They say this is the age of the quarterback. We've seen more spread formations, pass-first teams and quarterbacks posting ratings of 95 or better than we ever have before. Talk of "elite" quarterbacks seems to extend beyond a normal discussion of three or four passers, and the top tier may encompass more like six or seven individuals.
If you don't have a quarterback in this league, you don't have much. And if you do have one, well, join the club. But for all the quality play being displayed at the most important position, it remains true that only six current NFL QBs have a ring. It's an exclusive club, made even smaller with Brett Favre now retired, and Kurt Warner leaving the game a year before him.
Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers. Who will be next?
To be sure, there are no flukes in this group. Brady, Peyton, Big Ben, Brees and Rodgers are all legitimately among the best 5-7 players in the world at their position. It's been a while since someone has pulled a Trent Dilfer and won the title backed almost entirely by a defense and running game and with hopes of the QB being nothing more than a game manager.
Given the continued evolution of offensive football, it could be quite some time before that occurs again. So, with that in mind, here's a look at who could be the next quarterback in line to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the first time, in order from most likely to least likely to do it in 2011:
Philip Rivers: All of the numbers are there, as is the moxie and poise and all that good stuff. He has a strong defense with him and a bevy of offensive talent. And he plays in a weak division. That's a prescription to get you high on this list every year, though some Chargers fans might point to the Norv Turner playoff factor as an antidote.
Michael Vick: It's all about his health. He stays healthy and the offensive line holds up and the Eagles are most certainly in the ring conversation. I don't believe 2010 was a fluke at all and his chemistry on the deep ball with DeSean Jackson is a thing of beauty.
Matt Ryan: I'd feel a little better about putting him this high had he won a playoff game previously, or had he looked more the part in the home loss to the Packers last postseason. But this kid is the total package and the Falcons are even more loaded on offense now, though that division is going to be brutal.
Mark Sanchez: I'm not sold on this offense taking the next step, and Sanchez's accuracy and consistency need major upgrades in Year 3. But the Jets clearly have the right equation there and have been as close as anyone to the Super Bowl the past two years.
Joe Flacco: His regular-season play was excellent a year ago; his playoff performances, particularly against the Steelers, must improve. If the Ravens can find a way to get him a home game, and win a division title, then this club could well be playing deep into January. Needs recent draft picks at receiver and tight end to become factors with Heap and Mason gone.
Josh Freeman: Can't help but think the Bucs are a year or two away from true Super Bowl contention, but man, this kid is a superstar in the making. Love everything about the way he prepares and plays the game. The Bucs should be hanging around the playoff scene, and if you get in, well, who knows?
Jay Cutler: Not sure what odds I would put on him surviving the season, much less winning a Super Bowl, given the state of pass protection in Chicago recently. But the Bears showed playoff spirit in 2010 and if Cutler curbs his interceptions -- a huge if -- maybe, just maybe, the Bears celebrate in February.
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