season into account. There have been many instances of a presumptive MVP embarrassing himself in the playoffs, only to sheepishly accept the award several weeks later as two other quarterbacks prepare to battle in the Super Bowl.
Though playoff performance isn't everything, it certainly matters when examining a quarterback's entire body of work. And sometimes, MVP voters end up looking silly in retrospect for other reasons, like ignoring individuals who are forced to shoulder a bigger load on less talented teams. PointAfter, a sports visualization site, decided to do a bit of revisionist history and recognize the best quarterback of every NFL season dating back to 2000.
Regular season statistics such as passer rating, TD/INT ratio, completion percentage and passing yards were the driving factor in the decision-making process. But it ultimately came down to one simple question: If your team could pick any quarterback to start a game, which guy would they choose solely based on that season's results?
2000: Jeff Garcia
Passing yards: 4,278
Passer rating: 97.6
This first choice might surprise you. But reigning MVP Kurt Warner broke his hand and missed five games, opening up the belt to all challengers. Even if Warner hadn't been injured, the belt would be in doubt -- Warner's sky-high interception rate of 5.2 percent was a career high, as he tossed 18 picks against 21 touchdowns.
There aren't any outstanding candidates to take over, as the first season of the new millennium was dominated by defense. Super Bowl XXV fittingly featured Trent Dilfer and Kerry Collins as the two starting signal-callers in an affair that had more defensive/special teams touchdowns than offensive scores. Donovan McNabb gathered the most MVP votes of any QB, but he didn't finish in the top 10 of passing yards or passer rating.
With the manner of this guy, we'll hand the belt to Jeff Garcia, who was playing just his second NFL season at age 30 after migrating from the CFL. The 49ers missed the playoffs due to a wretched defense, but Garcia made the Pro Bowl after finishing second in passing yards and passer rating. He also added 414 yards and four scores on the ground, averaging 5.8 yards per carry for a 49ers offense that ranked sixth in the NFL, the best mark of any non-playoff team.
2001: Kurt Warner
Passing yards: 4,830
Passer rating: 101.4
Warner picked up where he left off in his first full season back from injury, winning the MVP to keep the award in St. Louis for a third straight year (Marshall Faulk took it home in 2000).
The 30-year-old led the NFL in virtually every passing category -- passes completed, touchdowns, yards, yards per attempt (8.8), yards per completion (12.9), completion percentage (68.7) ... you name the category, Warner probably ranked first.
Everything was going right for the Rams until Super Bowl XXXVI, when the New England Patriots delivered a stunning upset to begin their own dynasty and end Warner's reign as the league's best quarterback.
2002: Rich Gannon
Passing yards: 4,689
Passer rating: 97.3
It legitimately seemed as though the Patriots rattled Warner beyond repair. He threw seven interceptions in St. Louis' first three games in 2002, all losses. It was an especially jarring beginning after the Rams had started 6-0 each season under Warner's guidance. The reigning MVP broke his hand in Week 4 and never rediscovered his magic in St. Louis.
That opened the door for Rich Gannon to come charging through. A 37-year-old during his MVP campaign, Gannon is easily the oldest first-time winner of the belt. He led the NFL in pass attempts, completions, yards and passer rating, also ranking second in completion percentage (67.6%) and third in interception rate (1.6%). The Raiders raced through the AFC behind Gannon's cannon before it failed them in the Super Bowl against Tampa Bay's vaunted secondary, which picked off a championship-record five passes and returned three for touchdowns in the 48-21 romp.
However, part of that could be chalked up to Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden's previous knowledge of the Raiders' offense after coaching the team between 1998-2001. Some even theorize that Raiders coach Bill Callahan sabotaged his own team for the gain of Gruden, his friend and former boss.
2003: Peyton Manning
Passing yards: 4,267
Passer rating: 99
Peyton Manning and Steve McNair split MVP honors in 2003, but there's only one belt to hand out. We're giving it to Manning -- the first of many for The Sheriff.
He led qualified QBs in passing yards, completions and completion percentage (67.0%), while finally kicking the pesky interception bug that plagued him for years. Manning also claimed his first two playoff victories before the Colts fell in the AFC Championship to the Patriots -- the first playoff meeting between Manning and Tom Brady.
Some might vouch for Brady to take home the belt. After all, he won his second championship and first Super Bowl MVP. But Brady didn't even make the Pro Bowl in 2003, so it'd be premature to hand him the belt.
2004: Peyton Manning
Passing yards: 4,557
Passer rating: 121.1
The Patriots won their third Super Bowl in four years, but Brady ultimately didn't have to do all that much during New England's playoff run. He averaged fewer than 200 passing yards and two touchdowns in his team's three playoff games, as a balanced attack and stifling defense fueled the Pats' postseason run. That included a 20-3 victory over the Colts, a fairly shocking result since Manning garnered 49 of 50 MVP votes after breaking the regular-season records for passer rating and touchdown passes.
Though both of those benchmarks have since been surpassed, his absurd 9.9 percent touchdown rate (meaning, nearly 10 percent of his throws resulted in touchdowns) still stands as a post-merger record. Manning's season for the books keeps the belt around his waist.
2005: Peyton Manning
Passing yards: 3,747
Passer rating: 104.1
The 2005 season didn't produce any earth-shattering performances from quarterbacks. The four quarterbacks who started in the conference championships were Jake Delhomme, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Plummer and a 23-year-old Ben Roethlisberger, who benefited from Jerome Bettis and a stout Steelers defense en route to the franchise's fifth Super Bowl.
Tom Brady and Trent Green were the only two QBs to eclipse 4,000 yards, but neither were extraordinary enough to snatch the belt from Manning and his league-best passer rating.
2006: Peyton Manning
Passing yards: 4,397
Passer rating: 101
The Sheriff finally got his ring, capturing Super Bowl MVP honors in Indy's win over Chicago's top-ranked defense. He also led all players in passing touchdowns and passer rating during the regular season once again.
Manning keeps the belt for the fourth straight year, surpassing Dan Marino, Steve Young and Brett Favre for the longest reign.
2007: Tom Brady
Passing yards: 4,806
Passer rating: 117.2
No more denying Touchdown Tom. Brady ascended to a god-like level in the eyes of Patriots fans, orchestrating an offense that carried New England to victories in their first 18 games. Of course, the team's 19th game provided one of the biggest upsets in NFL history. But the Patriots' stunning Super Bowl loss to the Giants shouldn't diminish Brady's accomplishments.
His 10th season saw him debut in the ranks of First-Team All-Pro and come within one vote of being crowned the first unanimous MVP in league history. It would have been a deserved honor after he set the single-season touchdown mark at 50 -- connecting with Randy Moss in the end zone a record 23 times -- and ranked first in yards, completion percentage, passer rating and yards per attempt.
Honestly, whoever cast an MVP ballot for Brett Favre (28 TD, 15 INT) in 2007 should have had their voting rights revoked.
2008: Drew Brees
Passing yards: 5,069
Passer rating: 96.2
In a cruel twist of fate, Brady tore his ACL in the first game of the 2008 season (continuing the somewhat common injury bug among reigning belt holders), erasing New England's plans for revenge and effectively vacating the QB championship belt.
In the wake of Brady's injury, eight players and four quarterbacks garnered MVP votes. The award went to Peyton Manning, who also made First-Team All-Pro for the fourth time. We're disagreeing with those voters, going instead with a guy who didn't appear on any MVP ballots.
Drew Brees did become the NFL's first 5,000-yard passer since Dan Marino in 1984, thriving behind one of the league's best offensive lines. He also led all QBs in touchdown passes and completions while guiding the NFL's top offense in terms of both points (463) and yards (6,571).
He was bypassed in the awards circuit, however, probably because New Orleans missed the playoffs with an 8-8 record. Six of New Orleans' eight losses were by five points or fewer, hinting at some poor luck for the sad-sack Saints. All that would change in 2009, however...
2009: Drew Brees
Passing yards: 4,388
Passer rating: 109.6
The 2009 season was a magical one for Saints fans. They witnessed Drew Brees lead a whopping six game-winning drives during the regular season, which was only a warm-up for a thrilling playoff run that featured an overtime victory over the Vikings in the NFC Championship and a cathartic comeback triumph over the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
Brees was masterful throughout the campaign, setting a record for completion percentage (70.6%) during the regular season and leading all quarterbacks in touchdowns and passer rating. He topped himself in New Orleans' three postseason contests, tossing eight touchdowns and zero interceptions while somehow equaling his remarkable record-setting completion percentage from the regular season.
It was a legacy-defining year for the man who literally helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
2010: Aaron Rodgers
Passing yards: 3,922
Passer rating: 101.2
If we were only considering regular season play in this article, Brady would easily take back the championship belt here. He led the Patriots to a league-best 14-2 record. He threw just four picks the entire season, recording the lowest interception rate in NFL history among quarterbacks with at least 450 passing attempts in a season. Most notably, Touchdown Tom was voted the first unanimous MVP in league history.
But that rousing success didn't carry over to the postseason, where the top-seeded Patriots were stunned in the divisional round by the rival Jets. On the other side of the bracket, the No. 6 seed Green Bay Packers strung together upset after upset. Aaron Rodgers led an offense that embarrassed the top-seeded Falcons 48-21, defeated the rival Bears in the NFC Championship and overcame the league's best defense and Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu in Super Bowl XLV by beating the Steelers 31-25.
This was no fluky run by Rodgers. He matured in his third full season as a starter, finishing third in passer rating and comparing favorably to the MVP in every passing category. He also added 356 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground, while his competitors for the belt were virtual non-factors in the run game. Some might call this a premature coronation for Rodgers. But at the end of the season, it was his Packers lifting up the Lombardi trophy, and it was his breakout campaign that got them there.
2011: Aaron Rodgers
Passing yards: 4,643
Passer rating: 122.5
Interestingly, this season saw a reversal of roles for Rodgers and Brady.
In 2011, it was Rodgers who stockpiled the impressive regular season credentials (single-season record 122.5 passer rating, 15-1 record, gathered 48 of 50 MVP votes) before his team crashed out of the postseason in the divisional round. Meanwhile, Brady largely flew under the radar despite throwing for 5,235 yards -- then the second-highest total in NFL history -- and leading New England to a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl berth.
I'd be obliged to give the belt to Brady if the Patriots had capitalized on their chance for revenge against the Giants, who reached Super Bowl XLVI after upsetting Rodgers' Packers and the San Francisco 49ers to win the NFC. Instead, Eli Manning cemented his status as Brady's quasi-nemesis by outplaying Touchdown Tom in the championship. Rodgers didn't do a great job of defending the belt in the playoffs, but his historical regular season proved enough to retain it given the circumstances.
Fret not, Pats fans. Brady wasn't done with the belt yet.
2012: Peyton Manning
Passing yards: 4,659
Passer rating: 105.8
This is one of the toughest years to pinpoint the belt holder. The margin between Manning, Brady and Rodgers was incredibly thin, especially since none of them advanced to the Super Bowl and all performed below expectations in their respective playoff losses. Part of me just wants to hand it to Joe Flacco, who turned into Joe Montana during the playoffs and scorched every defense who dared challenge Baltimore in its run to Super Bowl XLVII.
But that'd be doing a disservice to the aforementioned trio, who ran laps around Flacco during the regular season. One guy in particular wowed football fans with an unexpected resurgence.
After missing the 2011 campaign due to neck surgery, Manning proved he was still at the top of his game at age 36. The Sheriff was the only quarterback to rank in the top three of passing touchdowns, passer rating, yards per attempt and completion percentage (league-best 68.6). He was also the only quarterback to receive MVP votes in a year when Adrian Peterson ran for 2,000 yards to net the award.
Though Manning's back-breaking interception in overtime put the Ravens in prime position for the game-winning field goal of the Mile High Miracle, he would've never been in that position if Rahim Moore had just covered his side of the field on the "Flacco Fling."
2013: Peyton Manning
Passing yards: 5,477
Passer rating: 115.1
Manning and his offense broke three major records during his second season in Denver -- passing yards, touchdowns and scoring offense (606 points), besting the 2007 Patriots by 17 points and the next highest scoring team of 2013 by 161 points.
The Broncos were ultimately reined in by Seattle's Legion of Boom in Super Bowl XLVIII, but the Seahawks were simply an unstoppable buzzsaw that year. Manning helped Denver set new standards for what a passing offense could be, and certainly deserves to retain his QB championship belt despite getting rocked in the Super Bowl.
This would be the last year Manning would possess the belt, setting a record with six years as the title holder.
2014: Tom Brady
Passing yards: 4,109
Passer rating: 97.4
Aaron Rodgers won the MVP award for the second time in four years, but he crumbled against top-tier competition. Specifically, Seattle's league-best defense gave him fits. Green Bay fell to the Seahawks 36-16 in the 2014 season opener, and Rodgers responded with arguably the worst playoff performance of his career in the Seahawks-Packers NFC Championship rematch. He logged just 178 passing yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in the legendary 28-22 overtime loss.
Brady, meanwhile, was nothing short of heroic in Super Bowl XLIX. He completed 37 of 50 passes for 328 yards, four touchdowns and two picks, leading the Patriots back from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit against the team with the NFL's best scoring defense for three years running. He deservedly captured his fourth Super Bowl as a result, and is the shoo-in choice for the QB championship belt.
2015: Cam Newton
Passing yards: 3,837
Passer rating: 99.4
Some would argue Aaron Rodgers and his two Hail Marys deserve to take back this belt. Those people are wrong. Hail Marys are not borne of skill. As the name indicates, it is simply a reflection of how #blessed a quarterback is. We already know that Rodgers is #blessed -- the man is dating Olivia Munn, after all -- and his miraculous heaves last season are simply further confirmation of that. But he can't lay claim to being the best quarterback in the NFL as of this moment.
That privilege belongs to the reigning MVP. Cam Newton and the Panthers looked dead in the water during the preseason after top target Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL. Instead, Newton took it upon himself to carry Carolina to a 15-1 record and Super Bowl berth. Even with many predicting the Panthers to fall to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship, the Panthers instead romped to a 49-15 victory as Newton accounted for four touchdowns. The team couldn't solve Denver's airtight defense, but that could be said about every squad around the league.
"Super Cam" didn't rewrite any major passing records, but he did mature into an above-average pocket passer despite sporting journeyman Ted Ginn Jr. as his No. 1 wide receiver. His true differentiating factor was his legs, which churned out 636 rushing yards and a whopping 10 touchdowns to bring his total output to 4,473 yards and 45 touchdowns. Newton wasn't just a championship-caliber quarterback in 2015. He was a force of nature.
Final Championship Belt Tally
6: Peyton Manning
2: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers
1: Kurt Warner, Jeff Garcia, Rich Gannon, Cam Newton