Best Quarterbacks in Franchise History: AFC

Who are the best quarterbacks in the history of every NFL franchise? Inspired by the Y.A. Tittle section of this writing, I examined each team's history to determine its best-ever QB. In each section, you'll find a list of players' QB-TSP, an all-in-one stat-based method for evaluating regular season performance. You don't need to know how it works, but if you want to, click the link(s).

I'll list the top three in QB-TSP for the 10 teams that debuted after 1961, and the top five QBs for the 22 oldest teams. In every case, I used the team's name as of 2016, but included its entire history. Thus, the Tennessee Titans history also includes the Houston Oilers. The Arizona Cardinals also include the Chicago Cardinals, St. Louis Cardinals, and Phoenix Cardinals, etc. This week, we're examining AFC teams. We'll go in alphabetical order by location. Since the 2016 season is our cutoff, the Chargers are still listed in San Diego and the Raiders are listed in Oakland.

Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco

1. Joe Flacco (2008-16) — 6,707
2. Vinny Testaverde (1996-97) — 2,809
3. Steve McNair (2006-07) — 867

They're the only team without three QBs over 1,000 TSP. Tony Banks ranks fourth, with 788 TSP as a member of the Ravens. Flacco is their only half-decent QB to start for more than two seasons.

Lowest third-ranked QB:

1] Ravens: Steve McNair — 867
2] Texans: Ryan Fitzpatrick — 1,014
3] Jaguars: Byron Leftwich — 2,957

Buffalo Bills: Jim Kelly

1. Jim Kelly (1986-96) — 15,425
2. Joe Ferguson (1973-84) — 9,873
3. Jack Kemp (1962-69) — 3,922
4. Doug Flutie (1998-2000) — 3,668
5. Tyrod Taylor (2015-16) — 2,456

If you count the Buffalo Bills of the AAFC as the same franchise, George Ratterman (2,479) would replace Taylor in fifth place.

Cincinnati Bengals: Ken Anderson

1. Ken Anderson (1971-86) — 20,133
2. Boomer Esiason (1984-92, '97) — 12,509
3. Carson Palmer (2003-10) — 6,781

Andy Dalton is essentially tied with Palmer (6,703). He'll probably pass him in the first game of next season. Jeff Blake would round out the top five, with Jon Kitna and Greg Cook getting honorable mentions.

Cleveland Browns: Otto Graham

1. Otto Graham (1946-55) — 21,285
2. Brian Sipe (1974-83) — 9,456
3. Bernie Kosar (1985-93) — 9,437
4. Frank Ryan (1962-68) — 8,054
5. Milt Plum (1957-61) — 7,562

The Browns, Cowboys, and 49ers are the only teams with five QBs over 7,500 TSP.

The Bears, Buccaneers, Ravens, and Texans don't have anyone over 7,500. I think that's accurate: if Milt Plum had accomplished the same things for those teams that he did for the Browns, he'd be the best QB in franchise history. Same goes for fellow fifth-placers Don Meredith (Cowboys) and Jeff Garcia (49ers).

Denver Broncos: John Elway

1. John Elway (1983-98) — 22,258
2. Peyton Manning (2012-15) — 7,371
3. Jake Plummer (2003-06) — 4,788
4. Craig Morton (1977-82) — 4,762
5. Charley Johnson (1972-75) — 4,074

Brian Griese came in right behind Johnson (4,022). Frank Tripucka, whose passer rating was 55.9, comes in at 239.

Houston Texans: Matt Schaub

1. Matt Schaub (2007-13) — 7,436
2. David Carr (2002-06) — 1,258
3. Ryan Fitzpatrick (2014) — 1,014

Schaub's TSP with the Texans is higher than every other QB in team history combined.

In 2011, the Texans made the playoffs for the first time in the team's 10-year history. Schaub, who was injured halfway through the season, passed for 15 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, with a 96.8 passer rating (sixth-best in the league) but missed the playoffs with the injury. In 2012, Houston went 12-4. Schaub was unimpressive in a wild card playoff win, then played well (343 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 90.6 rating) in a 41-28 loss to the Patriots. Those are the only two playoff games of Matt Schaub's career: a win, and a road loss in which his team gave up 41 points.

But that offseason, media vultures descended on Schaub, accusing him of being un-clutch. Schaub disproved the doubters by leading fourth-quarter comebacks in both of Houston's first two games in 2013. With high expectations and a tough early schedule, however, the Texans opened the season 2-3. Schaub threw a pick-six for four weeks in a row, and the Houston fans turned on him.

In The Baseball Hall of Shame 4, Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo relate the story of Rudy York's 1943 season. York got off to a bad start in '43, and the fans began to boo him. His play only went downhill, and the fans booed even louder. It was a vicious cycle. York became tentative and performed terribly, while the fans booed him every time he came to the plate, every time he handled the ball in the field, every time his name was announced.

According to Nash and Zullo, "At the end of July, the Detroit sportswriters came to his rescue. They wrote columns condemning the public persecution of Rudy York and asked for understanding ... the booing of Rudy York quieted down. Within a few days it had died completely. Jeers gave way to cheers. Buoyed by the new support of the fans, York began swinging with his old carefree abandon." In August, York hit .330, with 17 home runs and 42 RBI, compared to 13 HR and 40 RBI in the previous four months combined.

I understand why disappointed fans boo their home players. But it seldom helps the situation, and sometimes it just adds to the pressure and makes things worse. Schaub had four straight seasons with a passer rating over 90, and after four games, the Houston fans never wanted to see him again. When Schaub got hurt in Week 6, Houston's crowd cheered the injury. The Texans went in the tank; they didn't win another game all season, finishing 2-14. But the coaching staff — head coach Gary Kubiak also got fired, just three years before winning Super Bowl 50 with Denver — was handcuffed: they couldn't play Schaub against the resistance of the fans, who collectively decided that they hated Schaub more than they liked winning.

Time heals many wounds. Schaub is the greatest quarterback in Houston Texans history — not that the competition is especially stiff — and it's not close at all.

Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning

1. Peyton Manning (1998-2011) — 26,685
2. John Unitas (1956-72) — 26,095
3. Bert Jones (1973-81) — 10,384
4. Andrew Luck (2012-16) — 5,909
5. Jim Harbaugh (1994-97) — 3,777

Manning and Unitas both accrued over 25,000 TSP with the Colts. The only other players to surpass 25,000 TSP with a single team are Dan Marino and Tom Brady.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Mark Brunell

1. Mark Brunell (1995-2003) — 10,712
2. David Garrard (2002-10) — 5,035
3. Byron Leftwich (2003-06) — 2,957

Mark Brunell was a mediocre quarterback in Washington from 2004-07, followed by four years as a backup with the Saints and Jets. With Jacksonville in the late '90s, he was dynamic, one of the most exciting QBs in the NFL. Brunell in 1996 is still the only quarterback to lead the league in passing yards and gain the most rushing yards among QBs.

Kansas City Chiefs: Len Dawson

1. Len Dawson (1962-75) — 14,426
2. Trent Green (2001-06) — 8,718
3. Bill Kenney (1980-88) — 6,960
4. Steve DeBerg (1988-91) — 5,171
5. Alex Smith (2013-16) — 4,340

This is one of the less complicated franchise-quarterback histories. The only question is whether Elvis Grbac (1997-2000) or Joe Montana (1993-94) might sneak into the top five. You have to give Montana an awful lot of credit for the playoff win against Houston to get him into the top five; I think I'd stick with DeBerg and Smith.

Miami Dolphins: Dan Marino

1. Dan Marino (1983-99) — 31,474
2. Bob Griese (1967-80) — 12,311
3. Jay Fiedler (2000-04) — 3,413

Ryan Tannehill (3,365) will pass Fiedler early next season, probably in the first game. Marino's 31,474 TSP is the highest for any player with a single team. The top 13:

1] Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins — 31,474
2] Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts — 26,685
3] Tom Brady, New England Patriots — 26,529
4] Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts — 26,095
5] Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers — 24,154
6] John Elway, Denver Broncos — 22,258
7] Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints — 21,944
8] Dan Fouts, San Diego Chargers — 21,885
9] Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers — 21,513
10] Otto Graham, Cleveland Browns — 21,285
11] Ken Anderson, Cincinnati Bengals — 20,133
12] Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers — 19,977
13] Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings — 19,556

No one else is over 18,000. When we talk about the best of the best quarterbacks, though, I prefer the methodology for career values used in my previous post. That produces a shuffled list:

1] Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins — 66.9
2] Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts — 58.5
3] Tom Brady, New England Patriots — 52.7
4] Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts — 52.3
5] Otto Graham, Cleveland Browns — 49.7
6] Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints — 46.1
7] Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers — 44.6
8] Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers — 44.0
9] Dan Fouts, San Diego Chargers — 43.0
10] Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers — 41.6

No one else is over 40. Anderson ranks 11th (38.2), which seems too high to me, for reasons I outlined in the post linked above. By both methods, Marino easily ranks number one.

New England Patriots: Tom Brady

1. Tom Brady (2000-16) — 26,529
2. Steve Grogan (1975-90) — 11,946
3. Drew Bledsoe (1993-2001) — 9,420
4. Babe Parilli (1961-67) — 6,359
5. Tony Eason (1983-89) — 3,994

If I were ranking the greatest QBs in Patriots history, this would be my top five: Brady, Bledsoe, Grogan, Parilli, Jim Plunkett.

New York Jets: Joe Namath

1. Joe Namath (1965-76) — 13,152
2. Ken O'Brien (1983-92) — 8,678
3. Richard Todd (1976-83) — 6,121
4. Chad Pennington (2000-07) — 4,599
5. Vinny Testaverde (1998-2004) — 4,170

Joe Namath was celebrated during his career, but in 2017, he is among the most underrated quarterbacks in history. Namath threw too many interceptions, but he was among the best of all time at avoiding sacks and fumbles, which most fans overlook. He had some really bad years at the end of his career, which hurts his career stats, but in his prime, he was the best quarterback in the league.

Oakland Raiders: Ken Stabler

1. Daryle Lamonica (1967-74) — 9,972
2. Ken Stabler (1970-79) — 9,814
3. Rich Gannon (1999-2004) — 8,423
4. Jeff Hostetler (1993-96) — 4,758
5. Tom Flores (1960-66) — 4,487

Jim Plunkett (4,259) ranks sixth, but essentially tied with Hostetler and Flores. His postseason achievements make it easy to identify Plunkett as the fourth-best QB in Raiders history. Reasonable people can disagree about whether Lamonica or Stabler was the better player, and there's a case for Rich Gannon, too — since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, 11 quarterbacks have earned Associated Press first-team all-pro honors more than once: seven Hall of Famers, three future Hall of Famers (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers), and Gannon. My personal top five Raider QBs would be: Stabler, Lamonica, Gannon, Plunkett, and a coin flip between Hostetler and Flores. I know some fans will argue for George Blanda, but he only attempted 235 passes as a Raider. This franchise has too strong a tradition for a backup to be among its top five. Derek Carr is still at least two years away from cracking the franchise top five.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Terry Bradshaw

1. Ben Roethlisberger (2004-16) — 16,024
2. Terry Bradshaw (1970-83) — 13,342
3. Neil O'Donnell (1990-95) — 5,366
4. Bobby Layne (1958-62) — 5,235
5. Kordell Stewart (1995-2002) — 4,734

Ben Roethlisberger has a good postseason résumé. Terry Bradshaw has an awesome postseason résumé. Big Ben might catch him if he stays healthy, but I'd bet against it.

San Diego Chargers: Dan Fouts

1. Dan Fouts (1973-87) — 21,885
2. Philip Rivers (2004-16) — 15,819
3. John Hadl (1962-72) — 13,039
4. Stan Humphries (1992-97) — 5,657
5. Drew Brees (2001-05) — 4,139

There are seven teams with three QBs over 10,000 TSP: the Chargers, Colts, Cowboys, Giants, Packers, Rams, and 49ers. Highest third-ranked QB:

1] 49ers: John Brodie — 17,839
2] Packers: Bart Starr — 13,829
3] Cowboys: Tony Romo — 13,052
4] Chargers: John Hadl — 13,039
5] Giants: Charlie Conerly — 11,431
6] Colts: Bert Jones — 10,384
7] Rams: Jim Everett — 10,054
8] Browns: Bernie Kosar — 9,437
9] Patriots: Drew Bledsoe — 9,420
10] Eagles: Randall Cunningham — 9,017

Tennessee Titans: Warren Moon

1. Warren Moon (1984-93) — 13,890
2. Steve McNair (1995-2005) — 11,848
3. George Blanda (1960-66) — 6,347
4. Dan Pastorini (1971-79) — 4,149
5. Marcus Mariota (2015-16) — 2,033

I wouldn't argue with someone who wanted to rank McNair as the greatest QB in franchise history. Moon was obviously the better player, but he spent half his career with other teams. Moon played with better receivers than McNair, in an offense that facilitated big passing stats. McNair played on a run-oriented offense, with a thin receiving corps.

Lowest fifth-ranked QB, among teams that existed prior to 1965:

1] Titans: Marcus Mariota — 2,033
2] Bills: Tyrod Taylor — 2,456
3] Lions: Charlie Batch — 2,667
4] Vikings: Warren Moon — 3,663
5] Colts: Jim Harbaugh — 3,777

The Oilers/Titans, who have existed for 57 years, place lowest. That should change next season, with Mariota and Taylor knocking the Lions into the bottom spot.

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