Defense wins championships and cold-weather football usually rewards teams with strong running games, but there's also another undeniable and time-honored fact of football that continues to be supported by the standings: The best teams have the best quarterbacks. Take a look at the teams at the top: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New England, Indianapolis and San Diego are getting phenomenal performances from their quarterbacks, none of whom has missed significant time due to injury, either.
Atlanta has Michael Vick back under center, Jets QB Chad Pennington's passer rating is still over 90 despite a shoulder injury, and the Packers can still count on Brett Favre.
Now look at the bottom teams: San Francisco, Miami, Cleveland, Arizona, Oakland, Washington, Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, Dallas and the Giants. What do they all have in common? Uncertainty at quarterback.
The Jaguars would be in that situation today had they not boldly addressed their quarterback position in the 2003 draft. A new era of administration knew it needed a centerpiece player around whom it could build the foundation of the team's future, and that player almost always is a quarterback.
It is the position that defines your team. It always has and it still does. There are exceptions, of course, but not many. Trent Green is the fourth-rated passer in the AFC and the Chiefs are a lowly 5-8, but that is easily explained: You at least have to make your opponents punt once a game.
The AFC's other top-rated passers are Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady, and their teams are a combined 42-8. Byron Leftwich is just above the middle of the passer ratings, which is just about where the Jaguars are in the standings.
Comparisons don't stop at team-to-team. How about conference to conference?
The AFC holds a 35-19 advantage in games against the NFC this season. That's an amazing domination. What happened? Just a fluke?
No fluke, folks. Just look at the quarterback comparisons. It would seem most of the good ones are in the AFC.
The AFC has veteran stars such as Manning, Brady and Green, but what really tilts the scales for the AFC is the preponderance of young quarterbacks in the conference: Brees, Roethlisberger, Pennington, Leftwich, David Carr and Carson Palmer have either become stars or are on their way to becoming stars.
In the NFC, Favre, Vick, Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper are top-enders, but where are the emerging new names? Marc Bulger? Maybe. Jake Delhomme? In a moderate sort of way.
What the NFC is loaded with are re-tread quarterbacks such as Vinny Testaverde, Brian Griese, Kurt Warner and Mark Brunell, and that's why the conference has fallen on hard times.
You are what your quarterbacks are. Even though St. Louis, Baltimore and New England proved in recent years that you can win the Super Bowl without spending the first pick of the draft on a quarterback, there's no denying that you can't win the Super Bowl if your quarterback isn't playing well. He's still "The Man."
How will history record the 2004 Jaguars? Probably the same way it will record Leftwich's performance.
Leftwich is a better quarterback this year than he was as a rookie, and the Jaguars are better, too. Next year, expectations for both will increase. It's that way for young quarterbacks and the teams on which they play.