Sean Pendergast

Ranking the Decade in the AFC South by QB Season Quality

Deshaun Watson's early career seasons have elevated the AFC South.
Deshaun Watson's early career seasons have elevated the AFC South. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Earlier this week, we were joining for a little spin back through time, the last ten seasons of NFL football, more specifically, as we examined their All Decade team for the AFC South. The summary for that exercise was part celebration (Yay! The Texans had ten guys who made the team!) and part realization (Holy crap, this division was really, really bad for the last ten years.).

We even surmised that Deshaun Watson has probably been the second best quarterback in the division over the last ten years, correctly so. It's not even close, and in fact, I became more intrigued by the other end of the quarterback scale in this division. At its worst, exactly how bad were the quarterbacks in a given season? At best, was there ever a season where we had two elite quarterbacks at the same time?

So, without further ado, here are the last ten seasons in the AFC South, ranked by quality of quarterback play. Make note, the quarterbacks noted for each team are the ones who had the most pass attempts that season for that team, but the rankings are based on overall QB play across all sixteen games for each team. Here we go....

10. 2015
QBs: Hoyer, HOU; Luck, IND; Bortles, JAC; Mariota, TEN

COMMENT: While, when healthy, Luck was an elite quarterback, in this particular season, he started just seven games. Mariota was going 3-9 as a starter, and Bortles was having a season where people began getting optimistic because he piled up 4,400 yards and 35 touchdowns in garbage time. The Texans won the division while starting four different quarterbacks, and they were the only team from the division to make the playoffs. They lost 30-0 at home, and Hoyer had five turnovers. This season is the biggest QB turd of the last decade.

9. 2013
QBs: Schaub, HOU; Luck, IND; Henne, JAC; Fitzpatrick, TEN
The only good thing about this season was Luck winning the division and a playoff game in his second season. Aside from that, you had the Schaub "pick six" implosion, Case Keenum going 0-8 in his eight starts, Chad Henne giving the Jaguars reasons to draft Blake Bortles (with Blaine Gabbert watching from the bench), and Fitzy doing Fitzy things in Tennessee. Woof.

8. 2016
QBs: Osweiler, HOU; Luck, IND; Bortles, JAC; Mariota, TEN
Yes, Texan fans, believe it or not, the season that included Brock Osweiler starting 15 games for the Texans was NOT the worst in the division over the last decade. The Texans did manage to win the division, in spite of Brock, while Andrew Luck was at least back for a full season. Mariota led the Titans to a 9-7 record, a final record they've since achieved every year since. Bortles was, well, Bortles.

7. 2014
QBs: Fitzpatrick, HOU; Luck, IND; Bortles, JAC; Whitehurst, TEN

COMMENT: This season inches ahead of the other seasons involving Andrew Luck, thus far, because Luck was able to get the Colts to the AFC title game, where they got whomped by the New England Patriots. The Texans somehow managed to go 9-7 with four different quarterbacks, while Bortles struggled through his rookie year, and Titan fans were subjected to a full season of Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger.

6. 2017
QBs: Savage, HOU; Brissett, IND; Bortles, JAC; Mariota, TEN
This is admittedly my strangest LOOKING ranking on the board — a season where the four quarterbacks who threw the most passes for their teams were Tom Savage, Jacoby Brissett, Blake Bortles, and Marcus Mariota. However, this season jumps at least to the middle of the pack thanks to three things — Deshaun Watson's scintillating six start rookie year, Marcus Mariota's road playoff win in Kansas City, and Blake Bortles taking the Jaguars to the AFC title game, and within minutes of a Super Bowl berth.

5. 2011
QBs: Schaub, HOU; Painter, IND; Gabbert, JAC; Hasselbeck, TEN
COMMENT: How thin is this list? A season that was about half of Matt Schaub, along with a Curtis Painter/Dan Orlovsky combo, along with Blaine Gabbert's rookie season, and a 9-7 season from Matt Hasselbeck is enough to get into the upper half. The strength of this season was Schaub's first half of the season, where the Texans looked like a Super Bowl contender, T.J. Yates coming out of nowhere to win a playoff game, and Hasselbeck doing what the Titans do (finish 9-7).

4. 2012
QBs: Schaub, HOU; Luck, IND; Henne, JAC; Locker, TEN
COMMENT: Now we are actually getting into seasons where the division had more than one elite quarterback. Schaub was really good for most of this season (until he wasn't good anymore, hashtag lettermen jackets), and Andrew Luck got the Colts back to the postseason in his rookie year.

3. 2018
QBs: Watson, HOU; Luck, IND; Bortles, JAC; Mariota, TEN
COMMENT: This season saw Watson continue his ascent into the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the league, engineering a nine game winning streak and an 11-5 division crown. Andrew Luck returned with authority, going 9-1 down the stretch to get the Colts back into the postseason, and win a road playoff game in Houston. The other two quarterbacks, Bortles and Mariota, kind of saw their strings run out during 2018. Bortles would be gone after the season, and Mariota would be benched six games into 2019. Worth noting, this is the only season where all four teams were starting quarterbacks that they used high draft picks on to be their franchise guy. Also, worth noting, the Texans are the only one still employing their quarterback,

2. 2010
QBs: Schaub, HOU; Manning, IND; Garrard, JAC; Collins, TEN
COMMENT: The one season with Peyton Manning this past decade is going to be a lock for a high ranking. Matt Schaub was also really good in 2010, at least statistically (over 4,300 yards passing), if not in the won-loss column. The Texans finished a disappointing 6-10. This was the final season in Jacksonville for the solid, unspectacular David Garrard. This was the season that Vince Young went AWOL on the Titans.

1. 2019
QBs: Watson, HOU; Brissett, IND; Minshew, JAC; Tannehill, TEN
COMMENT: We save the best for last, and the most recent season in the division saw its best quarterback play over the last ten years. Deshaun Watson won the division, singlehandedly won a playoff game, and set the stage for many great future moments. Ryan Tannehill found the fountain of youth and led the Titans to the AFC title game. He also got PAID, a new four year deal averaging $28 million per year. Gardner Minshew was, at the very least, a frisky, fun rookie. The one outlier was Brissett, who will be replaced by Philip Rivers in Indy.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast