A team-by-team look at the NFC’s projected starting quarterbacks on Kickoff Weekend:
ARIZONA: Third-year quarterback JOHN SKELTON will make his first career Kickoff Weekend start. The 2010 fifth-round pick (No. 155 overall) out of Fordham started seven games in 2011 and guided the Cardinals to a 5-2 record. He appeared in eight games last season and the team won six of those eight contests. In his past 10 games (nine starts), Skelton has engineered six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. He has started 11 games in his career and has a 7-4 record, including a perfect 5-0 mark at home.
ATLANTA: Fifth-year quarterback MATT RYAN had a franchise-record 4,177 passing yards last year and set career-highs with 29 touchdowns and a 92.2 passer rating. He had six 300-yard passing games in 2011, the most in a single season in team history. Ryan has led the Falcons to a 43-19 (.694) record in his career and his 43 wins as a starting quarterback are the second-most by a player in his first four NFL seasons (since 1950). At home, he has compiled a 26-4 (.867) mark. In his career, the Falcons are 23-0 in games when Ryan posts a passer rating of at least 100.
CAROLINA: CAM NEWTON, the 2011 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and a 2012 Pro Bowl selection, became the first player in NFL history to pass for 4,000 yards (4,051) and rush for 500 yards (706) in the same season. He set NFL rookie records with 4,051 passing yards and 35 total touchdowns (21 passing, 14 rushing) and his 14 rushing TDs were the most by any quarterback – rookie or veteran – in a single season. He started his career with back-to-back 400-yard passing games (422 in Week 1; NFL rookie-record 432 in Week 2) and is the only rookie in NFL history to accomplish the feat.
CHICAGO: Seventh-year veteran JAY CUTLER will make his fourth consecutive Kickoff Weekend start for the Bears. He started 10 games last season and led Chicago to a 7-3 record. In three seasons with the Bears, he ranks first in franchise history in career passer rating (82.1) and passing yards per game (225.8). Cutler is the only quarterback in team annals to post consecutive 3,000-yard passing seasons (2009-10) and back-to-back seasons with at least 20 touchdown passes (2009-10). In his career (including the playoffs), Cutler’s teams are 24-0 when he has a 100+ passer rating.
DALLAS: Tenth-year veteran TONY ROMO will start at quarterback for the Cowboys and has a career 47-28 (.627) record as the team’s starter (min. 10 attempts). Entering 2012, Romo ranks second in NFL history with a career 96.9 passer rating (min. 1,500 attempts). Last season, he posted a career-high 102.5 passer rating and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer ROGER STAUBACH (104.8 in 1971) as the only Cowboys with a 100+ rating in a season. Romo passed for 4,184 yards in 2011, his third 4,000-yard season. He is the only player in team history to pass for 4,000 yards in a season.
DETROIT: MATTHEW STAFFORD, the 2011 AP Comeback Player of the Year, will start on Kickoff Weekend for the fourth consecutive season. Last year, Stafford set single-season franchise records in passing yards (5,038), touchdowns (41), passer rating (97.2), attempts (663), completions (421) and completion percentage (63.5). Stafford, DREW BREES (2011) and DAN MARINO (1984) are the only players in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in the same season. Stafford is the only player to pass for at least five TDs three times in his first 29 career games.
GREEN BAY: Pro Bowl quarterback AARON RODGERS set the NFL single-season record with a 122.5 passer rating last season and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player by AP. He had 13 games with a 100+ passer rating, the most in a single season in NFL history, and his 12 games with a 110+ rating also set a league record. Rodgers set franchise records with 4,643 yards and 45 touchdown passes and he is the only player in NFL history to pass for at least 45+ TDs and have six or fewer interceptions. He threw at least two touchdown passes in 13 consecutive games, tied for the longest such streak in NFL history.
MINNESOTA: CHRISTIAN PONDER, the team’s first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft (No. 12 overall), will make his first Kickoff Weekend start. Ponder started the final 10 games of the 2011 season, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer FRAN TARKENTON’s club record for starts by a rookie quarterback. Ponder set team rookie records for attempts (291), and completions (158) in a season. In Week 13, he passed for 381 yards, the most by a rookie in franchise history.
NEW ORLEANS: In 2011, Pro Bowl quarterback DREW BREES set single-season league records for passing yards (5,476), completions (468), completion percentage (71.2), 300-yard passing games (13) and consecutive 300-yard passing games (seven). Since joining the Saints in 2006, his 28,394 passing yards are the most by a quarterback in any six-year span in NFL history. He has passed for at least 4,000 yards in each of the past six years – the top six passing totals in club annals – and is one of only two QBs in NFL history (PEYTON MANNING) with at least six consecutive 4,000-yard seasons.
NEW YORK GIANTS: ELI MANNING led the Giants to the team’s second Super Bowl victory in the past five seasons and became just the fifth player in NFL history to win multiple Super Bowl MVP honors (JOE MONTANA, BART STARR, TERRY BRADSHAW and TOM BRADY). Manning passed for a franchise-record 4,933 yards, his third consecutive 4,000-yard season. Last year, he threw 15 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the most ever in a single season, surpassing the previous mark (14) held by Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHNNY UNITAS and his brother PEYTON MANNING.
PHILADELPHIA: MICHAEL VICK passed for a career-high 3,303 yards last year, his second consecutive 3,000-yard season. Vick, who rushed for 589 yards in 2011, became the second player in NFL history (RANDALL CUNNINGHAM) to have at least 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in consecutive seasons. Vick has rushed for 5,219 yards in his career, the most ever by a quarterback. In Week 4, he became the first player in NFL history to record at least 400 passing yards (416) and 75 rushing yards (75) in the same game.
ST. LOUIS: SAM BRADFORD, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, will start on Kickoff Weekend for the third consecutive year. The 2010 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year started 10 games in 2011 and in his first two NFL seasons has started 26 games, completing 545 of 947 passes (57.6 percent) for 5,676 yards and 24 touchdowns. Last year, Bradford had two 300-yard passing games, including a career-high 331 yards in Week 2. He has posted a 100+ passer rating three times in his career and the Rams are 3-0 in those contests.
SAN FRANCISCO: Last year, ALEX SMITH led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and an appearance in the NFC Championship Game. The eighth-year quarterback completed 273 of 445 passes (61.3 percent) for a career-high 3,144 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions for a career-best 90.7 passer rating. Smith’s 3.4-1 TD-INT ratio was the third-best in team history, trailing two seasons by Pro Football Hall of Famer STEVE YOUNG (1992, 1994). Smith’s five interceptions were tied for the third-fewest in a season in NFL history (minimum 400 attempts).
SEATTLE: Rookie RUSSELL WILSON will make his NFL debut on Kickoff Weekend. A third-round selection (No. 75 overall) out of Wisconsin, Wilson completed 40 of 63 passes (63.5 percent) for 536 yards with five touchdowns and one interception for a 110.3 passer rating in the preseason. During his college career at NC State and Wisconsin, Wilson started 50 games in a row and established an NCAA-FBS record by throwing 379 consecutive passes without an interception. He was named first-team all conference in both the ACC (2008) and Big Ten (2011).
TAMPA BAY: JOSH FREEMAN passed for a career-high 3,592 yards last year, the second-most in a season by a Buccaneer. Freeman, who had 3,451 passing yards in 2010, is the only player in franchise history to record back-to-back 3,400-yard seasons. In his career, he has engineered eight fourth-quarter comeback or overtime wins. Freeman and AARON RODGERS are the only quarterbacks with at least 3,400 passing yards and 200 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons.
WASHINGTON: The Redskins selected ROBERT GRIFFIN III with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Griffin III, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, led Baylor to a 10-3 record last season and the school’s first Bowl victory in 19 years. In his 41 career games at Baylor, he set or tied 54 school records, including most career passing yards (10,366), total offense yards (12,620), passing efficiency (158.9) and passing touchdowns (78). During the preseason, he completed 20 of 31 passes (64.5 percent) for 193 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 103.3 passer rating.
BALTIMORE: JOE FLACCO, who enters his fifth year, has led the Ravens to the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, including two AFC Championship appearances. The strong-armed quarterback holds franchise career passing records in completions (1,190), yards (13,816) and touchdowns (80). Flacco will target a wide receiver duo of ANQUAN BOLDIN and TORREY SMITH, who is poised to build on a promising rookie year. All-Star running back RAY RICE will be a factor on the ground and out of the backfield.
BUFFALO: An eight-year veteran from Harvard, RYAN FITZPATRICK will play a pivotal role in the Bills’ bid for their first postseason berth since 1999. Fitzpatrick registered career highs in completions (353), passing yards (3,832) and touchdowns (24) last season. In his third year directing head coach CHAN GAILEY’s offense, Fitzpatrick will rely on wide receiver STEVIE JOHNSON, who finished with a team-leading 76 receptions for 1,004 yards and became the first Bills wide receiver to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
CINCINNATI: ANDY DALTON is focused on surpassing his accomplishments from a productive rookie season. Dalton led the Bengals to the playoffs and tied for the fourth-most touchdown passes (20) and the fifth-most passing yards (3,398) among rookies in NFL history. A second-round selection (No. 35 overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft, Dalton will continue to build chemistry with second-year wide receiver A.J. GREEN. Dalton and Green became the first rookie quarterback-wide receiver duo in NFL history with 3,000+ passing yards and 1,000+ receiving yards.
CLEVELAND: The No. 22 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, BRANDON WEEDEN was named the starting quarterback by head coach PAT SHURMUR during training camp. The Oklahoma State product set school career passing records in yards (9,260) and touchdowns (75). As a senior in 2011, Weeden passed for 4,727 yards with 37 touchdowns, the most in both categories in a single season in Oklahoma State history.
DENVER: Acquired by the Broncos in March, PEYTON MANNING will open a new chapter in his career in Denver. Manning currently ranks third all-time in career completions (4,682), passing yards (54,828), and touchdown passes (399). He needs 286 completions and 22 touchdown passes in 2012 to surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (4,967 completions, 420 TDs) for second place all-time in each category. Manning can also become the first quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in 12 different seasons.
HOUSTON: Playing in only 10 games in 2011 due to a right foot injury, Texans quarterback MATT SCHAUB will play a pivotal role as Houston defends its AFC South title. The nine-year veteran is the Texans’ all-time leader in completions (1,382), passing yards (16,903) and touchdown passes (92). He will look to wide receiver ANDRE JOHNSON and running back ARIAN FOSTER, who averaged a league-high 141.6 scrimmage yards per game (1,224 rushing, 617 receiving) last season.
INDIANAPOLIS: The ANDREW LUCK era is set to begin in Indianapolis under first-year head coach CHUCK PAGANO. Luck amassed a 31-7 (.816) career record at Stanford, the most wins among starting quarterbacks in school history. The No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft will find comfort in the passing game with veteran go-to wide receiver REGGIE WAYNE, who leads the NFL with 11,708 receiving yards since 2001. Luck will also have a familiar target at his disposal in rookie tight end COBY FLEENER from Stanford.
JACKSONVILLE: BLAINE GABBERT, who started 14 games in 2011, will direct a new offense under the tutelage of new head coach MIKE MULARKEY. Gabbert will rely heavily on All-Star running back MAURICE JONES-DREW, who had an NFL-best 1,606 rushing yards last season. In the passing game, tight end MARCEDES LEWIS, wide receiver LAURENT ROBINSON, who was signed via free agency, and fifth-overall pick JUSTIN BLACKMON will serve as Gabbert’s top receiving targets.
KANSAS CITY: A former seventh-round pick by New England in the 2005 NFL Draft, MATT CASSEL enters his fourth season as the Chiefs starting quarterback. Cassel led Kansas City to an AFC West title two years ago and registered career highs with 27 touchdown passes and a 93.0 passer rating. With high hopes in 2012, Cassel will look to wide receivers DWAYNE BOWE and JON BALDWIN in the passing game. On the ground, a running back duo of JAMAAL CHARLES and PEYTON HILLIS will solidify the Chiefs rushing attack.
MIAMI: Selected eighth overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, RYAN TANNEHILL will become the first Dolphins rookie quarterback to start the club’s first game of the season in franchise history. He will be directed by his former Texas A&M head coach and new Dolphins’ offensive coordinator MIKE SHERMAN. Tannehill will rely on running back REGGIE BUSH, who posted a career-best 1,382 scrimmage yards (1,086 rushing; 296 receiving) in 2011, to make an impact in both the passing game and on the ground.
NEW ENGLAND: TOM BRADY enters his 13th year with a 124-35 (.780) record – the best winning percentage of any NFL quarterback in the Super Bowl era with at least 100 starts. Last season, Brady led New England to an AFC-best 13-3 record and passed for 5,235 yards, becoming one of four players in NFL history to reach 5,000 passing yards in a single season. Brady also recorded 39 touchdown passes in 2011 (50 in 2007) and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (48, 1984; 44, 1986) as the only players in NFL history with multiple seasons with at least 39 touchdown passes.
NEW YORK JETS: MARK SANCHEZ looks to flourish under new offensive coordinator TONY SPARANO in 2012. After finishing one win shy of the Super Bowl in two of the past three seasons (2009, 2010), Sanchez is focused on returning the Jets to the playoffs in his fourth NFL season. Last year, Sanchez registered career-bests in completions (308), passing yards (3,474) and touchdown passes (26). He also recorded six rushing touchdowns, tied for the most among AFC QBs last year (TIM TEBOW, six).
OAKLAND: Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer is focused on returning the Raiders to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Acquired via trade from the Bengals in October 2011, Palmer started nine games for the Raiders, averaging 293 passing yards per game and a career-best 8.6 yards per attempt as a starter last season. The veteran will target young receivers DARRIUS HEYWARD-BEY, JACOBY FORD and DENARIUS MOORE to stretch the field.
PITTSBURGH: A proven winner since entering the NFL in 2004, BEN ROETHLISBERGER owns an 80-33 regular-season record (.708) as a starter, the second-best winning percentage among active NFL quarterbacks (minimum 10 regular season starts). Entering his ninth NFL season, the Steelers’ offensive captain has passed for 26,579 yards, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback TERRY BRADSHAW (27,989) for the most passing yards in Steelers history.
SAN DIEGO: Since becoming the Chargers’ starting quarterback in 2006, PHILIP RIVERS has led the club to four AFC West titles and ranks second in the NFL with 24,137 passing yards during that span (DREW BREES, 28,394). Last season, Rivers passed for 4,624 yards and joined PEYTON MANNING and Brees as the only QBs in NFL history to pass for 4,000+ yards in at least four consecutive seasons. In 2012, Rivers (24,285) needs 2,654 passing yards to surpass JOHN HADL (26,938) for the second-most passing yards in franchise history (DAN FOUTS, 43,040).
TENNESSEE: JAKE LOCKER won the starting quarterback job after an open competition during training camp. The eighth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft played in five games as a rookie and passed for 542 yards with four touchdowns versus zero interceptions and a 99.4 passer rating. Locker will target veteran wide receiver NATE WASHINGTON, who led the team in receptions (74), receiving yards (1,023) and touchdown catches (seven) last season, along with a young cast of wideouts.