Ranking the playoff quarterbacks

It’s the most important position in football, and this is the most important time of the year. With a good quarterback, a playoff team can overcome pretty much anything. Here’s how we rank the 12 starting pivots still alive in January.

1. Drew Brees, Saints — Although I continue to insist that Rodgers had a better overall regular season, Brees has a big edge when it comes to “recency.” He’s undoubtedly the hottest quarterback in football.

2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers — It’s not like he hasn’t been good lately, too. Rodgers might have had his best game of the year Week 16 against Chicago.

3. Tom Brady, Patriots — He’s coming off of the third-best season of his career, but he was definitely a small step behind Brees and Rodgers.

4. Matthew Stafford, Lions — That was the quietest 5,000-yard season ever, obviously. Stafford had 10 touchdowns and only one pick in December as the Lions scored ad nauseum to wrap up their first playoff berth in over a decade.

5. Eli Manning, Giants — More yards than Rodgers and a higher yards-per-attempt number than Brees. I’m a bit worried about those 16 picks, but he’s been good in clutch situations and is coming off a superb must-win game against Dallas.

6. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers — Injuries were a factor as Big Ben posted the third-lowest passer rating of his career, and I want to give him extra points for his playoff history but I can’t because he truly struggled in last year’s postseason. It’s a toss up between Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan.

7. Matt Ryan, Falcons — Another good, not great, season. His turnovers were up, but so were his total yards and yards per attempt. He technically posted the highest passer rating of his career, but it was only one point higher than last year’s rating and only 4.5 points higher than his rookie rating.

8. Alex Smith, 49ers — He’s learned to play the Trent Dilfer role this year, which is all fine and good. But I still worry about what we’ll see if he’s asked to put the team on his shoulders against elite teams like the Saints or Packers. The really good news is that no quarterback on this list threw fewer picks than he did.

9. Joe Flacco, Ravens – He was clutch against the Steelers, which is what most of us remember from his 2011 campaign. But in actual fact, this was probably the worst season of his four-year career. Strangely, he’s had fewer than 200 yards in four of his last six games.

10. Andy Dalton, Bengals — He sort of reminded me of Matt Ryan in his rookie campaign before fading in December and January. His accuracy has gone out the window, it seems, but he’s still avoiding mistakes.

11. T.J. Yates, Texans — His five-start run to round out the year was quite a roller-coaster ride, but he completed over 60 percent of his passes with a respectable average of 7.1 while limiting mistakes.

12. Tim Tebow, Broncos — You could make the argument that he’s been the worst quarterback in football over the last three weeks. His numbers — even in the fourth quarter — were abysmal as Denver limped into the playoffs with three straight losses. He finished 2011 with the lowest completion percentage in the league among qualifying pivots.