Barnwell: Is the AFC West the best quarterback division ... ever? Here's how it stacks up

by Ricardo Gutierrez - The 2022 AFC West will feature two future Hall of Famers, a budding superstar and an underrated passer. How does it compare all time?

Barnwell: Is the AFC West the best quarterback division ... ever? Here's how it stacks up

Is the AFC West the best NFL quarterback division ever? Where Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Justin Herbert, Derek Carr rank play Orlovsky picking Wilson over Herbert gets some strong reactions (2:15) Dan Orlovsky and Booger McFarland disagree over how Russell Wilson and Justin Herbert compare. (2:15) 6:35 AM ET Bill BarnwellESPN Staff Writer Close Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for ESPN.com. In case you haven't noticed, the AFC West is stacked. The biggest prize in the division's offseason spending spree was Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson , who is expected to fill the post-Peyton Manning hole the team has desperately been trying to take care of for the past half-decade . When you consider Denver had been rolling with Trevor Siemian , Paxton Lynch and Drew Lock , Wilson might be the biggest upgrade any team made at a key position this offseason. He's not alone in the AFC West. The division can boast one Hall of Famer entering the prime of his career in Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes , whose résumé requires no introduction. The Chargers' Justin Herbert just finished a 5,014-yard season and is off to one of the best starts we've ever seen from a young quarterback. The Raiders' Derek Carr has a virtually identical passer rating over the past four seasons (97.3) to Tom Brady (97.7) and leads in the league in fourth-quarter game-winning drives over that span. Most people would agree that the AFC West is the best division of quarterbacks, one through four. After the Wilson trade, though, I started wondering: Does it project to be the best quarterback division ever ? To see where they stand, we have to evaluate the past. I ran through every team and every division going back through the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 and charted how each division's quarterbacks performed, both in terms of how they did that season and what their careers looked like in hindsight. I eliminated the passers who didn't throw at least 200 passes and who weren't their team's primary starter. In addition, we have to contend with the reality that the league used five-team divisions for stretches of the past 50 years. It's easier to find four great quarterbacks than five, which is going to weight our analysis toward smaller divisions. I've tried to be more generous toward divisions that had four great quarterbacks and a fifth who struggled to keep up the pace. Editor's Picks 2 Related I also had to pick a stat to analyze those quarterbacks. Passer rating might be fine in terms of comparing quarterbacks historically within a given season, but using any unadjusted stat to compare quarterbacks across eras is hopeless, given how the baselines for quarterback play have changed over the past 50 years. I went with the Pro Football Reference stat era-adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A+ ), which takes a better version of passer rating, adjusts it for the level of play in each given season and then puts it on a normalized scale. A 100 ANY/A+ is average, regardless of season. For reference, in 2021, Aaron Rodgers led the league with a 123 ANY/A+. Zach Wilson 's 69 ANY/A+ was the worst among regular starters. Mahomes posted a 136 ANY/A+ during his breakout season in 2018. Josh Rosen posted a 66 ANY/A+ that season, his rookie year with Arizona. Using a simple projection model, we'd expect the AFC West passers to all post positive ANY/A+ marks in 2022. Mahomes unsurprisingly tops the group at 121. Wilson and Carr are tied behind him at 111. Herbert, in part because of his inexperience, comes in at 109. The average mark for these four would be an ANY/A+ of 113. We'll keep that 113 number in mind as we look at other divisions. Let's start with the qualitative argument: Has there ever been a division more likely to reunite in Canton one day? Argument No. 1: The Hall of Famers In terms of the current AFC West, Mahomes could retire tomorrow and make it to the Hall of Fame. Wilson isn't quite a lock, but he has made nine Pro Bowls and every other quarterback with that number has been enshrined. Another Super Bowl ring should push Wilson over the top. Carr is probably not making it barring something truly remarkable in the second half of his career, and it's too early to draw any conclusions about where Herbert stands after two seasons. The AFC West is extremely likely to send two quarterbacks to the Hall of Fame, with the possibility of a third in Herbert. That's right in line with the best quarterback divisions in league history. No division has sent three of its starting quarterbacks in the same season to the Hall of Fame in more than 40 years. There have been 39 different seasons of a division with two Hall of Fame starters butting heads. Since I wanted to try to make recent comparisons here, I also went ahead and projected trips to Canton for Brady, Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger , all of whom seem to be surefire locks for enshrinement. I left out Eli Manning , Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers , each of whom aren't no-brainers, even if they have meaningful cases. Likewise, I wasn't able to guarantee young stars Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson , neither of whom have Mahomes' résumé. Let's run through those 39 examples, who are accounted for in the blurbs below (sorted by division). Many of them were runs in which two future enshrinees battled each other for multiple seasons, although I want to start with a one-off that eventually produced the league's most notable out-of-division rivalry: The AFC East, 2001: Tom Brady (Patriots) and Peyton Manning (Colts) . Well, it's hard to argue with the star power. Brady and Manning might be the two best quarterbacks in NFL history, and they were in their early 20s. Brady had plenty of success for the Patriots from the jump, as he famously stepped in for Drew Bledsoe and won a Super Bowl in his debut season as a starter, but he wasn't yet the dynamic passer we would see at his peak. Manning also struggled through a disappointing year with the Colts, with 26 touchdown passes against 23 picks and an ANY/A+ of 109. He had been at 120 and 127 the prior two seasons and wouldn't drop below that figure again until 2010. With Jay Fiedler (Dolphins), Alex Van Pelt (Bills) and a 38-year-old Vinny Testaverde (Jets) in the other three starting jobs, this group wouldn't compare to the AFC West if they live up to expectations in 2021. The AFC East, 1986-1996: Jim Kelly (Bills) and Dan Marino (Dolphins) . This is the longest sustained stretch for any division with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in league history. Outside of 1993, when Marino missed most of the season with a torn Achilles, the AFC East was headlined by two of the best signal-callers we've ever seen. They played in pass-friendly offenses and had a legitimate (if friendly) rivalry. This is the dream outcome for Herbert and Mahomes over the next decade. The supporting casts around them varied. Browning Nagle (Jets) and Hugh Millen (Patriots) couldn't hold up their end of the bargain in 1992. At its brightest, though, the AFC East could compete. In 1994 and 1995, for example, the division rolled out its two stars and former No. 1 overall pick Drew Bledsoe (Patriots), who led the league in passing yards. Boomer Esiason , by then in his mid-30s, was the starter for the Jets. The Colts got an MVP-caliber season from Jim Harbaugh in 1995 and advanced to the AFC Championship Game. The only issue is Kelly slipped in 1994 and was an average-or-worse quarterback over his final three years. Depending on how you pick the starters outside of the big two, the AFC East likely peaked in 1986 or 1987, when Ken O'Brien (Jets) was the third option. The Pats actually won the division in 1986 with Tony Eason as their quarterback, although he was never a viable starter again. I think the modern AFC West profiles better than the best we saw from this era of the AFC East, although the Kelly-Marino battles lead the way in terms of longevity. The AFC East, 1998-1999: Dan Marino (Dolphins) and Peyton Manning (Colts) . In between those two groups, we got a year in which there's serious competition. You could say 1999 was compromised by Marino's decline and a season-ending injury in the opener to Testaverde, but 1998 is an interesting group of quarterbacks. Marino was on his way down, but he still posted a 104 ANY/A+. Manning threw 28 picks as a rookie and actually posted the worst ANY/A+ (96). The "other guys" carried the East. Testaverde threw 29 touchdown passes against seven picks for the 12-4 Jets. Bledsoe posted a 109 ANY/A+ for the Patriots. Doug Flutie led the division with a 121 ANY/A+, as he took over as the starter in Buffalo for an injured Rob Johnson and led the Bills into the postseason. This group combined to post an ANY/A of just under 112. In 1998, Dan Marino threw 23 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions while completing 57.7% of his passes. George Gojkovich/Getty Images The AFC East, 1970: Bob Griese (Dolphins) and Johnny Unitas (Colts) . We would have had three Hall of Fame starters in this division if everyone had stayed healthy, but Joe Namath was limited to five games with the Jets. Griese and a 37-year-old Unitas battled atop the division, with the latter's Colts taking first place and eventually winning Super Bowl V over Craig Morton's Cowboys. Unitas was knocked out of that game in the second quarter. Elsewhere in the division, Dennis Shaw (Bills) won Offensive Rookie of the Year, but the Patriots started two passers who combined to throw four times as many interceptions as touchdowns. The AFC East, 1974-76: Bob Griese (Dolphins) and Joe Namath (Jets) . Unfortunately, Griese missed most of 1975 with a torn tendon in his toe, while Namath threw 16 interceptions against just four touchdown passes in 1976 in what would be his final season with the Jets. In 1974, though, Griese made the Pro Bowl, while Namath produced an above-average season for the last time. Bills starter Joe Ferguson was above average, but he threw just 232 passes in 14 starts for one of the the league's most run-heavy offenses. The Patriots got a solid year from the 1971 No. 1 overall pick, Jim Plunkett , but the Colts split time between Bert Jones (the 1973 No. 2 overall pick who had yet to break out) and Marty Domres , who set the post-merger record for most interceptions (12) without a touchdown pass in a single season. The AFC West, 1974-1979: Dan Fouts (Chargers) and Ken Stabler (Raiders) . This was the best extended run of quarterback play in the West before what we expect to see in 2022. Stabler was the starting quarterback on the Raiders in a stretch that included a Super Bowl and an MVP Award. Fouts wasn't really at his best, though, until Don Coryell took over as the Chargers coach in 1978. Fouts started a run of six consecutive Pro Bowl trips in 1979. We have two seasons that would compete with our projected AFC West. In 1974, when the division still had only four teams, the starters combined to post an average ANY/A+ of 113.5. Three of its quarterbacks made the Hall of Fame. Stabler carried the load and won league MVP. Fouts and Charley Johnson (Broncos) were slightly above average. Len Dawson (Chiefs) also made it to the Hall of Fame, but at this point, he was 39 years old and posted a below-average ANY/A+ (96). Two years later, those teams had four starters produce an average ANY/A+ of 117.5, the best mark for any division's top four starters since the merger. Stabler wasn't as good as he was in 1974, but he and Fouts were surrounded by Steve Ramsey (Broncos) and Mike Livingston (Chiefs), who both capitalized on taking big shots downfield. The problem is the expansion Bucs, who went 0-14 with Steve Spurrier posting an 89 ANY/A+. Ramsey and Spurrier never played again. That's not going to happen with this version of the AFC West. The AFC West, 1983-1987: John Elway (Broncos) and Dan Fouts (Chargers) . Fouts was at his peak between 1979 and 1983, which is why it's a shame his Hall of Fame rivals popped up on either end of that stretch. Fouts was still a Pro Bowler in 1983 and 1985; Elway, unfortunately, didn't post a positive ANY/A+ in either season. Elway won league MVP in 1987, but Fouts struggled through the final season of his career, and the Chiefs and Raiders combined to start seven different quarterbacks amid a players' strike. Dave Krieg had a great season for the Seahawks, but there's not really a season in which the West delivered something special as a group. The AFC West, 1993-1994: John Elway (Broncos) and Joe Montana (Chiefs) . This is another incredible one-two punch of legends. Elway led the league in passing yards in 1993, while Montana returned from missing most of the previous two seasons by posting a 119 ANY/A+ on 298 pass attempts. The group also had a former Super Bowl winner in Jeff Hostetler (Raiders), but Stan Humphries had an off season for the Chargers, while former No. 2 overall pick Rick Mirer failed to launch for the Seahawks. The supporting cast was better in 1994, but Elway wasn't at his best. In 1993, John Elway threw 25 touchdown passes with 10 picks while completing 63.2% of his passes. AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File The AFC Central, 1980-1981: Terry Bradshaw (Steelers) and Ken Stabler (Oilers) . Stabler moved from the Raiders to the Oilers, but he posted two sub-90 ANY/A+ seasons over this two-year run. Bradshaw was still playing at a high level, and he was joined by an MVP in each of these two years. In 1980, Cleveland's Brian Sipe threw 30 touchdown passes, led the league in passer rating and won MVP. Sipe fell off in 1981, but Cincinnati's Ken Anderson responded to an injury-hit season by matching Sipe's previous season and throwing 29 touchdown passes, leading the league in passer rating and winning MVP. You could make a case this four-team division had the star power to compare to our modern AFC West, but Anderson and Sipe were superstars in one season and below-average in the other, and Stabler wasn't anything like the guy we saw at his peak. The NFC Central, 1994-1996: Brett Favre (Packers) and Warren Moon (Vikings) . The standout season here is 1995, when Favre was entering the peak of his career. Favre won the first of his three MVP Awards and posted a league-best ANY/A+ of 130. The other Hall of Famer? Moon, who threw 33 touchdown passes at the age of 39 for the Vikings. Scott Mitchell was no slouch, as the former Dolphins backup threw 33 touchdown passes against 12 picks for the Lions, while Erik Kramer had a 29-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio for the Bears and posted a 129 ANY/A+. The top four quarterbacks in this division were all playing great football. The fifth guy was second-year Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer . The future Super Bowl winner threw just four touchdown passes against 18 picks and posted an ANY/A+ of 75. From top to bottom, the 1995 NFC North might have been the most efficient starting quarterback group in modern league history. Even if we cut them some slack for a fifth team, Dilfer drags them down a bit. The NFC North, 2009-2010: Brett Favre (Vikings) and Aaron Rodgers (Packers) . The battle of former teammates! Favre left for the Jets in 2008 before returning to the Vikings to finish his career. He was excellent in 2009 and posted a 123 ANY/A+ before falling off of a cliff the following season. Rodgers made it to his first Pro Bowl in 2009, so the top end holds up that season. There were big names elsewhere in the division, albeit at much different points in their respective careers. Jay Cutler was coming off of a career season and had just been traded to the Bears, but he led the league in interceptions in 2009. Detroit's Matthew Stafford was a rookie and mixed moments of brilliance with frustrating stretches of play. This group had as much hype as the current AFC West heading into the 2009 season, and while Favre and Rodgers played like superstars, Cutler and Stafford were below-average. The NFC West, 1983: Joe Montana (49ers) and Ken Stabler (Raiders) . We got a one-off with two Hall of Famers in 1983, with Montana producing an MVP-caliber season for the 49ers. Steve Bartkowski (Falcons) led the league in passer rating and Vince Ferragamo (Rams) was just over league average, but the 38-year-old Stabler was starting for the Saints and threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. The NFC South, 2020: Tom Brady (Bucs) and Drew Brees (Saints) . Two years ago, the South had two of the best passers in league history. Brady won the Super Bowl with the Bucs, while Brees' step backward still yielded a 113 ANY/A+. The division had another former MVP in Matt Ryan , who was just above average for the Falcons, while Teddy Bridgewater was in a similar spot for the embattled Panthers. The NFC East, 1970-1971: Fran Tarkenton (Giants), Sonny Jurgensen (Washington) and Roger Staubach (Cowboys) . Tarkenton, then playing for the Giants, faced a pair of Hall of Famers in consecutive seasons. In 1970, he went up against a 36-year-old Jurgensen, who managed to post a 118 ANY/A+ in what was his final year as a starter. Tarkenton finished third in MVP balloting that year. The following season saw Staubach take over for his debut season as the primary starter in Dallas, one year after Craig Morton led the league in ANY/A+ (132) and led the Cowboys to the Super Bowl. Were any of these divisions better than our projected AFC West? The best example from this group is probably the 1995 NFC Central or 2009 NFC North. In the former, we had four quarterbacks who all played at a high level, including an MVP-caliber season from Favre. I'd argue that Carr, Herbert and Wilson have been more impressive and project to play better in 2022 than Kramer, Mitchell and Moon did heading into 1995. Of course, Dilfer was a drag on the proceedings, something the four-team North won't have to deal with this time around. In 2009, the division also had a young superstar in Rodgers and a Hall of Fame-caliber arrival in Favre, who was coming off of an injury-hit season, just like Wilson. Cutler also arrived after a Pro Bowl season in Denver, while Stafford had just been the No. 1 overall pick. Again, this group looked exciting and might eventually deliver three Hall of Famers to Canton, but our 2022 class projects to play better. We talked through divisions full of big names. Which divisions have actually had the most productive starting quarterbacks? Argument No. 2: The best QB divisions ever As it turns out, there are 15 instances of a division with starters who posted an average ANY/A+ of 113 or better. Let's run through those pairings, starting with the best: NFC West, 1989: 119.0 The NFC West had two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, but they were on the same team in San Francisco: Joe Montana and Steve Young . Montana was the starter here; he posted a 143 ANY/A to somehow win his first MVP Award at 33. Like our modern AFC West, there was a young QB in Los Angeles, as Jim Everett led the league in touchdown passes for the second consecutive season. The Falcons and Saints, then inexplicably playing in the Western Division, also fielded above-average starters in Chris Miller and Bobby Hebert . Even if you want to cast Mahomes as Montana and Herbert as Everett, Wilson is a much more exciting option than either Hebert or Miller, who were more like Carr. This was the best division in league history, and the modern AFC West feels like it could be even better. NFC West, 1992: 119.0 Three years later, the West repeated the feat while swapping out its star quarterback. This time, Young got his first full season with the starting job in San Francisco and won league MVP. Hebert posted a 118 ANY/A+ for the 12-4 Saints, but they were carried more by their league-best defense than the offense. Miller (114) and Everett (105) were also well above average. You can pick between the 1989 or 1992 versions, but I would argue the modern AFC West could recreate this performance if things go well. Steve Young threw for 3,465 yards in 1992, with 29 total touchdowns (four rushing) and seven interceptions. David Madison/Getty Images AFC Central, 1988: 116.5 . There's another MVP season in the mix here. The star was Boomer Esiason , who followed a Pro Bowl nod in 1986 and a down season in 1987 by winning league MVP and pushing the Bengals to the Super Bowl. Warren Moon , the division's lone Hall of Famer, was fifth in MVP balloting despite missing five games for the Oilers. Injuries were a concern elsewhere, too. Bernie Kosar qualifies as our starter for the Browns and posted an above-average ANY/A+, but he suited up for only nine games. The Steelers got a middling 13 starts from Bubby Brister . The highs were high here with Esiason and Moon, but Esiason was the only one to complete an entire season. AFC West, 2004: 116.3 . This was a fun one. In San Diego, the Chargers started future Hall of Famer Drew Brees , whose breakout season kept rookie Philip Rivers and a 42-year-old Doug Flutie on the bench. Brees had been on the verge of losing his job, but he posted a 129 ANY/A+ and was a starter for the next 15 years. The rest of the division was more good than great, but they were all relatively healthy and played good-to-very good football. Trent Green posted a 120 ANY/A+ for the Chiefs, who finished second in the league in scoring. Jake Plummer was at 117 for the Broncos, who got 1,000-yard seasons out of Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie . Kerry Collins was a step down for the Raiders, but even he managed a 99 ANY/A+ in taking over for Rich Gannon . This group might not have looked dominant heading into the season, but the players delivered. AFC South, 2004: 115.8 . Yes, two of the five best performances by this measure in modern league history came in the same season. The South was really a one-man show, as Peyton Manning won his second consecutive MVP Award. He threw for 4,557 yards, 49 touchdowns and led the league in every yards per attempt category. His 153 ANY/A+ is still the best mark in league history, just ahead of Marino's 1984 campaign (150). The rest of the division was narrowly above average. Byron Leftwich (Jaguars), David Carr (Texans) and Billy Volek (Titans) each posted ANY/A+ marks between 103 and 104, with the latter quarterback filling in for an injured Steve McNair . That's a different sort of division than the one we expect in this year's AFC South, but when you get one of the best seasons in football history, average across the board elsewhere goes a long way. NFC West, 1991: 115.5 . The George Seifert-era 49ers are back again, but this time, Steve Young was limited to 10 starts by a knee injury and was replaced by backup Steve Bono . San Francisco actually missed the postseason despite going 10-6 and having Young post a 140 ANY/A+ when healthy. The rest of the division was a major step down, as Miller's 113 ANY/A+ was the only other above-average full season. Former Cowboys supplemental first-rounder Steve Walsh was solid in New Orleans, but he started only seven games. Everett, coming off his first Pro Bowl nod, was disappointing in posting a 97 ANY/A+ for the Rams. With Young and Walsh playing only partial seasons, this one looks better by the rate stats than it did in reality. Catch up on the 2022 NFL offseason • Free agency: Grades » | More » • Draft: Grades » | Top picks » | More » • Coaching changes: Tracking moves » • 2022 schedule » | Power rankings » • Barnwell ranks all 32 teams' offseason » NFC South, 2008: 115.3 . Brees is back, but this time his Saints finished in last place despite going 8-8. The star quarterback wasn't to blame, as he made it to the Pro Bowl and posted a 126 ANY/A+. He began what would eventually become the most active quarterback rivalry in NFL history with Matt Ryan , whose 116 ANY/A+ was one of the best rookie seasons in league history. Ryan's Falcons made the playoffs, as did the Panthers and longtime quarterback Jake Delhomme , who posted a 113 ANY/A+ and finished second in Comeback Player of the Year balloting. Jeff Garcia , who started 11 games for the Bucs, rounded the division up at an ANY/A+ of 110. There was no truly transcendent season in this pack, but everybody was well above average. NFC Central, 1995: 114.6 . We discussed this division earlier; it's the best five-team division since the merger. AFC East, 2002: 114.5 . Considering this is the only season in which Tom Brady started more than one game and failed to make it to the playoffs, the quarterbacks needed to be pretty good. Brady threw 28 touchdown passes in his second season as a starter, but the stars were elsewhere. Drew Bledsoe , traded to the Bills, made it to the Pro Bowl with a 107 ANY/A+. Chad Pennington , getting the first meaningful action of his pro career for the Jets, led the league in passer rating and posted a 134 ANY/A+ in a rare healthy season. This should have been one of the key rivalries in Brady's career, but Pennington suffered a wrist injury the following preseason and played only two more complete seasons as a pro, winning Comeback Player of the Year both times. Jay Fiedler , who split time with Ray Lucas in Miami, filled out the pack. Bledsoe-Brady-Pennington was an underrated trio. AFC South, 2020: 114.5 . The ... AFC South? In 2020? Yes. The Texans went 4-12, but Deshaun Watson posted a 125 ANY/A+ in what would be his final season with the franchise. Rivers, coming over from the Chargers, wasn't far behind with a 121 ANY/A+ for the Colts. And Ryan Tannehill didn't throw the ball often for the Titans, but the ruthless efficiency of their play-action attack delivered a 125 ANY/A+, as he averaged nearly 9 yards per attempt. Gardner Minshew qualifies as the starter for the Jags and posted a league-average ANY/A+, although he served as the lead passer for only eight games. I suspect most people would expect the current AFC West to look a lot better than the 2020 South, at least on paper. NFC East, 1970: 114.0 . We mentioned this group earlier. Fran Tarkenton (Giants) and Sonny Jurgensen (Washington) were very good, while Craig Morton (Cowboys) probably should have been an MVP candidate. He managed to keep Roger Staubach , a future Hall of Famer, on the bench. Jim Hart (Cardinals) and Norm Snead (Eagles), the other two starters in the East, were also around league-average. NFC South, 2018: 113.4 Fast-forward 48 years to a great season from Brees, who posted the best completion percentage in league history (74.8%). Ryan threw 35 touchdown passes against just seven picks, only to be let down by one of the league's worst defenses. Cam Newton broke down in the second half, and Jameis Winston split time with Ryan Fitzpatrick in Tampa Bay, but they were both at or just above league average. With Brees and two former MVPs, this division had plenty of talent. Drew Brees' historic 2018 season featured 32 touchdown passes and just five picks, and he also finished second in QBR (79.2). AP Photo/Butch Dill NFC East, 2006: 113.5 This division might send three passers to the Hall of Very Good, but it wasn't as good of a year as it seemed. In Dallas, Tony Romo took over for a disappointing Bledsoe and became a folk hero before his botched hold in a playoff loss . Donovan McNabb (Eagles) was limited to 10 starts by a torn ACL. Eli Manning (Giants) and Mark Brunell (Washington) started full seasons, but Manning was below-average, posting a 93 ANY/A+. One year later, he would be a Super Bowl champion . AFC South, 2009: 113.3 This was Peyton's last great season for the Colts, as Indy started 14-0 before removing Manning in the second half in Week 16 against the Jets, who promptly came back to win. Indy would eventually get revenge over Rex Ryan & Co. in the postseason, only to lose in the Super Bowl to the Saints. Manning came in just ahead of Matt Schaub (Texans), who posted a 121 ANY/A+ and led the league in passing yards during his first 16-game season. Vince Young (109) and David Garrard (101) were also slightly above average, although Young split time with Collins in Tennessee. Garrard did enough for the Jaguars to make his lone trip to the Pro Bowl, although he'd be out of football after the following season. NFC Central, 1998: 113.0 This was another impressive five-quarterback performance, although it was primarily driven by three full-time starters. Brett Favre wasn't quite as good for the Packers as he had been during his MVP run, but Randall Cunningham won the job in Minnesota and led the league in passer rating. His 140 ANY/A+ was one of the most stunning performances in league history, given that he had briefly retired two years earlier. Dilfer was right around league average for the Bucs, one year after making it to the Pro Bowl. Rookie Lions passer Charlie Batch and veteran Bears starter Erik Kramer were both in a similar ballpark, although they each split time. This one would have not looked impressive on paper, but with Cunningham forming an instant partnership with rookie sensation Randy Moss , the Central exceeded expectations. AFC West, 2002: 113.0 Let's finish with another division in which all four teams were .500 or better. The best team in the West was in Oakland, where Rich Gannon led the league in passing yards, posted a 126 ANY/A+ and won MVP. The post-Jon Gruden Raiders advanced all the way to the Super Bowl before being blown out by the Buccaneers, with Gannon throwing five interceptions , including three pick-sixes. Early look at the 2023 NFL draft • McShay's way-too-early mock draft » • Miller and Reid preview top prospects » • See more NFL draft coverage » He actually didn't post the best ANY/A+ in the division, as over in Kansas City, Green's 128 mark led the league. Priest Holmes got more attention than Green after he racked up more than 2,200 yards from scrimmage, but the Chiefs were the league's most devastating offense. Their defense finished 28th in points allowed, so they went 8-8. Brees was just below league-average in his rookie season for the Chargers, while Brian Griese was just above it in his final campaign for the Broncos. How do they compare to the 2022 AFC West? On paper, I can't find a division that matches up with the résumés and prime seasons of the four guys in the AFC West. When we've had multiple Hall of Famers in a division, there have been too many times in which one of them has been well past his prime. The lesser teams in the division have struggled through multiple replacement-level passers. To have both the ceiling of players such as Mahomes and a floor where all four starters project to be well above average is extremely rare, if not unprecedented altogether. Naturally, a projection doesn't mean we can crown the West just yet. Quarterbacks could get injured. Wilson could take time to build chemistry with his new teammates. Mahomes just lost his best wide receiver . Carr will be working in a new offense. Herbert plays for an organization whose stars appear to be cursed most years. Hopefully, we get 17 games at each quarterback's established level of play. If we do, the results could be historic.