It's the offseason already for 24 of the NFL's 32 teams, and as the league's elite eight get ready for another round of playoffs this weekend, three-quarters of the league is about the look-ahead business: hiring coaches, assessing salary-cap situations, figuring out what they do and don't have at quarterback.
That last part is what we're helping with here. Mid-January feels like a decent time for another installment of the occasional series we call the Quarterback Confidence Index.
A reminder, or in case you're new: This is not intended as a ranking of each team's starting quarterback (though obviously that's a big part of it). It is intended as an assessment of each team's confidence in its quarterback situation as a whole. That means it takes into account the depth chart at the position, the starter's age and health history, etc. Please remember that before hollering at me that Tom Brady is better than Nick Foles. I am already aware of this.
That said, we're gonna start with Foles' team.
Carson Wentz was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft, when the Eagles traded up to get him. He was a strong MVP candidate in 2017 before he got hurt in December. He came back and played well this season, and the Eagles have repeatedly asserted their long-term belief in him.
However, Foles is 4-0 in postseason games the past two seasons and is the reigning Super Bowl MVP. He might be the best backup in league history, and we're one Eagles upset in New Orleans away from a serious discussion about whether the team needs to bring him back as the starter next season. By the way, the Eagles really like third-stringer Nate Sudfeld. It's possible they are too quarterback-rich.
Drew Brees is probably going to lose the MVP award to a guy two spots down on this list, but he just had an MVP-caliber season at age 39. There's no indication that he plans to retire anytime soon or that his play is about to drop off. And if the former does happen this offseason, the Saints proactively acquired Teddy Bridgewater from the Jets at the start of the season and could sign him long term to be Brees' replacement.
Assuming Brees comes back, Bridgewater probably leaves for a starting opportunity somewhere else, and the Saints will have to find a new backup plan. But for now, this is a deep QB room.
After missing a season to recover from shoulder surgery, Andrew Luck came back and looked like the Andrew Luck of old. In other news, he's not old. He's 29 and won't turn 30 until September. Confident that the shoulder woes are behind him, Luck and the Colts can look forward with confidence to maybe another decade of high-level performance at the most important position. Plus, the Colts have a backup in Jacoby Brissett who got a year's worth of starter experience while Luck was out last season.
He might never have another 50-touchdown-pass season (there have been only three ever), but Patrick Mahomes' ability is off the charts, and he and head coach Andy Reid are a perfect match. The presumptive league MVP is heading into his first playoff start, so we wait to see how he handles a fresh challenge. But he's only 23, and he outplayed everyone in the league in his first season as a starter. It's hard not to be confident about your QB situation when you have a guy this special.
Chad Henne is the veteran backup with experience, but as with a lot of these backup situations, that's subject to change in the offseason.
Tom Brady will be 42 when the 2019 season starts, but as usual, his current season isn't over yet. He finished in the top 10 in Total QBR, passing yards and touchdown passes at age 41. While some of his numbers didn't seem Brady-esque (11 interceptions, for example, were his most since 2013), that's mainly because of the standard to which we hold him.
There's no reason not to expect him to perform as one of the best in the league if he comes back next season. The reason he isn't higher is the lack of a long-term succession plan behind him. Brian Hoyer is the emergency backup.
A year ago, Russell Wilson was the Seahawks' offense -- leading the team in rushing by a wide margin in addition to carrying it on his back as a passer. This season, Seattle was able to establish a real running game and take some of that responsibility off of Wilson's plate. You can argue that the Seahawks went too far that way in last week's playoff loss, in fact.
But Wilson still demonstrates an ability to lead game-winning drives, make game-winning throws and decisions, and answer the bell every week. He's 30 years old, has never missed a game and might well be the league's highest-paid player once this summer's contract extensions are all in.
Could this be the year that Philip Rivers finally adds postseason success to his Hall of Fame résumé? There seems to be something about this very deep, very talented Chargers team, and beating Brady for the first time ever on Sunday would be something close to a crowning accomplishment for Rivers. He just turned 37 and doesn't seem to be slowing down.
Geno Smith is the backup should something happen in the next couple of weeks, but Rivers hasn't missed a game since he became the Chargers' starter in 2006.
Remember when the return of Aaron Rodgers from injury was supposed to make the Packers instant 2018 contenders? It, uh ... it did not. Rodgers' oddly disappointing season, in which he posted the lowest Total QBR and touchdown rate of his career, saw coach Mike McCarthy get fired before it was over and the Packers miss the playoffs at 6-9-1.
Rodgers is 35, so he has prime years left. At his best, he's as fine a quarterback as there has ever been. New coach Matt LaFleur, who helped guide Matt Ryan's 2016 MVP season and Jared Goff's 2017 breakout, could be the guy to revive Rodgers, and we could look back on 2018 as a blip in an otherwise historic career. But after the way 2018 went, confidence is a little bit lower than we're used to on this one.
Interesting note on backup DeShone Kizer: LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame in 2014, which was Kizer's redshirt year there. They've worked together before.
This is another team that disappointed terribly in 2018, but Matt Ryan's completion percentage, yardage, touchdown and interception numbers were nearly identical to the ones he put up in his 2016 MVP season. He's 33 and will be changing offensive coordinators for the second time in three years, so we'll see how that impacts the team's success. But there's little reason to doubt Ryan as an elite option at the position.
Matt Schaub has been the backup for a while, and you wonder if the Falcons will make a change there if they change the offense.
Did you know that Ben Roethlisberger, at age 36, just set career highs in passing yardage and touchdown passes for a single season? That only six times in history has a quarterback thrown for more yards than Big Ben did in 2018? I didn't until I researched this column. So many things happened (and keep happening!) this season in Pittsburgh to overshadow what was happening on the field. Roethlisberger remains a top quarterback, but you wonder how long that will hold up with Le'Veon Bell out and Antonio Brown maybe on his way.
Yeah, I know. Collapsed in the second half. Didn't beat winning teams. Didn't sufficiently elevate the group around him. They did better the season before with Case Keenum. Not saying any of those arguments about Kirk Cousins is without merit. What I am saying is that the stuff Cousins still has left to prove is all the same as it was last year, when the Vikings were confident enough to guarantee him $84 million over three years.
Two of those years remain, and Cousins picked up a new offense very quickly this season and put up solid numbers. Let's see him with an improved offensive line and a healthy Dalvin Cook. Trevor Siemian is the backup with starting NFL experience.
12. Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford is coming off his first full season in which he failed to pass for 4,000 yards, and he posted his lowest touchdown total since 2012. As with Rodgers and Ryan earlier on this list, he's going to be changing offensive coordinators this offseason, and the Lions probably have to rebuild the wide receiver corps for him. He turns 31 in February, and one down year shouldn't shake the Lions' confidence in him. Whether he's living up to his contract is a different story, but he hasn't missed a game since 2010.
Matt Cassel is the designated "backup with starting NFL experience" in Detroit.
13. Los Angeles Rams
Time will tell whether the Rams commit big-time QB money to Jared Goff, who has one year left on his rookie deal and a team fifth-year option for 2020. Goff has displayed high-end arm talent and an ability to thrive in the Rams' loaded offense. This December saw him fall victim to some typical young QB inconsistency, but he finished the season with a strong game and is in a great spot.
Great young coach, tons of talent around him ... there are three or four veteran quarterbacks ahead of Goff on this list who might want to trade places with him. The backup for now is 2015 third-round pick Sean Mannion, whom the Rams like but who has very little experience.
14. Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott's big extension could come this offseason, and the way he played down the stretch and in Dallas' playoff opener is only deepening the Cowboys' desire to keep him around. An upset win over Goff's team Saturday night could send the price tag even higher, but the Cowboys love Prescott and wouldn't mind paying a premium if it meant a Super Bowl run.
15. Houston Texans
Saturday's playoff loss to the Colts was far from Deshaun Watson's finest hour, but in his short time in the league, he has shown an ability to dominate defenses, to lead a diverse group of players and to hang tough, even while being sacked a stunning 62 times in one season. I spent some time around the Texans the past couple of weeks, and it seemed as if everybody told me some variation of, "With this guy as our quarterback, we always think we have a chance."
Brandon Weeden and Joe Webb are the backups on the current roster, and each has started games in the NFL.
The main reason the Panthers aren't higher is that Cam Newton is hurt, having ended the season with a shoulder injury that the team says doesn't need surgery but is troublesome nonetheless. It almost certainly affected his performance in a disappointing Carolina season, and he'll carry questions with him into 2019 as a result.
17. Oakland Raiders
Jon Gruden continues to express confidence in Derek Carr, and though you can't always be sure Gruden is saying what he really believes in interviews and news conferences, he has been a fan since long before he was the Raiders' coach.
Carr's 19 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions and 10 fumbles in 2018 were nothing to write home about, but he went 10 games in a row without throwing a pick this season, and he seemed to start to flourish a bit under Gruden as the season went on. What the Raiders do in the draft could tell you a lot about their true confidence in Carr. Last year's supposed hot free agent, AJ McCarron, is Carr's current backup.
Andy Dalton finished the season injured, with Jeff Driskel filling in and playing at least competently in spots. At this point in Dalton's career, the Bengals can be pretty confident that he is what he is. Whether that's good enough to elevate them out of the doldrums remains to be seen -- as does who's coaching him next season and beyond.
19. Chicago Bears
We saw some great things from Mitchell Trubisky in 2018, and there are signs that he can thrive in Matt Nagy's offense as the Bears continue to put strong pieces around him. He remains a young and very inexperienced player, and his struggles early in the playoff loss to the Eagles did little to quiet Bears fans' concerns that he might be what keeps them from being a Super Bowl team. Consider Trubisky a promising work in progress who is one more good year away from vaulting up the confidence ranks. Chase Daniel is the veteran backup who knows the offense.
20. Cleveland Browns
There might be no young quarterback in the league -- besides Mahomes -- who has fans more excited than Cleveland's Baker Mayfield. He went in for an injured Tyrod Taylor in Week 3, led the Browns to their first win in two years and never looked back. Under offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, who himself got an in-season promotion to that spot, Mayfield had a thrilling second half of the season and might have wrested the Offensive Rookie of the Year award from Saquon Barkley.
Taylor is likely to look elsewhere for his opportunity, but the team could keep veteran backup Drew Stanton around in his mentor role.
Jameis Winston was suspended to start the season, was benched in the middle of it, finished as the starter and seems poised to still be the starter when 2019 opens. But tons of questions remain about the team's ability to trust him -- on and off the field -- long term. The Bucs nudge ahead of the next team on this list because of how well backup Ryan Fitzpatrick performed in stretches this season, but overall, this situation is far too turnover-prone to inspire a ton of confidence.
22. Tennessee Titans
It has been two years in a row now that Marcus Mariota was expected to take a big step forward in his development. He continues to have trouble staying healthy, and he'll be changing offensive coordinators for the second year in a row. As the Bucs do with Winston, the Titans have a decision to make about whether (and how much) to commit to Mariota long term. Pesky questions linger.
23. Baltimore Ravens
There's hot take after hot take about what Lamar Jackson is, isn't and could eventually be. But he had a 6-1 record down the stretch to drag the Ravens into the playoffs. They showed they can win games with him as their quarterback.
He clearly has work to do to refine himself as a thrower, and his stinker of a playoff performance will linger in memories all offseason. But he has something other quarterbacks don't have -- the ability to make a huge play with his legs -- and he'll continue to be a unique problem for defenses to try to solve.
24. New York Jets
Whether it was strictly for injury reasons or not, the short break Sam Darnold got from starting games in the second half of the season seemed to do something helpful for him. He finished with a very strong December performance that has the Jets believing he's their guy for the long term and that what they need to do now is build a better team around him. Let's see what they decide about head coach, as the main job of whoever that is will be to groom Darnold into stardom. It remains to be seen whether veteran backup Josh McCown will return for another season to help with Darnold's development.
25. Buffalo Bills
Somewhat like Lamar Jackson's rookie season, Josh Allen's first year was a tricky one to evaluate. He seemed to make more noise as a runner than as a passer, in part because of the Bills' tremendous shortcomings at offensive line and wide receiver.
As with Darnold, Allen needs his team to build an offense around him, but he found a way to be productive in the meantime. I wonder if his comp ends up being Cam Newton, who never became a super-accurate passer but found other ways to use his physical gifts to win games.
It's kind of weird to see them down here, given the financial commitment they made last offseason to Jimmy Garoppolo. But Garoppolo, who was injured in Week 3 and missed the rest of the season, still has only 10 NFL starts to his credit. Some of this year's rookies have more. The Niners are confident that Garoppolo can be their guy, but no one has seen it yet in a sustained way.
Of the rookie quarterbacks, Josh Rosen showed the least, though he had his moments, and he was playing on a team that didn't grant him much help. If Arizona liked him a year ago, there's no compelling reason not to like him just as much now. But the Cardinals have work to do before they have the kind of team that allows them to make a fair evaluation. Mike Glennon served as Rosen's backup his rookie season and could return to do so again, though the new coaching staff could have other ideas.
28. New York Giants
We've entered the portion of the list where the teams really have no idea what they're doing at the position. The Giants could bring Eli Manning back for a 16th season, but he probably has to take a pay cut for that to happen, and they don't have a replacement in place. Check back in a couple of months to see what free agency and/or the draft have done to this ranking, but for now, the Giants' quarterback situation has to be counted as a mystery.
29. Denver Broncos
They have Case Keenum under contract, but he did little to inspire confidence in 2018 and could be replaced with minimal financial pain if John Elway finds a better solution in free agency or the draft. Elway's legacy as a GM might hinge on his ability to solve a quarterback problem that has bedeviled him since Peyton Manning's retirement.
30. Miami Dolphins
Ryan Tannehill is still there, but it's anybody's guess for how long. He was Adam Gase's guy, and Gase is no longer the head coach, and Tannehill's contract allows the Dolphins to escape if that's what they decide to do. The problem is that, like the Giants, the Dolphins don't have the replacement on the roster, having passed up a chance to draft one in last year's QB-heavy first round.
Alex Smith's future is in doubt as a result of the serious leg injury that ended his season early. Backup Colt McCoy broke his leg a couple of weeks later, though his injury doesn't sound as potentially career-threatening as Smith's does. Josh Johnson filled in fine while the team's season fizzled. If Smith is healthy, this ranking goes way up. But Washington needs to be in the QB market one way or the other this offseason, and it can't be sure who the guy is going to be at this point.
Extending Blake Bortles last year, instead of signing Cousins and/or drafting Lamar Jackson, was a mistake that hurt the Jags this season and could create a difficult near-term future for them. They benched Bortles late in the year and are obviously expected to cut ties with him, so this is another team that just doesn't know what it has at this point and therefore can't have any confidence.