It’s common knowledge, going into the 2023 NFL season, that the AFC currently boasts most of the top quarterback talent. After Aaron Rodgers’ move from the Packers to the Jets, in fact, all but three signal-callers onbelonged to the conference. But what if we break it down by division? Which quartet of teams is overflowing (or lacking) QB power?
Here’s how we’d rank the eight divisions according to their starting QBs going into the season:
8. NFC South
Derek Carr (Saints), Bryce Young (Panthers), Baker Mayfield (Buccaneers), Desmond Ridder (Falcons)
It’s fitting the Saints play in the South, because this division could use your prayers. Carr is a likable leader with a gutsy, relatively stable nine-year track record, and he may be motivated by the fresh scenery. But even his best stretches have never translated to late-season or playoff results. Young is a true beacon of hope for Carolina, bringing veteran-level poise, if not prototypical size, to the new Frank Reich regime. And yet, as a rookie with so-so weapons, patience could be key. Mayfield is on his third redemption tour in two years — a bulldog who at least gets veteran support in Tampa Bay. Ridder has the benefit of a run-heavy, youth-injected setup in Atlanta, but as a former third-rounder with four career starts, he’s basically a total unknown.
7. AFC South
Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars), Ryan Tannehill (Titans), C.J. Stroud (Texans), Anthony Richardson (Colts)
Call it the Seasons of Change division, where only Lawrence feels like both a known and ascending commodity. The former No. 1 overall pick flashed MVP-level passing zip and resilience in his first year with Doug Pederson, so annual top 10 production is in sight. Tannehill, meanwhile, still has some aging stars on his side in Derrick Henry and now DeAndre Hopkins, but at 35 coming off an injury-riddled run, is fighting to delay a pivot to the future. Stroud brings a good arm to Houston, but behind a transitioning line, he’ll surely have rookie growing pains. Richardson‘s floor may be higher than expected, thanks to his supersized athleticism, but as a raw passer coming out of Florida, he’s a sheer projection as a first-time NFL starter.
6. NFC West
Matthew Stafford (Rams), Brock Purdy (49ers), Geno Smith (Seahawks), Colt McCoy (Cardinals)
What a grab bag we have here, equally full of promise and concern. Stafford has the best resume by far, and his 2021 Sean McVay introduction proved his big arm can go the distance when paired with all-star talent. The issue is, he’s taken a beating since then, and the Rams no longer flaunt the lineup they once did. Purdy was icy cool as an improbable rookie fill-in, but coming off elbow surgery with just a half-season sample size as QB1, not even Kyle Shanahan’s friendly system can guarantee he’ll keep Trey Lance or Sam Darnold off the bench. Smith‘s unexpected pocket decisiveness propelled a 2022 breakout, and Seattle’s got the weapons to support an encore, but can he sustain the late-career turnaround? McCoy is an ailing 36-year-old backup who’s only penciled in as the placeholder for the rehabbing, mercurial Kyler Murray.
5. NFC North
Kirk Cousins (Vikings), Jared Goff (Lions), Justin Fields (Bears), Jordan Love (Packers)
This might be the most underrated bunch of them all. Cousins rightfully gets flak for failing to turn annual top 10 production into defining big-game deliveries, but even as Minnesota readies for a potentially deeper rebuild, he can generally be trusted as an efficient on-script pocket passer. Goff is similar in that, while limited in some physical respects, he’s got enough tight-window arm talent to shepherd a playoff-caliber roster. Fields needs to improve as a downfield decision-maker, but with a more respectable supporting cast and MVP-level electricity as a rusher, he’s capable of a big leap. Love is the wild card, replacing Aaron Rodgers after making just a single start in three years. His pass catchers are young, but the lively arm is there.
4. NFC East
Jalen Hurts (Eagles), Dak Prescott (Cowboys), Daniel Jones (Giants), Sam Howell (Commanders)
Two bona fide vets, one mild question mark and one major one. Hurts has a rushing physicality that may require more restraint to keep him healthy, but his 2022 explosion confirmed him as a total package. With nearly unmatched crunch-time composure and downfield vision that improves every year, he registers as a perennial MVP candidate. Prescott can be even more swayed by his surroundings, but in a generally stacked Dallas lineup, he’s been a pretty steady hand for years. Jones still has to prove he can win consistently by airing it out, but his confidence and athleticism were finally elevated under Brian Daboll. Howell seems to have the gusto as Washington’s latest bet under center, but coming off a one-start rookie year, who knows how he’ll hold up?
3. AFC East
Josh Allen (Bills), Aaron Rodgers (Jets), Tua Tagovailoa (Dolphins), Mac Jones (Patriots)
At the very least, this promises to be maybe the most entertaining of the QB divisions. Allen is a walking fireworks show, inherently more risky than some QBs but also the closest thing to Patrick Mahomes in terms of split-second playmaking. His bruising scrambles and deep-ball rockets will now be contending with Rodgers, who may be past his MVP prime but retains Hall of Fame vision, passing touch and motivation amid spicy new Jets scenery. Tagovailoa has the accuracy to guide Mike McDaniel’s 49ers-like attack, but with a major medical history, availability is key. Jones isn’t all that different from his Miami counterpart in that he’s best-suited operating an old-school, timing-based offense; the question is, does he have the coaching and talent to help?
2. AFC West
Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs), Justin Herbert (Chargers), Russell Wilson (Broncos), Jimmy Garoppolo (Raiders)
There’s a case to be made that Mahomes by himself makes this division a worthwhile candidate to lead the list. There’s simply no one more comparable to a real-life cheat code. Already a virtual Hall of Fame lock at 27, the Chiefs star is effortlessly creative in the clutch, ensuring Kansas City is an annual title threat. Herbert is still seeking his first taste of any kind of postseason glory, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more gifted pocket-passing type this side of Joe Burrow. Wilson‘s long run as Seattle’s star dual threat feels like ages ago after his erratic Broncos debut, but Sean Payton’s arrival should at least spell a return to familiar concepts. Garoppolo‘s endless injury history doesn’t bode well behind an iffy Raiders line, but when healthy, the former 49ers vet has proven he can be a playoff-caliber play-action distributor.
1. AFC North
Joe Burrow (Bengals), Lamar Jackson (Ravens), Deshaun Watson (Browns), Kenny Pickett (Steelers)
While the AFC West has the edge up top, with Mahomes and Herbert arguably both offering top-five stuff at the position, the North may have a bit more collective upside. Burrow is, of course, a top three QB in his own right, offsetting a lack of mobility with some of the game’s best pocket fundamentals; he does all the little things well, hitting the right spots at the right times to register as Mahomes’ chief conference rival. Jackson has big questions to answer in terms of durability and late-year passing efficiency, but his unteachable speed and easy ability to air it out always make him a game-changing presence. Watson struggled mightily after returning with serious off-field baggage in 2022, but if he rebounds even close to peak Texans form, we’re talking about an above-average pocket operator. Pickett, meanwhile, was more scrappy than spectacular as a rookie, but on an improved Steelers team with always-tough defensive support, he’s a candidate to push for the playoffs.