Early last year, ESPN announced its programming initiative, “Year of the Quarterback,” with the intent to focus on this high-profile position throughout 2011. Anointing the year in that way turned out to be quite prophetic, given all of the drama surrounding the league’s quarterbacks last season. With the NFL Scouting Combine now in full swing, all 32 teams in the NFL are already looking ahead to April’s draft and next season. Some will be looking especially close at the new crop of quarterbacks coming out of college.
To get you ready for what should be a dizzying offseason, I tried to place all of the teams into three categories when it came to their quarterback situations during the 2011 season—Calm Seas (i.e., the quarterback situation is steady and stable), Stormy Seas (i.e., there are issues at QB, due to either injury or performance) and Completely Rudderless (i.e., the QB situation was a complete disaster)—and how they performed in 2011. Are the two connected? You be the judge:
Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan: Finished at a respectable 10-6, losing in the Wildcard Round of the playoff to the New York Giants
Baltimore Ravens, Joe Flacco: 12-4 record, losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Conference Championship
Buffalo Bills, Ryan Fitzpatrick: Despite an incredible start to their season, Fitzpatrick’s performance dropped way off after a big hit he suffered against the Redskins on October 30th, and the Bills finished with a dismal 6-10 record. It is widely believed that Fitzpatrick played with broken ribs.
Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton (right): Had a 6-10 record, a decent record considering they had a rookie at quarterback
Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler: Finishing 8-8, the Bears were on a roll until Cutler injured his thumb and missed the last five games of the season.
Cincinnati Bengals, Andy Dalton: 9-7, behind a rookie QB who wowed fans and critics with his veteran-like performances; they lost to the Houston Texans in the Wildcard Round of the playoffs
Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo: Always a focus for criticism, especially late in the season, Romo led his team to an 8-8 season, missing the playoffs by losing to the Giants in the last game of season.
Detroit Lions, Matthew Stafford: Finished with a brilliant 10-6 record, with a finally-healthy Stafford able to find a rhythm with future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson; they lost to New Orleans in the Wildcard Round of the playoffs.
Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers: Almost achieving perfection, the Packers finished 15-1, and lost to the Giants in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
New England Patriots, Tom Brady: Firmly planted in the captain’s chair, Brady once again took his team to the championship after a 13-3 season, only to see his receivers drop pass after pass in a loss in Super Bowl XLVI to the New York Giants despite his stellar performance.
New Orleans Saints, Drew Brees (left): A perennial powerhouse behind their fearless leader, the Saints finished 13-3, losing to the upstart San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round.
New York Giants, Eli Manning: Fighting through early-season criticism, Manning proved once again why he deserves to be ranked among the brightest stars at the position, helping his team claw its way to a 9-7 record, through the playoffs and finally beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
New York Jets, Mark Sanchez: Only in this category because it applies to last season, the Jets finished a disappointing 8-8, leaving the press to speculate on the level of the team’s commitment to its “Sanchise”.
Philadelphia Eagles, Michael Vick: Like the Jets, the Eagles could not live up to their preseason hype, finishing at .500 with an 8-8 record. However, it was their backup QB, Vince Young, who didn’t help matters, proclaiming them the “Dream Team” in the preseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger: The model of consistency, Big Ben led the Steelers to another great record, 12-4, losing in an upset to the Denver Broncos in the Wildcard Round.
San Francisco 49ers, Alex Smith: Rejuvenated by a fiery head coach with a winning mentality, Smith boldly led his team to a 13-3 record, losing in the NFC Championship Game to the Giants.
San Diego Chargers, Philip Rivers: Even if he weren’t a talented athlete, Rivers and his head coach Norv Turner, appear to be entrenched in their positions by sheer inertia; they led the team to an average 8-8 record.
|Maybe he should focus more on throwing the ball...|
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Josh Freeman: The Bucs seem to be firmly behind Freeman, despite his poor numbers in 2011, which resulted in a 4-12 season. Things could get interesting, though, if they find an accomplished free agent willing to sign on as a backup and Freeman continues to struggle in 2012.
Tennessee Titans, Matt Hasselbeck: A seasoned veteran signed by the Titans in 2011, Hasselbeck quietly took the Titans to a winning 9-7 record. However, with Peyton Manning possibly on the free agent market, Hasselbeck may need to make some noise early in 2012 to justify his job.
è Note that only three of these teams had losing records in 2011, and one of those was with a rookie QB at the helm.
Arizona Cardinals, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton: As with the 2011 preseason, it looks like there will continue to be a competition between Kolb and Skelton; Skelton took over the last half of 2011 due to injuries to Kolb, and the tandem led the Cardinals to an average 8-8 finish.
Cleveland Browns, Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace: The Browns have hung their hopes on the young McCoy, who missed the last three games of the season with a concussion. Wallace did not impress as a backup, and the Browns finished 4-12.
Denver Broncos, Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow: The Tebow phenomenon has been well document this year, with Tebow’s genuine leadership and miraculous finishes taking the Broncos to an 8-8 record, an upset victory in the Wildcard Round and loss to the Patriots in the Divisional Round. However, the Broncos still belonged in this category, and may still be there in 2012, because Tebow never has gotten an unequivocal endorsement from the Broncos administration.
Houston Texans, Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates, Matt Leinart: I’m not sure I’d want to be Houston’s QB after last season. Schaub was injured in Week 10 and then Leinart broke his collarbone the next week. Yates performed admirable stepping into fracas, ultimately leading the team to a 10-6 record, eventually losing to Baltimore in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Texans belong in this category only for last season; Schaub should be ready to start the 2012 season, but look for a battle between Yates and Leinart for the #2 position.
|Schaub and Yates|
Miami Dolphins, Matt Moore, Chad Henne: Taking over after Henne was injured in Week 4, Matt Moore led the Dolphins to a disappointing 6-10 record. The Henne Era seems to be over in Miami, so whether the Dolphins will remain in the Stormy Seas category in 2012 remains to be seen. Keep an eye on this situation, however, as free agent QB Matt Flynn (currently with Green Bay) has previous experience with the new coach in Miami, Joe Philbin.
Minnesota Vikings, Donovan McNabb, Christian Ponder: The failure of the McNabb Experiment in Minnesota put rookie QB in the unenviable position of having his first NFL start against the dominant Green Bay Packers. With star running back Adrian Peterson hobbled with injury, Ponder was never able to get much traction and the Vikes finished with a forgettable 3-13 record.
Oakland Raiders, Jason Campbell, Carson Palmer: Injuries created a QB carousel in Oakland, requiring the Silver and Black to pull Carson Palmer from the brink of retirement so he could turn in multiple multiple-interception performances. Despite this and being the most penalized team in the league, the Raiders still managed to scratch out an 8-8 record.
St. Louis Rams, Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens: Again, this team will probably change categories with the return of a (hopefully) healthy Sam Bradford in 2012. But, with Bradford plagued by injuries all season, the Rams were clearly a house of cards unable to support him, finishing 2-14.
Seattle Seahawks, Tavaris Jackson: Jackson doesn’t exactly have a stellar history in the league to date, so don’t be surprised to see the ‘Hawks make a change before the 2012 season, after finishing 7-9 in 2011.
|A familiar sight this past season.|
Kansas City Chiefs, Matt Cassel, Kyle Orton: After being replaced by Tim Tebow in Denver, Kyle Orton moved to Kansas City after starter Matt Cassel was knocked out with a hand injury. The team finished 7-9 and the offseason will, at a minimum, bring competition for Cassel.
è Note that only one of these teams, Houston, had a record better than .500.
Indianapolis Colts, Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky: There’s not much left to say about the situation in Indy that hasn’t already been said. Repeatedly. Over and over. For months. Simply put: 2-14 without Peyton Manning.
Jacksonville Jaguars, Luke McCown, Blaine Gabbert: The Jags cut veteran QB David Garrard less than a week before the 2011 season began, and the second-guessing began almost immediately. McCown was ineffective in his two starts and rookie Gabbert failed to impress; the result was a 5-11 record. To say that this QB situation is up in the air would be an understatement.