Some quarterbacks have already proven everything they'll ever need to prove. Some still have time before a definitive judgment will be made. For the following five fellows, 2011 is the year. This season is almost a referendum on the various stages of their careers. If they don't deliver now, we'll be looking at them differently for years.
5. Donovan McNabb, Minnesota Vikings.
McNabb's place in football history might be secure, but his place as a good quarterback in today's NFL? That area is a little grayer. McNabb will swear to you that the last season in Washington was a fluke, and that he's way, way, way better than he showed under Mike Shanahan. Unfortunately for him, he's got to prove that in Minnesota where Sidney Rice is gone, and the pass protection hasn't been very good.
4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions.
When Matthew Stafford played last year, he was really good. The only problem is that the sample size is tiny, because he spent most of the year injured, just as he was the last few weeks of his rookie year in 2009. The Lions are ready to win right now. Another year of "We might have been really good if Matthew Stafford had stayed healthy" will not be acceptable.
3. Eli Manning, New York Giants.
The Giants were one of the better teams in football last year, and they should be again this year, too -- provided that Eli Manning can stop throwing interceptions like he's Brett Favre. He threw 25 last year -- three more than anyone else in the league. If he can cut that number in half, while still holding on to his 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns, the Giants are Super Bowl contenders.
2. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens.
The only AFC teams that have been to the Super Bowl since 2004 are the Patriots, Steelers and Colts. Their quarterbacks are Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning. If Joe Flacco wants to put his team into the former group, he will have to put himself into the latter group. The AFC is too deep to win the conference with a quarterback who is just good. It's time for Joe Flacco to be a little more than that.
1. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys.
As they always are, expectations are high in Dallas, but the Cowboys aren't going to get where they want to be if Tony Romo isn't healthy and playing as well as he can. Jon Kitna's an excellent backup, but I think we've all seen enough of Jon Kitna. It's time for Tony Romo to step back in and be one of the NFC's best.
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