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With organized team activities over and training camps still several weeks away, teams are evaluating not only where the 90-ish players on their rosters fit, but also what areas are in need of upgrading.
Quarterback, of course, is the first position that comes to mind when evaluating teams from an outside perspective. If you have a face of a franchise behind center, you can compete. If you don’t, your season’s ceiling is lowered significantly. That’s simply the way it is in today’s pass-friendly NFL.
So where does every team stand just about a month away from training camps and just over two months away from the start of the regular season? To dive into the this issue, it’s worth taking a look at both the starters and the backups. As the Vikings learned (and showed) last offseason, the backup quarterback position holds high importance. Why else would the organization have shelled out first- and fourth-round draft picks for Sam Bradford last summer? In the wake of Teddy Bridgewater’s gruesome knee injury, the Vikings, one season removed from a playoff berth, thought their window to contend for a title was very much open and Bradford would keep that window open. As the team’s 8-8 record last year would suggest, those hopes didn’t come to fruition, but they did illustrate the importance of a competent backup; the team didn’t see then-second stringer Shaun Hill as someone who could fill that role.
Evaluating quarterback situations on the whole is tricky. How much emphasis does one put on the starter’s ability versus the backup’s? Knocking a team significantly for a poor backup is foolish, but so, too, is putting complete emphasis on the starter.
So the method behind the madness is this: Rank all 32 projected starting quarterbacks and all 32 backups, with notable third stringers included in the backup count. From there, devise a points system in which the starter’s ranking carried 80 percent of the weight and the backup’s carrying 20 percent. It’s an inexact science. Some teams are lucky enough to have their preseason projected starter take every meaningful snap of the entire season. Others get a mix of starter and backup due to either injury or performance issues. And some, like the aforementioned Vikings, don’t get to see their starter take a single snap the entire season. Here is how the results work:
32. Los Angeles Rams (1.2 points)
Starter: Jared Goff (ranked 32nd)
Backup: Sean Mannion (ranked 31st)
The Rams find themselves at the bottom of the totem pole, but this — like most everything during the offseason — is due to a lot of speculation. Goff struggled mightily last year after taking the reins in Week 11. The team went 0-7 as Goff threw more interceptions than touchdowns, recorded a paltry 5.3 yards per attempt and took 26 sacks. He was, of course, a rookie thrown into the fire of what was already a lost season, but perhaps a more inspiring performance would have helped him climb out of the cellar. Additionally, offseason signees Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp don’t make up for losing Kenny Britt and Brian Quick. Then there’s Mannion, who has 13 career pass attempts. New head coach Sean McVay — who helped turn Kirk Cousins into an upper-echelon starter — has his work cut out for him and could look into adding a veteran presence.
31. New York Jets (3.8 points)
Starter: Josh McCown/Christian Hackenberg/Bryce Petty (30th)
Backups: Josh McCown/Christian Hackenberg/Bryce Petty (26th)
Congratulations, J-E-T-S! You’re not at the bottom of this one. Ahead of the draft, the team announced it will have an open competition for its starting job between the aforementioned trio of signal callers. It’s not exactly an inspiring group, highlighted (or lowlighted) by Hackenberg hitting reporters with errant passes. While it’s clear that the Jets are very much a tanking/rebuilding organization, it will be intriguing to see who emerges; sticking a youngster into the starting role with little help around him can be a confidence destroyer, but playing someone who’s clearly not part of the future just delays game experience and development. Overall, McCown has displayed some semblance of competency even in the late stages of his career, and that helps the Jets avoid the basement.
30. Cleveland Browns (5.8 points)
Starter: Cody Kessler (31st)
Backups: Brock Osweiler, Kevin Hogan, DeShone Kizer (12th)
Here’s the first example of how a solid group of backups can (ever so slightly) bump a team up the rankings. The Browns are very clearly in the early stages of trying to build themselves into a playoff challenger. They’re a long way away. But with Kessler, who performed decently with limited options around him last year, already announced as the starter, the Browns have some sense of direction. With Osweiler, Hogan and Kizer all in the wings if he struggles or gets injured, this might even represent the low end of where Cleveland finishes in these rankings at season’s end. A healthy Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt could prove a solid starting tandem, and free agents Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter should improve the protection in front of whoever is taking snaps.
29. San Francisco 49ers (6.4 points)
Starter: Brian Hoyer (27th)
Backups: Matt Barkley, C.J. Beathard (25th)
Hoyer has quietly been a solid option for teams as either a highly productive backup or starter for teams in transitional situations, as he showed over the past three seasons in Cleveland, Houston and Chicago. In Kyle Shanahan’s first year, there are not high expectations of winning in Santa Clara, but progress for a young defense should be evident. Offensively, Hoyer doesn’t have a ton of options. That doesn’t bode well for him or his young backups, former golden boy Barkley and third-round pick Beathard. The 49ers opted against a quarterback in the first round and added picks, still got the guy they wanted (DE Solomon Thomas), and now have an offensive wizard able to handpick the next face of the franchise in 2018. Not all is looking bad for the 49ers, but this isn’t the year to put up big passing numbers for a team that hasn’t been the same since Jim Harbaugh’s falling out.
T-27. Houston Texans (8.6 points)
Starter: Deshaun Watson/Tom Savage (29th)
Backups: Deshaun Watson/Tom Savage, Brandon Weeden (6)
Five teams have made the playoffs back-to-back years, and the Texans are one of them. Obviously that’s largely in part due to the weak competition in the AFC South, but it also shows that Houston has constructed a solid team in the absence of a proven quarterback. The Texans have started eight players under center in the past three years. Like many of the teams with quarterback battles, the Texans are hard to pin down. If Watson, this year’s 12th overall pick, wins the battle, it’ll mean he’s proven he can handle Bill O’Brien’s complex offense, and his natural skill should push this ranking up. Then there’s Savage, a young but unspectacular option and capable backup should he not be announced starter. Regardless of who starts, having a wide receiver the caliber of DeAndre Hopkins is something that none of the teams below the Texans can claim, and that alone helps the defending AFC South champs immensely.
T-27. Jacksonville Jaguars (8.6 points)
Starter: Blake Bortles (28th)
Backup: Chad Henne (10th)
If you’re a fantasy football player, you’re wondering why Bortles is this low. If you’re a real-life viewer, you understand why Bortles, who is 11-34 as a starter and has thrown 51 career interceptions, is this low. The Jaguars made it clear in the draft that they intend to become a run-first team by drafting Leonard Fournette and bringing in two new starting tackles. Tom Coughlin won’t stand for a quarterback who makes the plays Bortles does, and Henne is a serviceable backup with plenty of previous starting experience. If Bortles makes the boneheaded plays that have plagued his career thus far, his leash will be significantly shorter than it has been in the past. Just three years after drafting Bortles third overall, the Jaguars could look to head in a new direction if he doesn’t show marked improvement in 2017. That makes for an uninspiring quarterback situation.
26. Chicago Bears (9.4 points)
Starter: Mike Glennon (26th)
Backup: Mark Sanchez, Mitchell Trubisky (14th)
If you look at Glennon’s first two seasons in the pros — 2013 and 2014 — you’ll see a player who put up a nearly 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio and even made the 2013 All-Rookie Team. But Jameis Winston overtook Glennon immediately in Tampa Bay, and now Glennon’s facing a similar situation in Chicago. It’s clear he’s a season-long placeholder for No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky. That could serve as either a frustrating situation or as a platform for Glennon to prove he can be a starter in this league. Sanchez and Trubisky should battle it out for the backup job, but it’s apparent the Bears don’t intend on cutting Trubisky loose this year unless disaster strikes.
25. Kansas City Chiefs (10.2 points)
Starter: Alex Smith (21st)
Backup: Patrick Mahomes II, Tyler Bray (30th)
Smith is a known quantity at this point in his career. He’s not going to win you a lot of games, but he’ll lose you even fewer. An efficient passer (tied for sixth with a 67.1 completion percentage last season), he’s a solid fit for this run-heavy, defensively dominant Chiefs team, which boosts him ahead of bigger names such as Joe Flacco and Sam Bradford. But there’s a reason Andy Reid moved way up in the first round to draft Mahomes. He has a really high ceiling with a ton of physical tools to run this offense — just not this year. Mahomes is a year away, and if Smith were to get hurt, Mahomes and Bray aren’t the ideal options Reid would like running his system. Of course, Reid has a terrific track record as a quarterback whisperer, and if he can get Mahomes ahead of schedule, this ranking could bump up a few spots.
24. Baltimore Ravens (11.8 points)
Starter: Joe Flacco (22nd)
Backup: Ryan Mallett (18th)
A Super-Bowl winning quarterback and a competent backup not even breaking the top 20? Unfortunately, that’s the case for Baltimore. Part of it is health — Flacco tore his ACL in 2015 — and part of it is that he’s simply not producing as many big plays downfield as he did in his prime. Flacco’s 2016 yards per attempt and yards per completion were career lows. There’s some reason for optimism if Breshad Perriman can stay healthy and Jeremy Maclin can get back to his normal self, but Flacco’s favorite target, Dennis Pitta, was lost for the year, and he’s nearly impossible to replace. And at 32, Flacco’s not getting any younger. Mallett is a middle-of-the-road backup.
23. Denver Broncos (12.2 points)
Starter: Trevor Siemian/Paxton Lynch (25th)
Backups: Trevor Siemian/Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly (4th)
Denver has an interesting situation at quarterback this season. Siemian, a 2014 seventh-rounder, performed solidly in what was essentially his rookie season, throwing for 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 14 starts. Lynch, a first-rounder in 2016, took the other two starts and struggled. With the final pick of the 2017 draft, the team took a flier on the talented but troubled Kelly, and he’s not expected to challenge for the starting job right away. How new coach Vance Joseph and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy divvy up reps this offseason will be a storyline to follow. Neither Siemian, who has all the makings of being a very good backup if he doesn’t win the starting job, nor Lynch, who has an incredible physical skillset, were drafted under the current regime. Whoever doesn’t start will provide solid insurance as a backup and mentor to Kelly.
T-21. Minnesota Vikings (12.4 points)
Starter: Sam Bradford (23rd)
Backups: Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater? (11th)
There are so many levels to this story, but let’s first start with Bradford, who performed admirably on very short notice. On Sept. 3, he was traded to Minnesota, and on Sept. 18 he threw for 286 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a win over Green Bay. His numbers are really impressive: He threw 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions and set the all-time record with a 71.6 completion percentage. But the Vikings ranked 30th in yards per completion, and the offense was abysmal.
Then there’s Bridgewater, whose fifth-year option was declined earlier this offseason. Bridgewater has played two seasons, and last year counted as the third against his contract. If he does not come off of injured reserve this season, his fourth year carries over to 2018. If the front office deems him part of their longterm plans, that could be an attractive option. But Bridgewater has looked good this offseason and appears ahead of schedule. Still, there is a long way to go for the Louisville product, and that’s why the team brought in Keenum. If and/or when Bridgewater returns this season will have a major impact on this ranking.
T-21. Philadelphia Eagles (12.4 points)
Starter: Carson Wentz (24th)
Backups: Nick Foles, Matt McGloin (7th)
After Philly blew out Pittsburgh 34-3 in Week 3, it seemed like everyone was aboard the Wentz Wagon. At that point the Eagles were 3-0, and Wentz had thrown five touchdowns and no picks. But over the next 14 weeks, he threw just 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions as the Eagles finished 7-9. He showed some impressive signs as a rookie, but until he shows it more consistently in 2017, we’ll have to keep a lid on the hype. This offseason the Eagles added Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery to bolster the receiving corps and added Foles as an experienced backup. All three of those moves should help Wentz in his sophomore campaign.
20. Los Angeles Chargers (14.8 points)
Starter: Philip Rivers (16th)
Backup: Kellen Clemens (24th)
It seems that there are two camps on Rivers. One camp says he’s still a very good quarterback with a ton of natural talent and the ability to make all different kinds throws to all different kinds of pass catchers. The other camp says he is too far past his prime, throws far too many interceptions (a league-leading 21 last season) and can’t lead a team to the playoffs anymore. He’s probably somewhere in between. He fell victim to circumstances around him last season, playing behind an underperforming line and without his top wide receiver for 15-and-a-half games. With Keenan Allen healthy and first-rounder Mike Williams in the fold, Rivers should put up better numbers this season. Clemens has thrown 10 passes in the past three years but wasn’t half bad when he started 10 games for the Rams in 2013. The Chargers need to start looking for Rivers’ successor at some point; they haven’t drafted a quarterback before the fifth round since 2006.
T-18. Cincinnati Bengals (15.4 points)
Starter: Andy Dalton (20th)
Backup: AJ McCarron (8th)
There aren’t many guys who could put up the raw numbers — 18 touchdowns to eight interceptions, over 4,200 yards and a nearly 65 percent completion rate — that Dalton did and be considered a complete bust. The 18 scores were a career low, though, and a seven-touchdown drop-off from 2015. He also took 41 sacks, second-most in the league. With a healthy A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert back and rookie WRs John Ross Josh Malone and RB Joe Mixon also incoming, the Red Rifle should get back on track in 2017. McCarron is an able second option with a playoff start under his belt.
T-18. New York Giants (15.4 points)
Starter: Eli Manning (18th)
Backup: Geno Smith, Davis Webb (16th)
Eli Manning is the new Joe Flacco to the “Is Joe Flacco elite?” joke that’s been run into the ground. The two-time Super Bowl champ threw 16 interceptions this year but also surpassed 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns for the third straight year. He’s been helped out in a major way by his receiving corps, and now he’s adding Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram to that group. Overall, there’s good Eli and there’s bad Eli, and bad Eli is showing up more and more later in his career. As for backups, they haven’t really mattered considering Eli hasn’t missed a start since he took over the job in 2005. Smith provides starting experience and Webb, a third-rounder from this year’s draft, will likely be groomed as Manning’s future replacement.
17. Miami Dolphins (17.4 points)
Starter: Ryan Tannehill (19th)
Backup: Matt Moore (2nd)
Tannehill set a career high in completion rate (67.1), quarterback rating (93.5), touchdown rate (4.9) and yards per attempt (7.7) in his first season under new head coach Adam Gase. Gase, who worked with Peyton Manning in Denver, should continue to help Tannehill along in Year Two. Jarvis Landry provides one of the league’s best safety valves, DeVante Parker carried the end-of-year momentum into the offseason and Julius Thomas returns to his old offensive coordinator who made him a star in Denver. This is the year Tannehill has to put it all together. Moore, meanwhile, has long been considered one of the top backups in the league, and last year he upheld that reputation tossing eight touchdowns and just three interceptions and winning two of his three starts.
16. Arizona Cardinals (17.6 points)
Starter: Carson Palmer (17th)
Backup: Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert (9th)
After an incredible renaissance 2015 season, Palmer fell back to Earth in 2016, throwing nine fewer touchdowns and three more interceptions than in the previous season. He’s 37 and doesn’t have quite the arm he once did, but he still has the gunslinging mentality, talent and weapons around him to rebound. Behind him, Stanton remains as reliable as they come, and Gabbert, a cheap free agent acquisition, has starting experience as well.
15. Detroit Lions (17.8 points)
Starter: Matt Stafford (11th)
Backups: Jake Rudock, Brad Kaaya (32nd)
The ultra-durable Stafford hasn’t missed a start in the last six seasons, and Lions fans had better hope he extends that streak to seven. Neither Rudock nor Kaaya, back-to-back sixth-rounders in 2016 and 2017, respectively, have taken a single professional snap. The Lions are certainly a candidate to add a veteran free agent before summer’s end. Stafford’s numbers haven’t reached the heights they did when Calvin Johnson was playing, but the former University of Georgia gunslinger has done more with less than perhaps any other quarterback, and he’s one of the best in the clutch.
14. Tennessee Titans (18.8 points)
Starter: Marcus Mariota (13th)
Backup: Matt Cassel (19th)
Mariota quietly had a very good 2016, and if he can recover from the broken right fibula that ended his season, should be even better in 2017 given the vast improvement of his receiving corps. In his second season, Mariota posted improved numbers in most significant statistical categories, and he could very well be a few spots higher if he weren’t coming off a significant injury. With first-round pick Corey Davis, third-round pick Taywan Taylor and free agent addition Eric Decker, Mariota has all the weapons he needs to break out as a star in Nashville. Cassel has been all over the map as a backup, but it’s clear his best days are well behind him.
13. Buffalo Bills (20 points)
Starter: Tyrod Taylor (12th)
Backup: Cardale Jones, TJ Yates, Nathan Peterman (17th)
The group of starters between about 10 and 15 is nearly impossible to rank. Taylor has quietly been very solid for the Bills in his two seasons in Buffalo, but his numbers won’t necessarily speak to that for a few reasons. He played in a run-based system (Buffalo had a 46.4 percent of its yards come on the ground, most in the league by a wide margin), calls the league’s coldest and snowiest stadium home and, most importantly, just hasn’t had the weapons around him to succeed.
You can’t change where you play, but you can change who’s around you, and that’s what the Bills did, bringing in free agent wide receivers Philly Brown and Andre Holmes and drafting Zay Jones. They added Dion Dawkins, who should help patch up the porous right side of the line (Taylor took a league-leading 42 sacks), in the draft. They also have a completely new system with head coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. But none of those additions are nearly as important as a healthy Sammy Watkins. In 2015, when Watkins played in 13 games, Taylor finished fifth in yards per attempt. In 2016, when Watkins played just eight games, Taylor fell to 21st. Behind Taylor, Jones beat out E.J. Manuel for the backup spot, Yates has experience, and Peterman, a rookie, showed skills at Pittsburgh that can fit into any system.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (20.4 points)
Starter: Jameis Winston (15th)
Backup: Ryan Fitzpatrick (3rd)
Famous Jameis at his best shows signs of being a top-10 quarterback. And, like Tyrod Taylor, he got a ton of help from his front office this offseason. The Bucs revamped their receiving corps around Mike Evans and Cameron Brate, adding O.J. Howard in the first round, Chris Godwin in the third round and DeSean Jackson in free agency. Winston still turns it over too often, but with the impressive arsenal of weapons around him, he shouldn’t have to force nearly as many passes into windows that simply aren’t there. His carelessness with the football has really hurt the Bucs’ winning totals. Case in point: When Winston is in the game with the lead, he boasts a 99.7 career quarterback rating. When he’s trailing, that number falls all the way to 81.7. Behind him, Fitzpatrick will not only provide a veteran presence but also the ability to play solid football if need be.
11. Washington Redskins (20.8 points)
Starter: Kirk Cousins (14th)
Backup: Colt McCoy (5th)
This season will be a good sign as to whether Cousins is more a product of the talent around him or more a good quarterback. With Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson gone, free agent signee Terrelle Pryor, a healthy Josh Doctson and excellent slot man Jamison Crowder are expected to shine in Washington’s pass-heavy offense. Cousins is very accurate, can make most throws and led four fourth-quarter game-winning drives last season. But in the biggest of moments, he failed to come through in the season finale. Still, he operated last year with essentially no running game — only 26.3 percent of the team’s yards came on the ground, 28th in the league — and is right in the middle of his prime. Behind Cousins, McCoy is everything you’d want in a backup quarterback and has played reasonably well when called upon.
10. Dallas Cowboys (21.2 points)
Starter: Dak Prescott (9th)
Backup: Kellen Moore (23rd)
Prescott put together an incredible debut season, only to be overshadowed by his own teammate Ezekiel Elliott. Prescott showed impressive poise, creativity under duress and leadership, all qualities that will carry over and only improve in his second season and beyond. His 0.87 interception percentage was the best ever for a rookie who started all 16 games. Boosted by one of the league’s top lines and an outstanding running back, Prescott cracks the top 10. We’ll see if defenses have a better read on him in his sophomore season. Moore, meanwhile, is the answer to the great trivia question “Who is the last Cowboy to throw for 400 yards in a game?” but not much else.
9. Seattle Seahawks (21.8 points)
Starter: Russell Wilson (8th)
Backup: Trevone Boykin (24th)
Throw out last season when considering Wilson. He played behind the worst offensive line in football according to Pro Football Focus and wasn’t fully healthy. And despite that, the Seahawks made it to the playoffs yet again and even won their Wild Card game — not bad for a “bad year.” This offseason, the Seahawks added new tackles to bookend the front five, drafted wide receiver Amara Darboh in the third round and added Eddie Lacy in free agency. Wilson’s one of the best pure winners in the game, and the help around him will only make him better in 2017. Boykin, meanwhile, is uber-athletic and somewhat similar to Wilson when it comes to playing style. But it’s evident that Seattle might be looking to add a veteran backup, as shown when Colin Kaepernick took a visit.
8. Carolina Panthers (22.4 points)
Starter: Cam Newton (10th)
Backup: Derek Anderson, Joe Webb (13th)
Newton was the MVP in 2015. Then he had perhaps the worst season of his career in 2016. Newton’s physical playing style took its toll on both his head and his shoulder, and he just recently started throwing again after undergoing surgery. He threw for 16 fewer touchdowns than his MVP campaign and ran for nearly 300 fewer yards, an unbelievable drop-off for a player in his prime. So where does the real Cam Newton belong? With Kelvin Benjamin another year removed from an ACL tear, free agent signees Charles Johnson and Russell Shepard and versatile rookies Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, Newton should be looking like Superman once again. Anderson, meanwhile, is the unassuming veteran backup that sticks around seemingly forever, and that’s been good for Carolina.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (23.2 points)
Starter: Ben Roethlisberger (7th)
Backups: Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs (21st)
Big Ben was serious when he said he would consider retiring this offseason, and he’s still mum on his prospects after 2017. But what matters for these rankings is that he’s back and committed to this season, and that’s the best news Steelers fans could have possibly received this offseason. Roethlisberger turned 35 in March, but he just keeps on chugging, putting together a 29-touchdown, 13-interception season in 2016 while recording the lowest sack percentage (3.2) of his career. He’s not the scrambler he once was, but he knows how to keep plays alive and is almost impossible to bring down with just one guy. With the plethora of weapons around Roethlisberger, the Steelers will be a contender every year he continues to play. Jones, meanwhile, hasn’t done anything to prove he’s the future of the franchise, so the Steelers took Dobbs, a talented but raw prospect, in the fourth round.
6. Indianapolis Colts (24 points)
Starter: Andrew Luck (4th)
Backup: Scott Tolzien (29th)
Luck, mired by inconsistent play around him, a small market and a terrible division, doesn’t get the recognition he probably deserves. He finished in the top 10 in yards, yards per attempt and touchdowns, led four fourth-quarter comeback wins and finished with an approximate value of 16, fourth-best among quarterbacks. He did all of this while playing through a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. Tolzien, meanwhile, has started one game in the last two seasons.
5. Oakland Raiders (25 points)
Starter: Derek Carr (5th)
Backup: Connor Cook, EJ Manuel (20th)
Fresh off becoming the highest-paid player in the NFL, Carr comes in as the fifth-best quarterback in this ranking. The 26-year-old signal caller cut way down on his interceptions, produced the highest quarterback rating of his career and engineered a ridiculous seven fourth-quarter comebacks. Thanks in part to his impressive offensive line, Carr also registered the lowest sack percentage in the NFL (2.78). Had he been healthy for the playoffs, Carr would have made the Raiders a darkhorse Super Bowl pick. Oakland has improved as he’s improved, and 2017 could be the best year in a long time for both him and this franchise.
4. New Orleans Saints (25.2 points)
Starter: Drew Brees (4th)
Backups: Chase Daniel, Garrett Grayson, Ryan Nassib (15th)
Brees continued to command the high-octane New Orleans offense with precision in 2016, surpassing 5,000 passing yards for the fourth time in six seasons. Even at 38, Brees combines pinpoint short passing with a deep ball that can still strike fear into defenses. He remains the focal point of the offense, even with Adrian Peterson joining the backfield. Behind Brees is an interesting group. Daniel was expected to start in Philadelphia last year but was beat out by Carson Wentz. Grayson was drafted two years ago but hasn’t thrown a pass, and Nassib is young as well. Daniel appears to be the favorite for the backup job in the Big Easy, a role he played earlier in his career.
3. Green Bay Packers (25.8 points)
Starter: Aaron Rodgers (2nd)
Backup: Brett Hundley (28th)
The only thing holding the Packers back from second (or, arguably, first) is their backup situation. We know how amazing Rodgers is, but what happens if he gets hurt? Hundley’s career numbers are 2 for 10 for 17 yards and an interception. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Of course, Rodgers hasn’t missed a game in the past three seasons, so take this ranking with a grain of salt, but if he were to miss one, the Packers have no real plan behind him at this point.
2. Atlanta Falcons (26.2 points)
Starter: Matt Ryan (3rd)
Backup: Matt Schaub (22nd)
The Falcons squeak by the Packers into the second slot thanks to their advantage at backup quarterback, even though Schaub hasn’t been an effective starter since 2012. As for Ryan, the reigning MVP was simply outstanding last season, leading the league in yards per attempt, yards per completion, quarterback rating and touchdown percentage. Matty Ice had been very good for much of his career. He was great in 2016, and he should be great again in 2017, even with former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan now the head coach in San Francisco. Had the Falcons not infamously blown their 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI, they might be atop the rankings.
1. New England Patriots (32 points)
Starter: Tom Brady (1st)
Backup: Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett (1st)
The Pats complete a clean sweep at both starter and backup. Brady, who will turn 40 before the season starts, shows no signs of slowing down, and now he has Brandin Cooks and a healthy Rob Gronkowski to throw to. Behind him, Garoppolo showed so well in his starting stint while Brady was suspended that he became the hottest of topics on trade rumor mills for a while. It’s clear several teams view him as an above-average starter, and the Patriots holding onto him as the franchise’s future proves his value even more. The reigning champs take the top spot with a perfect 32 points.
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