A good quarterback often makes the difference between winning and losing in the NFL. A good QB is the difference between making the playoffs and spending time with the family in the New Year. Given that the AFC North is a division in transition it seems like a good time to ask ourselves who is going to be the best QB in the AFC North this year.
With respect to the quarterbacks of the AFC North, two out of five candidates rule themselves of the running almost immediately.
Cleveland Browns QB Johnny Manziel is a rookie. Whilst he may be one of the most talked about players in the NFL, it is highly unlikely that he is going to be the best QB in the AFC North in his first season. Like any rookie Manziel is going to take time to learn his offense and adjust to the higher level of competition.
One thing we can say though is that Manziel is likely to be the Browns starter if not in week one than shortly after. This means that we can rule out nominal Browns #1 QB Brian Hoyer also.
This leaves us with Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger.
Andy Dalton is a decent starting NFL quarterback. He isn't in the same league as either Flacco or Roethlisberger however. Flacco and Roethlisberger have each won Superbowl rings, while Dalton has failed to win a single playoff game in three attempts.
Given Dalton's on going contract issues and the fact that the Bengals are likely to be a run first offense in 2014, it seems fair to exclude Dalton from the running.
The choice then is between Raven's QB Flacco and Steelers QB Roethlisberger. It's a close call but I would take Flacco over Roethlisberger.
Last season Roethlisberger threw a total of 4,261 yards, which was 349 yards more than Flacco's total. The big difference was in terms of interceptions and touchdowns throw. In those metrics Roethlisberger led Flacco 28-19 and 19-22 respectively.
So the Steelers QB undoubtedly had a better 2013 than the Raven's signal caller. However, there are good reason to think this won't be the case in the 2014 season.
To start with the Raven's offense is likely to be greatly improved in 2014. In some ways this is because, the Raven's offense could not get much worse. In 2013 the Raven's offense as the fourth worse in the NFL.
Going into the new season Ozzie Newcome has picked up veteran Steve Smith who is an excellent possession receiver and Dennis Pitta is now once again healthy. Having these targets should lead to better performances from Flacco. Furthermore, with Ray Rice's legal troubles, it is likely that Flacco will be given the the opportunity to make the most use of these weapons.
By contrast it is hard to see much progress in the Steelers offense. Salary cap restrictions kept them from doing much in free agency and then in the draft the focus was necessarily on defense. The only offensive weapon the Steelers added for Roethlisberger is round 4 draft pick wide receiver Martavis Bryant.
Bryant does have the physique of the big target receiver that Roethlisberger has long coveted since this retirement of Hines Ward, but it is hard to see a rookie wide receiver making a massive difference in his first season.
For all these reasons then Joe Flacco is going to be the best QB in the AFC North in 2014.