The 2nd Best Quarterbacks of Every NFL Franchise (AFC Edition)

Here’s a giant-post-in-waiting that I’m sure most of my readers will be thrilled to completely read through.

Football’s a fun sport to watch. It has a long and meticulously chronicled history to look back on, showcasing the greats of the sport and the most spectacular (and bizarre) moments ever concocted in organized team activities. Most are willing to showcase the best of the best; the clear stars that made football entertaining or worth following, like an artist at the height of their power in the prime of their life. I respect that.

Yet I also feel compelled to highlight those just below the stature of cemented greatness. Figures that starred when provided the spotlight, though perhaps muddled in the memories of fans for the sake of not being flawless legends. To clarify, though, some franchises have been afforded plenty of legends, so some historical names will be included regardless. Even so, the purposes of this article is to go and feature those just a step below; the 2nd best quarterbacks from every major NFL franchise.

A few things to note before diving in:

  • This will feature franchises currently within the NFL and their history as chronicled on Pro Football Reference. The Houston Oilers will not be getting their own spot outside the Tennessee Titans, for example.
  • The results of this post will be based on individual accomplishments, statistical proficiency, and personal opinion. I will elaborate on my choices as needed throughout.
  • Eligible players are restricted to what they’ve done for one specific team, not their whole careers.
  • I am 28. I have only been a fan of football for ten years. Some recency bias and over-gushing over statistical performances may apply, though I did try to actual find videos of these choices playing.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Some franchises have been blessed with incredible players at the quarterback position. Others have found great success for what feels like a billion years due to the longevity of only a couple great players at the position. The Pittsburgh Steelers franchise is mostly associated with “hard-nosed” running attacks and spectacular defenses. Just ask the teams of the ’70s, ’90s, 00’s, and early 2010’s. Good quarterbacks are nice to have, though they’re not really “essential.”

With that said, going through their history, there are only two real options: Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw and future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger. No other quarterback even has more than 70 career touchdown passes with the team. Bradshaw has four Super Bowl championships to his name, Roethlisberger has two. Roethlisberger’s statistics are way, way, way better, though he played 25 years afterward. Both enjoyed great defenses at the prime of their careers. So, who to choose?

Terry Bradshaw

I’m 28.

I’ve been watching Roethlisberger play for a decade, and I’m willing to argue that he was far more monumental to his team’s success than Bradshaw was. Maybe early on I would’ve given the edge to Bradshaw, but Ben’s ability as a passer is just too great. Especially in the mid-2010’s, when he was consistently putting up Pro Bowl numbers in touchdown passes and passing yards. It was an aerial treat to watch the Steelers play, something that would’ve been weird to think in the ’70s.

Both quarterbacks have enjoyed being on great teams, I understand. Still, while Roethlisberger had the likes of Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, and Cameron Heyward, Bradshaw had a whole curtain. One of the most legendary defenses of all time, which spanned several years. The league changed the rules of the game because of them. They shut out offenses on the norm. Those Steelers teams’ offenses could put up 10 points every week and they’d go 8-6.

For that reason, and maybe somewhat because Bradshaw’s stats are a little “ehh,” he’s my choice for second-best.

Baltimore Ravens

Choosing quarterbacks for franchises can sometimes be pretty easy, simply because some teams aren’t very old. Such is the case for Baltimore’s pretty Ravens, a group not even thirty years old. Like the Steelers before them on this list, it pretty much boils down to two choices. However, it’s a tad more complex.

We have Joe Flacco, the longtime starter who owns a majority of the team’s major passing records. He won quite a few games… though he, too, was blessed with great defenses. With Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and a collection of Pro Bowl level talent, you don’t necessarily have to score many points to win. Still, give him some credit: Between 2010 and 2014, he had 24 touchdowns to 4 interceptions in the playoffs. He really turned it on when he needed to, and he has a Super Bowl to show for it.

Then there’s the man who replaced him: Lamar Jackson. He won league MVP in 2019, and while did not match it in 2020, still had a very effective season. He is the current heart and soul of the Ravens offense, even if he’s only been so for two full seasons thus far. Jackson’s ceiling is tremendous, almost like an improved version of Michael Vick in his prime. He can throw and run incredibly well, and it’s won him a lot of big games.

Thus makes the decision one between longevity and trajectory. Flacco was consistently pretty good for many years, while Jackson could be great if things keep steady for him. What did I ultimately go with?

Joe Flacco

A little too bland. Could use a little bit more dressing, if you know what I mean. (I don’t even know what I mean.)

For me, it boils down to just how high of a performance each have provided. Flacco has had some great games both in the regular season and playoffs; I’m old enough to have seen him do it. Yet when you look at his body of work, he’s never been to a Pro Bowl (though you could argue he should’ve) and he’s never been considered an “elite” player at the position (except maybe after he won his sole Super Bowl). Generally good, never great—outside of magical streaks.

Lamar is an athletic magician. A good arm that’s (usually) accurate, with legs and shiftiness that make him hard to stop. He’s had 1,000 yards rushing in the prior two seasons, and is on pace to do it again this year. An MVP-worthy offensive powerhouse in only his second season. A “prototypical quarterback,” he is not. What he is, though, is incredibly fun to watch and hard to stop. His flexibility is what makes him so dangerous, and respected.

Assuming Lamar doesn’t immediately drop off in quality tomorrow and fizzle out of the league in a couple years, making me look like an idiot, I’m confident in placing Joe Flacco at second-best.

Cleveland Browns

I will be counting both the ye olde Browns and the new-age Browns as one franchise. Just in case anyone was wondering.

Now then, when discussing the Browns’ historical success, it’s all back far before my time. They’ve had some windows of glory in the ’80s and early bits of the ’90s, but when it comes to championship-level success, it’s between the late ’40s and ’60s.

Some don’t know this, but there’s actually a very decorated quarterback in this specific window by the name of Otto Graham. And considering his seven championship wins and overwhelmingly dominant stats for that era, he’s clearly the best Cleveland has ever had at quarterback. I don’t think that’s even debatable, loaded teams or not.

Choosing his next-in-line proved to be more interesting. Given the long history, there was bound to be some good quarterbacks that have come through as the decades continued onward. As suspected, many names popped up:

Brian Sipe was league MVP in 1980, and has the Browns’ passing attempts and completions (and interceptions) record. Bernie Kosar was a one-time Pro Bowler and helped the team to near-Super Bowl appearances in a couple seasons. Milt Plum (currently) holds the highest career passer rating for a Brown ever (with at least 1,000 attempts), at 89.9, and he played in the ’50s. Hell, I even considered Baker Mayfield, just because he’s the best they’ve had in the last thirty years.

While all good choices, it was another, until that point unknown, name that I went with for this list:

Frank Ryan

Who the hell is this? Frank Ryan? When I think of old great Browns quarterbacks, I think of Otto Graham, Otto Graham, and Otto Graham. Who is this “Frank Ryan”? I’ll tell you about him.

Ryan only played for Cleveland for seven years—only five full seasons as a starter. In this time, he went to three Pro Bowls, led the league in touchdown passes twice, made two Championships (won one of them), and had a winning record in every season he started a majority of the games. Essentially, he was really good. And I had never heard of him before researching for this post. Why?

Well, it may have to do with a certain other player who was with the Browns at that time. Just some running back named Jim Brown. Probably a familiar name if you like football. Same can be said as to why the aforementioned Milt Plum wasn’t a household name. Yeah, good quarterback, but that running back? Legendary. Kind of hogged all the spotlight for being, well, the best ever.

Nevertheless, one of the reasons why I wanted to do this was to discover a “Frank Ryan.” As much as I adore combing through NFL history, there’s still so much I have yet to discover. Good, intriguing characters from archives so deep and ever-expanding. Ryan’s my choice for second-best for his efforts despite playing second fiddle to not just the Graham of old, but his own running back.

Cincinnati Bengals

When going through the Bengals’ quarterback listing, it’s slightly underwhelming, especially considering their history. So far, they have yielded zero Hall of Fame quarterbacks, though a decent selection of Pro Bowl-level players. The team’s heyday seemed to come during the ’70s and ’80s, which coincides with when their best quarterbacks were playing.

Before going further, I would like to state that both Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton were considered as second best, though neither did quite enough to warrant it, even if I am a huge Dalton apologist. The competition for second-best came down to two: Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason.

This was one of the most difficult choices to make within this list. There will be others later on that are just as hard, if not harder, but this was so close that I’m basically weighing ten pounds of stones to ten pounds of glass. Both have almost the same amount of success and awards, as well as statistical merit. Both were beaten in Super Bowls against the 49ers. Both have MVPs. Boomer has slightly gaudier numbers, though Ken has accuracy and longevity.

I have no choice but to simply choose. Either way, I’m right and wrong simultaneously; so close that they basically should be the same quarterback. Thus, I choose you:

Boomer Esiason

I went with the older guy as the best, and the younger one as second-best. I’m not completely recent-minded!

As already discussed, it was basically like drawing straws. Their statistics are pretty similar, as are their accomplishments. The crucial difference between them is that Boomer had an offensive guru as a head coach and participated in 50 fewer games than Ken. One could argue that Boomer was better because he had a revolutionary offensive system that he ran incredibly well for a few years. And they’d have a solid point.

I just went with the “ol’ reliable” approach. Ken’s been pretty good for a number of years, culminating in some pockets of years where he was really good. It wasn’t always consistently great, but he was around for that long for a reason, I guess? I’m regretting my choice already. I’m moving on!

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo. This is a city I’m not super familiar with, nor am I too knowledgeable about its history prior to the ’90s. Some specific names ring a bell, but if you were to ask me how good the Bills were in any era prior to Jim Kelly, I couldn’t tell you.

On the topic of Jim Kelly, I think it’d be wise to assume that basically everyone is willing to put him at the top of the list for the Bills franchise. The K-Gun offense, four-straight Super Bowl appearances, the early ’90s offensive dominance, and an easy choice for the Hall of Fame. Jim was a phenomenal quarterback that, unfortunately, couldn’t win “The Big One™” even once.

Who gets second? There are a few interesting picks. Joe Ferguson played for Buffalo for a long time, between the early ’70s and mid ’80s. While not consistently great, he had some good seasons within that time. Then there’s Jack Kemp, who older viewers would probably be pounding the table for. He won two championships in the ’60s and had plenty of Pro Bowl berths. He should seem like the obvious choice just based on those two aspects. However…

The dude threw a lot of interceptions. An almost disgusting amount of interceptions. Y’know how many times he threw more touchdown passes then interceptions in a season? Never. He has almost twice as many interceptions in his time with Buffalo as touchdown passes. I don’t care how many Pro Bowls he was selected to, I cannot overlook that. It didn’t even matter, either; he has a 43-31-3 record as a starter. I’ll chalk that up to being on great teams.

I ended up going much, much younger with my choice:

Josh Allen

Yeah. After just four seasons, including a somewhat unremarkable rookie season, I’m on the Josh Allen train. His 2020 season was too great to ignore, and his start so far in 2021 looks to be back on track. Much like my reasoning for Lamar Jackson > Joe Flacco, I’m banking on Josh Allen continuing to be the next great quarterback prospect, as evidenced by his progression from years one to two to three.

It is definitely a risky pick; he could just completely faceplant next week and be a backup quarterback by 2024. Still, I just cannot bring myself to put Kemp over him, mostly because the statistics are just incomparable. Sorry, grandpa.

Miami Dolphins

With Miami, it’s kind of an interesting discussion when it comes to their best quarterbacks. One is a statistical god, the other won two championships and helped complete a perfect season. It really just depends on your priorities, whether a quarterback should be another tool in the machine to help the whole win or have them take charge and be the machine.

I am speaking of two men: Dan Marino and Bob Griese. The former is one of the most prolific passers the NFL has ever seen; the latter barely had to pass at all. Dan was an offensive powerhouse that re-wrote the passing record book when he came into the league; Bob had a billion great running backs he could hand it off to. What’s ironic is that they both had their best years with the same head coach: Hall of Famer Don Shula.

What it essentially boils down to is this: Which quarterback showcased more value to their team? Who took charge and ensured success with their arm when push came to shove? Who was the one that gave true valor to the position and—you know where this is going.

Bob Griese

I’m into this whole “stats” thing. Bob Griese did not exactly “delight” when it came to this aspect. He did lead the league in touchdown passes one year, and in completion percentage another, so it’s not like he was inadequate. As alluded to before, Bob simply didn’t need to. He had a Hall of Fame fullback and a couple other Pro Bowl-caliber backs to hand it off to forty times a game.

Choices made within this list are occasionally pretty tough—this was not one of them. Apart from it just being between two Hall of Famers, there’s really no one else to choose. The only quarterback with more than 66 career touchdown passes with the Dolphins is Ryan Tannehill. While fine, he was never that great with Miami. Otherwise, it was very slim pickings.

Chad Henne, though… Always have to take the opportunity to throw that name out there for no reason. Love me some Henne.

New England Patriots

Hmm… pretty hard to think of who the best quarterback for this franchise is. If only there was some player who was picked 199th overall—sixth round pick—who constantly played with a chip on his shoulder. A guy who would go on to take over for an injured starter and never hand the reins back, going on to win six Super Bowls in the next 18 years. Huh… can’t think of anyone who fits that description.

Joking aside, Tom Brady is clearly the greatest quarterback to dawn the Patriots uniform, if not an NFL uniform period. Thus, it comes down to who is second-best. There have been some long-standing names within New England that could be good. Steve Grogan, Babe Parilli, Drew Bledsoe—these three are those under serious consideration.

Steve, bless his heart, was eliminated pretty quickly. His best years were near the beginning of his career; once those were exhausted, his role was basically a reserve starter. A large majority of his million years with the team was as a back-up/injured starter.

Babe Parilli is more interesting. In seven years with the team, he made three Pro Bowls and made it to a Championship game. While the stats aren’t fantastic, he did have a very good 1964 season. It seems he was integral to some good Patriots team in the mid ’60s. In the end, I ended up going with the guy that Brady replaced.

Drew Bledsoe

A three-time Pro Bowler, Drew was a more reliable part of his team compared to the alternatives. While I don’t think he was anything too special, he’s among the most consistent players the Patriots have had at the quarterback position. One would expect him to be pretty good, given he was drafted first overall in ’93. (Look, Ma! My birth year!)

Obviously, outside of perhaps his one trip to the Super Bowl, he’s probably most well-known as “The guy Tom Brady replaced.” And perhaps that only adds to the accuracy of his being second within the team’s history—a noble sacrifice to make room for the best. That sounds kind of psychotic, but I’ll just roll with it.

And given Tom Brady was basically the starting quarterback for two straight decades, it’s almost weird to even think the Patriots have had other quarterbacks. They all kind of blend in with one another. Wait, why did I choose Drew Bledsoe again?

New York Jets

Apparently it’s a thing for Jets fans to say that the team has been in constant search for “The next Joe Namath.” True, Joe had his time in the sun, is a Hall of Famer, and won Super Bowl III, considered one of the biggest upsets in NFL history. Yet… when you look at the numbers, they’re kind of ugly. Passed for a lot of yards, only with a lot of interceptions to boot. I’m willing to begrudgingly accept that he’s the best that the franchise has ever had… mostly because there are few alternatives.

Picking second place was another arduous task of trying to find who was the most consistent. Lots of quarterbacks had one or (rarely) two good seasons with the franchise, only to fizzle out quickly afterwards. It really does seem like the franchise is cursed. They can’t have good quarterback play; they’ll settle for good running backs and defenses.

So many names to consider… Chad Pennington, Ken O’Brien, Vinny Testaverde, Richard Todd, Boomer Esiason (hello again). All of these men had moderately acceptable times with the Jets. Their value to them long-term, though, leaves much to be desired.

Chad had potential—couldn’t stay healthy. Vinny had a Pro Bowl season in ’98—never lived up to it afterwards (and struggled staying healthy). Richard had a good stretch between ’81 and ’82—threw a lot of interceptions afterwards (and prior). Boomer also had a Pro Bowl season in his first year with the team, then promptly fell victim to losing ways. Once again, I found myself going with my gut.

Ken O’Brien

To the uninformed, Ken O’Brien is an all right quarterback that was never too phenomenal. To others, he’s one of many quarterbacks that were picked ahead of Dan Marino in the ’83 NFL Draft. The New York Jets (and plenty of other teams) could have had Dan Marino as their starting quarterback, and they chose not to. In hindsight, that was probably a bad call.

Alas, given the immense amount of pressure to succeed in a large market like New York, coupled with the “Search for the next Joe Namath” aura, Ken was faced with an incredible expectations from the get-go. And he did not deliver. Sorry, didn’t mean to make it sound so blunt, but it’s simply cold, hard facts. At best, he was “better than nothing.”

My bullying aside, this guy was chosen as second-best for two reasons: consistency and a lack of interceptions. As incredibly adequate as he was at quarterback, he did a fairly remarkable job of not turning the ball over too much. He’s had seasons where he threw 20 and 18 interceptions, but aside from those, he’s never thrown more than 11 in any one season. Considering the quarterback he’s supposedly being compared to, I call that a win. He even has two Pro Bowls to his name.

His second and third seasons also stand out as being “un-Jets-like,” in that they were pretty good. Consistently okay, with some sporadic touches of worth being his first-round grade. He’ll always have that shootout win against Dan Marino.

Kansas City Chiefs

As a franchise, the Chiefs are a little spoiled at the quarterback position. They’ve had quite a few good ones throughout their history, though many were just for short stretches. Names like Joe Montana, Trent Green, Bill Kenney, Rich Gannon, and Alex Smith are names that have made a considerable mark in some fashion. Overall, five quarterbacks have thrown at least 100 career touchdown passes for the team, more than what most other franchises can say.

Two names were not brought up intentionally in the prior paragraph. These are names that most people know, whether because they’ve watched football for a long time and know its history, or they watch football currently and know the obvious. Len Dawson and Patrick Mahomes. They played roughly fifty years apart, yet both can say that they were the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs when they won a Super Bowl.

So it becomes a decision of young versus old. Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL currently. His statistical performance is absolutely mind-blowing. His command of the offense is revolutionary. No-look passes, side-arm passes, backwards passes, deep balls the thing of beauty; a seemingly unstoppable force of demolition. The future of the NFL. Patrick is the pinnacle of what a quarterback should be.

Len, however, is no slouch, either. A seven-time Pro Bowler and multiple First-Team All-Pro, he led the league in touchdown passes four times, completion percentage seven times, and yards per attempt thrice. Better yet, he rarely threw more interceptions than touchdowns in a season! In the ’60s! The mark of an actual good quarterback!

Where do I go, then? The established veteran with stats and a ring? The rising star with amazing stats and a ring? Well, given my previous choices, it seems the choice is obvious.

Patrick Mahomes

Did I fool you?

This time, I decided to go with Len as the best in Chiefs’ history, just out of respect. Just kidding; it’s because he actually seems like a really, really good quarterback. He was with the Chiefs for a long while and owns basically all of the team passing records (in terms of career records). Patrick, in time, may (likely) surpass those records, barring any significant injury or scandal. For now, though, I’m content putting him at second-best.

Quick note: I actually kind of considered putting Alex Smith here instead, just because he was with them a little longer and he was also really good with the Chiefs. However, I think, even with the smaller sample size, Patrick was better overall.

Las Vegas Raiders

I’ve always had a certain fascination with the Raiders. There’s a mystique to them, a rebellious identity shone in black and silver that sneered at the rest of the league for being squares. The Al Davis “swagger” of constantly fighting with the league and accusing people of conspiring against him… it’s just a really entertaining history. If I had to choose a favorite team just based on the vibes, it’d be the Raiders, bar none.

Here’s the fun part: Their history of starting quarterbacks is very… varied. Their career leader in most passing categories? Derek Carr, the current starting quarterback for the team, who’s only been with them since 2014. So is he the best quarterback the Raiders have ever had? Ehhhh… you could argue it.

Such becomes the issue: You can argue many different names are the best, much less second-best. So it became difficult for me to assess not just second-best, but first-best. Yet I did, so here’s my (flimsy) reasoning:

I went with Ken Stabler as the best, because it’s the easy choice. He’s got all the glamor for it, what with his penchant for embodying the Raiders spirit with his off-the-field antics and generally good play. A nice collection of Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl victory, though he does have a lot of picks. I also humored Daryle Lamonica as the top pick, but I think he was a little too one-note for me: just deep passes up the wazoo.

So wouldn’t that mean I think Lamonica is second-best? Actually, no. And you’d know this if you looked at the cover image for this article.

Rich Gannon

I’m old enough to have been able to watch Rich Gannon play, but alas, I did not get into football until I was an adult. Still, the numbers and individual awards speak for themselves: Between 1999 and 2002, Rich was a fantastic quarterback.

Four-straight Pro Bowls, two First-Team All-Pro nods. More than twice as many touchdown passes as interceptions, and nearly twice as many wins as losses. If not for injuries and a complete breakdown of the roster, the Raiders could’ve ridden Gannon for a couple more years, though age catches everyone eventually (still waiting on Brady).

I also realize this might be a controversial choice. Outside of Daryle Lamonica, one could argue that Derek Carr has been more consistently good than Rich’s measly four seasons. Though it’s hard for me to ignore four consistently great seasons of dominance like that. For that, Rich is my second-best, with what seems like a better explanation than my first-best selection.

Los Angeles Chargers

There are only three relevant Chargers quarterbacks (so far): John Hadl, Dan Fouts, and Philip Rivers. Everyone else is nowhere near the top of the franchise charts. Thus, it makes the decision easier.

What makes it even easier is that I don’t John Hadl was that good. So basically, it’s down to Philip Rivers and Dan Fouts. Both have a pretty similar résumé, full of gaudy stats and minimal playoff success. Both were clearly very gifted passers and had Hall of Fame-worthy tight ends. Dan kind of revolutionized the passing position with the Don Coryell offense in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Philip was just consistently pretty good, despite the supporting cast and system.

Who was the one that seemed just a little dimmer via comparison?

Dan Fouts

The one I actually watched play, of course.

It is never that simple, of course. If individual awards are any indication, Dan had probably a bit higher of a ceiling, winning Offensive Player of the Year in 1982 and being picked for two First-Team All-Pros (which is harder for a quarterback, when it shouldn’t be). How Rivers got the edge for me is in his consistency.

Dan had a period of greatness between roughly 1978 and 1985. That’s a pretty long stretch all things considered, but Philip played great longer. From ’06 to his final season in 2020, there was never more than a two-year stretch when he wasn’t playing at Pro Bowl level. Not quite the best quarterback in the NFL (hard to do when playing in the same era as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or…), but pretty consistently in the top 10, if not top 5.

While Dan is a Hall of Famer, I think it’s only a matter of time before Philip joins him, because he was that good. Also like Dan, though, he never won anything substantial while in San Diego/Los Angeles, which may hurt his credibility to some. But for me, he’s the best, with Dan at a close second-best.

Denver Broncos

Fun fact: My father’s favorite team is the Denver Broncos. I used to listen to him get all upset at the TV during those games that he could catch. For those early years, there was one name that he would always smile upon, per my mother: John Elway.

John is obviously the best quarterback the franchise has ever had, and all but one quarterback even comes moderately close. By far the leader in any major career passing category, with only one other quarterback exceeding a whopping 74 career touchdown passes. I’ve said before that some of these choices are harder than others; choosing the Broncos’ second-best was probably the easiest choice of any team.

Just for the hell of it, though, let’s look at a few notable names that may have been, er, “humored” as second-best. There’s Craig Morton, who had two pretty good seasons with the team and took them to their first Super Bowl berth. Brian Griese (his father is pictured above in the Miami Dolphins section) was relatively good for them for a little while, and had a Pro Bowl season in 2000. Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler were also very “okay” at the position for a few years.

I could be a troll and put Tim Tebow up here, too. But I won’t do that. There’s only one clear choice for second-best.

Peyton Manning

Do I even need to elaborate on this? It’s Peyton Manning. Of course he’s second-best, and it’s not even close. Hell, some could argue he’s the best, just given what he did in four years with the franchise. Alas, I went with Elway just for the sake of longevity and his legendary status with the team.

Between 2012 and 2015, Peyton Manning was named a Pro Bowler three times, First-Team All-Pro twice, broke the record for most touchdown passes and passing yards in a season, named MVP for the fifth(!) time in his career, went to two Super Bowls (won one), and had a 45-12 record in the regular season.

That’s it. That’s all I need to say. Second-best, maybe even first-best. We may never see a more dominant stretch like that again in such a short timeframe… though Patrick Mahomes came close just a few years afterwards. Peyton Manning was amazing. And had a billion good weapons, but nevertheless…

Tennessee Titans

Tennessee started in Houston as the Oilers in 1960. Not until the late ’90s did they become the Titans that they are today. Nevertheless, they have an incredibly long history, with a quarterback pool that’s deceptively deep. They’re best quarterback is probably an easy choice, though the silver-trophy holder might be more complex.

Warren Moon is my personal vote for the best quarterback. A Hall of Famer with six-straight Pro Bowl nominations to end out his career with Houston. Outside of a tendency to throw a lot of interceptions and being on the losing end of the largest comeback in NFL Playoff history, he’s a stellar passer.

From the NFL Productions media I’ve consumed, many considered him one of the best “pure passers” in NFL history, with a rocket arm. Just seeing highlights, it’s hard to argue with that assessment. Warren made it look simple.

When it comes to who’s next, it’s kind of an interesting selection. Firstly, Ryan Tannehill. He has only been with the Titans two years and change, yet he’s posted phenomenal numbers in that time. Elite numbers. Should he continue it, he may be second-vest soon enough, or even first. Hall of Famer George Blanda is another intriguing choice, having won two championships early in the Oilers’ history and with three Pro Bowls in seven years. He was also an interception machine, however.

Instead, I went with the winningest Titans’ quarterback in its long history.

Steve McNair

Here’s an interesting heel turn for me: Steve’s stats are not particularly eye-popping. He rarely threw for more than 20 touchdowns in a given season, not did he ever throw for more than 3,400 yards. However, he also has multiple seasons of at least 4 rushing touchdowns, accumulating 36 total in his time with Tennessee. Didn’t really throw picks, either.

What he did most consistently of all is win. Jeff Fisher, who late in his coaching career would become synonymous with slightly below .500 seasons, was made to look like a genius with the combination of Steve McNair and running back Eddie George. Only three of nine seasons as a full starter did McNair lead a team below .500. Taking the Titans to their only Super Bowl appearance helps, too.

It’s not a flashy pick, but it’s a reliable one. Steve was a very solid player for a number of years, able to carry a franchise to glory the likes few in the franchise’s history could. At least not in an era where the competition is stronger and the sport is more complex.

Indianapolis Colts

Here we go.

This is another great example of old vs. new. The vintage classic competing against the sleekness of modernity. Both of the choices are bonafide legends among the quarterback position, and both brought an incredible winning culture to Baltimore/Indianapolis.

Those names, of course, are Peyton Manning and Johnny Unitas. It’s those two, and then everyone else. (Sorry, Andrew Luck.)

There are arguments to be made about who is better than the other—Peyton Manning has way, way, way better stats; Johnny Unitas won more Championships overall. Their number of individual honors is almost the same, though Peyton has one more Pro Bowl nod and MVP award. Both called their own plays and orchestrated the offense in ways that made the game way more exciting. They’re both undeniable legends that changed the game forever.

Now for the tough question: Who’s better? Hint: I’m 28.

Johnny Unitas

Indeed, I went with the older dude because Peyton Manning’s statistics are incredible for any era. Johnny was certainly putting up huge numbers for his era, don’t get me wrong, but when it comes to the way the game of football is played today, few did it like Peyton Manning.

Such is another example of my belief that just because you’re the progenitor of something, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically entitled to being the best at that aspect forever. Johnny (deservedly) receives a lot of credit for popularizing the game and the two-minute offense and being a God at the quarterback position. But for me, Peyton did it just a bit better, whether in his time for the Colts or Broncos.

I do find it kind of funny that Peyton and Johnny wore 18 and 19, respectively, though. That sort of pattern-like irony is amusing.

Houston Texans

The youngest NFL franchise to date! Boy, does it show with their quarterback history.

I said prior that the Denver Broncos was probably the easiest choice to make for this list. What I didn’t remember at the time was that the Houston Texans existed. While I still believe the Broncos choice was slightly easier given I never argued the top spot, the Texans was still pretty damn easy. No quarterback has thrown for more than 124 career touchdowns with the team, and the third-highest is 59. There is not much of a selection present.

Thus it comes down to Matt Schaub and Deshaun Watson. His twenty-something accusations of sexual harassment/assault aside, Deshaun has been a phenomenal quarterback for the Texans. If it were not because he does not intend to play for the Texans again, he would be an easy choice for the top spot. However, he only has three and a half years in playtime for them, where he garnered three straight Pro Bowls.

Matt was more consistently “pretty good,” though not amazing. He does have two Pro Bowls to his name, and the fact that he helped the Texans to their first winning season is worth something, right? He’s also the current team leader in touchdown passes and passing yards. That’s neat!

I don’t know how obvious I’ve been making it with my language, but there’s clearly a favorite between the two.

Matt Schaub

I can empathize with that hairline, though.

For those who have seen Deshaun play, it’s pretty clear he’s the superior quarterback. I still recall his rookie year when he was dueling back and forth with Russell Wilson, putting up points aplenty. His talent at the position is incredible, which may, unfortunately, provide him some escape from his legal troubles, whether the accusations are true or not.

Matt was kind of like a lesser late-career Alex Smith: Didn’t turn the ball over too much (until 2013) and was a reliable game manager most of the time, turned a high-tier quarterback when hot. He had a career-high 29 touchdown tosses in 2009, though never got anywhere near that mark again otherwise. He did have three separate seasons of over 4,000 passing yards, however. Helps when you have Andre Johnson.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Last and, well, usually least, we have the Jacksonville Jaguars. Another slightly newer franchise, they came into existence in ’95, making them not quite 30 years old. Their history with quarterbacks, however, is slightly impressive given that fact.

Choosing the best was pretty simple, given only one man was a consistent leader for the team ever, and holds most career passing records. That is none other than Mark Brunell, one of the most forgettable multiple-time Pro Bowl quarterbacks in NFL history. He was left-handed, I guess. Still, three Pro Bowls while with the Jaguars and four consecutive playoff appearances is amazing considering the team’s history.

But who comes second? There are a few interesting options. A recent name is Blake Bortles, who, despite a short stint, did throw many touchdowns (and interceptions), while almost beating the Patriots to go to the Super Bowl. Byron Leftwich was also fairly okay, though didn’t really live up to his first-round draft status.

It was actually someone who once backed up Byron that made the list.

David Garrard

Ah, what could’ve been.

In 2010, David had a pretty solid season at the quarterback position, with a career-high 23 touchdown passes. Then, in 2011, the Jaguars drafted his replacement, and David was cut from the team a week before the season started. Wow, what a dick move.

His career wouldn’t pan out, as after that, he had a lot of injuries pile up that would end up forcing him to retire soon after. Still, given that his replacement was a first-round bust and a current back-up in the NFL, it’s easy to imagine what would’ve happened if they stuck with David after 2010. He was a Pro Bowler in 2009, and as stated, 2010 ended up being a solid season with more touchdowns than ever. Would he have continued to improve? Or would the injuries catch up to him eventually?

And despite the relatively small sample size, he’s still near the top in many Jaguars career passing categories, including passing yards, completion percentage, and quarterback rating. He had built quite a résumé. And for that, he’s second-best.

That’ll be all from me for this post. NFC edition will be coming soon, and perhaps longer than this one was. Who knows?

Did any results surprise you? Did I put way too much thought into this? Please let me know if literally anything stuck out about this.

For more articles on this subject, check out the associated archive.

Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.

One thought on “The 2nd Best Quarterbacks of Every NFL Franchise (AFC Edition)

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