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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

There's something in the air

As usual, the quarterback position is loaded with intrigue, and teams and fans are eager to see how it all plays out.

July 26, 2009|SAM FARMER

Tom Brady is coming back.

Brett Favre might be. Again.

Chicago's Jay Cutler is ready to prove he's a difference maker; Kansas City's Matt Cassel is itching to show he was no fluke in New England last season; and newly minted multimillionaires Matthew Stafford (Detroit) and Mark Sanchez (New York Jets) can only pray to make half the impact that 2008 rookies Matt Ryan (Atlanta) and Joe Flacco (Baltimore) made right away.

Yes, no position offers more intrigue this NFL season than quarterback, and the spotlight will be shining squarely on them as training camps open over the next two weeks.

That's not even mentioning last season's Super Bowl participants, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Arizona's Kurt Warner; the Manning brothers; a rebooted Chad Pennington in Miami; a mended Carson Palmer in Cincinnati; and maybe the best quarterback in the league, Drew Brees of New Orleans.

And, hey, if any of those guys fails to produce, there's always the Wildcat.

Ranking teams' quarterback situations from best to worst within their division:

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NFC East

New York Giants: Once a disappointment, Eli Manning has reinvented himself since the 2007 playoffs and last season put together the best effort of his career, breaking the 60% completion mark for the first time and throwing for 21 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He struggled without Plaxico Burress to stretch the field, though, and now won't have Burress or Amani Toomer. Time for the young receivers to step up.

Philadelphia: Donovan McNabb has his share of detractors, and they came out in droves last season after he admitted he didn't know NFL games could end in ties. That said, he's led the Eagles to five NFC championship games in eight years and has the lowest interception percentage in league history (1,500 attempts or more.) If he had a ring, they'd have already named the stadium after him in Philadelphia. Big if, of course.

Dallas: Bad news on Tony Romo's love life could turn out to be good news for the Cowboys. His breakup with Jessica Simpson clears the way for him to focus more on football, where he has yet to win a playoff game. Despite missing three games because of a broken pinkie finger, he still threw for 3,448 yards. He needs to protect the ball better, however.

Washington: If the Redskins were looking to inspire confidence in Jason Campbell, they should have been a bit more covert in their pursuit of Cutler. Regardless, Campbell has shown promise. On the good side, his passes are almost never intercepted. On the bad, they're very seldom touchdowns, either. He threw for 13 touchdowns last season, half as many as Romo.

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NFC North

Green Bay: The stage was set for Aaron Rodgers to do a spectacular face-plant last season, mostly because he was following in the footsteps of a legend. What's more, he was playing behind a pieced-together offensive line and didn't get a lot of help from his defense. But Rodgers played with a lot of poise, throwing for 28 touchdowns (and running for four more) with 13 interceptions. OK, it's just one number, but his 93.8 passer rating would have ranked among Favre's best.

Chicago: Cutler, coming off his first Pro Bowl season, might belong at the top of this list. There's no arguing he has one of the league's best arms. Still, he got great protection from Denver's offensive line last season -- that, coupled with his quick release, limited his sacks to 11 -- and he was throwing to exceptional targets in Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. Can he pull that off with a team that in 2008 didn't have a wide receiver crack the top 50 in catches?

Minnesota: Even if the Vikings sign Favre, they still might have the division's third-best quarterback situation. He was lousy at the end of last season, and it remains to be seen how much of that was because of his arm injury. Trading for Sage Rosenfels was smart; he's accurate enough to be a good fit there. Tarvaris Jackson wasn't bad in limited action last season, but he's probably gone if Favre comes aboard.

Detroit: Can Stafford make the kind of impact that Ryan and Flacco made with their teams last season? Not likely. The Falcons and Ravens were better stocked than the Lions, whose defense has finished last the past two seasons. Stafford does have Calvin Johnson, and that's a big plus. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew also should be a comforting security blanket.

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NFC South

New Orleans: Brees was a blindingly bright light on a bad team. He made his third Pro Bowl by throwing for 5,069 yards, the second-most in league history. In leading quarterbacks in most statistical categories, he made a no-name group of receivers look like a collection of All-Pros.

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