Top first-time Super Bowl QB contenders

BY Alex Marvez • August 31, 2011

Six quarterbacks will enter the 2011 season with Super Bowl rings they earned as starters.

That leaves 26 others vying for the same prize.

It won’t be easy. All six of the previous Super Bowl winners — Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay), Drew Brees (New Orleans), Tom Brady (New England), Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh), Peyton Manning (Indianapolis) and Eli Manning (New York Giants) — play for teams that are considered bona fide title contenders once again.

There are only 23 other Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in NFL history. Eleven are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with Brett Favre a surefire first-ballot selection when he becomes eligible in 2016 (provided he doesn’t come out of retirement again).

The starters in Super Bowl XXXIV — St. Louis’ Kurt Warner and Tennessee’s Steve McNair — will also soon become eligible for the Hall. The fact Warner won a Lombardi Trophy and McNair didn’t might be a deciding factor among the Hall’s 44 voters.

A look at the eight starters who will enter the season with the best credentials to join the elite class of championship quarterbacks:

Philip Rivers

Team: San Diego.

Experience: Eighth season.

Starting record: 55-25 in regular season, 3-4 in playoffs.

Career honors: Three Pro Bowl selections, 2010 NFL passing leader (4,710 yards).

Closest he’s come to winning a Super Bowl: 2007 AFC championship game loss at New England.

Summary: Rivers is widely considered the NFL’s best quarterback who hasn’t won a Super Bowl. He will receive a boost toward achieving that goal with the return of his top two receiving targets (Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates) after truncated 2010 seasons.

Michael Vick

Team: Philadelphia.

Experience: Ninth season.

Starting record: 46-31-1, 2-3.

Career honors: Four Pro Bowl appearances, NFL record holder for most 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback (11).

Closest he’s come to the Super Bowl: 2004 NFC championship game loss at Philadelphia while quarterbacking for Atlanta.

Summary: Having put his dog-fighting past behind him, Vick became the 2010 NFL Comeback Player of Year and earned a massive contract extension. The only thing that could make his resurgence even more remarkable is a Super Bowl win.

Matt Ryan

Team: Atlanta.

Experience: Fourth season.

Starting record: 33-13, 0-2.

Career honors: One Pro Bowl appearance, 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Closest he’s come to the Super Bowl: 2010 second-round playoff loss against Green Bay.

Summary: Ryan is determined to atone for his poor performance during that Packers rout. Doing so should become easier now that rookie wide receiver Julio Jones has joined Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez as go-to targets in the passing game.

Mark Sanchez

Team: New York Jets.

Experience: Third season.

Starting record: 19-12, 4-2.

Career honors: He and Roethlisberger are the only two quarterbacks in NFL history to lead their respective teams to conference championship games in their first two seasons.

Closest he’s come to the Super Bowl: Conference championship game losses to Indianapolis and Pittsburgh the past two seasons.

Summary: Jets coaches and players are raving about the leadership strides the 24-year-old made this offseason. With a stout defense, a more consistent passing attack could be the missing element that gets New York over the hump and into the Super Bowl for the first time since 1969.

Jay Cutler

Team: Chicago.

Experience: Sixth season.

Starting record: 34-34, 1-1.

Career honors: One Pro Bowl; holds Denver’s career single-season passing record (4,526 yards in 2008).

Closest he’s come to the Super Bowl: 2010 NFC championship game loss against Green Bay.

Summary: A knee injury prevented Cutler from playing in the second half of that aforementioned NFC title game. Entering a second season in Mike Martz’s high-powered offense, Cutler has a legitimate opportunity to lead Chicago deep into the playoffs again, provided he receives decent protection from a suspect offensive line.

Joe Flacco

Team: Baltimore.

Experience: Fourth season.

Starting record: 32-16, 4-3.

Career honors: Most starts in first three seasons of an NFL career (55) by any quarterback in league history.

Closest he’s come to the Super Bowl: 2008 AFC championship game loss at Pittsburgh.

Summary: Baltimore’s reluctance to give Flacco a lucrative contract extension this offseason has put a sizable chip on his shoulder. Snapping an 0-5 career record in starts against Pittsburgh’s Roethlisberger is a must for Flacco to take the next step toward gaining recognition as a truly special quarterback.

Matt Schaub

Team: Houston.

Experience: Eighth season.

Starting record: 25-31, 0-0.

Career honors: One Pro Bowl selection.

Closest he’s come to the Super Bowl: No playoff appearances as a starter. Backup on 2004 Atlanta Falcons squad that lost in NFC championship game.

Summary: Schaub’s passing statistics since being traded from Atlanta to the Texans in 2007 are ridiculously good. But if the Texans don’t at least reach the playoffs for the first time this season, Schaub will likely be playing for a new head coach in 2012.

Tony Romo

Team: Dallas.

Experience: Ninth season.

Starting record: 39-22, 1-3.

Career honors: Three Pro Bowl selections; holds Cowboys' single-season records for passing yards (4,211), touchdowns (36) and completions (335).

Closest he’s come to the Super Bowl: 2009 second-round playoff loss at Minnesota.

Summary: Although he’s closing in on a decade of NFL experience, Romo has played the equivalent of only four full seasons as a starter. Even so, time is running out for the 31-year-old to prove he can become Dallas’ first Super Bowl-winning quarterback since Troy Aikman in the mid-1990s.

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