Not gonna lie -- these are challenging days for the QB Confidence Index.
For one thing, confidence itself is a difficult commodity to come by right now in the NFL. The Rams win in Dallas? The Bills in Atlanta? The Jets are 2-2? The Giants are 0-4? We're at Week 5 and still nobody really knows who's good, who's bad, or which Patriots defensive back was supposed to cover that guy.
Top it all off, late Monday night came the news that Tom Petty, whose music has been on in the background during the writing of most if not all previous editions of this column, died at the age of 66.
So what you have here is a bummed-out chronicler of quarterback confidence who's not sure what's real and what's not about this nutty NFL season.
With all of that in mind, the latest edition of our QB Confidence Index comes with a few tweaks. We got rid of the tiers and hereby present a straight 1-to-32 ranking of each team's overall quarterback situation -- not just a ranking of starters. We moved some teams way up and some way down from a month ago based on the way this season has or hasn't proved earlier ranks right.
And we assigned each one its own Tom Petty song title, because he was the greatest and I'm sad.
"Oh yeah. All right. Take it easy, baby. Make it last all night." This is the early October edition of the QB Confidence Index. Enjoy.
Click on the links below to go directly to your team.
Yeah, changes throughout, but not at the top. The Patriots' defense has been a confused mess so far this season, which is the reason they're 2-2 and looking up at the Bills in the AFC East standings. But Tom Brady has been just as Tom Brady as ever, with a league-leading 1,399 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. And remember, the Patriots love backup Jimmy Garoppolo so much that they refused to answer trade calls for him all offseason and dealt away fellow backup Jacoby Brissett for wide receiver help just before Week 1. Brady's age (40) is the only thing not to like about this situation, and he's not showing his age.
Aaron Rodgers has been playing without either of his starting tackles. His top two running backs (one of whom, remember, is a converted wide receiver) left last week's game with injuries. Receivers Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams have all missed time with injuries. No matter, the Packers believe they can weather anything because Rodgers will deliver when it counts. He's still proving them right. Backup Brett Hundley remains well regarded, though unproven -- he has attempted 11 regular-season passes since being picked in the fifth round in 2015.
3. Atlanta Falcons: 'Built to Last'
Matt Ryan's numbers might be down a bit from last year's MVP stratosphere, and he already has thrown almost as many interceptions this season (five) as he did all of last season (seven). But he's still fourth in Total QBR (65.9) and fifth in yards per attempt (8.2) in spite of a change at offensive coordinator and the loss of top receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu to injury in Sunday's loss to Buffalo. The Falcons can count on Ryan, who hasn't missed a game in eight years, and they retained backup Matt Schaub in case something does happen. Ryan might never reach his 2016 heights again, but there's no reason to doubt Atlanta's QB setup anytime soon.
Sure, 38-year-old Drew Brees can be a free agent at the end of the season. But he has made it awfully clear he doesn't want to play anywhere but New Orleans, and the Saints appear to be taking him at his word. They've had no talks on a possible extension. Meantime, Brees just hums along, completing 69 percent of his passes, and is on pace for more than 4,500 yards. He'll need at least this year and next to become the league's all-time passing yardage leader, so it's fair for the Saints to figure they won't have to worry about replacing him until after 2018. Veteran Chase Daniel was brought back this offseason to be the backup.
Matthew Stafford and the Lions are off to a 3-1 start, which would feel exciting if you didn't remember last year's 9-4 start (and 0-3 finish and first-round playoff loss). He struggled with health early in his career, but Stafford hasn't missed a game since 2010. He operates the offense efficiently, even if he doesn't air it out the way he used to. Stafford has given the Lions everything they could ask for outside of playoff success, and even that hasn't always been his fault. There's no reason for Detroit to lack confidence in its quarterback situation, even if it feels like they're all always headed for heartbreak together. Jake Rudock, a sixth-round pick in 2016, is the backup.
Mitchell Trubisky's promotion in Chicago brings to three the number of 2017 draft picks scheduled to start at quarterback in Week 5. Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes II, who was the second quarterback and the 10th overall player taken in this year's draft, is not among them. That's in part because the Chiefs planned to develop him in a backup role all along, but it's also because incumbent Alex Smith has been brilliant, leading the league in passer rating (124.2) and ranking third in yards per attempt (8.8) for the NFL's only undefeated team. Smith's contract makes it easy for the Chiefs to move on after this season, especially if they think Mahomes is ready. But in the meantime, Smith is playing so well that Kansas City's confidence in its quarterback situation has skyrocketed since the preseason. The Chiefs have a guy with whom they believe they can win now, and they have the guy they like for the future.
7. Washington: 'Letting You Go'
A top-10 performer so far in QBR (61.8), passer rating (107.6), yards per attempt (8.3) and touchdowns (7), Kirk Cousins is on his way to a third straight stellar season. Will it be his last in Washington? Without a long-term contract in place, Cousins is playing on the franchise tag for the second year in a row and looks positioned to be a record-breaking free agent come March. Cousins has established himself to the point where Washington has to have great confidence in him. The reason the confidence meter isn't higher for this team is because it has a big ol' question mark staring it in the face if Cousins leaves in 2018. Colt McCoy is the backup and not likely the long-term replacement answer.
8. Dallas Cowboys: 'You Got Lucky'
The story of how the Dak Prescott era came to be in Dallas will be told and retold as legend for years to come. He was the Cowboys' third or fourth choice, at best, of quarterbacks in the 2016 draft. It took injuries to both Tony Romo and Kellen Moore to make him the starter. And here he is, looking like the unquestioned franchise quarterback for years to come. There's just nothing not to like outside of the small sample size, which is getting bigger all the time. He makes plays with his legs and his arm -- sometimes both together. Young players, old players and coaches all believe in him. He conveys an appropriate mix of anger and decorum during adverse times and after tough losses. This is the guy, whether they fell into it accidentally or not. It's fair to wonder whether Moore or Cooper Rush could handle things if Prescott got hurt, but this coaching staff, offensive line and running game seem capable of propping things up if need be. Given Prescott's age (24) and what he has shown so far, the Cowboys have no reason to lack any confidence here whatsoever.
The dream in Seattle is that Russell Wilson can help lead the Seahawks to another Super Bowl before they have to take the defense apart for salary cap reasons. The "runnin'" part of this equation comes from Seattle's continued refusal to build any kind of respectable protection unit for Wilson. While he has never missed a game, he has played hurt and he always seems to be at risk. Further, the performance of the Seattle offense in road games the past two seasons -- the Seahawks are 3-6-1 in regular-season road games since the beginning of 2016 -- raises questions about Wilson's consistency even as it obviously also underlines concerns about the group around him. We're nitpicking here, and most teams would trade what they have at quarterback for a young, dynamic champion like Wilson. But the volatility of this situation overall -- plus legit questions about the viability of Austin Davis as a backup -- keeps this rank from being higher.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers: 'Something Big'
The lyric I'm thinking of here goes like this: "And it wasn't no way to carry on, it wasn't no way to live. But he could put up with it for a little while, he was workin' on something big." Ben Roethlisberger seems to flirt a little more aggressively with retirement every year. There's enough hint of discord among him and his receivers (Martavis Bryant in the spring, Antonio Brown this week) to make you think he's not having the greatest time anymore. But the Steelers are so good, and their division so weak, that they all know they have a shot to win the Super Bowl. Ben has done it before, which provides the confidence. The worry about how long they'll have him shakes it. Rookie fourth-round pick Joshua Dobbs feels like a fun possible future plan at the position. In the meantime, Landry Jones is an OK stopgap for the game or two Roethlisberger misses every season. Solid situation here, even if it ain't perfect.
11. New York Giants: 'All Mixed Up'
I mean, what in the name of Will Beatty, Cullen Jenkins and Brandon Myers is going on out there in East Rutherford? This wasn't supposed to be the 2013 Giants redux. This was supposed to be a triumphant leap forward off of last year's 11-5 finish and return to the playoffs. Instead, the Giants are 0-4, the offense doesn't work, and Eli Manning finds himself back where he was before he ever met Ben McAdoo in the first place. To quote the song choice: "It's like something is testing me, pulling and directing me, I don't know what I'm gonna do." Big picture, every team is looking for a quarterback who either never misses games or can win a Super Bowl, and Manning is the rare guy who has proved to be both. But right now, it's tough for anyone with the Giants to have any confidence in anything. Manning, 36, is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, rookie third-round pick Davis Webb is a total unknown, and this whole situation is a mess.
12. Los Angeles Chargers: 'Refugee'
Philip Rivers didn't want this, right? Playing home games in Carson, California, in front of Eagles fans who are cheering for him to get sacked and throw interceptions? Rivers turns 36 in December, has a house full of kids and a laundry list of statistical accomplishments that would stamp him for the Hall of Fame if he'd ever won half as many Super Bowls as Eli Manning did. But so far this year, he's 22nd (46.2) in Total QBR, 20th in passer rating (87.8) and -- just like Eli -- 0-4. How confident can the Chargers be that Rivers will want to stick out the next three seasons and help them open the Rams' new stadium in 2020? Not very. Who do they have in the pipeline behind him? Cardale Jones, who was acquired in a trade before the season. Rivers' track record is the only thing keeping this ranking from plummeting into the bottom third.
With Washington and Dallas at .500 and the Giants' season upside down in a roadside ditch, Carson Wentz and the Eagles are 3-1 and leading the NFC East. And while, yes, they were 3-1 last season, too, on the way to 7-9, Wentz is showing more than was expected of him at this point in his career. Eagles coaches said in camp it takes three to four years for a quarterback to master the West Coast style offense they're running. So there are still bumps ahead. But Wentz's completion percentage is up over 60, his yards per attempt are at a respectable middle-of-the-pack 7.2, and his 62.9 Total QBR is seventh best in the league. The Eagles are confident they have their guy, and they're excited that he's helping them make some contender-style noise early in his second season.
14. Buffalo Bills: 'Shadow of a Doubt'
"But she's got me thinking 'bout it, yes, she's got me on the edge. With that little bit of mystery, she's a complex kid. And she's always been so hard to figure out. Yeah, she always likes to leave me with a shadow of a doubt." Tyrod Taylor is better than you think he is, but he does always leave you wondering why he's not as good as you think he can be. He ranks so consistently in the top 10 of Total QBR that you wonder if the stat was designed for him. His running ability allows him to make plays other quarterbacks can't or won't, and he has had success when the group around him has been strong. Yet, the way his contract was restructured each of the past two years indicates that the Bills want to see more. And with a new coaching staff in place that drafted Nathan Peterman, you wonder whether Taylor is long for Buffalo.
15. Oakland Raiders: 'Breakdown'
Do this list four days ago, and the Raiders are top 10, maybe even top five. But Derek Carr, who broke his ankle just before the end of the 2016 season, is out with a back injury, and the whole Raider thing gets called into question once again. EJ Manuel steps into the breach, and he's probably two interceptions away from igniting a firestorm of Colin Kaepernick speculation. The Raiders' confidence in their quarterback situation is directly tied to Carr's health, and right now Carr is not healthy. If he's back in two weeks, they shoot back up the list. If he takes five or six, it could be too late for him to save them in the rough-and-tumble AFC West.
Cam Newton was MVP of the league in 2015, then bottomed out to a 52.9 completion percentage in 2016. Following offseason shoulder surgery and minimal training camp activity, Newton's 2017 got off to a rocky start. But his completion percentage is 65.2, which would break his previous career high by 3.5 points if it held up. And his yards per attempt are at 7.9, which is a higher figure than he posted in his MVP season. Panthers people to whom I've talked are still saying they're not worried about Newton or his health -- that a slow start was expected after the offseason inactivity. They have faith and confidence in him. They just hope he rewards it by bouncing back off a down 2016. So far, the jury is out. Veteran Derek Anderson, who has started 47 career games but has won only 20 of those, is the backup.
Hopes are high for Jameis Winston, who commands universal respect in the Buccaneers' building at age 23. Adding DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard should only help Winston and the Bucs' offense be more dynamic, and he has the ability to help them hang in the NFC South race even with Atlanta and Carolina strong out of the gate. The question, as always, is ball security. Winston has three interceptions and three fumbles already this season, and if the Bucs are going to have to live with him as a supremely talented passer who's always going to be careless with the ball, then the confidence meter won't go much higher than this. That doesn't mean they can't do great things together -- just that it's always going to feel like a tightrope walk unless something changes. Which it has time to do.
Yes, it's still Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. Somehow, he made the playoffs in each of his first five seasons and failed to win over the fan base. This is mainly because he couldn't help them win a playoff game, partly because he got himself hurt making a tackle off an interception late in his best season and partly because the past year and a quarter has reminded Bengals fans of what the franchise felt like before Dalton and A.J. Green got there. Dalton was lousy in his first three games of this season, brilliant in the fourth, and seems headed for basically the same year he usually has. Which is to say, an unfulfilling one. Backup AJ McCarron was deemed valuable enough by the franchise that they didn't seek opportunities to trade him this summer with one year left on his deal, but he's no threat to Dalton's job security anytime soon.
"It don't matter what you say, it don't matter what you do. I, I, I got a thing about you." Mariota is a thrilling young player and leader -- the kind of quarterback around whom teams like to build their future. But he's also hurt. Again. He missed four games in his rookie season, one at the end of last year and could miss this week with a hamstring injury. As noted above, guys like Matthew Stafford were injury question marks early in their careers who turned into iron men in short order. Mariota could do the same. Until and unless he shows an ability to stay healthy, the confidence meter stays here in the middle, while everyone sings songs in their heads about how great he still could be. Matt Cassel will start in Mariota's place if he can't go, and Cassel is 36-44 in his career as a starter.
Sean McVay is the early front-runner for Coach of the Year for his work with second-year quarterback Jared Goff, who's thriving so far after playing only seven forgettable games as a rookie. The former No. 1 overall pick still has a ways to go before he has the complete confidence of his coaches and fans. But the Rams are 3-1 with a chance to deal a body blow to the division-rival Seahawks this week. And if the improvements to the roster and the offensive scheme are real enough to stick, maybe the Rams don't have to be in the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes next March after all.
21. Arizona Cardinals: 'Alright For Now'
That 37-year-old Carson Palmer is on pace to take 68 sacks this season does not feel like a sustainable model. The Cardinals have elbowed their way to a 2-2 start in spite of being outscored 91-74. The wins came in overtime against the Colts and 49ers, who are a combined 1-7. There's a decent chance this Cardinals team just isn't good -- especially without offensive engine David Johnson, who has been out since Week 1 and will be out for a couple more months at least. As long as Palmer is on the field, the Cardinals are confident they have a chance. But there's no way to maintain confidence about how long he'll be on the field, and Blaine Gabbert is the best backup option. This is a high-wire act, and right now they can't even get the wire up all that high.
Maybe this is too low. Sam Bradford looked great in Week 1, and since he got hurt Case Keenum has stepped in and actually played pretty well. Keenum's 65.5 QBR is fifth best in the league, and he ranks a surprising eighth in yards per attempt (7.6). Add in the possible second-half return of Teddy Bridgewater from injury, and the Vikings appear to have some depth at a position where almost everyone lacks it. But the low mark is because of the future, which is a total unknown. Bradford and Bridgewater are both eligible for unrestricted free agency at the end of the season. Both are major health question marks. The Vikings have no idea who'll be their quarterback in 2018, and honestly they don't even really know who'll be available to play the position for them in the second half of this season. Too much mystery here to have any confidence.
23. Indianapolis Colts: 'I Need to Know'
When's Andrew Luck coming back? Week 6? Week 7? He's supposed to practice this week, at long last, which is progress. And Jacoby Brissett has looked good since taking the job from Scott Tolzien, who was not. But the Colts' confidence about their QB situation is tied directly to Luck's timetable for return, and indirectly to his projected ability to stay healthy for the foreseeable future. Since both remain up in the air, the confidence meter remains low in Indy.
24. Denver Broncos: 'It'll All Work Out'
Trevor Siemian is fine, right? Not a lot of eye-popping plays, but he limits mistakes and gives a team that wants to win with defense and the running game a chance to do so. He has been, like we said about Tyrod Taylor earlier, better than you think. Behind him is Brock Osweiler, who knows the offense, and former first-round pick Paxton Lynch, who still might make something of himself before it's all over. The way the Broncos are constructed, they don't have to feel great about their quarterback situation. And compared to others around the league, the confidence meter isn't very high. It's just high enough for them.
25. Houston Texans: 'Learning to Fly'
The early returns on Deshaun Watson are scintillating. Were this an excitement index or an optimism index, the Texans would be way up there. Watson is a thrill to watch and has impressed coaches and teammates with his intelligence and his leadership skills. He appears to be the real deal. But he has played three games and his coach changes quarterbacks at the drop of a hat. Would it be any real surprise, if Watson hits a rough patch, to see Tom Savage here again before the end of the season? The more Watson shows of what he has shown so far, the higher this rank goes. Right now, it stays cautiously here toward the bottom.
Blake Bortles has actually come a fairly long way since mid-August, when his preseason was going so poorly we wondered if he might get cut. In two of the Jaguars' four games (both wins), he has managed to avoid throwing a single interception. But he was just 15-for-35 on Sunday in an overtime loss to the Jets (the Jets!), and there's no way you're convincing me the Tom Coughlin/Doug Marrone brain trust has an ounce of confidence in Bortles' ability to lead this team through an immediate or distant future. Bortles' mandate is to hand it off to Leonard Fournette, throw as little and as carefully as possible, and don't do any real harm. If he can't handle that, we could see Chad Henne before year's end and someone entirely new behind center in Jacksonville in 2018.
Harsh, yeah, and it's not Joe Flacco's fault the Ravens have somehow assembled the league's most uninspiring offensive supporting cast around him. But until Flacco retires, a persistent issue around the Ravens will be his contract, which went through the roof after he won the Super Bowl for them as a pending free agent with the greatest month of his life. The contract is the gift that keeps on taking, as Flacco costs $24.55 million against this year's salary cap, $24.75 million against next year's and $26.5 million in 2019, which is the first year they could even think about cutting him. And even if they did cut him in 2019, he'd still cost them $16 million in dead money. Which would all be fine ... if Flacco had kept playing the way he played during that Super Bowl run. He has not. The Ravens have no reason to have any confidence in any aspect of their offense. Ryan Mallett is the backup.
Literally the only coach in the NFL who would have thought to drag Jay Cutler out of the broadcast booth to fill a sudden quarterback need was Miami's Adam Gase, who had some modest degree of success with Cutler in Chicago two years ago and figured he knew the offense, so why not. Here were are a month later, and the Dolphins have scored a combined six points in two games against the Saints and Jets, and we're dealing with the whole, "Does Cutler even care?" meme again. Matt Moore could have done this for literally one-sixth the price. But if the Dolphins had enough confidence in Moore, they wouldn't have thrown $10 million at Cutler to pry him away from Fox. Gase is a confident coach, correctly pointing out that his 2016 Dolphins' start was worse and they still made the playoffs. So maybe this comes around. But from here, it's hard to feel confident about that.
29. San Francisco 49ers: 'The Waiting'
Brian Hoyer (58.1 completion percentage, 5.8 yards per attempt, two touchdowns, four interceptions) has not played well. His receivers have dropped a bunch of passes. The rookie backup is C.J. Beathard, a third-round pick, whom I guess it could be fun to see give it a whirl but probably isn't close to ready. This is why, if you're Kyle Shanahan, you get a six-year contract to be the coach. Because if things don't work out in Year 1, you have time to fix it. If Kirk Cousins gets to the market in March as expected, the Niners and Cousins' former offensive coordinator will be waiting with a truckload of cash. If nothing else, they're confident in the amount of salary-cap space they have in 2018.
30. Chicago Bears: 'Change of Heart'
Tough to rank real high in confidence when the guy who's starting your next game has never played an NFL game and started only 13 in college. Mitchell Trubisky could be the next Dak Prescott or the next DeShone Kizer (more on that in a second) or something in between. There's no way to know. What the Bears do know is that Mike Glennon's eight turnovers in four games were unsustainable and used up any reserve of confidence they might have had when they signed him a month and a half before drafting Trubisky No. 2 overall. Next man up, as they say.
31. New York Jets: 'Even the Losers'
"Baby, even the losers get lucky sometimes. Even the losers keep a little bit of pride. They get lucky sometimes." The Jets are 2-2 with Josh McCown running the show, Bryce Petty in limbo and Christian Hackenberg still looking for the handle on his opportunity to show something. Can it sustain itself? Will we see one or both of the younger guys start at some point this year? Is the Jets' quarterback of the future on their roster? Going with no, yes, no on those three questions, but in the meantime -- and in the absence of confidence -- I do hope Jets fans are enjoying watching their team win. Yeah, I know you want a high draft pick to get your hands on one of those 2018 rookie quarterbacks. But those guys aren't even playing that well, and what's the point of watching sports if you're not going to enjoy surprise success?
Someday, Browns fans, you will have your quarterback. Heck, it might even be DeShone Kizer, the athletic rookie who surprisingly won the job in camp and has started the first four games. But it's hard to blame you if you can't see it from here. Kizer is 32nd in QBR (20.1) and passer rating (50.9) and 31st in yards per attempt (5.4). He has thrown three touchdown passes, eight interceptions and completed just over 51 percent of his passes. Those are some heavy growing pains, and if there's one thing Browns fans know, it's pain. Kizer is going to get a long leash, because coach Hue Jackson believes in his talent and wants him to succeed. But confidence? That's a ways off.