Depth: Matt Hasselbeck, Bryan Bennett
The Colts have the perfect mix of young superstar quarterback, accomplished veteran that can still perform if needed, and a raw, strong-armed rookie to develop. Luck might not be the best quarterback in the league yet, but he’s darn close after throwing 40 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and averaging 297 yards per game.
Depth: Jimmy Garoppolo, Garrett Gilbert
The Patriots are this high only partially because of Brady, and if his four-game suspension is completely upheld, they probably shouldn’t be this high. Still, Brady had a 97.7 rating last year, threw for 4,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions and, oh yeah, won another Super Bowl. Garoppolo proved competent in limited action, completing 70.4 percent of his 27 passes and he will get much more action if Brady’s suspension is upheld.
Depth: Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones, Tajh Boyd, Tyler Murphy
Roethlisberger led the conference with a 103.3 rating and with 4,952 yards passing with 32 touchdowns and nine interceptions. That alone puts him ahead of Joe Flacco, but good experience behind him is lacking, making this AFC North race closer than it should be.
Depth: Matt Schaub, Bryn Renner, Jerry Lovelocke
The battle between Flacco and division nemesis Roethlisberger is a close one. Roethlisberger is the more accomplished, productive starter, but the Ravens’ overall quarterback situations is close because Matt Schaub is slightly more trustworthy for the Ravens than Bruce Gradkowski is for the Steelers. Flacco had a solid but unspectacular season in 2014, throwing 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Depth: Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert, Trevor Siemian
Manning is one of the all-time greats and had another stellar season in 2014, throwing for 4,727 yards, 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. But you have to wonder if 2015 is his last, and if that’s the case is Osweiler ready to perform if given in the opportunity?
Depth: Kellen Clemens, Brad Sorensen, Chase Rettig
Philip Rivers is in the final year of his contract and that has to be a concern in San Diego. Kellen Clemens isn’t the future and it wouldn’t appear they have that guy on their roster. But if Rivers can be re-signed, he could continue putting together 4,000-yard seasons with ratings in the 90s consistently.
Depth: A.J. McCarron, Terrelle Pryor, Josh Johnson
Dalton is just enough of a tease with the Bengals’ regular-season success that he is both good and bad. Good enough to keep (and they committed to him through 2020), but is he good enough to ever take the next step? The Bengals have some interesting young players behind him with pocket passers and scramblers alike.
Depth: Christian Ponder, Matt McGloin, Cody Fajardo
Carr was a rare bright spot in an otherwise dismal season with the last-ranked offense. They went 3-13 while their rookie quarterback threw for 3,270 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, a strong performance in his first NFL season. Now he has Amari Cooper to help and an interesting band of backups with Christian Ponder, Matt McGloin and rookie Cody Fajardo. It’s a young group, but with Carr leading the way, it’s a position with promise.
Depth: Zach Mettenberger, Charlie Whitehurst, Alex Tanney
The Titans could have entered the season with Mettenberger as their starter again and tried to build on his decent but limited season. But with the 29th-ranked offense in 2014, instead they drafted Mariota, giving them two young guns and a pretty good backup corps with Charlie Whitehurst in the mix. If they can build up the receiving corps in the next year or two, things could be looking up in the Music City.
Depth: Chase Daniel, Aaron Murray, Tyler Bray
The Chiefs are solid enough with “game manager” Smith as their starter, but they don’t have a proven backup. Smith was decent, per usual, but averaged only 217 yards per game while working his way to 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. Those are pretty low numbers for starting 15 games. Murray and Bray are developmental quarterbacks, so the Chiefs have to hope Smith stays upright and doesn’t take the 45 sacks he did last year.
Why the others didn’t make it:
Buffalo Bills: The Bills should be an improved team with Matt Cassel managing the offense ahead of E.J. Manuel. They should be better because of the rest of the offense, but it won’t be because of spectacular quarterback play.
Cleveland Browns: They will continue to generate more headlines than wins with Johnny Manziel, whether he gets back into the starting role or not. For now, however, it’s Josh McCown.
Houston Texans: In his seventh season, Brian Hoyer should have at least been able to throw more touchdowns and interceptions, but that wasn’t the case in Cleveland last year. Maybe Ryan Mallett can finally step out from the shadows.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles was the top quarterback taken in last year’s draft, but he didn’t have a particularly good season or receiving corps.
Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill had a good season in 2014, but his backups are sketchy with Matt Moore, Josh Freeman and McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
New York Jets: Geno Smith. Enough said. Will the Jets eventually go to Ryan Fitzpatrick? At least they have someone in the wings to develop in Bryce Petty.