Friday, July 19, 2013

If It Ain't Steel's 2013 AFC North QB Rankings

by Jayden Matthews

It’s that time of year again when we at If It Ain't Steel rank the quarterbacks. First up, we start with the QBs of the AFC North. This is the division and these are the QBs we know the most about because of playing them twice a year. Though we always endeavor to remain as objective as possible whenever we write, we still realize this list may not go over well will the Raven faithful. But we're neither the NFL Network or ESPN nor am I Ron Jaworski, and you will see that when our Top 12 QBs list comes out. But without further adieu, here we go.

1) Ben Roethlisberger

This is by no means a Black and Gold-blinders pick. This is where Big Ben deserves to be ranked. Yes, I know he got hurt and missed 3 games. But, SO WHAT? He still deserves to be ranked above the other three in this division. Before Big Ben’s injury, he was arguably right in the thick of MVP talks and was putting together what could have been one of his best seasons yet. He was consistent in his play and had the best 3rd down conversion percentage of any QB in the NFL until his injury. He had only thrown four interceptions before his injury. No, he didn’t look like the superstar stud QB we all know when he came back and we lost two heartbreaking games by 3 points and missed the playoffs, but we still give Ben the No. 1 nod because we mainly rank by regular season numbers with a nod to playoff numbers.

Despite missing essentially three and a half games, Big Ben still finished the season with 3,265 yards 26 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions. He had a 65% completion percentage and QB ranking of 97.0. Big Ben may have had his share of injuries over the past couple seasons and this may have been the longest that we have been without him, but he still deserves the No. 1 nod.

Big Ben is still the most consistent of the four in the AFC North. In his nine years, he has two Super Bowl wins under his belt and helped lead the Steelers to a third appearance. That’s pretty good for any QB, but is great for a QB playing in arguably the toughest division in football. It is hard enough to win the AFC North, let alone win the whole shebang. And we don't believe he's done yet.

The other reason I give him the No. 1 nod is because we all know that last season has to be eating at him as much as it does the fans. We believe he will come out and play like the champion we all know he is and that he will get it done. With the Steelers flying under the radar and the talking heads of mainstream media already sticking a fork in them, Big Ben and the Steelers, in one sense, have less pressure on them. That could set up to be a bad thing for the rest of the AFC North.

2) Joe Flacco

Yes, I know Joe Flacco just won the SB and the MVP. Again, SO WHAT? As we said, we mainly base this on regular season numbers and less on playoff and SB numbers. Joe Namath had a great playoff run and beat Baltimore's favorite son, the Colts. Is Namath supposed to be the best ever? Timmy Smith set a SB record by running for 204 yards, while also scoring two TDs, for the Washington Redskins in SB XXII. Did that make him a Hall of Fame running back?

Let’s be real, Flacco was hardly an MVP during the regular season. His inconsistencies reared their ugly heads a lot, in fact. While he had his ups and downs during the regular season, he is still a better player than the other two in the AFC North. Flacco owns the two worst QBR ratings of any QB in the NFL this past season and, might I add, two of the worst ever. Against a stout Houston Texans defense, he had a ranking of 0.3 and against the Denver Broncos he had a ranking of 0.4. Plus, as we'll further bring out in a moment, Big Ben had more TD passes and fewer INTs in less time. So why, again, should we have Flacco ranked higher?

That is what a lot of fans seem to overlook. Yes, again, Flacco had an amazing playoff run, but he had an inconsistent, yo yo-like season. They also leave out the fact that the playoff run was also fueled by the retirement announcement of Ravens great Ray Lewis. A lot also like to blame Cam Cameron and then are praise Jim Caldwell for Flacco's immediate turn around during the playoffs.

Time will tell if that is the case, because I personally still thinking Lewis’ retirement motivation had more to do with it. Plus, if Caldwell was so great, then why did the Indianapolis Colts tank when Peyton Manning was injured and out for the season?

This will be the season for both Flacco and Caldwell to shut critics like myself up. Are they up for the task? We will see. He finished the regular season with 3,817 yards 59.7% completion, 22 TDs to 10 INTs and a QB ranking of 87.7. Flacco is coming off a near historic playoff run, I do give him credit for that, but he is going to have to come out this season and play that good all the time for me to rank him above Big Ben.

Flacco and the Ravens also have the proverbial target on their backs that comes with being the reigning champs, so this season is by no means going to be easy. Because even bad teams show up to play the champs. Frankly, if the Ravens have any chance of taking the North for the third year in a row and making it back to the playoffs they are going to need that Flacco to show up. Especially with all the questions on their retooled defense and how it’s going to come together, more onus is on him. So this will be the year for Flacco to put up or shut up with all the attention and money he is receiving. Will he remain the media darling or the media kick stand? That is yet to be determined.

3) Andy Dalton

Andy Dalton can play and has shown that since being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. He is consistently building a nice résumé and his numbers are very good and right up there with the top two. He has helped lead the Bengals to back-to-back winning seasons and playoff appearances but has yet to get his first playoff win.

The Bengals are quietly building a very good offense around Dalton with very good young talent. Again, this is a brutal division and they still have their work cut out for them if they're going to take out the Steelers and Ravens.

Could this be the year the Bengals emerge and do just that? Time will tell, but things are definitely looking up for Bengals fans and they have every right to be optimistic with this young guy under center.

Dalton finished the season with 3,669 passing yards and a 62.3% completion, which is second behind Big Ben. We can't rank him higher than Flacco, though, until he wins some playoff games. He had 26 TDs to 16 INTs and a 87.4 QB ranking. The sky is the limit for young Dalton, and this could be the year he crosses the threshold.

4) Brandon Weeden

Weeden was drafted by the Cleveland Browns last season and was immediately thrown into the fire. He didn’t have the best of seasons, but he didn’t have the worst, either. A lot of the Browns problems are lack of weapons around Weeden. Given the fact that Trent Richardson was also hurt a lot, it just led to disaster again for the Browns offense.

The Browns have somewhat addressed their issues this offseason. It has been reported that Richardson is healthy and should be ready to go by training camp, which will help. But Weeden has felt the heat of the front office this offseason, and has a new coach to impress. This will probably be a make-or-break season for Weeden and his future with the Browns. I personally feel that is wrong because, with the dearth of weapons around him, how can the Browns' brass expect Weeden to succeed in one of the toughest divisions in football?

Will he be able to step up and improve from last season? We believe he will. Weeden finished the season with 3,385 yards 57.4% completion 14TDs to 17 INTs, with that last stat definitely needing to be cleaned up if he wants to do better. He also had a QB rating of 72.6. The best to Weeden in taking the next step, because we really think he can if given a chance. But if his numbers do not improve from last season, and the Browns don’t win a few more games, his time will be up.