But ranking the most scrutinized players in the NFL — quarterbacks — can spark equally spirited debate.
So without further ado, The Huddle reveals its NFL QB power rankings, which are rooted heavily in each player’s present circumstances. Even so, the man atop the list is sure to have his supporters … and, doubtless, plenty of detractors:
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers: The reigning Super Bowl MVP is coming off one of the most remarkable postseason runs in recent memory. He’s handled his business deftly on the field and off — reference the way Rodgers navigated the local minefield when then-iconic Brett Favre was traded in 2008 — can make plays with his head, arm and legs and is just 27. If you had to pick one guy to lead your team for the next decade, hard to argue against the man currently wearing the championship belt.
2. Tom Brady, Patriots: He’s coming off his second league MVP campaign in the last four seasons. But he struggled in the playoffs, where he’s lost his past three starts after seeming nearly bulletproof early in his career. Rodgers by a hair, as in Brady’s now shorter locks.
3. Drew Brees, Saints: He’s passed for 22,918 yards during his tenure in New Orleans, the most prolific five-year stretch in league history. Brees’ leadership skills, accuracy and dedication are off the charts. And it takes a special guy to supplant Archie Manning as the most beloved player in franchise history.
4. Peyton Manning, Colts: Admittedly, ranking the four-time MVP this low doesn’t feel right. But he’s coming off a season slightly subpar by his ridiculously lofty standards and, more troubling, dealing with a surgically repaired neck at age 35 which throws a dent into what has been his nearly bulletproof persona.
5. Michael Vick, Eagles: Unlike the QBs listed in front of him (and a couple below him), he doesn’t have a ring. What he does have is the scariest skill set of anyone (maybe ever) at the position and, now, the dedication and experience to maximize his gifts.
6. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Seems he often creates stir, no matter the context, and that especially includes where to rank him on lists such as this. Never a classic pocket passer, but his unique ability has made him a winner even if (arguably) he may not be among the top three players on his defensively dominant team.
7. Philip Rivers, Chargers: He’s weak on aesthetics, strong on results. He doesn’t need to prove his toughness but does need to establish a Super Bowl pedigree to move up this list.
8. Matt Ryan, Falcons: Some of the Atlanta locals may still pine for Vick, but Ryan is well on his way to establishing himself as the best quarterback in franchise history. No playoff wins in his first three years is the minor knock against him.
9. Eli Manning, Giants: One word — uneven. He’s won a Super Bowl … but 2007 aside, he’s never won another postseason game; he threw for 31 TDs in 2010 but nearly as many INTs (25); his teammates seem to love him while the critics want to see more fire.
10. Joe Flacco, Ravens: A playoff quarterback in each of his three seasons, he’s starting to settle in as the offensive catalyst.
11. Mark Sanchez, Jets: The numbers aren’t always pretty, but he steps it up come January.
12. Tony Romo, Cowboys: The numbers are usually pretty, but he steps in it come January.
13. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers: He’s coming off a sterling (or is it pewter?) 2010 with 25 TDs (vs. 6 INTs) and could be primed to vault up the rankings with an encore 2011 that includes a postseason trip.
14. Sam Bradford, Rams: Quietly turned in one of the most impressive seasons ever for a rookie quarterback, falling a tiebreaker short of the NFC West crown. He’s got as much upside as anyone in the league and is already the best at the position in his division.
15. Jay Cutler, Bears: He may have the biggest arm in the NFL … and may also have the biggeset chance to replace Favre as the game’s most maddening decision maker. Through five years, Cutler’s passer rating is 84.3; Favre’s career number is 86.0.
16. Matt Cassel, Chiefs: Blossomed into a Pro Bowler in 2010 on the strength of his stats (27 TDs, 7 INTs) and run to the AFC West title. He should have more aerial weapons at his disposal in 2011, which could help him start making a mark in postseason.
17. Matt Schaub, Texans: He’s thrown for 9,140 yards and 53 TDs over the past two years while slaying the injury bug. But he’s got to shake another dogging question now — is he the guy to finally get Houston to the playoffs?
18. Matthew Stafford, Lions: He’s provided intriguing flashes in his all-to-too brief appearances. If he stays upright, he’s got the talent and supporting cast to to take off in 2011.
19. Kyle Orton, Broncos: His stats have rocketed upward in Denver, but his winning percentage has plummeted. He may be the best quarterback in the Mile High City right now, but will he be there at all in six months?
20. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals: Teammates from coast to coast rave about his demeanor. We’ll soon see if he’s actually got the game to justify the ransom Arizona paid to get him.
21. David Garrard, Jaguars: He was alternately hot and horrific in 2010. But durability has become a concern, and if he oversees another late-season implosion, expect to see Blaine Gabbert under center … permanently.
22. Donovan McNabb, Vikings: He’s got a lot to prove coming off a season that tarnished his resume. And he may not have long to re-establish himself with Christian Ponder waiting in the wings.
23. Matt Hasselbeck, Titans: We’re clearly in the seat warmer section of the rankings. Hasselbeck comes off a strong playoff showing in Seattle but could remain healthy and efficient more often behind Tennessee’s superior O-line. But does he have the weapons (or the time) to recapture his Pro Bowl form?
24. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills: He shouldn’t be looking over his shoulder figuratively in 2011 after earning Chan Gailey‘s trust with a strong 2010. Literally, Fitzpatrick’s head may be on a swivel given Buffalo’s shaky offense.
25. Colt McCoy, Browns: Cleveland is all in with him after a decent rookie season. Whether he has enough help to succeed remains to be seen.
26. Jason Campbell, Raiders: Maybe Hue Jackson will show more faith in him than Tom Cable did. Still, even though Campbell retained his playbook for a change, he lost his only established target with TE Zach Miller‘s defection.
27. Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks: He’s finally got his long-sought opportunity to start and brings a familiarity with WR Sidney Rice and OC Darrell Bevell‘s playbook with him.
28. Cam Newton, Panthers: Too high given he’s never played a down in the NFL? Maybe. But he should have job security and will step into an offense that actually has plenty of talent and newfound creativity under OC Rob Chudzinski, who will look to mold his attack to Newton’s talents and comfort level.
29. Andy Dalton, Bengals: Another rookie, he seems to have the starting job already locked up. He’s sure to struggle in the AFC North, but he’s got some promising young helpers in WR A.J. Green and TE Jermaine Gresham.
30. Alex Smith, 49ers: He’ll begin what seems like his annual audition for the job in San Francisco. But rookie Colin Kaepernick now seems to be the future by the Bay, especially with Smith playing on a one-year contract.
31. Chad Henne, Dolphins: Does he really have the confidence of the organization, much less the fans?
32. Rex Grossman, Washington Football Team: He’s currently No. 1 on the depth chart but will almost certainly play musical chairs with John Beck and Kellen Clemens this year … while very likely ceding his seat to some hotshot rookie next year.