Rare Quarterback Matchup in Opener

We introduce you to the 32 starting quarterbacks, with the obvious spotlight on Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.

All eyes will be on two of the NFL's best quarterbacks – New Orleans' Drew Brees and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers – when the 2011 season kicks off on Thursday night as the defending Super Bowl-champion Packers host the Super Bowl XLIV-champion Saints. 

The game features the past two Super Bowl MVPs. Brees was named the MVP of Super Bowl XLIV in New Orleans' 31-17 win and Rodgers took home the honor last year in Green Bay's 31-25 Super Bowl XLV victory.

This meeting marks the fifth time in NFL history – and first since 1993 – that Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks started against one another on Kickoff Weekend:

— September 15, 1974: Len Dawson (Kansas City) vs. Joe Namath (New York Jets).

— September 12, 1982: Joe Montana (San Francisco) vs. Jim Plunkett (Los Angeles Raiders).

— September 5, 1988: Phil Simms (New York Giants) vs. Doug Williams (Washington).

— September 6, 1993: Troy Aikman (Dallas) vs. Mark Rypien (Washington)

— September 8, 2011: Drew Brees (New Orleans) vs. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay).

Brees leads the NFL in passing yards and passing touchdowns over the last three seasons, with Rodgers fourth in both categories. Rodgers is the highest-rated quarterback and boasts the lowest interception percentage in NFL history.

The following is team-by-team look at the NFC's projected starting quarterbacks on Kickoff Weekend.

ARIZONA: Kevin Kolb will make his Cardinals debut on Kickoff Weekend after Arizona acquired him in a trade with Philadelphia. A second-round draft choice (No. 36 overall) by the Eagles in 2007, Kolb made seven career starts with Philadelphia. He is the only quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 300 yards in each of his first two starts and he has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week two times (Week 3, 2009 and Week 6, 2010). Kolb has three 300-yard passing games, including a career-high 391 yards in Week 2, 2009.

ATLANTA: Fourth-year quarterback Matt Ryan was selected to his first Pro Bowl last year and led the Falcons to an NFC-best 13-3 record. His 33 career wins are tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO for the most wins by a starting quarterback in his first three seasons since 1970. In 2010, Ryan set franchise records with 357 completions and 571 attempts and passed for a career-high 3,705 yards, 28 touchdowns and a 91.0 passer rating. He has a 20-2 record at home, including a 7-1 mark last season.

CAROLINA: Rookie Cam Newton will make his NFL debut on Kickoff Weekend. The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner was selected No. 1 overall by the Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft. Last year, Newton set an SEC record with 4,327 yards of total offense (2,854 passing, 1,473 rushing) and became the first player in conference history with at least 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season. He threw for an SEC-record 30 touchdown passes and rushed for 20 TDs.

CHICAGO: Sixth-year veteran Jay Cutler will make his third consecutive Kickoff Weekend start for the Bears. Last year, Cutler led the Bears to the NFC North title and an appearance in the NFC Championship Game. He passed for 3,274 yards – the third-highest total in team history – and is the only Bears quarterback to pass for at least 3,000 yards in consecutive seasons (3,666 in 2009). Cutler had 23 touchdown passes in 2010 and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer SID LUCKMAN as the only QBs in franchise history with multiple seasons with at least 20 TD passes (27 in 2009).

DALLAS: Ninth-year veteran Tony Romo will start at quarterback for the Cowboys and has a career 39-22 (.639) record as the team's starter. He enters the season with an active streak of 18 consecutive games with a touchdown pass, the longest in franchise history. In his career, Romo has completed 1,326 of 2,070 passes (64.1 percent) for 16,650 yards with 118 touchdowns and 62 interceptions for a 95.5 passer rating, the highest in team annals.

DETROIT: Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, will start on Kickoff Weekend for the third consecutive season. In his first two seasons, Stafford has started 13 games and has passed for 2,802 yards and 19 touchdowns. He is the only quarterback in franchise history to throw at least four touchdown passes in a game twice in his first two years. Stafford had a career-high five touchdown passes in Week 11, 2009 and had a four-touchdown performance last year in Week 8.

GREEN BAY: Aaron Rodgers, the MVP of Super Bowl XLV, looks to continue his impressive play for the defending champions. Last year, he led the NFC with a 101.2 passer rating and is the only quarterback in franchise history to post a 100.0+ rating in consecutive seasons (103.2 in 2009). He passed for 3,922 yards in 2010 and his 12,394 yards since becoming the starter in 2008 are the second most by a quarterback in his first three years as a starter (Kurt Warner, 12,612). Rodgers' career passer rating of 98.4 is the highest mark in NFL history (minimum 1,500 attempts).

MINNESOTA: Six-time Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb will make his Vikings debut on Kickoff Weekend. The 13-year veteran has a career 97-57-1 record (.629) as a starting quarterback and has guided his teams to five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl (XXXIX with Philadelphia). Last year with Washington, McNabb passed for 3,377 yards, his eighth career 3,000-yard season and fourth in a row. His interception percentage of 2.20 (5,218 attempts, 115 interceptions) is the fourth-best mark in NFL history (minimum 1,500 attempts).

NEW ORLEANS: Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees topped the NFL last year with a 68.1 completion percentage and led the NFC in yards (4,620), touchdowns (33), completions (448) and attempts (658). Since joining the Saints in 2006, his 22,918 passing yards are the most by a quarterback in any five-year span in NFL history. He has passed for at least 4,000 yards in each of the past five years – the top five passing totals in club annals – and is one of only two QBs in NFL history (Peyton Manning) with at least five consecutive 4,000-yard seasons. Brees' 448 completions marked his league-record third 400-completion season.

NEW YORK GIANTS: Entering his eighth season, Eli Manning has started a team-record 103 consecutive games at QB. He passed for 4,002 yards last year and is the only quarterback in franchise history with consecutive 4,000-yard seasons (4,021 in 2009). Manning, who threw a career-high 31 touchdowns in 2010, is the only Giant to pass for at least 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in six seasons in a row. He ranks second in club annals with 1,932 completions, 3,332 attempts and 22,646 yards. This will be the seventh consecutive Kickoff Weekend start for Manning.

PHILADELPHIA: Last season, Michael Vick earned AP Comeback Player of the Year honors as he led the Eagles to the NFC East title. Selected to start at quarterback for the NFC Pro Bowl team, Vick became the second player in NFL history (Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young) to have at least 3,000 passing yards (3,018), 500 rushing yards (676) and a 100.0+ passer rating (100.2) in a season. In Week 10, Vick became the first player in league annals to have at least 300 passing yards (333), 50 rushing yards (80), four touchdown passes (4) and two rushing TDs (2) in a single game.

ST. LOUIS: Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, will start on Kickoff Weekend for the second consecutive year. The AP Offensive Rookie of the Year guided the Rams to seven wins last season and set NFL rookie records with 590 attempts and 354 completions. Brad Ford passed for 3,512 yards and became the second quarterback in league history (Peyton Manning) with at least 3,500 passing yards as a rookie. His 18 touchdown passes tied for the fifth-most by a rookie QB.

SAN FRANCISCO: Seventh-year quarterback Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft, has started 50 games in his career, including 10 in each of the past two seasons. Last year, Smith ranked second in the NFL with a 118.8 passer rating in the red zone, completing 30 of 42 passes (71.4 percent) for 177 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. In his career as a starter, Smith has posted a passer rating of at least 96.0 in a game 10 times and the 49ers are a perfect 10-0 in those contests.

SEATTLE: Sixth-year veteran Tarvaris Jackson makes his Seahawks debut on Kickoff Weekend. A second-round selection (No. 64 overall) by Minnesota in the 2006 NFL Draft, Jackson has started 20 games in his career. He has completed 354 of 603 passes (58.7 percent) for 3,984 yards with 24 touchdowns and has rushed for 535 yards and four TDs. Jackson was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 15, 2008 when he threw a career-high four touchdown passes and posted a 135.5 passer rating.

TAMPA BAY: Last year, Josh Freeman led the Buccaneers to 10 wins, becoming the first quarterback under the age of 23 to win at least 10 games since 2004 (Ben Roethlisberger). Seven of Freeman's 13 career victories have been fourth-quarter comeback or OT wins. Freeman had a career-best 95.9 passer rating in 2010, the sixth-highest mark in the NFL. His 3,451 passing yards last year were the fourth-most in team history and he joined Brad Johnson as the only Bucs to pass for at least 3,000 yards, 20 TDs (25) and fewer than 10 interceptions (6) in a season.

WASHINGTON: Ninth-year veteran Rex Grossman, who was a first-round pick (No. 22 overall) by Chicago in the 2003 NFL Draft, has started 34 games in his career, including three with the Redskins last season. In those three starts in 2010 with Washington, he recorded two 300-yard games. In 2006, Grossman passed for a career-high 3,193 yards and 23 touchdowns as he led the Bears to a 13-3 record and an appearance in Super Bowl XLI.

AFC starting quarterbacks

BALTIMORE: Joe Flacco is determined to lead the Ravens to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.  The strong-armed quarterback set career highs in passing yards (3,622), touchdowns (25) and passer rating (93.6) in 2010. Flacco will target a veteran wide receiver duo of Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans, who was recently acquired via trade from Buffalo.  All-Star running back Ray Rice will be a factor on the ground and out of the backfield.

BUFFALO:  A seven-year veteran from Harvard, Ryan Fitzpatrick will make his first Kickoff Weekend start.  Fitzpatrick registered career-highs in completions (255), passing yards (3,000), touchdowns (23) and passer rating (81.8) in 13 starts last season.  In his second year commanding head coach Chan Gailey's offense, Fitzpatrick will rely on wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who developed into the Bills' go-to receiver last season with 82 catches for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns.

CINCINNATI: Selected in the second round (No. 35 overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft, Andy Dalton will become the first Bengals rookie quarterback to start the club's first game of the season since Greg Cook in 1969.  The TCU product will look to build chemistry with rookie wide receiver A.J. Green, who was selected No. 4 overall, and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who was the Bengals' first-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.   

CLEVELAND: Colt McCoy, who started eight games in 2010, will direct a new West Coast-style offense under the tutelage of new head coach Pat Shurmur.  McCoy will look to utilize multi-purpose wide receiver Josh Cribbs along with a young cast of wideouts.  Eighth-year tight end Ben Watson, who recorded career-highs in receptions (68) and receiving yards (763) in his first season in Cleveland last year, will also be at McCoy's disposal. He will hand the ball off to Peyton Hillis, who hopes to build on a career high 1,177 rushing yards a year ago. 

DENVER: Kyle Orton, who enters his third season as the Broncos starting quarterback, will join head coach John Fox in the start of a new era in Denver.  Last year, Orton passed for more than 3,500 yards for the second consecutive season (3,653 in 2010; 3,802 in 2009). Orton, who tied for third in the NFL with 11 completions of 40-plus yards in 2010, will rely on All-Star wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, who led the league with a career-best 1,448 receiving yards a season ago.

HOUSTON: Since 2009, quarterback Matt Schaub ranks second in the NFL with 9,140 passing yards (Peyton Manning, 9,200).  Schaub will play a pivotal role as the Texans challenge for their first postseason berth.  The veteran quarterback will look to All-Star wide receiver Andre Johnson, sure-handed tight end Owen Daniels and the NFL's 2010 rushing leader Arian Foster, who also registered a league-high 2,220 scrimmage yards (1,616 rushing, 604 receiving) last season.

INDIANAPOLIS: Recovering from offseason neck surgery, Peyton Manning will not start on Sunday against Houston, the team confirmed. Manning will be replaced by Kerry Collins, who started seven games for the Titans last season but retired in June. He was lured back as insurance for Manning, who has never missed a start since being the No. 1 overall pick in 1998. Manning, who is entering his 14th NFL season and has led the Colts to nine consecutive playoff berths, ranks third all-time in career completions (4,682), passing yards (54,828), and touchdown passes (399).  Manning needs 286 completions and 22 touchdown passes in 2011 to surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino (4,967 completions, 420 TDs) for second place all-time in each category. 

JACKSONVILLE: Luke McCown has been named the Jaguars starting quarterback.  The eight-year veteran enters his third season with Jacksonville.  McCown will rely heavily on All-Star running back Maurice Jones-Drew out of the backfield, who has gained over 1,300 rushing yards in consecutive seasons (1,324 in 2010; 1,391 in 2009).  In the passing game, tight end Marcedes Lewis and wide receiver Mike Thomas will serve as McCown's top two receiving targets. 

KANSAS CITY: A year ago, Matt Cassel led the Chiefs to their first AFC West title since 2003.  The former USC product passed for over 3,000 yards for the second time in his career last season (3,116 in 2010; 3,693 in 2008) and registered career-highs with 27 touchdowns and a 93.0 passer rating.  In the passing game, Cassel will depend on All-Star wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who had a franchise-record and league-high 15 touchdown receptions in 2010.  Running back Jamaal Charles, who led Kansas City to an NFL-best 164.2 rush yards per game in 2010, will solidify the rushing attack. 

MIAMI: Fourth-year quarterback Chad Henne enters his second season as a starter on Kickoff Weekend.  In 2010, Henne passed for a career-high 3,301 yards.  Henne's receiver tandem of All-Star Brandon Marshall (86) and Davone Bess (79) combined for the most receptions by a duo in team history (165).  Acquired via trade from the Saints, running back Reggie Bush will serve as a threat in the passing game and on the ground.  Henne will be directed by the Dolphins' new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

NEW ENGLAND: Coming off his second MVP season, Tom Brady enters his 12th year with a 111-32 (.776) record – the best win percentage of any NFL quarterback in the Super Bowl era with at least 100 starts.  Last season, Brady led New England to an NFL-best 14-2 record and passed for the second-most touchdowns of his career (36).  In 2011, Brady needs nine wins to become only the sixth QB with 120 wins as a starting quarterback in history.  Brady will turn to reliable targets Deion Branch and Wes Welker, along with Patriots newcomer Chad Ochocinco.

NEW YORK JETS:  After finishing one win shy of the Super Bowl the past two seasons, quarterback Mark Sanchez is focused on surpassing his accomplishments in his third NFL season.  Named the Jets offensive captain, Sanchez will look to spread the ball around to tight end Dustin Keller, who led the club in catches (55) last season, and a wide receiver trio of Santonio Holmes and veteran newcomers Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason.

OAKLAND: Jason Campbell looks to flourish under new head coach Hue Jackson, who was the Raiders' offensive coordinator in 2010.  In his second season in Oakland, Campbell is focused on returning the Raiders to the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season.  The seventh-year veteran will target young receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy to stretch the field.  Fourth-year running back DARREN MC FADDEN, who rushed for a career-best 1,157 yards in 2010, will balance out the Raiders offense.

PITTSBURGH: A proven winner since entering the NFL in 2004, Ben Roethlisberger owns a 69-29 record (.704) as a starter, the third-best winning percentage among active NFL quarterbacks (minimum 10 starts).  After missing the first four games of the 2010 season, Roethlisberger led the AFC with 3,200 passing yards for the remainder of the regular season.  The strong-armed quarterback aims to stretch the field with speedster Mike Wallace and keep defenders on edge with his elusiveness in the pocket.

SAN DIEGO: Philip Rivers has led the Chargers to four AFC West titles in his five seasons as the starter and aims to return San Diego to postseason play.  Rivers led the NFL with a career-high 4,710 passing yards in 2010 and can become the first Chargers quarterback ever to record 4,000-plus yards in four consecutive seasons.  Rivers will rely on All-Star tight end Antonio Gates and wide receiver Vincent Jackson as his top two pass-catching options.     

TENNESSEE: Newcomer Matt Hasselbeck has a fresh start in Tennessee as Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman and rookie head coach Mike Munchak begins his tenure.  Hasselbeck led the Seahawks to an NFC West title last season and reached the 3,000-yard passing mark for the seventh time in his career.  The three-time All-Star enters his 13th NFL season and needs 421 passing yards to reach 30,000 (29,579).  

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