The marquee starts with the quarterback on just about every NFL team that is winning or trying to, but now the position draws our eye even more than usual. The grand arrival of Washington’s Robert Griffin III and dramatic comeback of Peyton Manning in Denver are evidence a great new wave of quarterbacks is coming but that the old guard remains vitally in play.
Let’s rank the league’s 27 veteran starting quarterbacks by category from best to worst based on who started the season, and after that we’ll get to the five rookie starters who demand a category all their own:
1. Tom Brady, Patriots; 2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers; 3. Drew Brees, Saints; and 4. Manning, Broncos.
• Comment: Brady deserves the king’s chair over the more stats-prolific Rodgers and Brees. Even if in decline, Peyton has proved he still belongs, if last week was no mirage.
5. Eli Manning, Giants; 6. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers; and 7. Philip Rivers, Chargers.
• Comment: Those two Super Bowl MVPs argue for Eli.
8. Matt Ryan, Falcons; 9. Joe Flacco, Ravens; 10. Matt Schaub, Texans; 11. Matthew Stafford, Lions; 12. Tony Romo, Cowboys; and 13. Cam Newton, Panthers.
• Comment: The first three are trying to step up from good to great. It’s time Stafford — his 8,195 yards in his first 30 starts are third-most ever — deserves to start getting that same respect.
14. Michael Vick, Eagles; 15. Jay Cutler, Bears; 16. Carson Palmer, Raiders; 17. Alex Smith, 49ers; 18. Sam Bradford, Rams; 19. Andy Dalton, Bengals; 20. Mark Sanchez, Jets; and 21. Josh Freeman, TB.
• Comment: Those first three are gunslinger types capable of sporadic greatness but also of the Deadly I’s, interceptions and inconsistency. The others are young enough to still raise their stock.
22. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills; 23. Matt Cassel, Chiefs; and 24. John Skelton (or replacement Kevin Kolb), Cardinals.
• Comment: Heaven help the team that can’t do better.
25. Jake Locker, Titans; 26. Christian Ponder, Vikings; and 27. Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars.
• Comment: Grades are closer to incomplete, though. Not enough sample to fairly judge.
1. Griffin, Redskins; 2. Andrew Luck, Colts; 3. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins; 4. Russell Wilson, Seahawks; and 5. Brandon Weeden, Browns.
• Comment: Still raw conjecture, of course, but earliest signs are that Griffin and Luck are as good as their draft status, and that Miami’s Tannehill rates above the other two babies.
Scatter-shooting the league:
• The value of a fast start in the NFL is quantifiable. The 46 Super Bowl champions were a combined 37-8-1 in their openers of those title years. Looking ahead to this week we would note that no team over the past two years has made the playoffs after starting the season 0-2.
• Southern Cal had the most players on opening-day NFL rosters this season, with 44. Miami, often leading the category, is second with 37.
• The Dolphins had the fewest players ages 30 and older (three) on opening-day rosters, contrasted with San Diego’s league-most 18. Miami’s average age of 25.57 years makes it the fourth-youngest team in the league.