Throughout the years, the AFC North has come to be known for its hard-nosed brand of football. But it may surprise some to know the division also boasts some of the best overall quarterback play in the entire NFL.
Stability has been the hallmark of the position, at least for three of the four teams in the division. The Bengals, Ravens and Steelers feature some of the better and more durable quarterbacks in the league, while Cleveland continues to search for that elusive game-changer.
1. Ben Roethlisberger
The Steelers quarterback heads the list of AFC North division quarterbacks. Roethlisberger, who was drafted by the Steelers in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft, was thrust into the starting role in the third game of the season and has been the Pittsburgh signal-caller ever since.
Big Ben has completed a full 16-game season only three times in his illustrious 13-year career, but has played in at least 12 games every year.
Roethlisberger earned the Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2004 and made Pro Bowl for the first time in 2007. He became the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl when he led the Steelers to a 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL in only his second professional season.
Three years later, Big Ben would lead the Steelers to yet another Super Bowl title as they defeated the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII by a score of 27-23. In the game, Roethlisberger completed a touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left to provide the winning margin.
Roethlisberger helped carry the Steelers back to a third Super Bowl just two years later, but the team would fall by a score of 31-25 to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV. All told, Roethlisberger has led the Steelers to the playoffs in nine of his 13 years, including three times as division champions.
Roethlisberger has been selected to the Pro Bowl on five different occasions and has earned one All-Pro honor. He is considered a lock to end up in the Hall of Fame as one of the most efficient passers in NFL history. He currently ranks 9th all-time with a passer rating of 94.1, and his 301 career touchdown passes is ninth in NFL history. Big Ben stands 12th in passing yards per game with 253 and in completion percentage at 64.1. His yards-per-pass-attempt average of 7.9 is currently sixth in NFL history.
2. Andy Dalton
Hot on Roethlisberger’s heals, Dalton has been the Bengals’ field general since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He has proven to be the most durable of the division’s quarterbacks, having played a full 16-game season every year except 2015, when he injured his thumb against the Steelers early in the 13th game of the year and missed the remainder of the season.
Considering the lack of respect afforded to Dalton around the league, it might be surprising to note the Red Rifle’s career completion percentage of 62.7 currently puts him 17th on the all-time list, ahead of such Hall of Famers as Brett Favre, Troy Aikman, Jim Kelly, Ken Stabler and Dan Marino.
Dalton’s yards-per-pass-attempt average of 7.3 is better than John Elway, Favre and Aikman. He currently stands 18th in the NFL’s career passing yards per game at 238.9 and his passer rating of 89.1 is tied for 15th best. And he has accomplished all of this in only six seasons. Given another six seasons at his current pace, we can expect Dalton to jump even higher up the list of all-time greats.
Roethlisberger and Dalton’s touchdown to interception ratio is surprisingly close. During his career, Dalton has thrown for an average of 23.67 touchdowns per season with 13.5 interceptions. Roethlisberger, on the other hand, has thrown an average of 23.15 touchdowns per season as opposed to 12.3 interceptions.
Looking at just the first six years of Roethlisberger’s career, most of the results actually skew in Dalton’s favor. Through those first six years, Roethlisberger averaged 21 touchdowns and 13.5 interceptions per season. And, at that point in his career, Big Ben had a career passing yards per game of 220.9 and a passer rating of 92.8.
Dalton has been selected to the Pro Bowl on three different occasions and led his team to the playoffs in four of his sixth seasons in the league. In 2015, Dalton had the Bengals sitting on the verge of the playoffs with a record of 10-2 when he was injured. Unfortunately, Dalton has yet to lead the Bengals to a playoff victory.
And his playoff statistics speak for themselves. In four career playoff games, Dalton has completed only 55.7 percent of his passes with a yards-per-attempt average of only 5.6. He has recorded only one touchdown in that time with six interceptions, and has compiled an average quarterback rating of 57.8.
3. Joe Flacco
Flacco was a first-round selection of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2008 NFL Draft. Injuries to the incumbents made Flacco the starting quarterback in the opening game of his rookie season, and he has remained the starter as long as his health allowed.
Like Dalton, Flacco completed a full 16-game season for the Ravens in every season but 2015, when he suffered a knee injury in the last series of the 10th game of the year and missed the remainder of the season. Flacco is already dealing with injuries again this season and his status for the regular-season opener against the Bengals is in question.
Flacco is considered by some to be among the best quarterbacks drafted in the past decade, primarily due to his post-season success. Flacco has led the Ravens to the playoffs in six of his nine years in the league and has recorded at least one playoff victory every time. Flacco led the Ravens to a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII and was named Super Bowl MVP.
His career regular-season stats do not compare to either Roethlisberger or Dalton. Flacco has a career completion percentage of 61.5 and a yards-per-pass-attempt average of 6.9. He has averaged 236.5 yards per game and has thrown for 20 touchdowns per season as against 13 interceptions. Flacco boasts a career quarterback rating of 84.5. Flacco was invited to his first Pro Bowl after the 2015 season.
4. Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer
Unfortunately for those die-hard Browns fans, the quarterback situation in Cleveland has been anything but stable. From 1999 through the end of last season, the Browns started 26 different players at quarterback. The only quarterback to start all 16 games in a season during that stretch was Tim Couch, the team's first overall selection in 1999 NFL Draft, who did so in 2001. The Browns have started more than one quarterback for 15 consecutive seasons. Who will it be starting for the Browns in 2017? Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer, someone else? We’ll really have to wait and see, but it’s clear the Browns are at the bottom of the AFC North when it comes to quarterback play.