The year of the quarterback

It is the year of the quarterback. Play from that position is essential in the NFL and many teams are trying to stop the carousel or place a new signal caller in hopes of continuing the path to the Super Bowl.

AFC

Quarterbacks Daunt Culpepper and Charlie Batch will drop back to throw the 2006 NFL season into motion Thursday night when Batch and the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers host Culpepper and the Miami Dolphins in Pittsburgh (NBC, 8:30 PM ET). Batch, a nine-year NFL veteran and Pittsburgh-area native, starts in place of Ben Roethlisberger, who underwent an emergency appendectomy on Sunday.

Batch aims to lead the Steelers to their fourth consecutive Kickoff Weekend victory in the club's first game following its Super Bowl XL championship. Culpepper, making his first start as a member of the Dolphins, can make history in 2006 by being the first player to lead both the AFC and NFC in touchdown passes for a season.

BALTIMORE: Acquired in a June trade with Tennessee, Steve McNair leads the Ravens' offense. In the past 10 seasons, McNair (153) stands second among active AFC starting quarterbacks in touchdown passes (Peyton Manning, 244). The three-time All-Star needs 2,859 passing yards and 61 rushing yards to become only the third player in history to throw for 30,000 yards and rush for 3,500, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Fran Tarkentonand Steve Young.

BUFFALO: Three-year veteran J.P. Losman enters his second season as the Bills' opening-day starter. The strong- armed 25-year-old has thrown only one interception in 79 career September attempts. Losman passed for the third-most yards among AFC quarterbacks during the preseason with 514, completing an impressive 67.7 percent of his attempts. He has thrown for six touchdowns against only two interceptions in the first halves of his 13 career games.

CINCINNATI: Carson Palmer enters his third season as the Bengals' starter. In leading the club to its first division title since 1990 a year ago, Palmer passed for a team record and NFL-best 32 TDs. He is the first Bengals quarterback to lead the league in TD passes for a season. The former Heisman Trophy winner has 29 career starts. In his first 14, he passed for 20 touchdowns against 19 interceptions (+1). In his last 15, he has thrown for 30 TDs versus 11 INTs (+19).

CLEVELAND: After starting the Browns' final five games of 2005, second-year pro Charlie Frye has earned the team's No. 1 QB post. Inside his opponents' 20-yard line, Frye compiled a 103.5 passer rating in 2005, highlighted by three TD passes without an interception. In the last five weeks of 2005, Frye completed eight passes for 25 yards or more. Only four AFC quarterbacks posted more 25+ yard completions in that time frame.

DENVER: Since 2003, Jake Plummer is 32-11 (.744) as the Broncos' starter, good for the third-best winning percentage among NFL QBs in that span. With 4,000 yards in 2006, Plummer would become the first quarterback in Broncos history to record two 4,000-yard seasons. Plummer passed for a club-record 4,089 yards in 2004. Last season, the 10-year veteran threw 229 times without an interception for the NFL's longest such streak since 1996.

HOUSTON: In each of the past two seasons, quarterback David Carr has completed more than 60.0 percent of his passes. Entering his fifth season, Carr has started 16 games in three of the past four years. His 11 interceptions in 2005 accounted for the lowest total of his career. With 6,019 yards in the past two seasons, Carr is one of eight AFC quarterbacks to surpass 6,000 yards since 2004.

INDIANAPOLIS: With 4,000 yards in '06, Peyton Manning would become the NFL's first QB to record seven 4,000- yard seasons in a career (currently tied with HOFer Dan Marino at six). Manning makes the 129th consecutive start to begin his career Sunday night – the longest such streak by a QB in history. No QB ever has passed for more yards in his first eight seasons than Manning (33,189). He has thrown a TD pass in 112 of 128 career games. Last season, Manning became the first QB in history to pass for 25 or more TDs in eight consecutive years.

JACKSONVILLE: The team was 8-3 last season in games Byron Leftwich started. Entering his fourth year as the Jaguars' starter, Leftwich's record is 21-17 (.553). In the three seasons prior to Leftwich's arrival, Jacksonville's record was 19-29 (.396). Among quarterbacks with at least 300 attempts last season, Leftwich ranked No. 2 in interception percentage (1.7). He was one of seven NFL QBs in 2005 to throw at least 10 more TDs (15) than INTs (5).

KANSAS CITY: Since 2002, Trent Green(16,334) has passed for the second-most yards in the NFL, trailing only Indianapolis' Manning (16,771). Green's 4,014 passing yards in 2005 made him the fourth quarterback in NFL history to post three consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, and the Colts' Manning. Green's 20,117 passing yards account for the second highest career total in Chiefs history, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famer Len Dawson (28,507).

MIAMI: Coming off a knee injury that limited him to seven games last year at Minnesota, Culpepper brings a brilliant resume along with his 6-4, 260-pound frame to the Dolphins. In his most recent complete season (2004), Culpepper led the NFL with 4,717 passing yards – the fifth-greatest single-season total in NFL history. Culpepper twice led the NFC in TD passes (in 2000 and 2004). He can become the first QB to lead both the NFC and AFC in that category for a season.

NEW ENGLAND: Since the advent of the Super Bowl (1966), Tom Brady (58-20, .744) owns the second-best winning percentage among QBs with 40 or more starts, trailing only Hall of Famer Roger Staubach (85-29, .746). Brady owns a 10-1 (.909) playoff record and is 7-0 in career overtime games, including his 1-0 overtime playoff record. In 2006, Brady can help the Patriots become the second team to win four Super Bowl titles in a six-year span (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1974-79).

NEW YORK: Practically flawless in the red zone, Chad Pennington has passed for 41 TDs vs. 0 INTs inside Jets opponents' 20-yard line. Entering his seventh season, Pennington owns the franchise's career marks in passer rating (92.1) and completion percentage (65.3). The Knoxville, Tennessee native (8,621) needs 1,379 passing yards to become the fifth Jets quarterback to reach 10,000 in a career.

OAKLAND: Acquired as a free agent, former New Orleans QB Aaron Brooks arrives as the Raiders' starter. In the past five seasons, Brooks (111) is tied for the fourth greatest TD pass total in the NFL, trailing only Indianapolis' Manning (159), Green Bay's Brett Favre (141), and New England's Brady (123). Brooks has registered at least 3,500 passing yards in four of the past five seasons and has missed only three starts since 2001.

PITTSBURGH: Kickoff Weekend starter Batch is 2-0 as the Steelers' starter (2005). He has passed for three TDs six times in his career...Regular starter Roethlisberger became the youngest starting quarterback in history to win the Super Bowl last February at 23 years and 11 months and is the first QB since 1970 to win a playoff start in each of his first two NFL seasons. The 11th overall selection of the 2005 draft owns a 22-3 (.880) record as the Steelers' starter.

SAN DIEGO: Making his first NFL start on Monday night, Philip Rivers will face the Chargers' longtime AFC West rival Oakland. Rivers played in five bowl games during his North Carolina State career, earning MVP honors in each, including the 2004 Senior Bowl. Rivers, who wears No. 17 for the Chargers as he did in college, had his jersey number retired at N.C. State prior to his final home game with the Wolfpack.

TENNESSEE: Seven-year veteran Billy Volek owns the greatest passing-yard total in the first 10 starts of an NFL player's career (2,789). In 2004, Volek became the fourth player in NFL history to post 400 passing yards in consecutive games (426 and 492)...Eleven-year veteran Kerry Collins, a late preseason acquisition, has passed for 33,637 yards in his career to account for the third most yards among active quarterbacks (Brett Favre, Green Bay, 53,615; Drew Bledsoe, Dallas, 43,447).

NFC

The kickoff of the NFL season is always a time of great excitement, but perhaps nowhere more so this year than in the Big Easy, where the New Orleans Saints will return after a season of unprecedented challenges.

The Saints kick off their 40th season on Sunday when they travel to Cleveland to face the Browns. They will do so with a new man under center in quarterback DREW BREES. One of the most sought-after free agents in the league after spending his first five seasons in San Diego, Brees elected to bring his Pro Bowl talent to New Orleans.

"This was the right fit for me in so many ways," says Brees, who is attempting to rebound from a shoulder injury suffered in the final game of 2005. "I think football was part of the reason to come with the feeling that we could be very successful here, but there was also the feeling that we're kind of building something new. I think the single best thing I could probably do at this point to help the city is win football games. I think that does wonders for people's spirits and that's what we're going to try to do."

Quarterbacks around the league find themselves in the spotlight as the NFL begins the new season, all hoping to lead their teams to a berth in Super Bowl XLI on February 4 at South Florida's Dolphin Stadium.

ARIZONA: Two-time NFL Most Valuable Player Kurt Warner will have a plethora of offensive options at his disposal as the Cardinals open a new stadium with high hopes for the 2006 season. Warner, who needs 786 passing yards for 20,000 in his career, has Pro Bowl targets in wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, along with perennial All-Star running back Edgerrin James to hand the ball off to. Warner enters the season with a 94.1 career passer rating, second only to Steve Young (96.8) in NFL history.

ATLANTA: The Falcons are seeking to soar to the playoffs in 2006 and Michael Vick will likely be leading the charge. Vick has proven a winner in his tenure as the club's quarterback, compiling a 31-19-1 (.618) record. He continues to pose a threat with both his arm and legs, passing for 2,412 yards and 15 touchdowns while rushing for 597 yards and six TDs last season, earning his third All-Star selection.

CAROLINA: Excitement is high once again in Carolina, as Jake Delhomme and the Panthers seek to build off last season's trip to the NFC Championship Game. Delhomme, who won a title as a member of the NFL Europe League Frankfurt Galaxy in 1999, comes off perhaps his finest season, throwing for 3,421 yards and 24 touchdowns, and posting an 88.1 passer rating to earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl. With 2,165 passing yards and 15 touchdown passes, Delhomme will surpass Steve Beuerlein (12,690; 86) as the franchise leader in both categories.

CHICAGO: The Bears' quarterback depth chart is deep indeed. Rex Grossman enters the season as the starter for the defending NFC North champs. He bounced back from injury to lead the team to its division-clinching win over Green Bay in his only regular-season start in 2005. Former Buccaneer Brian Griese joined the club in the spring and led NFL passers with a 141.7 passer rating in the preseason. His 84.8 career passer rating is 14th-best in NFL history. Rookie Kyle Orton started 15 games for the Bears a year ago, compiling an impressive 10-5 mark.

DALLAS: Fourteen-year pro Drew Bledsoe can achieve several noteworthy milestones as he begins his second season with the Cowboys. The four-time All-Star has thrown for 43,447 yards and needs 1,553 to become only the sixth player in history with 45,000. Bledsoe also can continue his climb up the charts among all-time touchdown-pass leaders. Currently tied for 13th with John Hadl and Peyton Manning (active) with 244, Bledsoe can move into seventh all- time with 30 touchdown passes.

DETROIT: The club's quarterback position has a new look in 2006 as veteran Jon Kitna arrived in the Motor City during the offseason. Kitna, a former World Bowl MVP who led the 1997 Barcelona Dragons to the NFL Europe championship, starts for the Lions. He will try to emulate the success he enjoyed in his last full season as a starter in 2003 when he passed for 3,591 yards and 26 touchdowns in starting 16 games for Cincinnati.

GREEN BAY: Brett Favre kicks off his 16th season and is to many the epitome of an NFL quarterback. The Packers' legend is within reach of a bevy of significant milestones in 2006, including one achievement that may occur this week. Favre has 396 career touchdown passes and needs four to join Dan Marino(420) as the only players in NFL history with 400. With 139 career wins, Favre needs 10 to pass John Elway (148) and Marino (147) for the most wins ever by a quarterback.

MINNESOTA: Veteran Brad Johnsn led the Vikings to wins in seven of his nine starts last season and enters 2006 as the club's No. 1 quarterback. Johnson, who saw his first significant professional action as a member of the London Monarchs in 1995, has been a consistent winner throughout his career, posting an impressive 65-43 record (.602) – third among active quarterbacks with 100 starts.

NEW ORLEANS: Drew Brees has thrown for 20+ touchdowns and 3,000+ yards in each of the past two seasons with the Chargers and has a 21-11 (.656) record in his last 32 starts. Brees, San Diego's career record holder with an 84.9 passer rating, set the club single-season record with a 104.8 rating in 2004, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl after leading the Chargers to a 12-4 record and the AFC West title. Brees needs 20 touchdown passes for 100 in his career.

NEW YORK: Eli Manning enjoyed a standout season in 2005 and hopes to build upon that success this year. Manning, who led the Giants to an 11-5 record and the NFC East Division championship last season, aims to become the first Giants quarterback since PHIL SIMMS (1989-90) to lead the team to consecutive division titles. Manning, the younger brother of Colts quarterback Peyton, is not the only Giants' passer with a famous quarterbacking brother. New York's Tim Hasselbeck is the younger brother of Seahawks starter Matt.

PHILADELPHIA: Donovan McNabb missed seven games due to injury in 2005 and he's looking for a bounce-back season in 2006. McNabb, who led the Eagles to the playoffs from 2000-04, has been adept at protecting the ball throughout his career. His 2.24 interception percentage (66 INTs-2,943 attempts) ranks second in NFL history, trailing only Neil O'Donnell (2.11, 68-3,229) all-time. With 16 touchdown passes, McNabb will join Ron Jaworski (175) and Randall Cunningham (150) as the only players in franchise history to reach 150.

ST. LOUIS: Marc Bulger has proven to be a consistent passer – and winner. His .636 winning percentage as a starter (28-16) is fourth best among active quarterbacks with a minimum of 20 starts, trailing only Ben Roethlisberger (22-3, .880), Tom Brady(58-20, .744) and Donovan McNabb (60-28, .682). Bulger is a graduate of Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School, the same school that produced legendary NFL passer Dan Marino.

SAN FRANCISCO: Alex Smith enters his second season firmly entrenched as the team's starter. The No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft, Smith saw action in nine games with seven starts a year ago. The offseason brought additional help in the form of first-round draft pick Vernon Davis, who many considered to be the best pass-catching tight end in college football at Maryland, and Larry Allen, a 10-time All-Star offensive lineman who joined the club as an unrestricted free agent after spending his first 12 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.

SEATTLE: Aiming to help win the NFC West for the third consecutive year and reach the playoffs for the fourth season in a row, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck enters his sixth year with the club. The two-time All-Star is the highest rated passer in Seahawks history with an 86.6 rating. Playing in the NFL is a family profession for the Hasselbecks, as brother TIM is a quarterback with the Giants and father DON spent nine years as an NFL tight end.

TAMPA BAY: Chris Simms started the club's final 10 regular-season games in 2005 and looks to build on a performance that helped the Buccaneers to the NFC South Division title, the team's first since its Super Bowl XXXVII- winning campaign in 2002. Simms posted an 81.4 passer rating, throwing for 10 touchdowns and 2,035 yards. He and his wife, Danielle, had their first child in the offseason, Sienna Rose.

WASHINGTON: Entering his 14th season, quarterback Mark Brunell enjoyed one of his best years in 2005, passing for a career-high 23 touchdowns in leading the Redskins to their first playoff appearance since 1999. Brunell, who hopes to take the club to consecutive playoff berths for the first time since 1990-92, ranks fourth among active quarterbacks with 174 touchdown passes and needs 26 to become the 27th player in NFL history to reach 200.


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