5 Chad Pennington (Miami Dolphins)
Yes, Chad Pennington. I am also surprised. In a year that saw Tom Brady go down in agony and miss the entire season, Pennington stepped up for the Dolphins. Although he did not throw many touchdowns (only 19, good for 12th) he was very efficient. He had a 97.4 QBR (2nd) and led the league with a 67.4 completion percentage. He was on a run-oriented team, which is why he only threw for 3,653 yards (9th), but he took care of the ball (only 7 INTs) and led his team to an 11-5 record. The Dolphins were eliminated by the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
4 Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts)
Prior to surgery, Peyton Manning was an absolute machine. With all due respect, the guy just made his comeback and is still dominating defenses. But it’s obvious that he has lost a step and his arm strength is just a tad weaker. That said, he’s still one of the best QBs in the NFL, which speaks volumes. In 2008 Manning threw for 4,002 yards (6th), 27 TDs (5th) and a 95 QBR (5th). He singlehandedly led his Colts to a playoff berth via the Wild Card with a 12-4 record. The Colts lost in the Wild Card game to San Diego. But the Colts were all about Peyton Manning, so defenses keyed on him and developed their whole game plan solely around him. He still managed to beat them. That’s Peyton for you.
3 Kurt Warner (Arizona Cardinals)
Kurt Warner was actually signed by the Cardinals to mentor Matt Leinart. No, that was not a typo! The Cardinals drafted USC star and former Heisman Trophy winner with the tenth overall pick in the 2006 draft and signed Warner to groom him and show him the ropes. Leinart was a huge bust (life is different in the NFL compared to USC – you get paid more), and Warner still had plenty in the tank. Warner threw for 4,583 yards (2nd), 30 touchdowns (2nd), a 96.9 QBR (3rd) and completed 67.1 percent of passes (2nd). The Cardinals went 9-7 and won the NFC West. Warner then led his team all the way to Super Bowl XLIII where the Cardinals lost to the champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
2 Phillip Rivers (San Diego Chargers)
Phillip Rivers enjoyed the best season of his career in 2008. He made the ridiculous move of letting Brees walk away look smart – well, for the time being at least. Rivers and Brees found each other atop all of the major QB categories. Rivers led the league with a 105.5 quarterback rating, threw 34 touchdowns (tied for 1st) and 4,009 yards (5th). The Chargers won the first game of the Wild Card playoffs against the Indianapolis Colts and lost to Pittsburgh in the divisional playoffs. Despite the fact that Rivers took the Chargers to the playoffs and Brees failed to take his Saints to the playoffs, there is no argument as to who is number one. The Chargers were fortunate to be in a weak division (AFC West where the infamous Raiders reside) and finished with an identical record to the Saints: 8-8. Rivers was also surrounded by serious weaponry! He had LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Darren Sproles and Vincent Jackson. Those guys are a threat to break a big play every time they touch the ball. Case closed.
1 Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)
Drew Brees fell just 15 yards shy of Dan Marino's all-time record for pass yards in a single season (Brees finished with 5,069 and Marino's record is 5,084). And he did it with a mediocre running game. That made it harder to reach his mark because teams were not respecting the run, consequently he saw a lot of defensive packages full of cornerbacks. But he picked teams apart to the tune of 5,069 total pass yards (1st), 317 pass yards a game (1st), 413 completions (1st), 34 touchdowns (tied for 1st) and a 96.2 quarterback rating (4th). He finished first in every major category except QBR; that is quite an accomplishment. Although the Saints finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs, Brees did everything he could and his ranking here is not going to suffer because of his team’s lack of support. It’s hard to believe that the Chargers actually released Brees. They literally let him walk! He was coming off of serious shoulder surgery and the Chargers had just drafted Phillip Rivers as their QB of the future. They also thought that he was too small to man the position in the long run. Listed at 6-foot-0, 209 (he’s more like 5-foot-10) he was considered small for the rigors of the position. Although Rivers turned out to be a fine QB, the Chargers made a huge miscalculation. Rivers is good, Brees is great – big difference. Plus I believe he has a serious Napoleon complex which pushed this little, big man to the limit.