- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The number of new quarterbacks each year continues to grow as the pressure to produce offensively increases. This year, 11 projected starting quarterbacks didn’t start for their team in Week 1 of last season. Who’s the best in the league today? Here are our rankings:

1. Tom Brady, New England

Last year: 24 TD, 12 INT, 3,529 yards, 61.8 completion pct., 87.9 rating

Bottom line: Brady is one Super Bowl title away from joining the Montana-Bradshaw Club of quarterbacks to win four championships. He gets the edge over Manning because he’s done it without guys like Marvin Harrison.

2. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis

Last year: 31 TD, 9 INT, 4,397 yards, 65.0 completion pct., 101.0 rating

Bottom line: Manning finally won his first Super Bowl title last year, and he will be among the league’s best as long as he continues to work in the same system and continues to have Harrison as his No. 1 target.

3. Drew Brees, New Orleans

Last year: 26 TD, 11 INT, 4,418 yards, 64.3 completion pct., 96.2 rating

Bottom line: Watching Brees pick apart Philadelphia in the playoffs was awesome — throwing to different receivers, changing plays, beating blitzes, etc. The Saints could reach their first Super Bowl this year.

4. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia

Last year: 18 TD, 6 INT, 2,647 yards, 57.0 completion pct., 95.5 rating

Bottom line: Was on his way to a potential MVP season when his ACL was torn. If healthy, he can still lead a team down the field with regularity and still make all the throws. But his health is a big if.

5. Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle

Last year: 18 TD, 15 INT, 2,442 yards, 56.6 completion pct., 76.0 rating

Bottom line: Shoulder problems prevented Hasselbeck from having a decent season, but Seattle still reached the second round of the playoffs. Now healthy, he’s a perfect fit for Mike Holmgren’s offense.

6. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati

Last year: 28 TD, 13 INT, 4,035 yards, 62.3 completion pct., 93.9 rating

Bottom line: Palmer rebounded from his serious knee injury to have a great season, though it didn’t translate into a playoff berth. A former top pick, he’s Exhibit A of how watching for a year is beneficial.

7. Philip Rivers, San Diego

Last year: 22 TD, 9 INT, 3,388 yards, 61.7 completion pct., 92.0 rating

Bottom line: Surprisingly effective last season as a first-time starter. Rivers doesn’t just hand off to LaDainian Tomlinson — he’s a playmaker and already one of the best young passers in the game.

8. Tony Romo, Dallas

Last year: 19 TD, 13 INT, 2,903 yards, 65.3 completion pct., 95.1 rating

Bottom line: Romo rejuvenated the Cowboys’ season after taking the starting job from Drew Bledsoe. He isn’t afraid to thread the needle. A Pro Bowler in the making, especially with the weapons that surround him.

9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh

Last year: 18 TD, 23 INT, 3,513 yards, 59.7 completion pct., 75.4 rating

Bottom line: Roethlisberger never was quite right last year after his motorcycle accident and appendix surgery. But he has a new coordinator (Bruce Arians) who is expected to use Big Ben’s arm more often.

10. Brett Favre, Green Bay

Last year: 18 TD, 18 INT, 3,885 yards, 56.0 completion pct., 72.7 rating

Bottom line: The old gunslinger is back for another season. Though the interceptions mount, he still has one of the league’s strongest arms and his improvisational skills while on the run are second to none.

11. Marc Bulger, St. Louis

Last year: 24 TD, 8 INT, 4,301 yards, 62.9 completion pct., 92.9 rating

Bottom line: His numbers suggest he should rank higher, but keep in mind that at his disposal are Isaac Bruce … and Torry Holt … and Steven Jackson … and his blind-side is left tackle Orlando Pace.

12. Jeff Garcia, Tampa Bay

Last year: 10 TD, 2 INT, 1,309 yards, 61.7 completion pct., 95.8 rating

Bottom line: Garcia led the Eagles to an NFC East title and is now on his fifth team in as many seasons. He’s still a playmaker with his arm and his feet; his problem is that Tampa Bay has few complementary parts.

13. Matt Leinart, Arizona

Last year: 11 TD, 12 INT, 2,547 yards, 56.8 completion pct., 74.0 rating

Bottom line: We’re sure this will raise some eyebrows, but the guy is going to be a star — if, that is, the Cardinals curse doesn’t somehow lay him low. The addition of Ken Whisenhunt as head coach should help.

14. J.P. Losman, Buffalo

Last year: 19 TD, 14 INT, 3,051 yards, 62.5 completion pct., 84.9 rating

Bottom line: Losman would be more acclaimed had the Bills won more games the past two seasons and he didn’t play in Brady’s shadow. A young up-and-comer who has experienced the highs and lows and survived.

15. Eli Manning, New York Giants

Last year: 24 TD, 18 INT, 3,244 yards, 57.7 completion pct., 77.0 rating

Bottom line: Now entering his fourth season, Manning doesn’t have running back Tiki Barber around any more to lead the offense. It’s on Manning. So far, he’s been wildly inconsistent in his decision making.

16. Trent Green, Miami

Last year: 7 TD, 9 INT, 1,342 yards, 60.7 completion pct., 74.1 rating

Bottom line: The Dolphins are gambling with the 37-year-old Green, who suffered a serious concussion in last year’s opener. When healthy, he is an efficient passer, but his health remains a major issue.

17. Alex Smith, San Francisco

Last year: 16 TD, 16 INT, 2,890 yards, 58.1 completion pct., 74.8 rating

Bottom line: Though the 49ers may be a year away from the playoffs, Smith’s development has been impressive. He finally gets a decent receiver (Darrell Jackson) to work with this season.

18. Vince Young, Tennessee

Last year: 12 TD, 13 INT, 2,199 yards, 51.5 completion pct., 66.7 rating

Bottom line: His statistics aren’t eye-popping, but Young led the Titans to an 8-5 record. He doesn’t have great help at the skill positions, but Young’s athleticism (think Michael Vick, only better) will keep his team in the playoff hunt.

19. Daunte Culpepper, Oakland

Last year: 2 TD, 3 INT, 929 yards, 60.4 completion pct., 77.0 rating

Bottom line: Count us in the small group that expects Culpepper to have a good year. He came back too early last season and had to be shut down. If his offensive line can protect him, Culpepper will return to form.

20. Matt Schaub, Houston

Last year: 1 TD, 2 INT, 208 yards, 66.7 completion pct., 71.2 rating

Bottom line: You think the Falcons regret dealing Schaub? Some in Atlanta thought all along the Falcons were better off with Schaub instead of Vick. Schaub compiled a 113.4 passer rating in the preseason.

21. Jason Campbell, Redskins

Last year: 10 TD, 6 INT, 1,297 yards, 53.1 completion pct., 76.5 rating

Bottom line: He doesn’t crack the top 20 yet because he went 2-5 in his debut last season. In seven starts, he has shown pocket presence and an ability to throw knowing he was going to get rocked. He can throw the deep ball.

22. Steve McNair, Baltimore

Last year: 16 TD, 12 INT, 3,050 yards, 63.0 completion pct., 82.5 rating

Bottom line: McNair has reached the stage of his career at which he needs a solid running attack so he can manage the game. Translation: As long as new running back Willis McGahee produces, McNair will look good.

23. Jay Cutler, Denver

Last year: 9 TD, 5 INT, 1,001 yards, 59.1 completion pct., 88.5 rating

Bottom line: Thrown into the playoff race in early December, Cutler lost three of his five starts. But that move, much like the Redskins going with Campbell last year, will benefit the second-year player this year.

24. Jake Delhomme, Carolina

Last year: 17 TD, 11 INT, 2,805 yards, 61.0 completion pct., 82.6 rating

Bottom line: Even when the Panthers were good, it wasn’t entirely because of Delhomme. He’s too inconsistent and makes too many poor throws to be ranked among the top quarterbacks in the league.

25. Rex Grossman, Chicago

Last year: 23 TD, 20 INT, 3,193 yards, 54.6 completion pct., 73.9 rating

Bottom line: Grossman’s latest problem is the quarterback-center exchange. But when he’s on, he can be very good. It’s just that when he’s off, he’s really bad. But he is Lovie Smith’s guy, so his job is secure.

26. Chad Pennington, New York Jets

Last year: 17 TD, 16 INT, 3,352 yards, 64.5 completion pct., 82.6 rating

Bottom line: Good thing the Jets have new running back Thomas Jones to lean on. Pennington struggled the entire preseason — his inability to throw the deep ball means defenses can cheat on the run and underneath routes.

27. Jon Kitna, Detroit

Last year: 21 TD, 22 INT, 4,208 yards, 62.4 completion pct., 79.9 rating

Bottom line: Playing quarterback in a Mike Martz offense has to be a dream (just ask Bulger and Kurt Warner). Kitna is a lock to exceed 4,000 yards again, but he may also throw 25 interceptions and get sacked 50 times.

28. Damon Huard, Kansas City

Last year: 11 TD, 1 INT, 1,878 yards, 60.7 completion pct., 98.0 rating

Bottom line: Granted, he was a stellar fill-in for Trent Green last year, but Herm Edwards tried to give Brodie Croyle the job this preseason. Croyle struggled and lost the job, but the leash on Huard is very short.

29. David Garrard, Jacksonville

Last year: 10 TD, 9 INT, 1,735 yards, 60.2 completion pct., 80.5 rating.

Bottom line: Wasn’t supposed to have a chance of winning the starting job from former first-round pick Byron Leftwich but was named the guy (and Leftwich cut) late last week. Should be a slight upgrade over Leftwich.

30. Joey Harrington, Atlanta

Last year: 12 TD, 15 INT, 2,236 yards, 57.5 completion pct., 68.2 rating

Bottom line: With Vick suspended for the foreseeable future and facing jail time, the starting job fell into Harrington’s lap. This is his third team, so the Falcons, already offensively challenged, shouldn’t expect much.

31. Whoever Cleveland starts

Last year: A bunch of quarterbacks combined for 15 TD and 25 INT.

Bottom line: Derek Anderson, Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn and Ken Dorsey all saw time during the preseason. It probably will come down to Anderson or Frye at the outset, but expect Quinn to play quickly.

32. Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota

Last year: 2 TD, 4 INT, 475 yards, 58.0 completion pct., 62.5 rating

Bottom line: He may be just fine in the future, but there’s no way Jackson should be starting the season opener. Expect veteran Kelly Holcombe to take over the job once he learns the system.

Ryan O’Halloran

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