How to bet the NFL season based on QBs

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No position in all of American sports is more important than quarterback. 

The quarterback touches the ball on every single play. An elite QB can drag an otherwise average roster deep into the playoffs, but a bad signal-caller could doom even an elite roster. 

In my NFL Power Rankings, quarterback reigns supreme by a wide margin. Following the Football Outsiders model, I count QB at over 40 percent of the entire offensive unit ranking and more than 25 percent over the overall roster ranking. 

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Take Patrick Mahomes. 

With Mahomes, the Chiefs rank No. 1 in both my offensive unit rankings and overall. But replace him with a league-average starter and the Chiefs drop to 13th on offense and ninth overall — from Super Bowl favorite to a playoff team happy to steal a game. Replace Mahomes with the league-worst QB and Kansas City plummets to 24th offensively and league average overall, out of the playoffs entirely. 

That’s how important this position is. Here are the 2022 Opening Day quarterback rankings from 1 to 32: 

Tier I — Guaranteed Title Contenders 

1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs 

2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers 

Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers are so obviously the top two QBs that we don’t even need to linger. Mahomes saw a dip in numbers last year but was still elite, and he’s still at his very best in the biggest moments. Rodgers will turn 39 by the playoffs and skews a bit conservative in the playoffs. 

One of the stories of the season is how these two respond without star receivers Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams. I’m obviously not too concerned. 

Tier II — Perennial MVP Contention 

3. Tom Brady, Buccaneers 

4. Joe Burrow, Bengals 

5. Russell Wilson, Broncos 

We needn’t say much about Tom Brady, either. The old man led the league in attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns last season while being sacked the fewest times of any starter. Brady’s quick release will be especially important this fall as he’s tested with Tampa’s interior offensive line woes. 

You may think it’s too soon to rank Joe Burrow this high. I did, too, until I dug into the numbers. He did not just have a playoff breakout. Burrow ranked fourth in Expected Points Added (EPA) last season. He led the league in Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE). His 70.4 completion percentage and 8.9 yards per attempt (YPA) both led the league as well, a lethal combination. The advanced metrics tell us this is not too high for Burrow. It might be too low. 

Russell Wilson was the single most difficult player to rank. Wilson’s numbers on late downs and game situations were worrying, and his season-long EPA ranked just 15th. Many of his advanced metrics have been on a downward trend for a few years. It’s fair to worry about a 5-foot-11, 33-year-old whose numbers are dipping. 

There are real red flags, but at the end of the day, Wilson is 104-53-1 lifetime with fewer than nine wins just once his career. With a better roster and his best play-caller ever, we should give him the benefit of the doubt. 

Tier III — There’s a Superstar in There … Sometimes 

6. Justin Herbert, Chargers 

7. Josh Allen, Bills 

8. Kyler Murray, Cardinals 

9. Lamar Jackson, Ravens 

At the end of the day, the top five virtually guarantee a team will be a top-10 offense and a playoff team. That’s what separates them from this next tier down, whose frustrating combination of high highs and low lows is exactly why they don’t quite measure up with the elites yet. 

I believe Justin Herbert will be a Tier I guy in time, but he might be a Tier I talent in a Tier X scheme. Herbert has a huge arm but ranked just 21st in air yards per throw and posted terrible early-down metrics. It’s great that Herbert can bail out the Chargers on third-and-long, less great that he gets so much practice at it. Still, Herbert is the whole package. 

Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson
Getty Images

Yes, that’s Josh Allen all the way down at No. 7. Our last taste of Allen was his God-mode in the playoffs, and if that’s the guy he is every week going forward, he is a no-brainer Tier I. But did everyone forget how unremarkable Allen’s regular season was? 

Everyone loves Allen because he’s a sandlot guy with a monster arm and wild ability to create plays no one else can, but there are red flags and his physical running style is a constant injury threat. Be careful. 

Kyler Murray is just the opposite. Our last memory of Murray was that terrible playoff game against the Rams and late-season collapse, plus the contract shenanigans. But don’t forget that Murray was elite the first half of the season before getting hurt — the leading MVP candidate on the last unbeaten team in the league. 

Murray holds the ball too long and takes too many sacks. The bigger problem is that Arizona’s offense is holding him back. Kliff Kingsbury runs a gimmicky offense with too many gadgets and bubble screens, but Murray has an outstanding deep ball and an accurate arm. He might be young Russell Wilson. 

And then there’s Lamar Jackson, who is unlike any other QB in the NFL, maybe ever. Jackson fought through COVID and injuries last year, both his own and the rest of the roster, and his metrics cratered. He’s an elite runner. By many measures, the most valuable one in the league — and he flat-out wins. 

Is Jackson a franchise superstar or a system guy? Maybe he belongs in the tier below, and with no extension entering the final year of his contract, it seems Baltimore hasn’t made its mind up yet, either. 

Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins
Getty Images

Tier IV — The Litmus Tests 

10. Matthew Stafford, Rams 

11. Dak Prescott, Cowboys 

12. Ryan Tannehill, Titans 

13. Kirk Cousins, Vikings 

14. Derek Carr, Raiders 

15. Jalen Hurts, Eagles 

This tier is called Litmus Tests because these quarterbacks are a reflection of the teams they play on. Give them protection, weapons, a defense and good play calling and they can make a deep run. Take away some — or all — of those things and you’re left with a QB who’s good, but never feels quite good enough. 

Matthew Stafford is the same as he’s always been — it just turns out that having Sean McVay, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey on your side is a lot better than not. Stafford was terrific in the playoffs, but I’m not sure he really moved the needle as far as his place on this list. Don’t confuse volume and team success for QB ranking, and do be worried a bit about his nagging elbow injury. 

I’d rank Dak Prescott ahead of Stafford, but it’s tough to look past the difference in playoff performance. Still, Prescott is really good. He’s accurate and takes care of the ball, he can create with his legs and he’s a playmaker who gives his team a chance to win. His healthy metrics would push him up a few spots further, but the injuries are starting to become a pattern and should be a concern with a faltering O-line now missing Tyron Smith. 

Ryan Tannehill is boring and overlooked. He also ranks third in the NFL in EPA over the past three seasons, behind only Mahomes and Rodgers. Seems good! The bottom falls out in the playoffs and there are too many mistakes between the turnovers and sacks, but the good continues to be really good. 

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Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr are the Spider-Man meme. Their three-year numbers (above) are remarkably similar. Both are very good at taking exactly what is given to them, but they’re incapable of giving you much more. Each one got a new head coach and has one of the best receivers in the league, so it’ll be interesting to see how far they can go this season. 

Jalen Hurts is six spots too high or too low, but it’s hard to tell which just yet. For now, he’s Lamar Jackson-lite, a better runner than thrower helped by an excellent line and scheme suited to his strengths. The throwing numbers are concerning. The run threat adds value, but how much? On a loaded Philly roster, we’re about to find out. 

Tier V — The First-Pick Wild cards 

16. Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars 

17. Baker Mayfield, Panthers 

18. Jameis Winston, Saints 

This trio can lose a game at any moment, but they’re the last three guys on this list who definitely have the talent to go win the game, too. 

Trevor Lawrence’s numbers were not great last year, but the flashes were there. He has a cannon arm and the process looked good; he also got the ball out and didn’t make a ton of mistakes considering the horrendous situation with Urban Meyer. Here’s guessing a competent coaching staff and receivers will make him look a whole lot better in 2022. 

I can’t quit Baker Mayfield. His numbers last year were poor, but he played hurt and had little help. Still just 27 years old, I’m not sure the Baker book has been written yet. The only problem? With a league-worst coaching staff and poor blocking, I’m not sure he will get a great chance in Carolina. 

This is the highest I’ve ever ranked Jameis Winston, and I already regret it. Few players have the ability to add so much while simultaneously taking so much off the table. Winston racks up sacks and interceptions, but he also led the league in attempts and yards his last full season. Jameis is the 10th- or 30th-best QB on any given play. You just never know which until he releases the ball. 

Tier VI — The Game Managers 

19. Matt Ryan, Colts 

20. Mac Jones, Patriots 

21. Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins 

Everyone’s excited about Matt Ryan in Indy, but he hasn’t won more than seven games in a season since 2017 and his numbers are on an alarming downward trend. Ryan’s QBR has dropped five consecutive seasons since winning MVP, and his sack rate his risen in four straight. Some of that was due to a bad supporting cast in Atlanta, but the Colts’ roster is more good than great and guys don’t tend to bounce back at age 37. 

Maybe this is a few spots too low for Mac Jones and he belongs in the group with Cousins and Carr, but I’ll let him earn his spot. All of Jones’ numbers scream “pretty good for a rookie but also pretty average for a starter,” so it’s important to distinguish between the two, especially since he will be 24 on opening day. 

Like Jones, Tagovailoa has a nice completion rate that might be artificially inflated by schemes designed to hide him. The difference is Miami’s system might actually be designed to hide its abysmal O-line and lack of receiving talent, and the Dolphins took big strides in both areas and also added a smart play caller. Tagovailoa is effectively the same age as Jones, and he’s 13-8 as a starter. Let’s see how he looks in a better environment. 

Tier VII — Youth Equals Upside 

22. Justin Fields, Bears 

23. Trey Lance, 49ers 

24. Davis Mills, Texans 

We don’t know much yet about this trio, but like the tier of former No. 1 picks, teams may be better off taking a shot on young upside than what’s left below. 

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Justin Fields led the league in air yards per attempt and flashed great playmaking in fourth quarters. He hasn’t had much of a chance with the lack of protection and weapons in Chicago, and that won’t change this year. Trey Lance has only three starts in the last 950 days, but the tools are there and Kyle Shanahan has a wild ability to make his quarterbacks look great. 

Davis Mills’ 66.8 completion percentage and 6.8 YPA were not abjectly terrible. He only threw 10 interceptions, though the underlying numbers suggest that should’ve been higher. Mills was a nice draft find and has a chance to make himself a home this year. 

Tier VIII — We Know What We’re Getting and it Ain’t Great 

25. Carson Wentz, Commanders 

26. Marcus Mariota, Falcons 

27. Jared Goff, Lions 

28. Daniel Jones, Giants 

29. Zach Wilson, Jets 

Much like the guys ranked at the top, you know these guys belong at the bottom because we don’t even need to say a ton about them. 

Somehow, Carson Wentz is simultaneously both better and worse than you think. In four of the past five seasons, he’s ranked in the top half of the league in QBR, thrown seven or fewer interceptions and finished within a game of .500 or better. He also ranks 33rd in EPA and CPOE over that span, and in case you forgot, there are only 32 teams. 

Daniel Jones
Daniel Jones
Getty Images

Injuries are also what keep Marcus Mariota from the Game Managers tier. Mariota’s last start was in October 2019, and with middling numbers at age 29, this ship has likely sailed. He’d be fine on the right team, but that ain’t the Falcons. Expect Desmond Ridder sooner than later. 

If you just look at raw numbers, you might think Jared Goff should rank higher. You’d be wrong. Everything is under and safe, so much so that Goff ranked last in completed air yards per throw last season, even behind Ben Roethlisberger’s noodle arm. Goff is the definition of a replacement-level starting QB. 

We’ll see if there’s more to Daniel Jones than we’ve seen the last three years. Brian Daboll worked his magic with Allen, but Jones is too aggressive and makes a ton of mistakes by way of turnovers and sacks, without really adding much upside outside of his legs. Daboll has his work cut out. 

Zach Wilson was the worst QB by such a wide margin that he skews the scale on charts comparing quarterbacks. He ranked last in EPA, CPOE, Success Rate, YPA, completion percentage, sack rate … just pick a metric, Wilson was probably last. The only reason he’s not last in these rankings is because he just turned 23 and should improve his sophomore season. 

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Tier IX — The Placeholders 

30. Jacoby Brissett, Browns 

31. Mitchell Trubisky, Steelers 

32. Geno Smith, Seahawks 

These three should not be starting NFL quarterbacks. I’m sorry you had to find out this way. 

Brandon Anderson handicaps the NFL for Action Network. 

5 Key Takeaways for Bettors 

1. The Saints, Jaguars, and Panthers could be boom-or-bust sleepers, depending on which version of their former No. 1 QB they get. 

If Baker Mayfield (12/1) or Jameis Winston (+550) produce consistently this year, they could be Comeback Player of the Year candidates. If Trevor Lawrence takes a leap in his sophomore season, the Jaguars (+800) could be an intriguing AFC South sleeper pick. 

Right now, those three all rank as league-average QBs on the scale above. All three will probably end up five or 10 spots higher or lower. Good luck figuring out which direction. 

Joe Burrow
Joe Burrow
Getty Images

2. If Joe Burrow is already this good, the Bengals might be the new Colts. 

If Burrow is as good as last year’s metrics look — both regular and postseason — he might already be one of the league’s best two or three quarterbacks. There are questions about Burrow’s O-line, defense and coaching, but if he’s already playing at this level, the Bengals might just be the new version of the Peyton Manning-led Colts. 

Those teams were a perennial playoff squad and Manning was an annual MVP contender, winning the award four times. 

3. The AFC North seems competitive and wide-open, but don’t forget two of the teams have top-10 QBs. 

Burrow is an MVP contender, and Lamar Jackson is a former MVP with top-10 MVP odds himself. Both are elite however you define it, and are right near the top of the QB rankings while Brissett and Trubisky are at the bottom. 

Before you tempt yourself into betting on the Browns or Steelers as sleeper picks, you might want to remember just how much of a deficit those teams have at quarterback. 

4. Be careful before writing the Colts in ink as AFC South winners. 

The Colts are -125 to win the AFC South under the premise that Matt Ryan’s arrival represents a significant improvement on Carson Wentz. But the metrics say Ryan has fallen off and may not be much of an improvement over Wentz. 

Worse, every metric says he’s not even the best Ryan in the division. Tannehill is better than Matt, and sophomores Trevor Lawrence and Davis Mills could get close with big leaps. You might think the Colts are safe, but Indianapolis could end the year with the worst QB in the division instead of the best. 

5. The Rams may not be as safe as you think in the NFC West. 

Everyone loves Matthew Stafford after his Super Bowl win, but his elbow injury continues to linger and his backup is John Wolford — not to mention the Rams’ roster has holes on defense and offensive line. If Stafford is more of a Litmus Test QB than a true star, the Rams could be less stable than they seem. 

Kyler Murray might be the better player, and Trey Lance is a wild card who could vault himself into that group in Kyle Shanahan’s system. Stafford may not end up being much of an advantage in the NFC West, if at all.

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