Last year was by far the best passing year in NFL history. Records were broken, and stats were unbelievably high. It sometimes looked like you were watching Madden instead of a real game.
For the first time ever, three quarterbacks threw for over 5,000 yards. Aaron Rodgers only played about 14.5 games, otherwise there would have been four of them.
It used to be that the ridiculous quarterback play came from the AFC, with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady leading the charge. Brady still had a fantastic year, but Manning was out for all of it, and the next-best AFC quarterback, Matt Schaub, missed a good bit of time due to injury.
Now, most of the big-time quarterbacks are in the NFC, and it is something to see. Quarterbacks that people don't even look at as good quarterbacks passed for well over 3,000 yards.
However, there is a select group that has completely set itself apart. Here are the top five quarterbacks in the NFC heading into this year.
Cam Newton had an unbelievable rookie season, setting all sorts of records.
He passed for a rookie-record 4,051 yards and had an 84.5 passer rating. He had 21 passing touchdowns, completing 60 percent of his passes.
But what got Newton onto this list was his rushing. He rushed for 706 yards, 5.6 yards per carry and 14 touchdowns. Looking ahead, only one other quarterback on this list had over 100 yards total and more than one touchdown.
Newton showed that he has the ability to be a great quarterback in this league.
He did throw 17 interceptions, and his team was just 6-10, but being the No. 1 pick means that you are going to a rough team. Newton did well with what he had around him, and every rookie, no matter how good, is going to hit bumps along the way.
Look for Newton and his team to get better in his second year in pretty much every category.
Hopefully there is no sophomore slump, but unlike past quarterbacks that had good first years, Newton shows no signs of anything like that happening.
Eli Manning had yet another great and somewhat underappreciated season for the New York Giants.
During the regular season, he passed for 4,933 yards and had a 92.9 passer rating. He had 29 touchdowns, the most in one season in his career. He had 16 interceptions to go along with his touchdowns, nine fewer than he had the year before.
Oh, yeah, and he won the Super Bowl.
Manning had 589 passing attempts, the most of his career, and he completed 61 percent of them. However, Manning has done more that just what the numbers say.
He has proven that he is one of the most clutch players in the league. He has a knack for late-game heroics, and it has won him and the Giants their two Super Bowls together.
I expect Manning to have another great year in which he flies under the radar.
He will have the toughest competition this year compared to anyone else on this list. Manning and the Giants have to play in arguably the toughest division in football and have the toughest schedule in the league.
But knowing Manning, that won't stop him from coming through in the clutch.
The NFL had seen glimpses of how good Matthew Stafford was in his first two years in the league, but—mostly due to injury—he hadn't been able to put it all together.
That was not the case last year.
Stafford threw for 5,038 yards and a 97.2 passer rating as he led the Detroit Lions to their first winning season and playoff birth in years. He threw for 41 touchdowns, with 16 interceptions. He made 663 passing attempts and completed 63.5 percent of them.
It was tough to figure out where Stafford fit on this list. His numbers were spectacular, but in my eyes, he had three things working against him being higher on the list.
They may not be fair, but they're there.
First is that Stafford plays in a dome, where he doesn't have to deal with the elements like many of the other quarterbacks do.
Second, this list is looking toward next year, and Stafford has missed significant time in his career due to injury. He is still young, and last year keeps me from saying he is injury prone, but it is still something to look out for.
Third, he has Megatron, otherwise known as wide receiver Calvin Johnson. I think even Stafford would admit that is a big advantage over everyone else in the league.
With all that being said, Stafford had a great year last year and has the potential to do it again. The Lions will once again be very exciting to watch in 2012.
Drew Brees had yet another unbelievable passing season. Just when you think he can't do anything better than he already has, he proves you wrong.
Brees passed for an outrageous 5,476 yards, breaking Dan Marino's former record. He had a 110.6 passer rating. He threw for 46 touchdowns, which led the league, with 14 interceptions.
His 342 passing yards per game also led the league. Brees passed 657 times and completed a league-best 71.2 percent of his passes.
It was tough to put Brees at No. 2, as he was the best in the league in several categories and broke the passing record.
Right now, though, Brees and the Saints have a lot of concerns moving into this year, the first of which is if he will even play for the team.
Brees has not attended any of the offseason workouts so far, and the team needs to find a way to get him there. But that will be tough without head coach Sean Payton, who is suspended for the year for the bounty scandal.
I believe that Brees will be there for training camp and that they will find a way to settle this. Brees will still have a great year, but I'm not sure the Saints as a whole are going to be as good as they were last year.
Whatever the case may be, it will still be fun to watch Brees chuck the ball downfield.
I know this isn't a big surprise, since Aaron Rodgers was in the headline and on the intro slide. Rodgers was the MVP, after all, and it was well deserved.
Rodgers passed for 4,643 yards in what was really 14.5 games last season. He had a 122.5 passer rating, which broke the record for the best single-season passer rating.
He had 45 touchdowns, just one behind Drew Brees (who played in all 16 games) and a staggeringly low six interceptions. Rodgers completed 68.3 percent of his total 502 passes.
Rodgers also did a little bit of running, rushing for 257 yards, 4.3 yards per carry and three touchdowns.
Just like I took away a little bit from Matthew Stafford's ranking, I have to give Rodgers some props for doing what he did in Green Bay. The weather is notoriously bad and not the best throwing conditions. Rodgers led his team to a 14-0 start and a 15-1 regular-season record.
Rodgers has become the top quarterback in the league, and don't expect him to slow down at all this upcoming season.