10 NFL Quarterbacks Who Face a Make-or-Break Season in 2012

Matt BowenAnalyst IIJune 16, 2012

10 NFL Quarterbacks Who Face a Make-or-Break Season in 2012

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    NFL quarterbacks face the most pressure of any athlete, and the clock is ticking for a number of signal-callers. The 2012 NFL season will undoubtedly be the most pivotal of their careers.

    With constant attention from classic media outlets and fans having an audible voice via social media, there's no escape from the ups and downs of being a starter in the NFL.

    Some of these guys have had success in the past but still have something to prove, while the others haven't quite lived up to their hype. Their futures now hang in the balance, and without success in the 2012 playoffs, these players will face endless scrutiny if they don't exceed expectations. 

    With their jobs and reputations on the line, these NFL quarterbacks face a make-or-break 2012. 

The Extra Point: Peyton Manning Has to Prove That He's His Old Self

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    There's no doubt that quarterback Peyton Manning is the real deal, but he must show the world that he still has what it takes to be a top-notch NFL quarterback.

    After missing the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, Manning now resides in Denver. Broncos GM John Elway believes that Manning can still put up massive numbers and signed the future Hall of Famer to a five-year, $96 million deal. 

    With plenty of worry and doubt surrounding Manning, he's out to justify his big-dollar deal and be the star quarterback of years past.

    Manning has looked impressive thus far this offseason, and while it's truly hard to discredit Manning, he has to once again prove that he's one of the best.

    Without a trip to the playoffs this season, the speculation that his career is nearing its end will consume the NFL headlines next offseason.

With an Improved Team, Josh Freeman Must Have a Monster 2012 Season

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    Fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to be restless when thinking about the upcoming season. 

    The team has a new head coach in Greg Schiano, reeled in some fantastic free agents and has a dynamite draft class. 

    Now, all the team has to do is win games, and the pressure is on fourth-year quarterback Josh Freeman. After a spectacular 2010 season with 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions, he took a step back in 2011 and threw 22 interceptions.

    The Bucs have new offensive weapons in wide receiver Vincent Jackson and rookie running back Doug Martin, which should improve Freeman's numbers this season. 

    Bucs fans shouldn't be too concerned when it comes to their young QB just yet. If he doesn't impress and the team stumbles out of the gates, the team may begin to think about their next franchise quarterback. 

Kevin Kolb Is on Trial as We Speak

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    Kevin Kolb's make-or-break time as the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals is now. 

    Brought in with a lucrative contract to be the franchise quarterback, Kolb's 2011 season was marred by injuries and mediocre play, opening the door for backup quarterback John Skelton to steal his job. 

    This offseason will be the time that Kolb either sinks or swims as an NFL starter.

    With mixed reports—most recently, getting being booed at Cardinals minicamp—it appears that Kolb has very few supporters these days. 

    He'll have to win the starting job outright when training camp begins in late July and prove his worth with a breakout 2012.

    If Kolb doesn't make it out of camp with the job, he'll forever be considered a backup QB.

Matt Cassel's Stature as the Chiefs Franchise Quarterback Could Diminish in 2012

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    Matt Cassel has a lot riding on his performance this season for the Kansas City Chiefs. 

    Cassel was named to the Pro Bowl and won 10 games in 2010 before 2011 was a season to be forgotten due to key injuries to the Chiefs, including the quarterback himself.

    2012 will be the most crucial year of Cassel's career, as he has to take his team to the playoffs. With a healthy squad, Cassel should be able to do just that. 

    Cassel has been inconsistent in his career as a starter, and poor play in 2012 could be the beginning of the end for him. 

    The Chiefs' success hangs on the arm of Cassel and he'll have to go for broke this season for a career year in KC.

Matt Flynn May Only Have One Shot in Seattle

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    Matt Flynn's free-agent status went from relatively insignificant to astronomical when he destroyed the Detroit Lions in Week 17 of 2011. 

    He suddenly became the most sought-after quarterback not named Peyton Manning on the market, and settled in Seattle for a cool $26 million over three years, with $10 million in guarantees.

    If it hadn't been for the likes of Matt Cassel and Kevin Kolb, who drove down the price of quarterbacks who have been "groomed" to become franchise quarterbacks, Flynn would have garnered an even more lucrative deal.

    Regardless, everyone expected Flynn to be the starter for the Seahawks in 2012 and beyond, but the job hasn't been handed to him yet. Seattle has the biggest quarterback battle in the league, with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and rookie Russell Wilson also vying for the spot.

    With the battle being a tie heading into training camp, Flynn's only chance to become a starting NFL quarterback may be to win the job outright heading into the season. 

Matt Ryan Has Been Nothing but Ice Cold in the Playoffs

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    Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has been the franchise quarterback they expected him to be when they drafted him third overall in 2008—until the playoffs come around. 

    In four years, he's 43-19 in the regular season, but 0-3 in the playoffs. Now 27 years old, Ryan is in the prime of his career, and that means he has to win when it counts.

    In his three career postseason games, Ryan has yet to throw for over 200 yards. The Falcons didn't even score on offense in their 2011 playoff game against the New York Giants.

    Another disappointing end to the Falcons' season will cause certain doom to Ryan's reputation.

    The Falcons are a good team, but won't be considered good for long if they keep losing in the playoffs. The 2012 season will be the biggest of Ryan's career. If he can't win in the playoffs, he'll be labeled a choke-artist. 

    The Falcons will then begin to truly wonder if Ryan is the answer. 

The Buffalo Bills Need Ryan Fitzpatrick to Become an Undisputed Star in 2012

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    After a hot start in 2011, the Buffalo Bills rewarded quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with a six-year, $59 million deal, and $24 million guaranteed.

    Unfortunately, the Bills finished 2011 with a 6-10 record.

    The Bills showed their NFL counterparts that they're to be taken seriously when they signed free agent defensive end Mario Williams and re-signed wide receiver Stevie Johnson and running back Fred Jackson this offseason.

    Now the weight of the world is on Fitzpatrick, as he has to become a star in 2012. 

    His 23 interceptions in 2011 led the NFL. Being a Harvard graduate, he's no dummy and has worked tirelessly this offseason to improve his game.

    If Fitzpatrick can produce desired results this year, he'll be praised around the NFL. If he can't, Bills fans will be shaking their heads. 

The Eagles Didn't Pay Michael Vick $100 Million to Lose

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    Michael Vick is one of the most exciting quarterbacks to ever play in the league, but it's time for him to reach the next level. 

    After signing a $100 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles last year, he's expected to win a couple of Super Bowls. Last season was a flub for the Eagles as a whole, and they desperately need to turn things around. Quick.

    In order to be a contender in 2012, Vick must throw for a career high in yardage, protect the football and be a key leader on the squad.

    If they don't succeed this season, head coach Andy Reid could be on his way out and Vick's deal will become the focus of major negative scrutiny. He'll be 32 years old by the end of June, and needs to win sooner rather than later. 

    Without a couple of wins in the playoffs in 2012, the Eagles organization will be forced to scratch their current plans and start over.

Alex Smith Must Put Together Back-to-Back Successful Seasons

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    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith finally lived up to the hype.

    After being selected No. 1 overall in the 2005 NFL draft, Smith did little to prove his worth until last season.

    The Niners were the biggest surprise in the NFL in 2011, have the most feared defense in the league, and a quarterback who is coming off a very efficient season.

    Anything short of a repeat of last season and the team will be labeled a disappointment in 2012. 

    Smith threw only five interceptions last year and the Niners did nothing but improve their offense this offseason. He has no excuse for a step back, as there are tall expectations for him to put up big-time numbers. 

    If Smith struggles, however, the Niners will begin to look elsewhere. They have a phenomenal team that's set to succeed for years to come, and they can't be held back by their signal-caller.

Mark Sanchez Is a Guy That Must Take His Team to the Super Bowl in 2012

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    No surprise here—New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez most likely has to reach the Super Bowl this season if he's to silence his critics.

    Having reached the AFC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons, Sanchez was a letdown in 2011 by missing the playoffs. 

    Now that he has competition with quarterback Tim Tebow in town, Sanchez has to play tremendously for the entirety of the 2012 season.

    The good news for Sanchez is that his numbers have improved every season in his career. The bad news: he has yet to complete 60 percent of his passes in a season and he can't afford to be inaccurate this year. 

    Despite signing a hefty extension earlier in the offseason, without a trip to the Super Bowl XLVII his days under center for the Jets will be over. 

It's All or Nothing for Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys in 2012

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    Tony Romo has been given plenty of time to take the Dallas Cowboys to the promised land, but has yet to deliver. There's no doubt that Romo must take the Cowboys to the Super Bowl this season if he's to keep his job.

    With $11.5 million coming his way in 2013, if he doesn't have a fantastic 2012, the Cowboys won't think twice to part ways with the 32-year-old quarterback. 

    Do Cowboys fans still believe in Romo? The verdict is out on that question as Romo has to prove his naysayers wrong this year.

    While it's true that he threw for over 4,000 yards with 31 touchdowns in 2011, the team finished 8-8 and lost a virtual playoff game in Week 17 to their rival New York Giants.

    Cowboys owner Jerry Jones expects nothing but the best from his 'Boys and doesn't take losing well.  Romo has to be the best he's ever been in 2012 if he's to remain the starting quarterback in Dallas.