The 2021 NFL playoffs feature just one — maybe two — quarterbacks who will be making their first postseason start.
Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, who led the Browns to their first playoff berth since the 2002 season, is one of those QBs. Los Angeles’ John Wolford would be the other if Jared Goff (thumb) cannot go.
The rest of the field is loaded. Six quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes — have won Super Bowls. Brady, Rodgers, Mahomes and Lamar Jackson have won NFL MVP awards. It’s a good mix of youth and experience at the NFL’s most important position.
Here are those quarterbacks sorted by age:
SN ranked the playoff quarterbacks using this question: Who do you want right now?
NFL playoff QB power rankings 2021
1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
Mahomes is drawing comparisons to a video game boss after another outstanding season in which he finished with 4,740 yards, 38 TDs and just six interceptions. The Chiefs finished 14-2 and have home-field advantage in the AFC again. Mahomes might not win the MVP award, but Kansas City has a better path to the Super Bowl than the next quarterback on the list. Can Mahomes lead the first repeat since Brady in 2004-05?
2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
If you want to put Rodgers at No. 1, that’s fine. He is at the top of his game. He will likely win the MVP after passing for 4,299 yards with 48 TDs and just five interceptions, and the Packers have home-field advantage for the first time since 2011. Rodgers is flourishing in his second season in Matt LaFleur’s system, and this is his best chance to get a long-awaited second Super Bowl appearance. Brady, Brees and Wilson are among the top challengers in the NFC. That’s not going to be easy.
3. Tom Brady, Buccaneers
Yes, we know Brady has six Super Bowl championships and nine appearances and 30 career playoff career victories. All of that was in New England. Tampa Bay is the No. 5 seed, but they are arguably the most dangerous wild-card team after winning four straight games to close the season. The Buccaneers were just 1-5 against teams that made the postseason, and they will have to do it on the road. Can Brady do it without Bill Belichick? We’re about to find out.
4. Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Wilson’s playmaking ability propelled the Seahawks to a 12-4 record, but the offense had only one game with more than 28 points in the second half of the season. Wilson still had 40 more TDs, and his improv style typically translates well in the postseason. The Seahawks will have to go on the road at some point, and Wilson is 3-5 in road playoff games.
5. Josh Allen, Bills
Allen emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate this season, and he’s one of just three QBs with a QBR above 80. The connection with Stefon Diggs has elevated the entire offense, and Allen closed the regular season with 16 TDs and just three interceptions in the Bills’ six-game win streak. That gets erased in the postseason, of course, but Buffalo looks like Kansas City’s best challenger in the AFC.
6. Lamar Jackson, Ravens
Jackson might face more pressure than any other QB in these playoffs given his 0-2 postseason record. Since returning from COVID-19, however, Jackson averages 161.8 passing yards and 86 rushing yards with 15 total TDs and just three interceptions. The season-saving heroics against Cleveland in Week 14 woke up the offense, and Baltimore will be a tough out in the playoffs as a result.
7. Drew Brees, Saints
Is this too low? Brees missed five games this season because of a rib injury, but the Saints a remain a good bet to make a run in the NFC. That hinges just as much on Alvin Kamara as Brees, however. Brees averaged 248.7 passing yards with six TDs and three interceptions after returning from the injury, and New Orleans did push the Chiefs to the limit. Brees is 8-8 in the postseason, and the chance to avenge last year’s wild-card loss to Minnesota is there.
8. Ryan Tannehill, Titans
Tannehill proved this season that last year’s run to the AFC championship game wasn’t a fluke, and it doesn’t hurt to have 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry in the backfield. Tannehill has 22 TDs and just two interceptions at home this season, but the Titans were 5-3 in those games. Tennessee finished 3-3 against the other teams in the AFC playoffs this season, and there likely will be shootouts.
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl winner and he’s won 13 career playoff starts, but the last postseason victory was in 2016. Roethlisberger had eight TDs and four interceptions Pittsburgh’s last four games, and the offense finally clicked again in the second half against Indianapolis. Big Ben is 4-1 in the playoffs against AFC North teams, but this is his first postseason start against the Browns.
10. Baker Mayfield, Browns
For what it’s worth, Mayfield is the highest-ranked former No. 1 pick in this year’s playoffs. Mayfield evolved with first-year Kevin Stefanski in Cleveland, especially in the second half of the season. Mayfield threw just one interception in the Browns’ last nine games. Mayfield is 0-3 at Heinz Field for his career, but if he continues to make good decisions with the support of a strong running game led by Nick Chubb and Kareem, then Cleveland will have a chance.
11. Philip Rivers, Colts
The Colts slipped into the playoffs, and Rivers – who is 5-6 in the postseason for his career – did help stabilize the quarterback position in Indianapolis. Rivers can still go off at any given time, but he ranked 19th in the NFL in QBR this season. Indianapolis was just 5-3 on the road this season, and they are up against one of the hottest teams in the league in Buffalo.
12. Jared Goff, Rams
This assumes Goff – who started in a Super Bowl two years ago – plays in the wild-card matchup against the Seahawks. If that isn’t the case, John Wolford has not made a playoff start. Goff, meanwhile, has struggled with turnovers this season. The Rams are 4-1 against teams that made the NFC playoffs, and that included wins against Seattle and Tampa Bay.
13. Alex Smith, Washington
Smith is without a doubt the best story among the quarterbacks given his comeback from a gruesome leg injury. He has six TDs and eight interceptions this season, but Washington will at least be playing at home against the Buccaneers. Smith has seven playoff starts in his career, and he is coming off a decent start against Philadelphia that clinched the NFC East. He will be asked to do more as a heavy underdog against Tampa Bay.
14. Mitchell Trubisky, Bears
Trubisky’s contract is a constant topic of conversation in Chicago, and he heads into his second playoff start with questions about whether he can be the long-term answer. Trubisky had 10 TDs and five interceptions in his last five starts, but he will be pressed to take more shots against the Saints in the NFC wild card round. The Bears’ have protected well in the last three games, but they’ll need to be even better to give Trubisky a chance.