By virtue of a superlative performance in the AFC title game, which followed the greatest season by a quarterback in NFL history, Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos is the undisputed No. 1 quarterback in the world.
He set regular-season records by throwing for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns and didn’t miss a step yesterday in leading the Broncos to a 26-16 win over the New England Patriots in a game that wasn’t that close. The Broncos completely outplayed the Patriots as the genius of Bill Belichick was nowhere to be seen. It was former Pitt and Steelers assistant John Fox making all the right moves for Denver. Finally, all-time great Tom Brady looked like just another quarterback against the Broncos underrated defense.
With Manning leading the way, the Broncos scored 606 points in the regular season, 161 more than their nearest competitor. They finished 13-3 and with the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Regardless of what happens in the Denver-Seattle Super Bowl, no one is going to take the No. 1 rating from Manning.
If Manning is No. 1, where does that leave the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger?
First, a word or two about the belief that wins in general and wins in Super Bowls in particular are the best measure of a quarterback.
• Anyone who thinks a W-L record is instructive in ranking a quarterback believes Roethlisberger's best year was in 2004 when the Steelers were 15-1.
• Anyone who thinks Super Bowl wins are a major factor in ranking quarterbacks believes Eli Manning is a better quarterback than his brother and Joe Flacco is better than Dan Marino.
Football is a team game. Every team has two platoons. As important as the quarterback is, he is not the sole determinant of victory. It’s too bad that just at a time when baseball is wising up to the fact wins for pitchers are a near-meaningless statistic, some football people are falling into the same trap by using victories to determine the quality of a quarterback.
And if you truly believe wins are that important, please be prepared to rank Roethlisberger, 15-14 the past two seasons, behind Seattle’s Russell Wilson, 27-9, and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, 21-8, the winning and losing quarterbacks in the NFC title game, which was, by far, the best of the day.
Roethlisberger often is called an "elite" quarterback and that word was used to describe him just the other day in the comment section. Elite is the best of the best. It would be generous to put a top 10 percent designation on elite. But if so, that would mean there are only three elite quarterbacks in the NFL.
Roethlisberger is not among the top three. He is a very good quarterback, a quarterback who can still get the Steelers to the Super Bowl, but he is not elite.
Here is how Roethlisberger fared the past two seasons in four important passing categories.
2013: Completion percentage: 7; yards per game: 10; yards per attempt: 13; passer rating: 9.
2012: Completion percentage: 9; yards per game: 11; yards per attempt: 13; passer rating: 7.
Add those numbers up and Roethlisberger totaled a 39 in 2013 and 40 in 2012. Dividing by four (the number of categories), that would place him 10th in these combined statistical categories both seasons.
This is not to suggest these numbers are in any way definitive in evaluating a quarterback. But they indicate Roethlisberger is not elite.
Here are how some other quarterbacks ranked in 2013 in those same four categories: completion percentage, yards per game, yards per attempt and passer rating:
Manning: 3, 1, 3, 2 -- 9
Philip Rivers: 1, 6, 5, 4 -- 16
Drew Brees: 2, 2, 7, 6 -- 17
Aaron Rodgers: 5, 5, 2, 5 -- 17
Wilson: 12, 29, 4, 7 -- 52.
Kaepernick: 31, 32, 8, 10 -- 81
As solid as Manning is No.1, that’s how solid Roethlisberger is not elite -- with elite being defined as the top 10 percent.