Out of 32 NFL teams, one could argue that 15 will or might change quarterbacks in 2018.

Of those 15, 11 have been eliminated from the playoffs or sit outside the top six in their conference heading into Week 16.

That leaves four teams — Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Jacksonville and the Vikings — heading toward the playoffs while vying for the league’s most intriguing situation at quarterback.

Now let’s whittle those four down to one.

First up, Pittsburgh. The Steelers make the list because Ben Roethlisberger has a little Brett Favre in him when it comes to seeking attention via offseason retirement bluffs.

But he’s only 35. He’s a superstar at a time when fellow superstars Tom Brady (40) and Drew Brees (38) aren’t slowing down.

Not falling for your bluff, Ben. So Pittsburgh is out.

Next up, Jacksonville.

Heads were scratched in May when the Jaguars picked up the fifth-year option on Blake Bortles. Now, the Jags are 10-4 and on the verge of going from worst to first while winning a division title for the first time since 1999.

Yes, the Jags are a run-oriented team with a dominant defense. Yes, there might be greener pastures on the other side of the fence upon which Blake stands. But Bortles is no longer some punchline. I think Jacksonville embraces its first evidence of a heartbeat in 10 years and shows its former first-rounder the money ($19 million).

So Jacksonville is out.

Next up, Kansas City.

The Chiefs already had Alex Smith, a 12-4 record and a division title when they shipped their 2018 first-round pick to Buffalo to move up 17 spots and select Patrick Mahomes II 10th overall.

Normally, a move this drastic foreshadows an imminent rush job into the starting lineup for a quarterback who isn’t ready. But the Chiefs don’t work that way.

Smith started the season and was the best quarterback in the league when Kansas City was 5-0. Then KC went 1-6 but stood firmly behind Smith. Now, the Chiefs are 8-6 and on the verge of winning back-to-back division titles for the first time in a franchise history that goes back to 1960.

Smith is signed through 2018. He leads the league in passer rating (105.4), has 25 touchdowns and only five interceptions.

The Chiefs are in a great spot. They can stick with Smith and keep grooming Mahomes the way the Packers did with Aaron Rodgers. Or they can trade Smith and turn to a well-prepared top-10 pick.

This situation is too safe. Too boring. The Chiefs are out.

Next up, the Vikings.

They are NFC North champs and the best team in the NFC now that Philadelphia is without Carson Wentz.

But the only quarterback they have signed beyond February is undrafted rookie Kyle Sloter. Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford all can walk away unless one of them is franchised.

It’s no surprise that some Vikings fans demand to know RIGHT NOW how all of this is going to unfold. But there are way too many variables left to be played out.

If Keenum leads the Vikings to a 13-3 record, lights it up in the playoffs and wins the doggone Super Bowl, you smile and pay him accordingly or franchise him. You move his tassel from journeyman to franchise quarterback on a young, solidly built championship team and go for two in a row.

On the other side of the spectrum of possibilities, what if Keenum melts down, throws five picks and the Vikings get upset in their playoff opener? That certainly creates the possibility that Case reverts to being a 29-year-old pumpkin bound for a fourth team in five years.

In that scenario, does Bridgewater’s value increase? Does he even have the potential he once had? Does Bradford and that untrustworthy knee re-enter the picture, maybe at a discounted rate?

Or, as a Vikings fan would ask, “WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN!?”

Honestly, I don’t think anyone, including the Vikings, knows how this is going to play out. And that’s what makes this the most intriguing situation in the league.

 

Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL

E-mail: mcraig@startribune.com