What a difference four weeks can make.
Since my midseason rankings, five new quarterbacks have claimed starting jobs. While injuries have opened the door in some cases, some quarterbacks are seizing opportunities. And I believe some of them can succeed long term as NFL starters.
Start with Colin Kaepernick. He debuts at No. 20 on my big board, though a lot of that is projection. The potential is great, however, because his athleticism and big arm give the San Francisco 49ers more weapons on offense. He can run with the ball and also take the top off a defense with the deep ball, an element they lacked with Alex Smith. I think Kaepernick will be a keeper.
I've also liked what I've seen from Nick Foles in Philadelphia. He now has a very important audition ahead of him, but from what I've seen and heard from the organization (more on that below), he has some highly desirable qualities for a starting quarterback.
Brady Quinn isn't a new name in the NFL, and maybe now in Kansas City we can see if he can solve his enigmatic pro career. I liked him a lot coming out of Notre Dame, but he always seemed to be in a bad situation once he reached the NFL. While the Chiefs' record is not good, they do have some offensive assets. If he can harness them, he could finally establish himself as a legitimate starter.
But for all the shuffling under center -- and we'll dive deeper into the recent quarterback chaos -- the biggest surprise may be the name who reclaimed the No. 1 spot on my board this week.
A year ago if I told you Peyton Manning would be able to change teams, recover from multiple neck surgeries, return to the NFL and outperform Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, I would have gotten a lot of raised eyebrows. But as the season enters its final quarter, that's precisely what Peyton has done.
Jaws' QB Rankings
1. Peyton Manning
The fact that Manning is sitting atop these rankings is just remarkable after what he has gone through in the past two years. New team, multiple surgeries -- no problem. Every week, I review the film and see something else he has improved. At this stage of the season, he has mastered the system in Denver, and the players around him understand it as well. Last week's third-quarter touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas pretty much epitomizes the level Manning is at right now. He dropped back, read the blitz and released the ball when Thomas was on the goal line. It found Thomas's hands in the back of the end zone. Not only is Manning "back," but he is playing some of the best football of his career.
New England Patriots
2 . Tom Brady
He's Old Man River. Brady just keeps rolling along. The changes the Pats have made to their scheme, the injuries they've had to deal with, the lack of a vertical receiving threat -- Brady has negotiated all of it and kept the Pats among 2012's title favorites. This is a more balanced offense, and Brady has benefited from that. "Monday Night Football" is going to be fun, as we'll get to see a couple of hot quarterbacks versus susceptible defenses.
Green Bay Packers
3. Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers' skill set is still probably superior to any quarterback's. He can throw on run, throw with velocity and throw with accuracy, but his play has been uneven this season. The changes and injuries the Packers have endured at receiver may play a role, as the QB-WR chemistry just doesn't seem to be there. An inconsistent offensive line has hurt as well, requiring a lot of help from chip blocks and keeping tight ends in. The running game has been nonexistent, which puts even more pressure on Rodgers to perform. And he just hasn't been the MVP we saw last season. His talent is tremendous, but he drops because it takes just a little inconsistency for elite quarterbacks like Brady and Manning to pass you.
4. Matt Ryan
Ryan has been solid throughout the season. I know he'd want some throws back, but after 400-500 throws, you're definitely going to have a few bad ones. I didn't like what the Falcons did against the Saints, as they were unable to go deep much, but that was more of a factor of the offensive line not holding up. If you look at his body of work, he has clearly been a top-five guy all season long.