The final week of the 2013 regular season was filled with great games and fulfilled our expectations, but the quarterback performances weren’t quite as good as I expected. While there were several solid performances, there were only three individual displays that were sure-fire bets to make this list. Outside of that, I had a difficult time picking two others to add, because the rest of the pack were so closely bunched together.
Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning
He took advantage of a very favorable advantage against one of the NFL’s worst defenses, and Peyton Manning officially stamped the Broncos has the most prolific offense in NFL history. Manning was simply lights-out against the Oakland Raiders, as he threw just three incomplete passes on 25-28 passing, and he tossed four touchdowns compared to just zero interceptions. He finished with an ESPN TQBR of 95.4, had a stellar 145.8 QB Rating, and he was incredibly efficient with an average of 9.5 yards per attempt. Barring any surprises, Manning will be the league’s MVP this season, and there is nobody who is better at exploiting weaknesses.
San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers
A player in Manning’s own division is his biggest challenger for the MVP crown, and Philip Rivers has done an incredible job this season of leading the Chargers. He’s back to being a top-five QB, and I think only Manning has been better this season. Rivers has been the most accurate quarterback in the league this year, and he’s had to overcome being in holes resulting from the Chargers awful pass defense. The pass D was terrible against Kansas City Chiefs backup QB Chase Daniel, and the 27-24 overtime win that put the Chargers into the playoffs was mired in controversy due to incorrect calls made by the refs. And even though the Chargers playoff appearance in the first year of their rebuild hasn’t been as big of a turn-around as the one done by the Chiefs, the Chargers still deserve plenty of press and plaudits for what they’ve done.
Front and center of that talk is Rivers, who once again put the team on his back. Maybe the most accurate QB in the NFL, Rivers went 22-33 with three touchdowns, just one interception, and he had a QB Rating of 104.2. Ryan Mathews was the star of the night on offense, but Rivers did a nice job out there. Sure, it was against the Chiefs backup defense, but even the Chiefs backups are better than the Dallas Cowboys starters at this point. I was iffy about placing Rivers on this list, but I decided to stick him in.
Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler
It’s a real shame that the Chicago Bears blew the game against the Green Bay Packers, because they wasted excellent performances from Jay Cutler and Matt Forte in the Bears backfield. This is a team that needs to fire defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and make some serious upgrades on defense, because their D has been atrocious this year; they were carried into the playoff discussion by a great offense.
Cutler actually outplayed Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, and Cutler was simply magnificent. He showed off his elite arm talent by hitting some nasty throws downfield, and his average of 9.4 yards per attempt and 88.8 ESPN TQBR were among the best of the week. You can throw out his interception, because that was on a desperation hail-mary play into the end zone. While Aaron Rodgers was solid for the Packers and heated up in crunch time, Cutler was even better and did even better in clutch moments. But the Bears defense in the clutch? They wilted, especially safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright, who desperately need to be upgraded.
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees
Peyton Manning sure as heck had an awesome game, but Drew Brees was the best quarterback of the week. He ensured that there would be no unlikely upset against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by leading the team to 42 points and averaging a ridiculous 12.3 yards per attempt in the process. Like Manning, Brees had four touchdowns with no interceptions, and he was just about flawless against the Buccaneers defense, which is better than the Raiders defense. It was vintage Drew Brees for sure, and his 157.4 QB Rating accurately reflects his level of dominance on Sunday.
San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick
Though they may have given up plenty of yards through the air on defense in each of the past two weeks, Colin Kaepernick has matched- perhaps even surpassed- those performances through efficient play. When No. 1 wide receiver Michael Crabtree is out there, Kaep has his top target back, and he clearly trusts Crabtree more than anyone. Those two share an impeccable connection, and Crabtree’s ability to get open is a vital skill.
But in Sunday’s narrow victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Crabtree caught just three passes for 29 yards on his eight targets. Instead, it was veteran possession receiver Anquan Boldin who had a huge day, and he came away with nine receptions for 149 yards and a beautiful touchdown that showcased his ball skills. Kaepernick deserves the most credit for the 49ers 23-20 win, as he matched Palmer stride-for-stride with controlled play, averaging 9.1 yards per attempt. This guy is in top form, and the league should be scared when a guy with his physical skill-set is playing at his best. With the ground game stalling against the Cardinals stout defense, Kaepernick’s 310 passing yards and 111.2 QB Rating were all the more important.