Quarterbacks are always on the hot seat, but rarely have so many of them been in such a precarious position as those who have something to prove this year in the AFC.
As they rev up NFL training camps this week, half of the AFC quarterbacks are on the hot seat for one reason or another -- although the overriding consideration is always winning.
In the natural order of things, it is perceived to be a bit more dramatic when veteran quarterbacks are on the hot seat, such as is the case with fifth-year veteran Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets and 10-year pro Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers. Both have had successes, with Rivers considered among the NFL elite at times.
But a group of second- and third-year quarterbacks is still seeking enough success to get off the hot seat, including Miami's Ryan Tannehill, Cleveland's Brandon Weeden, Tennessee's Jake Locker, Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert and even Cincinnati's Andy Dalton.
Here is a closer look at who is on the hot seat for each AFC team, based on information from team correspondents for The Sports Xchange (teams listed alphabetically):
Baltimore Ravens -- Nose tackle Terrence Cody.
Cody is coming off a disappointing season where he ranked last among the Ravens' defensive linemen in grades from Pro Football Focus. He underwent offseason hip surgery and still isn't fully healthy. If Cody doesn't get himself ready, he could be out of a job. The Ravens are extremely high on third-round rookie nose tackle Brandon Williams from Missouri Southern.
Buffalo Bills -- Cornerback Leodis McKelvin.
A first-round draft pick (11th overall) five years ago, McKelvin has established himself as one of the NFL's best return specialists but an unreliable starting defensive back. While the Bills value his return skills, they didn't re-sign the former Troy University star to a four-year, $20 million deal to return punts and kickoffs. They are counting on him to nail down the starting left corner job after the release of veteran Terrence McGee.
Cincinnati Bengals -- Quarterback Andy Dalton.
Dalton is one of six quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to lead his team to the playoffs his first two years. But he hasn't played well in the postseason, with no touchdown passes and four interceptions. Dalton has worked on the delivery of his deep ball, not only in footwork but in the release point of the ball. He also has assumed a more vocal presence in the huddle.
Cleveland Browns -- Quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Weeden heads into training camp as the starting quarterback, but he still has to prove himself to CEO Joe Banner, general manager Mike Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski because the previous regime drafted him. Those guys signed Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer in free agency. While working for the NFL Network during the 2012 draft, Lombardi said taking Weeden 22nd in the first round was a "wasted" pick by the Browns.
Denver Broncos -- Linebacker Nate Irving.
Irving was given the first opportunity to claim the open middle linebacker position, and worked on the first unit throughout organized team activities in May and June. But if he doesn't show enough growth, veteran Stewart Bradley, a free-agent signee in March, is waiting in the wings. Denver used a third-round pick on Irving in 2011 hoping he would become the starting middle linebacker. This is his best shot.
Houston Texans -- Quarterback Matt Schaub.
Schaub is unfairly getting most of the blame for the collapse over the last four games of 2012 and the decisive playoff loss at New England, although it was really a collective effort. Last year, Schaub was coming off major surgery on his foot, but he started 18 games, including two in the playoffs. He had a healthy offseason, and his teammates say he worked hard to improve his game and his durability.
Indianapolis Colts -- Tight end Coby Fleener
Fleener was the Colts' second-round draft pick in 2012, following the selection of his former Stanford teammate, quarterback Andrew Luck. However, due to injury setbacks, third-round pick Dwayne Allen got most of the work and action. Fleener came on toward the middle of last season and finished the year on an up note. With former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton now running the offense, Fleener's production is expected to skyrocket.
Jacksonville Jaguars -- Quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert is not only on the hot seat to keep the starting job, but to keep his roster spot. He is in his third year with the team, but also on his third head coach and offensive coordinator. For the first time, he'll be throwing to his two primary receivers from the year before. He'll also be operating behind the best line he has had. So he must produce this time or the Jaguars will draft a quarterback with their first pick in the 2014 draft.
Kansas City Chiefs -- Wide receiver Jon Baldwin.
Entering his third season since being selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Baldwin has been a disappointment. In two seasons of inconsistent play and production, Baldwin has a total of 41 catches for 579 yards and two touchdown receptions (26 games, 10 starts). The offense should feature more short and intermediate routes, which should fit the strengths of Baldwin's 6-4, 230-pound body.
Miami Dolphins -- Quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill is only a second-year starter, so no one expects miracles. But the Dolphins have constructed this team with playoffs in mind, and Tannehill, the NFL's 27th-rated passer last season (76.1), is the key. He has to avoid the fourth-quarter mistakes that dogged him as a rookie and take advantage of newly-acquired, big-play wide receiver Mike Wallace.
New England Patriots -- Defensive end Chandler Jones.
While a lot of attention is on an offense that lost all its top receivers -- including questions surrounding the return of Rob Gronkowski at tight ends -- newly-acquired receiver Danny Amendola is certainly in the spotlight. But that doesn't mean Jones, a second-year pro, is not on the hot seat as a key to the season on defense. Last year, the first-round pick had six sacks, 12 quarterback hits, five passes defensed and three forced fumbles. Those are numbers similar to those by stars like J.J. Watt and Jason Pierre-Paul put up as rookies. So, with an offense that will need help from the defense, the Patriots have that kind of expectation of Jones. That is a hot seat.
New York Jets -- Quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Based on experience, albeit too much of it bad, it appears that the starting job is Sanchez's to lose. And if he plays as butt ugly as he has at times, he will lose it to second-round draft pick Geno Smith, despite the fact Smith was not that impressive during offseason workouts. If he had been impressive, he would now be on the hot seat and Sanchez, well, who knows with the Jets?
Oakland Raiders -- Running back Darren McFadden.
Undeniably the best talent on the roster, McFadden is the one player capable of elevating the team because of his ability to make plays and get in the end zone. However, often due to injuries, McFadden had one of the worst seasons of any running back in the NFL, averaging only 3.3 yards per carry. The Raiders feel McFadden was not effective in a zone blocking scheme and rebuilt the offense to his strengths. Now he must stay healthy and produce.
Pittsburgh Steelers -- Safety Troy Polamalu.
Polamalu may have enough credentials to put him in line for consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including former NFL Defensive Player of the Year and seven Pro-Bowl appearances. However, he made few appearances for the Steelers last season, playing in only seven games because of a calf injury. He is 32 and with no experienced backup safeties, the Steelers need him to put in a full season.
San Diego Chargers -- Quarterback Philip Rivers.
Once considered among the NFL's elite quarterbacks, Rivers is coming off two subpar seasons. The lack of blocking, running and great receivers was certainly a factor, but Rivers accepts the blame. If anything, he tried to do too much and the result was 22 turnovers (15 interceptions) while being sacked 49 times. With a new head coach (Mike McCoy) and revamped scheme to accentuate his positives, Rivers admits he must show that as he enters his 10th season, his best days are not behind him.
Tennessee Titans -- Quarterback Jake Locker.
Everything done this offseason has been done with Locker's development and improvement in mind -- from the changes on the line, the addition of security blanket tight end Delanie Walker and the retooling of the playbook. The 2011 first-round pick needs to produce, and the quick success of guys like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton and Robert Griffin III give him little room for excuse.
Frank Cooney is The Sports Xchange publisher and has been a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee for 20 years.