INDIANAPOLIS - DECEMBER 06: Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass during the NFL game against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 6, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger - left, Dennis Dixon - right)
Ben Roethlisberger (susp), Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon, Charlie Batch Yes, Big Ben humiliated the franchise, but on the field he's still a Top 5 passer and two-time Super Bowl champion. While he's out on suspension at the start of this season, Pittsburgh has capable veterans Leftwich and Batch to choose from (combined 99 starts), plus Dixon gives Mike Tomlin a "Slash" type of changeup if needed.
Minnesota Vikings (Brett Favre)
Brett Favre, Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels, R.J. Archer For the purposes of these rankings, since No. 4 has not retired yet (and then un-retired, of course), assume Favre returns. And if so, the Vikes are set behind center. One year after leading the NFL with 22 INTs, Favre had his best season ever completing over 68% of his throws for 4,202 yards, 33 TDs and only 7 picks. Ignoring his season-crushing pick at the end of regulation of the NFC title game, Favre's still got it. Minus Favre, Jackson and Rosenfels provide adequate, if not elite depth.
Dallas Cowboys (Tony Romo)
Tony Romo, Jon Kitna, Stephen McGee The perfect pass package would include a star on the rise entering his prime at QB1, a seasoned backup sporting plenty of sage advice who can salvage a season if injury strikes, and a kid full of promise at third string to polish for the future. Your perfect example: The Dallas Cowboys, with Romo ready to make a Super Bowl run, Kitna (13-year vet with 115 career starts) relishing his backup role as Romo's confidante and McGee -- the former local college star from Texas A&M.
San Diego Chargers (Philip Rivers)
Philip Rivers, Billy Volek, Jonathan Crompton Rivers gives the Chargers plenty of electricity at the starter spot, and in his prime now has passed for over 8,200 yards and 62 TDs with just 20 INTs over the past two seasons. Still until Rivers can get his Chargers into a Super Bowl, he will lead the "not great enough" cluster of NFL passers. Rivers' backup Volek has plenty of experience and ability when called upon, while Crompton is Norv Turner's new long-term development project.
New England Patriots (Tom Brady)
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Zach Robinson Tom Brady is, of course, Tom Freaking Brady (aka "The Man"). But behind Mr. Everything is a gaping hole of zilch. Now, we once said the same thing two years ago when Brady got KO'ed in the 2008 season opener and the Patriots plugged in a dude who hadn't started since high school. Then Matt Cassel went 11-5, throwing for over 4,000 yards. So I'll give Bill Belichick and his system a slight benefit of the doubt, but could Hoyer and Robinson pull that trick?
Indianapolis Colts (Peyton Manning)
Peyton Manning, Curtis Painter, Tom Brandstater, Drew Willy Every year, the Colts are the toughest grade in these rankings. They have the game's top passer in Manning, not only the probable future all-time passing leader, but someone who has never missed a start in 12 NFL seasons. Ever. But with each snap, the Colts' QB sitch is a ticking time bomb as one wrong move and good-bye season. At least for the past few years, the Colts could say that then-backup Jim Sorgi knew the offense despite no meaningful PT. But Indy finally cut him this winter, and now employs three rookies. Can you see any one of them trying a Peyton pre-snap gyration?
New Orleans Saints (Drew Brees)
Drew Brees, Chase Daniel, Sean Canfield When people say that the Saints' hopes for a Super Bowl repeat rest on the right arm of Drew Brees, they aren't stretching the truth. Behind Brees, the four-time 4,000-yard passer, are two college stars with zero snaps in the big leagues. Daniel, spent his rookie year buried on the Redskins depth chart, and Canfield was a seventh-round pick this April. So it's not like coach Sean Payton at least has a guy he has groomed for a few years holding the clipboard. Yikes.
Baltimore Ravens (Joe Flacco)
Joe Flacco, Troy Smith, John Beck Flacco-mania could arrive in 2010 around Baltimore, as the Boy Wonder finally has a big-time threat at WR in Anquan Boldin – who is as tough on offense as Ray Lewis is on D. This should help Flacco in a big way, but beware making too much of one wideout. Still, Joe QB upped his yards (2,971 to 3,613) and TDs (12 to 21) from his freshman year to his soph season. Behind Flacco are two college stars who haven't seen much of the field in the NFL in Smith and Beck.
Green Bay Packers (Aaron Rodgers - left, Matt Flynn - center, Graham Harrell - right)
Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, Noah Shephard, Graham Harrell Even if he isn't dating sideline princess Erin Andrews, Aaron Rodgers has it all right now in Green Bay. And he's just getting warmed up after his first Pro Bowl season (4,434 yards, 30 TD, 7 INT). The Packers are the rare team to enjoy back-to-back stellar QBs. But they had better hire extra security for Mr. Rodgers, because behind him is a whole lotta nothin'. The Flynn-Shepherd-Harrell trio combine for 17 career passes (all by Flynn during mostly garbage time). One false move, and the Packers are swiss cheese.
Miami Dolphins (Chad Henne)
Chad Henne, Tyler Thigpen, Chad Pennington, Pat White (WR/RB) More than most, the Dolphins are among the deepest in the league at QB. Chad Henne enters his first full year as starter, and at first glance his '09 numbers aren't impressive (12 TDs, 14 INTs, 10 picks in his last six games). But Henne did complete almost 67% of his passes in the final month, and defense is really what let Miami down in the stretch run. There is reason for hope, and with experienced backups Thigpen and Pennington, the Fish have plenty of insurance.
New York Giants (Eli Manning)
Eli Manning, Jim Sorgi, Rhett Bomar Eli Manning may not have the wacky fantasy numbers or the most manly body language on the field, but he's got a Super Bowl ring and is quietly coming off his best passing year ever (27 TD, 14 INT, 4,021 yards). But behind him is a big pile of "uh oh." Jim Sorgi goes from one Manning brother to another after spending several years in Indy backing up Eli's big brother. But between he and rookie Rhett Bomar, Big Blue would be a giant mess if Eli went down.
Atlanta Falcons (Matt Ryan)
Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, John Parker Wilson By most accounts, Matt Ryan appears poised for a statistical leap in year three to be among the top QBs in the NFL. While that remains to be seen, he is a young, franchise QB who can get the Falcons to the playoffs right now – with potential for much more. If Ryan went down, Redman has manned the controls in Atlanta before and is serviceable, but would not win one game in the postseason if necessary.
Houston Texans (Matt Schaub)
Matt Schaub, Dan Orlovsky, John David Booty The Texans finally got a full year out of Schaub, and a big-time, big-league QB blossomed. Schaub fulfilled Houston's hopes by leading the Texans to their first winning season amidst Pro Bowl honors. Now can he do it again, and advance past Week 17? If/when Schaub does get hurt, the Texans have an adequate backup in Orlovsky, who is not Super Bowl material, but can steal a game or two if necessary. Booty is the youngin' at No. 3, a college star who shouldn't be fazed if forced into action due to his collection of big-game experience at USC.
Washington Redskins (Donovan McNabb)
Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, Richard Bartel, Colt Brennan (inj) Props to the Redskins for making an offer that Philly coach Andy Reid couldn't refuse to get a big-time quarterback in town to instill some real juice into this franchise. McNabb may be the most underappreciated top-tier QB (maybe not a Manning, Brees or Brady, but he's right below them) and he won't admit it, so I will: He desperately needed (and privately wanted, in my opinion) to escape from Philly. His spirits are back, as are the 'Skins as a playoff contender. I'm not a big fan of Rex Grossman, but at least he's not the starter.
Cincinnati Bengals (Carson Palmer - right)
Carson Palmer, J.T. O'Sullivan, Jordan Palmer The Bengals have pretty solid QB depth, led by Carson Palmer -- who seems on the cusp of the cracking the elite group of passers. Until he wins a playoff game, however, he'll always be good, not great. Should Palmer get hurt, Cincy has an experienced backup in J.T. Sullivan (2-6 career record as starter). Plus, if one Palmer can't get it done, Carson's younger brother Jordan Palmer is the third-stringer. Better WRs may help the elder Palmer pop his playoff cherry.
Chicago Bears (Jay Cutler)
Jay Cutler, Caleb Hanie, Dan LaFevour Jay Cutler took a major hit in name and reputation last year, after his petulant falling out in Denver followed by Cutler throwing 26 interceptions in his Chicago debut. But with Mike Martz leading the Bears offense, Cutler will be slinging it often in 2010. Chicago needs a bounce-back year from their franchise starter, more so because the duo behind him have never started an NFL game. Though Kurt Warner once went from journeymen to MVP under Martz, too.
Philadelphia Eagles (Michael Vick - left, Kevin Kolb - right)
Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, Mike Kafka Andy Reid better be right about this Kolb guy. Because if the Eagles are wrong and young Kevin Kolb is a year or two away from competance as an NFL starting QB, the franchise is set back a few years and truly rebuilding. Most teams would cut off a limb to have a three-time Pro Bowler at backup QB, but most view Mike Vick more as wildcat gimmick rather than pure passer. Still, signs point to Kolb being ready enough to give Philly a strong enough duo.
Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst, Mike Reilly, J.P. Losman Late last season the Seahawks were trying to sneak into the playoff picture at 5-7 ... until their final four games, when they were outscored 123-37. Reality bites. In came Pete Carroll, and one of his first big decisions was to stick with veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck. Injuries and the lack of a run game have limited him to 21 starts in two seasons, but the guy has made three Pro Bowls in five seasons before that. The team dealt for backup Charlie Whitehurst, with some saying they overpaid the Chargers in the trade. We'll see if he's legit, or if OTA MVP J.P. Losman can sneak in to win the No. 2 job.
New York Jets (Mark Sanchez)
Mark Sanchez, Kellen Clemens, Erik Ainge, Kevin O'Connell Face it, Mark Sanchez has "it" -- the moxie, the mojo, the schutzpah = the charisma needed to not just survive the NYC fishbowl as QB, but to excel. He may have put up very rookie numbers in 2009 (12 TD, 20 INT, 2,444 yards), but he stepped up in the playoffs in leading the Jets one half from a Super Bowl. Expect improvement, but don't overvalue him just yet. Behind him, Kellen Clemens has played at least, albeit not well, and is nothing more than a potential .500 QB.
Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, Brady Quinn Let me run these numbers by you: 3,802 passing yards, 21 TD passes vs. just 12 INTs, 86.8 QB rating. Pro Bowler, right? But it's not enough for Kyle Orton to cement his job in Denver as the starter. All that got him was watching his team trading for Brady Quinn and drafting Tim Tebow in the first round (!!!). Truth is, beyond glossy names and solid numbers, right now all three of these guys have major questions and none scare opposing defenses -- at least in 2010.
Tennessee Titans (Vince Young)
Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Chris Simms, Rusty Smith Oh, Vince. That's my first though every time he opens his mouth, and if I feel that way, then head coach Jeff Fisher must surely be well-past Excedrin headache mode with VY's latest strip-club scuffle. Let's face it, the Fisher King only gave Young his starting gig back last year because owner Bud Adams forced him to pull the trigger. Luckily, that's also about when Fisher started getting RB Chris Johnson the ball more often -- leading to a Titans surge. I'm still not convinced that Young or Collins can carry a team to a Super Bowl. And Chris Simms is just a guy at this point.
Detroit Lions (Matthew Stafford)
Matthew Stafford, Shaun Hill, Drew Stanton At least the Lions have a direction (one not headed down the toilet) and a toddler charged with leading what fans hope is one of the NFL's greatest revivals ever. Stafford wasn't all that in his first season (13 TD, 20 INT), but who would be on an atrocious team? He showed tons of guts when tossing a game-winning TD against Cleveland after getting hurt and staying in the game. Behind him is the well-respected journeymen Hill, who was 10-6 as a part-time starter in San Fran over parts of three years. For an awful team, not a bad QB sitch to work around.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Josh Freeman - right, Josh Johnson - left)
Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Rudy Carpenter, Jevon Snead Cheesy line alert! There's plenty of (ahem) "joshing around" (wow, that's clever) in Tampa this season. But seriously folks (says the amateur non-comedian), the Bucs seem to have settled on 2009 first-round pick Josh Freeman as their guy for the future. Freeman even had his mates rally around him, and finished last season 3-6 as a starter ... which is impressive considering how poor the Bucs were in '09. Tampa still has a slight crush on Johnson, too. Though the rest of the league may not agree.
St. Louis Rams (Sam Bradford)
Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Keith Null, Thaddeus Lewis The Rams are starting from scratch at QB to kick off the decade with No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford. The kid will take plenty of lumps, but at least St. Louis has a clear road back to respectability. Steve Spagnuolo reached out to his old Eagles connections to lure A.J. Feeley to town as the "experienced backup" option, which isn't bad. Feeley has played well in spurts off the bench, including leading Philly to a 5-1 finish in 2003 filling in for Donovan McNabb.
Jacksonville Jaguars (David Garrard)
David Garrard, Luke McCown All 42 of you Jaguar fans cannot be pumped for this season, can you? Sure, maybe -- just maybe -- starter David Garrard can rally the franchise that's sinking into the Atlantic and regain his 2007 form. Behind him is Luke McCown, who owns a 1-6 career record as a starter. And at quarterback, the most crucial position in pro sports, that's it for the Jags. Good luck with that.
Oakland Raiders (Jason Campbell)
OAK: Jason Campbell, Bruce Gradkowski (inj), Kyle Boller, Charlie Frye Never has there been a team so thrilled with mere adequacy than the Raiders and their starting QB position. Jason Campbell, recently acquired from Washington, may not be a Pro Bowl stud, but he will give the Raiders a chance to compete every week -- something JaMarcus Russell could not promise. Behind Campbell are several career backups who have shown glimpses in the past that they could perform when called upon. It's much better than nothing.
Kansas City Chiefs (Matt Cassel)
Matt Cassel, Brodie Croyle, Tyler Palko What to make of Cassel? Is he the guy who gave Chiefs fans instant hope in his debut season in K.C., starting with 12 TD passes against 6 picks through Week 10? Or is he really the guy who crashed hard down the stretch, with 4 TDs vs. 10 INTs in the Chiefs' final six games? We shall see, though team brass expects the former in 2010. They'd better be right, as there's not much hope behind Cassel -- Croyle (K.C.'s ex-"QB of the future") and Palko.
San Francisco 49ers (Alex Smith, David Carr)
Alex Smith, David Carr, Nate Davis, Jarrett Brown Alex Smith has finally arrived as an NFL quarterback. Granted, this just means he's an every-week starter, not necessarily a star. But that said, the Niners are buzzing this offseason about Smith's new take-charge attitude in minicamp workouts. With the division wide open, Smith has a chance to take a big step in 2010. Unfortunately for the Niners, behind their (thus far) average QB is a major washout in David Carr, with two kids battling for the No. 3 gig
Arizona Cardinals (Matt Leinart)
Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson, John Skelton When Kurt Warner called his career quits this winter, he effectively ended the 2010 season for the Cardinals. I actually believe Matt Leinart can win in the NFL and is not as poor an option that skeptics think. But this year, with either Leinart (7-10 as a starter, 14 TD, 20 INT) or Anderson (3 TD, 10 INT, 42.1 QB rating in 2009 with Browns), the Cards are an average football team.
Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Colt McCoy, Brett Ratliff Good news, Browns fans: At least you've heard of all four current Cleveland QBs. But there's plenty of bad news, at least in the year 2010. Maybe Jake Delhomme can rebound from his year of infamy in Carolina (8 TD, 18 INT in 2009). And hey, Seneca Wallace has experience and athleticism. Maybe Colt McCoy can be a Drew Brees clone. And the Jets liked Ratliff on their depth chart recently. But even for Dawg Pound optimists, these four combined still don't fill the cup half full.
Carolina Panthers (Jimmy Clausen)
Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen, Hunter Cantwell, Tony Pike Poor Matt Moore. You FINALLY get your shot to run the Panthers after years waiting for Jake Delhomme to implode, and you lead Carolina to a 7-2 record down the stretch in '09. Then the Panthers cut Delhomme, giving you clearance as "the guy" for the first time as a pro. But the Cats draft not one, but two QBs in hopes of finding the "next guy." That says it all about how much the Panthers believe in their probable starter for 2010.
Buffalo Bills (Ryan Fitzpatrick)
Trent Edwards (inj), Ryan Fitzpatrick (inj), Brian Brohm, Levi Brown Is there a franchise QB in the house? Some haven't given up on Trent Edwards, and that's probably the wise position with Edwards only 26. Yet the Bills themselves seemed to give up on him in 2009. Combined, the four quarterbacks in Buffalo are nothing special. Maybe next year they can land a franchise passer in the Top 5 of the draft (Jake Locker anyone?).