A couple of weeks back, I was in Houston to cover the Sunday night game between the Texans and the Cowboys, and I was talking to one of the Texans' coaches on the field before the game. I asked him how he felt about this game, and we had a wide-ranging talk about all of their injuries and what a rough start it had been to the season for them and how well the Cowboys' defense had been playing, etc.
Then he said, "But with our quarterback, I feel like we always have a chance."
And that's it, right there. That sentiment is the very basis for the Quarterback Confidence Index. If you feel good about your quarterback, you feel like you have a chance. If you don't, you probably don't. Any "yeah, but" you can throw at that logic is pure rationalization. Is it possible to win without a franchise quarterback? Sure. But I don't know a team that would want to try.
With that in mind, we present the latest installment of an occasional feature we like to call the Quarterback Confidence Index. Please remember, this is not a ranking of starting quarterbacks. Rather, it is a ranking of teams in order of which we believe have the most confidence in their quarterback situation as a whole. That means starter, backup situation, age, health history, plans for the future, etc. If you click ahead to your team and don't like what's written about it there, try to carve out some time to read the rest of the piece, for context. Otherwise, I'll see you on Twitter and try not to take it personally.
While Drew Brees is knocking down all-time records, don't get distracted from his legitimate MVP case. The Saints' backup situation is solid, with Teddy Bridgewater sitting behind Brees and the extremely useful Taysom Hill looking like a guy who can do pretty much anything.
Short-term confidence: HIGH. There are 43 quarterbacks who have thrown at least one interception in the NFL in 2018. Brees is not one of them. His completion percentage is 77.3. His Total QBR ranks behind only Patrick Mahomes. The Saints have won five games in a row, Mark Ingram is back from suspension ... this battle station is fully operational.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM-HIGH. Yeah, Brees turns 40 in January. But that didn't bother Tom Brady, and there's no reason to think Brees is ready to hang it up. He has said he wants to go year-to-year at this point, which is what keeps this out of the "high" range, but as long as he's there, expect the Saints to keep humming. Even if Brees were to retire after this year, the Saints would have first crack at signing Bridgewater before he hit free agency.
Carson Wentz is back from his 2017 season-ending knee injury and slingin' it again, as his receiving corps, running back group and offensive line are still finding their way through injury and other issues. Backup Nick Foles was Super Bowl MVP less than nine months ago, and there are people in the organization who think No. 3 quarterback Nate Sudfeld is even better.
Short-term confidence: HIGH. Wentz was making a run at MVP last year before he got hurt. The past couple of weeks, he has looked like the precise, quick decision-making whiz he was this time last year. He needs more help.
Long-term confidence: HIGH. Barring another injury, would the Eagles trade a 25-year-old Wentz straight up for any other quarterback in the league?
Aaron Rodgers remains as dangerous a weapon as any team has -- especially in the fourth quarter, when he has rescued the Packers a couple of times already this season. DeShone Kizer is the backup, and if nothing else he started a bunch of games for the Browns last year.
Short-term confidence: HIGH. As long as they can keep Rodgers healthy, the Packers are as strong at this position as anyone in the league. Their hope is that the Rodgers' knee got healthier during the bye week.
Long-term confidence: HIGH. Rodgers turns 35 in December, but he just signed a contract extension that runs through 2023 and contains $78.7 million fully guaranteed. The Packers aren't looking to get out of that anytime soon, nor should they.
At age 41, Tom Brady is on pace for 4,300 yards, 37 touchdowns and his highest completion percentage since 2007, when he was 16-0 in the regular season and setting records with Randy Moss. The backup is Brian Hoyer, who at least knows the system and has NFL starting experience.
Short-term confidence: HIGH. As long as Brady doesn't show signs of slowing down -- and he's not -- the Patriots are as justifiably confident in their quarterback as any team in the league is. It's an upset if Brady doesn't play in the Super Bowl.
Long-term confidence: LOW, though it depends on what "long-term" means. It's probably fair to guess that Brady has one more year after this, but that's only a guess, and it can't be much more than that, if any. With Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco, there is no succession plan in place.
Based on this season alone, the Chiefs would deserve the No. 1 spot. Patrick Mahomes is playing at an unprecedented level, with a record 22 touchdown passes in his first seven games and a league-leading 2,223 yards and 84.9 Total QBR. The backup is Chad Henne, who is experienced, but it's hard to imagine the offense running like this without Mahomes.
Short-term confidence: STRATOSPHERIC. No team has come close to stopping Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense so far. His worst game was a Week 5 victory over Jacksonville where he threw for 313 yards and the Chiefs scored 30 points. What he's doing makes no sense in any context. He has to come at least somewhat down to earth at some point, doesn't he?
Long-term confidence: HIGH. The only issue you could have is sample size, and the fact that Mahomes is only 23 and inevitably will have ups and downs. But how can you not have confidence in his ability to lead the franchise, based on what we've seen so far?
Since Sean McVay became the Rams' head coach, Jared Goff is 18-5 with 43 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. His backup is 2015 third-round pick Sean Mannion. You want to bet McVay couldn't figure something out with Mannion if he had to?
Short-term confidence: HIGH. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, Goff has lived up to that status since McVay arrived and shows no signs of slowing down with the group he has around him. The only drag on his own MVP candidacy is that of running back Todd Gurley, who's on pace for 32 touchdowns.
Long-term confidence: HIGH. Goff will be in line for his extension in the summer of 2020, though the Rams have a pattern of extending their first-round picks early. Their cap situation could get hairy soon, but if Goff keeps playing like this they'll have to keep him around.
The Falcons' season may be falling apart due to injuries, but it's not affecting Matt Ryan's performance. Entering Monday night's game, he had 14 touchdown passes (plus two rushing touchdowns!) and two interceptions and his completion percentage was on the edge of 70. Matt Schaub is the backup who has been there forever and knows the offense.
Short-term confidence: HIGH. Ryan hasn't missed a game since 2009, and things seem to be clicking in Year 2 with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
Long-term confidence: HIGH. Ryan is 33 and just signed an extension through 2023.
If it weren't for what the Chiefs are doing, Philip Rivers' Chargers would be the hot story in the AFC right now. If it weren't for what the Rams are doing, Rivers' Chargers would be the hot NFL story in Los Angeles right now. Rivers is drafting a couple of red-hot QBs, but he's playing as well as anyone so far. Geno Smith is the backup.
Short-term confidence: HIGH. Rivers is completing better than 69 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and three interceptions. He belongs in the MVP conversation along with Brees if Mahomes ever comes back to the pack, and he hasn't missed a game since becoming the Chargers' starter in 2006.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM-HIGH. Really just tied to how much longer Rivers wants to play. He turns 37 in December and is playing like a guy who has a few more years left, but there's no way to know what his plans are. He's only signed for one more year after this one.
Russell Wilson is still the starter, still has never missed a game and doesn't turn 30 until November. He's as reliable as any starter in the league in terms of performance and durability. The backup is Brett Hundley, who got some starting experience with the Packers last year.
Short-term confidence: HIGH. Wilson's numbers are down a bit this year as the Seahawks are committing more to the run (and having Wilson run less), but he's still completing 64.2 percent of his passes and taking care of the ball. They know he can win them a game if they need to ask that of him.
Long-term confidence: HIGH. Wilson is signed through only 2019 and thus, with a good, healthy season, will be in line for a whopper of an extension next summer. Assuming the Seahawks are willing to give him that, they're set at the position for a long time to come.
Ben Roethlisberger is going to the Hall of Fame, and he's still playing like it. First quarterback to 2,000 yards this season, and it's entirely possible the offense gets more potent if Le'Veon Bell comes back this week. The Steelers are on cruise control at QB.
Short-term confidence: HIGH. The only thing that gives you pause is Ben's health history, but he didn't miss a game due to injury last year, and he seems to be protecting himself well. Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs form an unproven backup tandem.
Long-term confidence: LOW. Ben turns 37 in March, always seems to be talking about retiring (except last year, for some reason), and there's no way to know what's coming next. Rudolph is a project they feel good about, but still a project who came out with arm strength concerns.
11. Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford isn't blowing anyone's doors off statistically this year, but since the Week 1 disaster against the Jets he has thrown 11 touchdown passes and just one interception. He's as reliable as it gets. Backup Matt Cassel is a veteran with some experience behind a guy who never misses games.
Short-term confidence: HIGH. The Lions know what they're getting with Stafford, who has a nice receiver corps and the whiff of a nascent running game for the first time in a while.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM. Stafford is only 30 and is signed through 2022, so he's in Detroit for a while. They likely can count on him maintaining his current level of performance as long as they keep the group around him sound. Golden Tate is a free agent at the end of the year, just sayin'.
Cam Newton is thriving in his first year with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and the stunning fourth-quarter comeback against the Eagles on Sunday kindled memories of 2015. Taylor Heinicke is the backup who was with Turner in Minnesota.
Short-term confidence: HIGH. Newton's career completion percentage is 58.9. His best single-season completion percentage is 61.7. His completion percentage this year is 65.6, and his yards per attempt is right in line with where it has been the past couple of years. He's on pace for a relatively standard 685 rushing yards. More importantly, he's winning. And when Cam's winning, Cam can get on one heck of a roll.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM-HIGH. Newton is 29 and signed through 2020, which means he'll be in line for an extension before long. The only thing that keeps this from being a "high" is his history of inconsistent year-to-year performance. But it's possible he has turned a corner with Turner.
Andrew Luck just turned 29 last month and is on pace for 4,500 yards and 47 touchdowns in his first year back from all those shoulder problems. Jacoby Brissett is the backup who started last year in Luck's place.
Short-term confidence: HIGH. Luck is showing no ill effects of the shoulder surgeries, and if the Colts' running game is starting to develop the way it looked Sunday, he won't have to throw the ball 50-60 times a game, though it's nice to know he can.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM-HIGH. Hedging here only because of the proximity in time to the significant health issues. As more time passes with Luck healthy, the confidence will rise. He's signed through 2021 and there's no reason as of now to think they won't extend him if he's healthy.
They doled out $84 million fully guaranteed over three years for free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins, who as of Monday morning was second in the league in passing yards and ninth in passer rating and Total QBR. Trevor Siemian and Kyle Sloter are the backups.
Short-term confidence: HIGH. Cousins' 14 touchdown passes and three interceptions rank him among the NFL's best quarterbacks this year (Non-Mahomes Division). He has been everything the Vikings hoped he would be.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM. They could certainly re-sign Cousins after 2020, and Sloter is fairly well regarded as a prospect. The Vikings are a win-now team, though. Their "long term" doesn't extend too far behind Cousins' deal.
Yeah, you laugh when we say Andy Dalton, but through Week 6 he was top five in touchdown passes and top 10 in Total QBR, and the Bengals were 4-2 and tied for first place with the Ravens, a team they beat. You could do worse.
Short-term confidence: HIGH. It's probably not fair to judge the Bengals on their past 62 minutes. The Steelers ripped their hearts out (again) in Week 6, and then Sunday night they got smoked by the nearly unstoppable Chiefs. But overall, Dalton and the Bengals' offense have a nice thing going this year. Jeff Driskel is the backup, but that's not likely to matter as long as Dalton doesn't have to tackle anyone.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM. Dalton turns 31 next week and is signed for two more years at less than $17 million a year. As long as they keep the roster strong around him (and the way the Bengals draft, they should), there's not a lot of reason to worry.
Injuries limiting Watson
Stephania Bell details Deshaun Watson's injuries and how they are limiting his numbers this season.
16. Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson played seven games last year and set the league on fire. His seven games so far this year haven't lived up to those standards, but he has won the past four of them, and his completion percentage is up. Brandon Weeden and Joe Webb are the backups, but Houston is hoping to finally get through a season using only one quarterback.
Short-term confidence: MEDIUM-HIGH. I mean, they had to put him on a bus instead of the team plane because they were worried flying might exacerbate the injuries he's dealing with. I'm not a doctor, but I believe the term for that is "not good." The 26 sacks Watson has taken already this year don't include hits he's taking on running plays that go past the line of scrimmage. If Houston can keep Watson safe and healthy, they're quite confident in him. But can they?
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM-HIGH. Everything said in the short-term section applies in the long-term section with Houston.
Jameis Winston is back, which means so is his spectacular ability and so are his baffling decisions and turnovers. Sunday showcased it all. The backup is Ryan Fitzpatrick, whom you may remember from September's MVP conversations.
Short-term confidence: MEDIUM. Winston performed well late in the season last year when he returned from injury, so there's hope that he's still shaking off rust post-suspension. But on Sunday, he looked like himself, which is to say a weekly roller coaster.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM. The Bucs still have a decision to make about whether Winston is their future at the position. They picked up his 2019 option, but it's guaranteed against injury only until March. By then they should know whether they're moving on or extending him. Remember, he's one off-field incident away from a lengthy suspension.
18. Dallas Cowboys
Two offseasons ago, we were accused of having Dak Prescott's Cowboys too low. Last offseason, we were accused of having them too high. Y'all are a fickle bunch out there. We're staying consistent in our belief that Prescott is a good NFL quarterback who can succeed when the group around him is sound. The Cowboys' group is a work in progress.
Short-term confidence: MEDIUM. Prescott's Week 6 performance against the Jaguars sparked organizational hope that a 2018 corner was being turned. The Cowboys' Week 7 dud in Washington argued the other way. They don't know what they have in backup Cooper Rush, and rookie Mike White is a project.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM. Cowboys decision-makers voice public confidence in Prescott every chance they get. The reality is that they believe in him but want to see him justify that belief over the second half of this season. If he does, he likely gets a big contract extension. If he doesn't, they could start looking around.
The "Alex Smith is an upgrade over Kirk Cousins" narrative hasn't proved out so far. Through Sunday, Smith ranked 24th in Total QBR and 23rd in yards per attempt. No, Smith doesn't have Cousins' receivers, but you know the old saying about what excuses are like.
Short-term confidence: MEDIUM. Smith is what he is. He's not going to be the guy he was last year in Kansas City, and no one should have expected that guy. He's a solid, capable veteran who avoids mistakes and turnovers and can run the offense efficiently when and if they all get healthy. Colt McCoy is the backup and likely wouldn't check all the same boxes.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM. Smith is 34, but his 2019 salary is guaranteed at $15 million and his 2020 salary of $16 million becomes guaranteed this March. He's not going anywhere anytime soon, and they haven't addressed what comes after.
20. Chicago Bears
Do we have a handle yet on Mitchell Trubisky, who somehow went into Week 7 ranked seventh in passer rating and fourth in completion percentage before losing to New England? New coach Matt Nagy certainly seems to be a good thing for the young man and his development, and to offer hope.
Short-term confidence: MEDIUM. All arrows point up, as the 24-year-old Trubisky is grasping Nagy's offense and running it efficiently. The only thing missing here is sample size, but he's got more of it than the guys who were drafted this year. Chase Daniel is the veteran backup who knows the offense.
Long-term confidence: HIGH. The Bears appear to have built a strong offense around Trubisky, and as long as they can keep the offensive line where it needs to be and keep him protected, he should continue to grow and flourish .
21. Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota is learning a new system, playing without his top tight end and spent the early part of the season dealing with an injury to his throwing arm. Blaine Gabbert is the backup and showed himself capable for one game in Mariota's absence.
Short-term confidence: MEDIUM-LOW. You can give Mariota a pass for any/all of the reasons listed above, but he's an enigma. He's a guy who won a road playoff game in Kansas City in January, but overall his performance (and health) have been too inconsistent to trust.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM-HIGH. The team has confidence in first-year playcaller Matt LaFleur and in Mariota, and they're both talented enough to make you believe they'll develop together. It turns out this may have been more of a rebuilding year for Tennessee on offense than we may have predicted.
22. New York Jets
The Jets traded up to No. 3 in the draft to pick Sam Darnold, who has had some typical rookie ups-and-downs but absolutely gives off that Eli Manning "nothing bothers me" vibe that everyone who runs a New York sports team craves in its most important players. If something were to happen to Darnold, the Jets know veteran Josh McCown can run their offense smoothly.
Short-term confidence: MEDIUM. Darnold has shown flashes of greatness but obviously needs to develop consistency in his decision-making. He'll probably continue to veer between spectacular wins and groan-inducing losses for at least the next month or so, maybe even into next year. But he has shown himself capable in Year 1.
Long-term confidence: HIGH. The Jets believe they picked a winner here, and the way Darnold has carried himself through those aforementioned ups and downs leads them to believe things will only get better.
Mayfield doesn't impress in Week 7
Matthew Berry isn't blown away by Baker Mayfield's performance against the Bucs and views him as a borderline starter despite a great schedule.
23. Cleveland Browns
You could put the Browns just ahead of the Jets or just behind them, depending on how you rank Darnold and Baker Mayfield against each other. It's too early to know, but Mayfield has shown plenty to justify the Browns' decision to take him No. 1 overall. Tyrod Taylor is the backup, and we saw what he had to offer in the first couple of games this season.
Short-term confidence: MEDIUM. Mayfield has flashed, but he also has looked like a rookie at times, has taken a few too many hits and is throwing to an absolutely shredded receiving corps. He'll have some good games, especially against the soft schedule the Browns are facing right now, but also some growing pains.
Long-term confidence: HIGH. At this point, the Browns believe they have their guy.
24. Baltimore Ravens
Joe Flacco's season is hard to pin down. He has had four really good games and two kind of lousy ones, and while there has been some evidence to support the Ravens' preseason belief that he was fired up after the team drafted Lamar Jackson in the first round, we haven't seen enough to soften any Flacco opinion we might have formed over the past half-decade.
Short-term confidence: MEDIUM. If Flacco gets on a roll, this could move up, but for now we remain in wait-and-see mode. In addition to Jackson, Robert Griffin III is on this roster should anything befall Flacco, but he doesn't move the meter upward.
Long-term confidence: TOTAL UNKNOWN. There's no consensus on what Jackson might turn out to be as an NFL quarterback, but the Ravens are teaching him an offense they believe he'll someday be in position to run. Flacco turns 34 in January, so he has some years left, but whether he'll spend them in Baltimore depends on how quickly they think Jackson is ready.
Their quarterback of the present and future, Jimmy Garoppolo, was lost for the season to a knee injury in September, leaving them to start C.J. Beathard and put their long-range plans on hold. Current backup is Nick Mullens.
Short-term confidence: MEDIUM-LOW, because Beathard played pretty well in his first three starts prior to Sunday's all-around clunker against Aaron Donald and the Rams. He doesn't offer Garoppolo's upside, which means Kyle Shanahan can't implement his offense fully at the moment, but Beathard is smart and capable and can at least give them a chance some weeks.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM-HIGH. The Niners are all-in on Garoppolo, who signed a long-term contract extension in the offseason and is expected to be ready in time to start the 2019 season. It's just a matter of waiting it out at this point.
26. Oakland Raiders
Jon Gruden's arrival was supposed to be great for Derek Carr. It has not been. Everything is a mess in Oakland, including a quarterback who was an MVP candidate two years ago and now languishes near the bottom of the QBR ratings.
Short-term confidence: MEDIUM-LOW. There is at least some track record of competent performance with Carr, even if 2018 hasn't shown much of it yet. The group around him isn't helping. The backup is unproven AJ McCarron.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM. Carr is only 27, and Gruden believes in him. He has to try to put a team around him that can contend (and sell tickets!) in Las Vegas in 2020.
27. Denver Broncos
They signed Case Keenum to a two-year, $36 million contract and guaranteed $25 million of it, including $7 million of next year's salary. The backup is unproven but intriguing Chad Kelly, and Kevin Hogan is there as well.
Short-term confidence: LOW. There was a lot of talk in the offseason about how Keenum would stabilize the QB position in Denver, but he hasn't. He has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns so far, and there are murmurs about Kelly maybe getting a look.
Long-term confidence: LOW. Keenum was a great story last year, but there's a reason he's on his fourth team in five years, and it's entirely possible the Broncos move on after this year if he doesn't rebound. Problem is ... move on to what?
Rookie Josh Rosen has taken over for free-agent signing Sam Bradford in what looks to be a lost season for Arizona. The game-day backup is Mike Glennon, as Bradford has been inactive since losing the starter's job.
Short-term confidence: LOW. Rosen is a work in progress and doesn't have much to work with. There's some hope that the change from Mike McCoy to Byron Leftwich at offensive coordinator will spark something, but any hope here is for the long term.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM. The Cardinals thought enough of Rosen to trade up for him in the first round of the draft, and there's no reason to think their opinion has changed. Not enough data here to draw any real conclusions yet.
29. Buffalo Bills
With first-round rookie Josh Allen sidelined because of injury, the current starter in Buffalo is Derek Anderson, who has a career completion percentage of 54.3 to go with 60 touchdown passes and 63 interceptions in 77 career games (48 starts). His backup, while Allen is hurt, is Nathan Peterman, who has 35 completions and nine interceptions in 79 career pass attempts.
Short-term confidence: LOW. With a patchwork offensive line and an even patchworkier receiving corps, there's not much anyone can do here. They're marking time until Allen is back and can continue his development.
Long-term confidence: MEDIUM. The Bills liked Allen enough to take him No. 7 overall, and they believe he's their future. He just hasn't shown enough yet to warrant the optimism of a Darnold or a Mayfield.
30. New York Giants
Flash forward to the year 2035. On a stage in the coastal town of Canton, Ohio, Saquon Barkley is gleefully slipping on a gold jacket at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony -- the capstone to a brilliant career that had everything but a Super Bowl appearance. And it'll still be true that the Giants should have taken a quarterback in the 2018 draft.
Short-term confidence: LOW. Eli Manning's Thursday night performance against the Eagles two weeks ago did nothing to quell the chatter that the two-time Super Bowl MVP might be done. The current backup is Alex Tanney.
Long-term confidence: LOW. Having picked Barkley No. 2 overall in a draft that had four top-10 quarterbacks, the Giants have no current succession plan for Manning. And they're a long way from knowing anything about fourth-round rookie Kyle Lauletta.
31. Miami Dolphins
Brocktoberfest! Brock the Casbah! I love Brock 'n' Roll, put another dime in the JukeBrocks, baby! The Dolphins are rolling out Brock Osweiler right now while Ryan Tannehill works his way through yet another injury, this time to his shoulder. Tannehill is 30 years old, can't stay healthy, and the Dolphins can save about $13 million on next year's cap if they cut him after this season.
Short-term confidence: LOW. Osweiler's Dolphins debut against the Bears in Week 6 was an eye-opener, but this is a movie we've seen before. Counting on consistency from Brock is like using the lottery as your retirement plan.
Long-term confidence: LOW. Having not drafted a quarterback in a quarterback-heavy first round this year, the Dolphins left themselves without a plan for a post-Tannehill future that could start pretty soon.
No one's QB situation had a worse week. The reeling Jags benched starter Blake Bortles for Cody Kessler in the third quarter of Sunday's loss and didn't feel like talking about who'll start next week.
Short-term confidence: LOW. They didn't trust Bortles to finish the third quarter Sunday. Doesn't get a lot lower than that.
Long-term confidence: LOW. If we're going to bang on the Giants for going all-in on Eli Manning last offseason, we should save some criticism for the Jaguars, who had more to lose and (1) extended Bortles and (2) didn't draft a quarterback. Cousins would have taken their call, and Lamar Jackson was there when they were drafting in the first round. Now, they don't know what they're going to do at quarterback next year, next month or next week.