- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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The final numbers for NFC North quarterbacks are in. And after a long offseason of debating whether we had two or three top-10 quarterbacks, only one had that type of season based on traditional statistics or advanced metrics. The rest were objectively close to average, as you can see in the chart, but I think we can agree all four will be back as their teams' unquestioned starters in 2013.
That's more than most divisions can say. In fact, the NFC South might be the only other group that can make a similar claim. While we have a moment, let's take stock of each quarterback's season-long performance using the information we've got from Jacob Nitzberg of ESPN Stats & Information, along with other sources.
The players are ordered based on their Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), which judges a larger swath of performance than passer rating.
Passer rating: 108.0
Comment: Rodgers led the NFL in passer rating for the second consecutive year, and his rating of 114.9 since the start of the 2011 season is the best two-year performance in league history. He led the league in touchdown percentage (7.1), throwing 39 in 552 attempts, and compiled the fifth 4,000-yard season of his career. He also had the NFL's best QBR on third down among regular starters, and he was the league's fourth-most effective scrambler based on QBR. Still, Rodgers' season didn't quite stack up to his 2011 MVP performance. His turnovers doubled from six to 12, he took 15 more sacks and his total of 51 led the NFL. Not all of the sacks were Rodgers' fault, but some were and as a total they were costly. According to ESPN's advanced analytics, the sacks cost the Packers 32.5 points this season via clutch-weighted expected points.
Passer rating: 79.8
Comment: It's difficult to put dramatic credence in Stafford's 4,967 yards given his NFL-record 727 attempts. The Lions were the pass-happiest team in league history in part because of the number of games they trailed in. His touchdown passes fell by more than half, from 41 to 20, and his completion percentage dropped below 60 percent for the first time since his rookie season -- accounting for the low passer rating. (He did run for a career-high four touchdowns, however.) Stafford threw the NFL's second-most passes of at least 15 yards (158) and tied Drew Brees for the most completions in that category (67). But his late-game magic, which helped the Lions to comeback victories over the St. Louis Rams, Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks, trailed off in the second half of the season. His QBR after Week 8 ranked No. 21 in the NFL.
Passer rating: 81.2
Comment: For a good chunk of this season, Ponder was one of the NFL's worst quarterbacks. He had nine turnovers in a five-game span, finished three games with fewer than 100 yards and had the lowest average pass length for most of the year. All of this came against defenses aligned to stop tailback Adrian Peterson's run toward history. But after a disastrous Week 13 performance against the Packers, Ponder quietly turned himself around and had the NFL's second-best QBR (86.8) over the final four games of the season, trailing only Peyton Manning. Over the second half of the season, Ponder's QBR on third down -- measuring not only passes but also his scrambles -- was the league's second best. He finished the season with the NFL's third-lowest average of yards per attempt (6.08), but at least part of the blame for his lack of explosiveness should be attributed to a substandard group of receivers. If nothing else, Ponder minimized any offseason discussion about his status as the Vikings' unquestioned starter in 2013.
Passer rating: 81.3
Comment: Cutler pushed the ball downfield as much as any NFL quarterback after reuniting with receiver Brandon Marshall, but with modest success. His average pass traveled 10.0 yards in the air, the second-highest in the NFL. But his average yards gained per attempt, 7.0, ranked No. 16. He was vexed when defenses sent blitzes, partially because of the Bears' patchwork offensive line, but in the end Cutler had the league's fourth-worst QBR against it. The only NFL quarterbacks worse against the blitz were Brandon Weeden, Mark Sanchez and Brady Quinn. Cutler played well late in games, registering the third-best QBR in the fourth quarter and overtime, and it's worth noting the Bears won 10 of his 15 starts. Over the past three seasons, the Bears are 27-13 in games he starts and 2-6 in all others. In 2012, QBR deemed Cutler the league's most effective scrambler. He rushed for a first down on 36.6 of his scrambles.
The final numbers for NFC North quarterbacks are in. And after a long offseason of debating whether we had two or three top-10 quarterbacks, only one had that type of season based on traditional statistics or advanced metrics.