Quarterback Rankings of Every Projected Opening Day NFL Starter for 2012
The 2011 NFL season proved to be a record-setting year for quarterbacks.
A record-tying 10 quarterbacks passed for more than 4,000 yards. It was the second time in three years (2009 was the other) that feat was accomplished. Three of them: Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints), Tom Brady (New England Patriots) and Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions), passed for more than 5,000 yards--which was also a first.
Before last season, only two other quarterbacks, Dan Marino (1984) and Brees (2008) hit the 5,000-yard plateau.
In an era where passing numbers are inflated, NFL quarterbacks are setting passing records at a phenomenal pace. Both league and team records have been obliterated by today's QBs. However, one question is always being asked throughout the league, and that is, who is the best quarterback in the game?
If you play fantasy football, choosing a top-notch signal-caller is a must. The elite QBs will always get picked within the top five, while everyone else gets picked whenever.
Every media outlet has their own ranking system of quarterbacks. But as always, each system will be scrutinized heavily.
At Bleacher Report, quarterback rankings will always be a big conversation. Every writer has his or her own system for how they rank QBs. Some readers will agree, and there are those who will disagree.
On the eve of the 2012 NFL season, I will attempt to rank every projected NFL opening day starter from No. 32 all the way down to No. 1.
Which quarterback is No. 1?
Find out in the following slideshow.
32. Ryan Tannehill: Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are counting on rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill to lead them to the promised land in 2012.
Tannehill, the No. 8 pick in this year's draft, was recently chosen to start the season opener against the Houston Texans on the road.
Dolphins' first-year head coach Joe Philbin had a tough decision to make about who would be the starter between Tannehill, Matt Moore (who ended last season as the starter), and veteran David Garrard.
Garrard recently underwent knee surgery, and even though Moore played well enough down the stretch to state his case as the starter, Philbin is rolling the dice with Tannehill.
The book on Tannehill comes with plenty of questions.
First, there's no disputing Tannehill's physical makeup. He's 6'4" and 225 lbs, has a strong arm, and good footwork. However, the dark side to Tannehill is the experience factor.
Tannehill started his first two seasons at Texas A&M (Aggies) as a wide receiver before taking over as the starting quarterback midway through his junior season. Overall, Tannehill started only 19 games in college.
The Dolphins are hoping that new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman can bring out the best in Tannehill. Tannehill played for Sherman at Texas A&M.
Tannehill is Miami's first rookie QB drafted in the first round since Dan Marino in 1983.
31. Blaine Gabbert: Jacksonville Jaguars
Blaine Gabbert of the Jacksonville Jaguars had a rookie season in 2011 that he would love to forget all about.
Gabbert had the worst quarterback rating (65.4) of any NFL starter last season, completing only 50.8 percent of his passes. He also passed for 2,214 yards. His touchdown-interception ratio was 12-to-11.
While playing mostly in a spread-option offense in college (Missouri), Gabbert was totally lost in a pro-set offense. Although his passing mechanics and his arm are really good, he makes poor decisions with the ball, plus he takes too many sacks (40).
The second-year QB was thrown into the lake of fire early last season when Jacksonville cut veteran starter David Garrard days before the start of the 2011 season.
With virtually no receivers last season, Jacksonville shored up its receiving unit by taking Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State) with the fifth pick in this year's draft.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew carried the offense a season ago, however, Jones-Drew is currently a holdout because of contract problems.
Gabbert will have to perform better than he did last season if Jacksonville is to make a push in the AFC South this season.
30. Brandon Weeden: Cleveland Browns
Barring an injury the rest of the preseason, 28-year-old rookie Brandon Weeden will be the Cleveland Browns' opening day starter.
If Weeden starts on opening day, he will become the Browns' 11th different starter at quarterback to open the season since 1999. Colt McCoy started the season a year ago, but has been demoted to a backup role.
Weeden possesses good size (6'4") and a lively arm. However, like his predecessors, Weeden has his work cut out for him.
Cleveland had one of the worst offenses in 2011. The Browns were 30th in scoring (13.6) and 29th overall on offense.
Weeden will more than likely suffer as a rookie. He will go against three of the league's top defensive units six times in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati. They all reside in the same division, the always tough AFC North.
29. Christian Ponder: Minnesota Vikings
In a cameo appearance as a rookie last season, Christian Ponder played better than anyone expected for the Minnesota Vikings.
Ponder took over the starting job after longtime-veteran Donovan McNabb was benched after Week 6. Ponder played well enough that McNabb was waived with five games remaining.
Although Ponder was not ready, he did an admirable job for the Vikings. He passed for 1,853 yards, 13 touchdowns, and had the same number of interceptions.
His sporadic play was to be expected, however Ponder had a breakout game on December 4 against the Denver Broncos. He passed for a season-high 381 yards on 29-of-47 attempts. He also threw for two touchdowns to go along with three interceptions in the 35-32 home loss.
Ponder looks to make the next step this season as the opening day starter. With running back Adrian Peterson still recuperating from a torn ACL, the Vikings hope that Ponder can hold down the offense until Peterson comes back to full strength.
28. Jake Locker: Tennessee Titans
In a move that surprised many around the NFL, the Tennessee Titans are going in a new direction at quarterback.
Recently, the Titans named second-year QB Jake Locker to be their opening day starter on September 9th.
Locker, a first round pick (8th) in 2011, gets the nod over veteran Matt Hasselbeck.
Although Hasselbeck threw for 3,571 yards and 18 touchdowns, Tennessee is opting to go with the much younger Locker. Locker is 24, while Hasselbeck will turn 37 early in the season.
It's too early to tell about Locker.
He appeared in only five games in 2011. Against the New Orleans Saints in Week 14, Locker replaced an ineffective Hasselbeck in the second quarter, and almost led the Titans to a win. He passed for 282 yards and a touchdown in the 22-17 loss.
Locker has decent size and excellent mobility. His passing mechanics needs work, but he is an excellent leader who puts in the work off the field, so there is room for improvement.
Hasselbeck has been around the game for awhile (15 years), and though he seems to have another season left in him, the Titans are ready for a change at QB.
With star running back Chris Johnson looking like his former self in preseason, the Titans may not have to rely on Locker as much.
27. Kevin Kolb: Arizona Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb has yet to develop into a quality NFL quarterback.
He spent his first four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles before being traded to the Arizona Cardinals last offseason.
Kolb was injury-prone last year for the Cardinals; he missed seven games because of various aliments.
Even when he played, he struggled.
Kolb passed for 309 yards--while completing almost 67 percent of his passes--and two touchdowns in a 28-21 win over the Carolina Panthers in Week 1.
In nine games, Kolb finished with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, while throwing for 1,955 yards. He was also sacked 30 times.
Kolb has one of the game's best receivers in Larry Fitzgerald. However, the Cardinals could use another good receiver to relieve Fitzgerald of constant double teams. Rookie Michael Floyd (13th overall pick) has both the size and speed to cause matchup problems.
With two good receivers, the question now is can Kevin Kolb get the job done?
26. Matt Flynn: Seattle Seahawks
The quarterback situation in Seattle (Seahawks) is up in the air at the present time.
Three quarterbacks: Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson and rookie Russell Wilson are all vying to be the starting quarterback come Week 1 of the regular season. Although Jackson was the starter last year, Flynn gets the job here.
Flynn, who played his first four seasons with the Green Bay Packers, became a hot commodity during free agency after passing for 480 yards and six touchdowns in a 45-41 win over the Detroit Lions in Week 17.
Signing a three-year $26-million dollar deal, Flynn was brought in to improve the Seahawks' passing attack. Seattle's passing game was one of the worst in the league in 2011. Their quarterbacks passed for only 15 touchdowns (14 were by Jackson).
Seattle receivers struggled to get open all season, and dropped too many passes. Only three times last season did a receiver have a 100-yard receiving day.
Veteran wide receiver Terrell Owens signed a recent one-year deal. The 38-year-old Owens has not played in an NFL game since 2010, but is hoping to make amends with his sixth team.
Although Flynn is scheduled to start the opener, he is currently being pushed by Wilson. Wilson has looked great through three preseason games; accounting for five scores (four passing and one rushing).
Wilson is a rookie however, and head coach Pete Carroll has a big decision to make between him and Flynn.
25. Carson Palmer: Oakland Raiders
Given the position that Oakland Raiders' QB Carson Palmer was in a season ago, things could be looking up for the former top draft pick (2003).
Palmer parted ways with his former team—the Cincinnati Bengals—before the start of training camp last season. After no team would give him a shot in the preseason, Palmer threatened to retire.
However, the Raiders were put in a bad spot in mid-October. Starter Jason Campbell went down with a season-ending injury in Week 6 against the Cleveland Browns, and the Raiders made the move to bring in Palmer.
Palmer looked totally confused early as a Raider. He threw six interceptions in his first two games. However, he would lead Oakland to three straight wins to put them in playoff contention.
Oakland would struggle the rest of the season; finishing the season with a 1-4 record to finish at 8-8. The Raiders would miss the playoffs by one game behind the Denver Broncos.
Making the playoffs would be a heaven-sent gift for both Palmer and Raiders. Oakland has not made the playoffs since 2002, and Palmer would love to win a playoff game before he retires. He is 0-2 in playoff games.
Palmer still has something to prove. He will turn 33 before the end of this season, and his window of opportunity may be closing. However, with the Raiders playing in the AFC West, he just may get one more chance at redemption.
24. Robert Griffin III: Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins are hoping that rookie Robert Griffin III can finally end their quarterback nightmares.
Since the 2000 NFL season, Washington has started 13 different quarterbacks. Since that time the Redskins have only been to the postseason twice.
Now, Griffin III—who was chosen with the second pick in this year's draft—will get his turn.
Griffin III has a game that former Redskins' QBs Rex Grossman, Donovan McNabb, John Beck, Jason Campbell or Mark Brunell didn't have.
RGIII can not only beat opposing defenses with his powerful arm, but his speed (4.41) was the fastest of any quarterback at this year's scouting combine.
Robert Griffin III has yet to play in an NFL regular season game but if he lives up to all the hype of winning last year's Heisman Trophy as the best collegiate player, Washington just may finally put its quarterback problems to rest.
23. Andrew Luck: Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts has two giant worries to be concerned with this season.
His first worry is having to deal with living up to being the top overall draft pick, and second, trying to replace legendary quarterback Peyton Manning.
Luck was chosen as the top pick in this year's draft. Anyone who follows the NFL religiously knows what's at stake. Will Luck's career turn out to be like Manning (a future Hall of Famer), or will he be a bust like Jamarcus Russell (another top overall pick)?
Either way, Luck has some big shoes to fill. Manning was released by the Colts after last season, and signed with the Denver Broncos. Manning had been the Colts' starting quarterback since his rookie year in 1998. He led Indianapolis to a Super Bowl title in 2006.
With the Colts pretty much revamping their offense, you can expect Luck to have growing pains. However, Luck's quarterback skills are good. He has good size, throws a great deep ball, and displays intelligence well beyond his age.
Indy fans have come to expect greatness from its quarterbacks, and they will expect the same from Luck. Hopefully Andrew Luck's career will be nothing but good luck.
22. Matt Cassel: Kansas City Chiefs
Cassel, who had never started before then, led New England to a 10-6 record. Although the Patriots missed the playoffs by a tiebreaker, Cassel passed for 3,693 yards, 21 touchdowns and had only 11 interceptions.
Cassel played in only 10 games in 2011 because of a broken hand.
The verdict on Cassel is simple. He is good in a lot of areas, but not outstanding. His mechanics are average. However, Cassel does have one thing that a lot of other starting QBs don't have: a big-time wide receiver.
Cassel has one of the game's best receivers in Dewayne Bowe. Bowe is currently back in camp after holding out much of the offseason because of contract problems.
Both the Chiefs and Cassel both can ill-afford to have Bowe miss any amount of time.
21. Ryan Fitzpatrick: Buffalo Bills
No one questions the leadership skills of Buffalo Bills' quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick—a Harvard graduate—scored a 48 in only nine minutes on his Wonderlic test in 2005. It was the second-highest score ever, behind former Cincinnati Bengals' punter Pat McInally (another Harvard grad), who scored a perfect 50.
However, Fitzpatrick's intelligence is sometimes questioned on the field.
He confounded both his teammates and fans alike in 2011. His passing mechanics are below average, and his arm strength is one of the NFL's worst for a starter. Because of his shortcomings, Fitzpatrick gambles at times.
Last season, Fitzpatrick gambled too much. His 23 interceptions led the NFL, which was just one number shy of his touchdown passes.
With better mechanics, Fitzpatrick has the tools to develop into a nice starting QB. The question is: How badly does Fitzpatrick want to improve?
20. Sam Bradford: St. Louis Rams
Bradford, the top overall pick in 2010, has been injury-prone since his days as an Oklahoma Sooner.
His rookie season received rave reviews (18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions). Big things were expected of Bradford in 2011, but the injury bug would hit him again.
Bradford missed six games because of a high ankle sprain. Part of the reason Bradford was beaten up badly last season, was because of the offensive line. The Rams inability to protect the quarterback was evident last season. They gave up a league-high 55 sacks. Bradford was sacked 35 times in the ten games he played.
Bradford has all the tools to be an elite quarterback, however, unless St. Louis shore up its offensive line problems, he will continue to get pounded and not be able to produce at an optimum level.
19. Josh Freeman: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman had a breakout rookie season in 2010 for the Buccaneers, but the sophomore jinx would hit him in 2011.
Freeman, who led Tampa Bay to a surprising 10-6 record his rookie season, struggled last year.
He improved his passing yardage (3,592), but only 16 of his 346 completions went for touchdowns. Turnovers were an even bigger problem; he was intercepted 22 times.
Part of the big problem for Freeman a season ago was lack of good receivers. Tampa Bay solved that problem through free agency this offseason by bringing in Vincent Jackson and Dallas Clark.
Jackson is a big target (6'5") and possess enough deep speed to give opposing defensive backs fits, while Clark excels in zone coverage. If Jackson and Clark thrive in their new surroundings, look for Freeman to post huge numbers this season.
Fantasy owners who were burned by Freeman in 2011 would welcome a big season by the Tampa Bay QB.
18. Mark Sanchez: New York Jets
Despite leading the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship games in his first two seasons, many New York fans have voiced their displeasure of whether or not Sanchez should be starting this season.
Even though Sanchez passed for 3,474 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2011, he was a turnover machine. He was responsible for 26 turnovers (18 INTs and 8 fumbles lost).
The problem was his accuracy. Sanchez missed opened receivers repeatedly, and a lot of his passes would sail on him. Those problems can be fixed with better mechanics. Sanchez must improve on his completion percentage (56.7) if the Jets are to make it back to the playoffs.
Sanchez also needs to get rid of the football quicker. He was sacked 39 times.
However, Sanchez has been a winner as a starter. He sports a 27-20 record in the regular season and is 4-2 in the playoffs.
Now, with Tim Tebow aboard this season, many wonder how Sanchez's mental psyche will mend.
Tebow, who became a media darling with the Denver Broncos last season, was brought in as a free agent to backup Sanchez.
Sanchez has stated that their is no controversy between him and Tebow, but you can't help but wonder how well he will perform this season.
17. Andy Dalton: Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals defied many odds last season as a rookie.
Dalton, drafted in the second round a season ago, did something that the four quarterbacks in front of him—Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Cam Newton—didn't do: make the playoffs.
Newton was voted Rookie of the Year by the media, but Dalton led the Bengals to their first playoff berth since 2009.
He passed for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns, while throwing only 13 interceptions. His cool play behind center led Cincinnati to a 9-7 record.
Dalton doesn't possess great arm strength, but he's accurate and is a masterful leader.
He does however have one of the NFL's best young receivers in A.J. Green. Dalton and Green became the first duo to ever produce a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard receiver as rookies.
The future looks bright for Dalton, however most quarterbacks who perform well in their first season, often struggle in the next.
16. Jay Cutler: Chicago Bears
Last season, Cutler was leading the Bears to a second straight playoff berth, when disaster struck.
In Week 11 against the San Diego Chargers, Cutler was lost for the season with a broken thumb. The injury could not have come at a worse time. The Bears were 7-3 and a virtual lock for the playoffs, however Cutler was lost for the final six games, and Chicago's postseason hopes went with him. Chicago finished 8-8.
Cutler has been one of the NFL's best QBs since entering the league in 2006. With one of the game's strongest arms, he makes things happen.
The only negative aspect to his game is his decision-making at times. He gambles often, which results in turnovers.
Since becoming a starter in 2007 (Denver), Cutler has thrown 81 interceptions. Only two quarterbacks have thrown more: Eli Manning (85) and Drew Brees (82). However, both Manning and Brees have won Super Bowls since '07.
Pass protection has not been to kind to Cutler in recent years. Two seasons ago, Cutler was dropped a league-high 52 times. Despite that, the Bears made it to the NFC title game, where they lost to eventual champion Green Bay.
Cutler will have former Denver teammate Brandon Marshall to throw to in 2012. Marshall, one of the game's best wideouts, signed as a free agent in the off-season.
If Cutler remains healthy, look for him to have a very big season. Chicago's playoff hopes ride on the shoulders of Cutler, and without him, the Bears don't have much of a chance.
15. Alex Smith: San Francisco 49ers
Many wondered if San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Alex Smith would ever become of age.
The former overall top pick (2005) struggled his first six seasons, but 2011 would be different.
Former NFL QB Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach, and he would make Smith a star. Harbaugh simplified the offense enough so Smith could control the game and not worry about trying to win it by himself.
Smith passed for a career-high 3,144 yards, 17 touchdowns, and had only five interceptions. The Niners finished with a 13-3 record and made the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
They were only one win shy of playing for their sixth Super Bowl title. San Francisco lost to the New York Giants 20-17 in overtime in the NFC title game.
The book on Smith is simple. He doesn't overwhelm you with eye-popping statistics, but he has a very-high football IQ.
However, Smith still has his detractors. San Francisco fans watched Joe Montana and Steve Young lead the 49ers to Super Bowl titles. Many will expect Smith to bring another championship to the Bay area.
To help Smith take his game to another level, the front office brought in talented, but troubled wide receiver Randy Moss to give Smith a downfield threat. With Moss and tight end Vernon Davis catching passes, look for Smith to take more chances this season.
All eyes will be on Smith to take the next step in his development, which is simple: win a championship.
14. Joe Flacco: Baltimore Ravens
Another quarterback who plays in an offense that's too conservative is the Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco.
Although his passing numbers don't jump out at you, Flacco makes it count where it matters the most: wins versus losses.
Since his rookie season in 2008, he is 44-20 in the regular season, and 5-4 in the playoffs—including two appearances in the AFC Championship game.
Flacco doesn't have the strongest arm in the NFL, but he's consistent.
In a league where quarterbacks often have 400-yard passing games, Flacco has yet to reach that mark, although he's capable of doing so.
One of the reason why the Ravens are conservative, is because of running back Ray Rice. Rice is one of the best in the game. He produces both as a runner and a receiver coming out of the backfield.
Flacco depends on Rice, because Baltimore is thin at wide receiver. The Ravens have tried to surround Flacco with a quality wideout but Baltimore continues to struggle in that area.
If Flacco could ever have a receiver like Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, his ranking would be much higher.
13. Matt Schaub: Houston Texans
Matt Schaub of the Houston Texans has been a star quarterback for the past couple of seasons.
He's thrown for over 4,000 yards twice (2009 & 2010), and has one of the best wide receivers in all of football: Andre Johnson.
Last season, Schaub went down with a season-ending foot injury in November, and missed the team's final six regular season games. The Texans won the AFC South at 10-6, and made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Schaub has all the tools to be a top-10 quarterback. He can make any throw, but his main asset is the play-action fake. Opposing defenders have to be careful when Schaub rolls out to either side, as he is capable of making big plays downfield to Johnson.
Like Schaub, Johnson was banged up in 2011. Both players will have to remain healthy in 2012 if the Texans are to make back-to-back postseasons.
12. Cam Newton: Carolina Panthers
No quarterback in the history of the NFL had a rookie season like the one Cam Newton produced for the Carolina Panthers in 2011.
The numbers that Newton displayed last season were impressive.
He passed for a rookie record 4,051 yards, breaking Peyton Manning's former mark of 3,739 set in 1998.
He also opened the season with back-to-back 400-yard passing days (another first by a rookie).
Overall, Newton completed 60 percent of his passes, and threw for 21 touchdowns, and although his passing numbers surprised many, his running with the football didn't.
Newton led all quarterbacks in rushing with 706 yards. His 14 rushing touchdowns set an NFL record. The total was second behind Philadelphia's Lesean McCoy with 17). Newton also led all rushers with a 5.2 yards per carry.
The question going into the 2012 season is: can Newton improve on those numbers?
Despite his hot start, Newton struggled late in the season. His mechanics can be fixed with time, however, he must start to rely more on his passing and not as much on his legs.
Most running quarterbacks take a physical beating. Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles) has been injured the past two seasons, and the Panthers are worried if Newton can withstand the punishment. But, Newton is much bigger than Vick (248 lbs), and much younger.
Newton is too valuable to Carolina. Any lost time on the field will slow his progress. However, his future appears to be bright. He has the size, speed and arm strength that many other quarterbacks don't have.
If Newton can approve his passing mechanics, he will move into the top-10 category.
11. Matt Ryan: Atlanta Flacons
The man known as "Matty Ice" is one of the NFL's best.
Last season, Ryan passed for career-highs in passing yardage (4,177) and touchdowns (29). He also protected the ball (12 interceptions), and produced six 300-yard passing games.
Ryan led the Falcons to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth. However, despite having a 43-19 record in the regular season, he has failed to win in the playoffs.
Atlanta has made the playoffs under Ryan in three of his first four seasons. All three times, the Falcons lost in the first round. The New York Giants eliminated them a year ago in the NFC Wild Card game 24-2.
His 0-3 playoff record makes you wonder if Ryan really is an elite quarterback.
His career numbers: 95 touchdowns, 46 interceptions, 60.9 completion percentage are worthy, but his numbers in the playoffs (3 TDs, 4 INTs) have Falcons' fans worried.
Ryan is surrounded by excellent offensive personnel.
Wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones are two of the game's best, and veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez is an all-time great. Along with bruising running back Micheal Turner, the Falcons are one of the league's most explosive offenses.
But until Ryan wins a playoff game, he remains outside of the top 10.
10. Michael Vick: Philadelphia Eagles
The window appears to be closing for Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Vick had a season to be remembered in 2010, but last season, Vick and the Eagles were grounded.
Philadelphia was the talk of the offseason in the summer of 2011. The Eagles brought in a number of star players through free agency, hoping that Vick could lead them to their first Super Bowl title, however what was supposed to be a dream season, was a total nightmare.
Vick missed three games because of various injuries; the defense blew five fourth-quarter leads, which resulted in five heart-breaking losses; and problems with star wide receiver Desean Jackson put Philadelphia in a 4-8 hole.
The Eagles would bounce back to end the season with four straight wins to even its record at 8-8, but they would miss the playoffs by one game behind their division rival the New York Giants, who finished at 9-7.
If the Eagles are to contend for the Super Bowl this season, Vick will have to stay on the field. He has missed seven games the past two years. His reckless running ability makes him susceptible to injury.
The Eagles, who have arguably the most explosive offense in the NFL, are a different team without Vick.
With Vick's window of winning a title closing, he has to improve his decision making and stay healthy if he wants to win that elusive championship.
9. Tony Romo: Dallas Cowboys
Romo threw for 4,184 yards, 31 touchdowns, and only had 10 interceptions last season. Those numbers was arguably his best season yet as a Cowboy.
However, despite Romo's outstanding numbers, Dallas failed to make the playoffs.
A 1-4 collapse in the final five games, cost the Cowboys the NFC East title. Dallas finished the season at 8-8--tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for second place. The New York Giants won the division at 9-7.
For several seasons, Romo falters late in the year, but the Cowboys' offense was not the problem in the final month, it was their defense. Dallas blew a 12-point fourth quarter lead to the Giants at home, and lost 37-34.
For a team that is as talented as the Cowboys, Romo and Co. cannot seem to put it all together—especially in December.
This group of Cowboys have been together for a while, but their window of opportunity appears to be closing. Dallas' Super Bowl chances are getting slimmer and slimmer, but the Cowboys and their collection of star talent have what it takes to get the job done.
However, Romo—the team's biggest star—needs help. He was hurt near the end of the season, and the offensive line failed to protect him at times late in the year. The Cowboys' fate rides on Romo's shoulders.
8. Phillip Rivers: San Diego Chargers
Fewer NFL quarterbacks can produce numbers the way San Diego Chargers' quarterback Phillip Rivers can.
Since the 2008 season, Rivers has thrown for at 4,000 yards passing, and at least 25 touchdowns for four straight years. The only other QB to accomplish that feat is Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints).
However, despite Rivers' outstanding passing numbers, he has failed to deliver when it counts the most.
In 2011 the Chargers endured a six-game losing streak midway in the season that left them in a hole (4-7) they never could recover from. And although San Diego won four of its final five games, the Chargers missed the playoffs, finishing with an 8-8 record. Denver, who also finished 8-8, won the AFC West on a tiebreaker.
There was plenty of blame to spread around for the Chargers demise, but nowhere was it more apparent than the play of Rivers. Although Rivers passed for 4,624 yards and 27 touchdowns, the 9th-year QB was a turnover machine. He threw a career-high 20 interceptions, including 10 during the six-game losing streak. Rivers also was credited with five lost fumbles.
Rivers is capable of producing at a high-level, but he must cut down on the turnovers—especially in late game situations.
Entering the 2012 season, Rivers will be closely watched.
His No. 1 wide receiver from last season, Vincent Jackson, signed with Tampa Bay. Tight end Antonio Gates has been banged up the past couple of seasons, and with the Chargers looking to run the ball more with Ryan Matthews, you may see a decline in Rivers passing numbers.
Charger fans will definitely look for Rivers to redeem himself entering 2012.
7. Matthew Stafford: Detroit Lions
No NFL quarterback took a more quantum leap than the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford in 2011.
The former No. 1 overall pick (2009) set the league on fire last season, passing for an eye-popping 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns.
Stafford, who missed 19 games his first two seasons, was finally healthy for all 16 games, as he led the Lions to a 10-6 record and a playoff-berth.
The book on Stafford is simple.
He has the look of an NFL QB. His size, arm strength, leadership qualities, mobility, and tenacity separates Stafford from most quarterbacks.
Stafford can make any throw, and has one of the game's best deep balls. His gunslinger mentality was evident. Stafford led the league with 663 passing attempts.
Having the league's best receiver, Calvin Johnson, is a big help. Johnson led the NFL last season with 1,681 receiving yards, to go along with 96 receptions (4th),and 16 touchdown receptions (2nd).
The Stafford-to-Johnson connection is by far the NFL's most dangerous passing combo.
6. Peyton Manning: Denver Broncos
Despite having a year layoff, Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos is still one of the elite quarterbacks in the National Football League.
Manning missed all of the 2011 season with the Indianapolis Colts due to neck problems. After the season the Colts said goodbye to the legendary QB, who led Indianapolis to a Super Bowl title in 2006.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback was signed by Denver this past offseason after spending his first 14 seasons with the Colts. Now, Manning hopes to revive his career as a Bronco.
Coming into the new season, many questions surround Manning. The most important one is his health.
It remains to be seen if Manning can play the entire season. After having gone through four neck surgeries, his neck is a big concern.
Through two preseason games, Manning has looked good at times, however, he has lost some velocity on his throws. Manning, at age 36, is beyond his prime and his physical skills have eroded.
Playing in a new environment is a big change for Manning also. For years, Manning played indoors on turf, but will now play outdoors where the weather gets cold in Denver late in the season.
Manning was surrounded by supreme talent in Indianapolis, but the talent at Denver is different. The Broncos' receiving corps are average, however, the running game is an upgrade over what Manning had with the Colts. Most importantly, the offensive line—which gave up 42 sacks a season ago—struggles at times in pass protection.
The Broncos must protect Manning in order for him to be effective. Look for Denver to use a lot of two tight end formations to help protect him, especially on the left side of the line.
Two seasons ago, Manning would have been ranked much higher on any list of ranking quarterbacks. However, with his age, recent neck injury, and uncertain personnel with his new team, his stock has fallen.
Even at less than 100 percent, Manning is still a top-10 NFL quarterback which means he is still better than 80 percent of the league's starting quarterbacks.
5. Ben Roethlisberger: Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger has slowly evolved into a top-five NFL quarterback.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' hulking QB has won two out of three Super Bowl titles, and has developed into one of the game's most valuable players.
With Roethlisberger, the Steelers are 80-33 in the regular season, including a 44-13 record at home.
Roethlisberger already holds numerous passing records in the history of the franchise. He is less than 1,500 yards from passing Terry Bradshaw in career passing yardage.
Going into his ninth year, Roethlisberger has taken a physical beating the past few seasons. He has been sacked 261 times in the past six seasons. No other quarterback has been sacked that much.
Most of Roethlisberger's sacks are a result of him holding on the ball too long to extend plays. The sacks are now beginning to take a toll on his body. Various aliments: shoulder, ankle, thumb and foot have bothered Roethlisberger as of late.
Roethlisberger will have a new offensive coordinator this season with former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. Haley plans on bringing a more balanced approach to the Steelers offense, so look for Roethlisberger's passing numbers to decline a little.
Pittsburgh has won more Super Bowl titles (six) than any other franchise. A seventh title is possible this season, barring an injury to Roethlisberger.
4. Eli Manning: New York Giants
Eli Manning of the New York Giants is no longer playing in the shadows of his more-celebrated brother Peyton.
The younger Manning led the Giants to their second Super Bowl title in five seasons by defeating the New England Patriots 21-17. It was the second time that Manning had beaten the much-favored Patriots for the championship.
Although Peyton has thrown for more touchdowns and passing yardage in his career, Eli is one title ahead of his older sibling.
Last season, Eli passed for a career-high 4,933 yards; just 67 yards shy of joining Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford of throwing for 5,000 yards last season.
Manning definitely belongs in the top-five. His accuracy, leadership skills and toughness have all improved, and now, with a better collection of receivers at his disposal, Manning is a much better quarterback.
Now, what does Eli do for an encore?
That's simple: win a third Super Bowl title.
If Manning wins a third title, people may soon forget all about Peyton, and say that Eli is the best Manning to ever play the game.
3. Tom Brady: New England Patriots
Tom Brady did just about everything he wanted to do in 2011 except one thing: win the Super Bowl.
The New England Patriots All-Pro QB had a phenomenal season, throwing for a personal-best 5,235 yards. Along with 39 touchdowns passes and only 12 interceptions, Brady arguably had his greatest season in his 14-year career.
They only blemish last season: Brady failed to win his fourth Super Bowl.
New England fell four points short of winning it all, by losing to the New York Giants 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI.
The question now is can the 35-year-old Brady win another title?
New England is still one of the best teams in the league, and barring injuries to their core of stars, the Patriots will once again be in the hunt for the championship.
Brady shows no signs of slowing down. With a plethora of receivers to throw to, Brady should post another 4,000-yard season. With the addition of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, the Patriots now boast the NFL's best receiving corps.
Going into the 2012 campaign, Brady and the Patriots would love to win another title before the window of opportunity officially closes.
New England has the team to win this season; the question is can they do it?
2. Drew Brees: New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints' quarterback Drew Brees did the unthinkable in 2011.
Brees passed for 5,476 yards, breaking Dan Marino's record of 5,084 yards set in 1984. The 12th-year QB broke several league records in 2011: passing yardage, completions (468), completion percentage (71.2), and 300-yard passing games (13).
The Saints, who made the playoffs with a 13-3 record, fell short in the playoffs. New Orleans lost a heart-breaking 36-32 last-second loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the NFC playoffs.
Both Brees and the Saints endured a rough offseason.
Several key personnel were suspended for the upcoming season because of the bounty scandal that rocked the team. The biggest loss was head coach Sean Payton.
Payton, an offensive genius, will miss the entire 2012 season because of the sanctions. Joe Vitt, who was named interim head coach, will miss the first six games also. Replacing Vitt will be offensive line coach Aaron Kromer.
Along with that, Brees held out of voluntary workouts over the summer because of a contract dispute. However, the Saints' front office finally rewarded Brees with a five-year, $100-million dollar contract; $60-million of it is guaranteed.
Now, Brees can focus on leading New Orleans to its second Super Bowl title. It remains to be seen how Payton's absence effects Brees, as he relied so much on Payton's brilliant play-calling.
But Brees is different from other NFL quarterbacks. His leadership skills are second-to-none, and he has a great command of the Saints' offense.
Look for Brees to continue his onslaught against opposing defenses this season.
1. Aaron Rodgers: Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers stands alone as the No. 1 quarterback in the National Football League.
In just four short seasons, Rodgers has ascended to the league's best QB, and with good reason.
Last season, Rodgers, who led Green Bay to a Super Bowl title the year before, had an outstanding season throwing the football.
He passed for a 4,643 yards (a Green Bay record), 45 touchdowns, and set the NFL record for quarterback rating in a season with 122.5.
What sets Rodgers apart from the rest of his fellow QBs is his intelligence. Rodgers, who threw only six interceptions, simply doesn't make mistakes with the ball. He is a great improviser—with the ability to scramble—and can make any throw from anywhere on the field.
The only thing that Rodgers did not do last season, was lead the Packers to back-to-back titles. Green Bay finished with the league's best record (15-1), but they fell to the New York Giants 37-20 in the NFC Divisional round.
Rodgers has a great group of receivers to throw to, and barring any major injuries, Green Bay should make a deep run for the postseason once again.
In a league of great passing quarterbacks, only one can hold the distinction as being the best. Although you could not go wrong with Rodgers, Brees or Brady being No. 1, only one can be considered as the game's greatest.
In this case, Aaron Rodgers is the only neighbor in "Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood".