Quarterbacks are judged by Super Bowl wins.
Want to discuss Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning? What about Eli versus older brother? Is Joe Flacco elite? What about Ben Roethlisberger? Where does Aaron Rodgers rank compared with Brett Favre?
Start counting rings.
It is simplistic. It's stupid. It is inevitable.
For years, if a top quarterback won a championship at some point in his career, he was considered validated. It's wasn't a bad standard, though it serves to short change the incredible Fran Tarkenton. For the most part, however, it made a modicum of sense. Steve Young's fantastic career would have felt incomplete if he had retired with that monkey still clinging to him.
Now, however, goofy analysts and shallow-minded fans simply hold up a finger or two to show which quarterback they think is better when arguing at the bar down the street.
This article won't attempt to disabuse anyone of their favorite pub-stool trump card, no matter ridiculous it may be. Instead, let's take a sober look at just how much one more ring would mean to the league's top quarterbacks.
Manning is the greatest quarterback of his generation, and perhaps the best ever. The only knock against him is based on his playoff record. He has suffered through five blown fourth-quarter leads by his defenses (an NFL record for playoff games), including one in the Super Bowl.
Having recently passed Tom Brady in career passer rating, the only thing he has left to do is win another couple of championships. As he stands now, he's been to two Super Bowls and won one. If he wins a second, the only men with more will be Joe Montana, Brady, Troy Aikman and Terry Bradshaw. Even without a win, no one in their right mind would elevate Bradhshaw or Aikman over Manning, so the race for the greatest of all time would narrow to Montana, Brady, Manning and Johnny Unitas (who played most of his career before the Super Bowl era).
There's no question that no player on this list stands more to gain historically than Manning. Most analysts will concede Manning is the best quarterback they've ever seen, but the failures of his teammates down the stretch have left the door open for criticism.
For Manning, the second ring quiets all doubters.
Brady has had two entirely different careers mashed into one unbroken run of dominance.
Early on, he was hoisting more Lombardis than the '67 Packers. Of course, the knock was that he was just a system quarterback who rode the coattails of his coach and defense to titles.
Then he showed the world that he's a dominant passer and set new records for efficiency and production. Of course, in the process he lost two Super Bowls causing everyone to question whether he had lost his edge.
There is no question that Tom Brady from 2007-2013 is a vastly superior player in every way to the Brady who won championships in 2001, 2003 and 2004. Of course, that's what makes the 'rings' argument so asinine.
Still, for Tom Terrific, a fourth ring (and sixth Super Bowl appearance) would tie him with Montana and Bradshaw and give him a legitimate claim to the title of best quarterback of all time. He has the stats. He would have the hardware.
The advanced metric community already embraces him as among the best ever. The ring lovers of America can't wait to anoint him.
All he needs to do is slip one more on his finger.
There was a small window of time when a narrative formed that Roethlsiberger was preternaturally clutch. The Steelers were marching toward their third Super Bowl despite generally terrible quarterback play.
Because the simple minded couldn't accept that there might be other reasons for the victories, they crafted a story to explain away Roethlisberger's generally uneven play in the 2010 playoffs, saying that his "clutchness" was the reason the Steelers were nearly champions.
That worked right up until it didn't. Pittsburgh lost the Super Bowl as Big Ben failed on the final drive.
Roethlisberger has started to break down physically thanks to a decade of beatings. He's already a likely Hall of Famer, and probably underrated overall. A third ring would certainly go a long way toward establishing as one of the 10 best of all time.
It's not crazy. He's only three to four years away from breaking into the top 10 in most significant counting stats. Another fantastic year and a ring, and he'll make every list of the greatest of all time when he retires.
Eli will always be compared to Peyton.
Let's accept that now.
As things stand, the only reason there's a discussion about the two is that Eli has two rings. The best season of his career would rank as his older brother's ninth best year. So in terms of quality play, there's really nothing to compare.
You could take the worst nine seasons of Peyton's pro resume, and they would still dwarf Eli. Keep in mind, Peyton's ninth-worst season was 2003 when he was NFL MVP. In his seventh-worst season, he was also MVP.
They will always be compared, but there is no comparison.
If Eli won that third ring, however, he'd climb into Aikmanville. Already a legend for what he's done in New York, the fight between ring believers and the sane would reach a fever pitch.
Eli and Peyton would become Ground Zero for the most divisive debate in NFL history.
Brees is often the forgotten man in the 'best quarterback playing today' discussion. Part of the reason is because people discount much of his production due to Sean Payton's prolific passing structure.
The knock on Brees has always been that he puts up big, but empty yards. Despite an amazing career, his teams have only made the playoffs five times. He's never led his team to victory in a road game in the playoffs.
He's great, but popular perception sees him as a cut below Brady and Peyton Manning.
Another ring would change that perception. He's had some fantastic games in defeat in the postseason. He's lost three games with a passer rating over 90 in the playoffs. Only Peyton and Warren Moon have more.
It's not his fault he doesn't have more hardware on his hands, but the same could be said of many players.
Another ring would add some weight to the big yardage totals on his spreadsheet.
Rodgers is poised to have a unique career. Because he spent so many years as a backup, the league's all-time leader in passer rating has a career that is all peak.
A second Super Bowl pushes him above Favre and into Bart Starr territory in Green Bay.
He's younger than the other players on this list, so there's still time for his career to form, but most have him as the best of the new generation of quarterbacks, and he has the chance to dominate the game for another decade.
Before he walks away, he'll be remembered as the greatest quarterback in franchise history, but only if he dons some more jewelry.
Flacco owns the most unlikely spot on this list. He's been an average quarterback most of his career and, save a really hot month of January, is wholly outclassed by the other men already mentioned.
The perception of Flacco is that he's a just a guy who happened to peak at the right time. He's 2008 Eli Manning, without the famous father.
Whereas some of these players are vying for spots on Top-10 All Time lists, Flacco isn't even one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the league right now.
Another victory on the biggest stage, however, and Flacco could become the next Eli Manning. Of course, it'd be great if he ever managed to have a Pro Bowl season along the way too.
For now, he's the outlier. He's the average player looking for validation as one of the greats.