Sunday night's matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos is more than a rare midseason clash between two undefeated juggernauts. It's also a showdown between the past and the present of the quarterback position.
Though Tom Brady has yet to give up his spot as one of the position's alpha dogs, it's clear Peyton Manning is on the decline. He has the worst quarterback rating among all starters this season, and has thrown a league-leading 10 interceptions as well. After three neck procedures and thousands of throws, it appears as if Manning's body has finally given out. He's handed his baton to Aaron Rodgers, who's on pace for one of the best seasons of his already stellar career.
Through six games this year, Rodgers has completed 68.1 percent of his passes, thrown for 1,491 yards and tossed 15 touchdown passes. He's currently the highest-paid player in the league, and appears destined to shatter a number of Manning's single-season passing records.
It's somewhat surprising Rodgers is now included among the pantheon of quarterback greats, considering the humbling start to his NFL career. He slipped to 24th in the 2005 draft and spent his first three years in Green Bay sitting behind Brett Favre. Of course, that's nothing compared to Brady, who remained on the board until the sixth round and only got a chance to play because Jets linebacker Mo Lewis leveled Drew Bledsoe.
Sometimes it's easy to identify a quarterback like Manning, a former No. 1 overall pick, who's destined for superstardom. But as Brady and Rodgers have demonstrated, sometimes a QB's ascension can come out of nowhere. Though Rodgers will probably remain at the top of his game for years to come, there are a number of quarterbacks who are jostling for position to be his peer, if not eventual successor as one of the gold standards of the quarterback position.
Much like Manning, Luck has been pegged for greatness ever since he stepped foot into the league. The 2012 No. 1 pick has amassed quite the resume in his first four years in the NFL: Single-season touchdown pass leader, throwing for more than 4,000 yards twice and winning three playoff games. (For comparison's sake, it took Manning until his seventh season to win his third postseason contest.)
But yet, Luck has taken a step back this year. Perhaps a nagging shoulder injury and porous offensive line are to blame, but regardless, Luck suddenly doesn't look ready to join Rodgers' and Brady's league. He's thrown 25 interceptions since 2014, including nine in five games this season.
Given all of the current dysfunction in Indianapolis, Luck may just be a product of his environment. At this point, his overall body of work still points to him ascending up the QB ladder even if he's fallen down a few steps.
Entering this season, it wasn't hyperbolic to say Wilson may have had the best three-year start out of any quarterback in history. He's the first signal caller to ever amass a QB rating of more than 95 in each of his first three seasons, and he led all QBs with 10 fourth-quarter comeback drives from 2012-14. Oh, and there was that little 35-point Super Bowl victory over Manning's Broncos as well.
The Seahawks' passing attack has sagged this season -- they've thrown for the fifth-fewest yards in the league -- but Wilson's numbers are still more than respectable. His 69.6 completion percentage would be the highest of his career and he has the eighth-best QB rating in the NFL. Unlike Luck, Wilson will probably never accumulate gaudy statistics, but he's done a whole lot of winning, and ultimately, that's what quarterbacks are primarily judged on.
The quarterback with the highest QB rating this season isn't Rodgers or Brady. It's Dalton, who may finally be entering the conversation as one of the league's elite passers in his fifth professional season.
Of course, the big knock on Dalton is the lack of playoff success. He's 0-4 in January with six interceptions and only one touchdown pass. Until Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals win in the postseason, his critics will continue to have plenty of ammunition.
But keep in mind, it took Manning four attempts to win his first playoff game. At 28 years old, there's still plenty of time for Dalton to shape his legacy.
Getting drafted by the Oakland Raiders is usually a curse for a collegiate star, but Carr may have lucked out. As long as Amari Cooper lines up beside him every Sunday, he has a chance to put up some hefty numbers.
Carr has the sixth-highest QB rating among all quarterbacks this season, ahead of Philip Rivers, Wilson, Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Matt Ryan. He has a ways to go before he's considered one of the game's best, but so far he's been the best find in the 2014 QB draft class.
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota:
It's still too early to tell what the future holds for the No. 1 and No. 2 selections in this year's draft, but both of them have shown flashes of brilliance in their young NFL careers.
Winston is coming off his best game as a professional. Last week, he completed 72 percent of his passes for 297 yards and two touchdown passes in Tampa Bay's disheartening 31-30 loss to Washington. Mariota, meanwhile, famously didn't throw an interception through the first couple of weeks of training camp and he's also completed 63.6 percent of his passes this season.
Both quarterbacks need to develop more and play with better supporting casts if they're to become perennial Pro Bowlers. But they've given their respective clubs plenty of reasons for optimism through the first half of their rookie campaigns.
The reason why Garoppolo is on this list is almost entirely intangible: He's learning the quarterback craft behind Brady, perhaps the greatest QB of all time. As Rodgers has demonstrated, learning behind a legend may not be glamorous, but it can be a launching pad for success.
Garoppolo broke Tony Romo's record for career pass completions at Eastern Illinois University. The skill set appears to be there, and it's difficult to think of a better quarterback and head coach combination to learn under than Brady and Bill Belichick.