The Schein Nine  

 

Andrew Luck tops list of QBs with best chance to win first title

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You never forget your first time. At least that's what the quarterbacks who have won championships tell me.

With training camps starting to open around the league, we've reached the point in the NFL calendar for unbridled optimism.

Let's examine the potential quarterbacks who could win their first ever title, ranking them in order of how far I project them to go.

A few things for your consideration:

1) This isn't a quarterback ranking. It's more of a look into the crystal ball for teams and passers.

2) I think the AFC is much more wide open than the NFC.

3) Philip Rivers is still a big-time quarterback, but he isn't on the list. I think the San Diego Chargers are a third-place team in the AFC West.

Let the debate begin.

1) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts are true Super Bowl contenders, and Andrew Luck is the true superstar to carry them.

General manager Ryan Grigson was very active during free agency, bringing in savvy veterans to address areas of need: running back (Frank Gore), receiver (Andre Johnson) and pass rusher (Trent Cole). Although all three Pro Bowlers are getting a little long in the tooth, their combined 32 NFL seasons carry a lot of weight in the locker room.

The return of Robert Mathis, who missed all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon, is gigantic for the Colts' defense, as well. Although Cole and up-and-coming rusher Jonathan Newsome will likely eat into some of Mathis' snaps, I believe coach Chuck Pagano when he says the 13-year pro "will make a huge impact" this year.

All the talent infusion through free agency and the 2015 draft is helpful and make the Colts better, but let's be honest -- it's all about the quarterback in Indy. The Colts enter camp as one of the NFL's top-four teams because of Luck, who I think is the third-best player in the league.

2) Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals

Since joining forces with Bruce Arians in 2013, Carson Palmer has the fourth-best winning percentage among starting quarterbacks. You read that right. Only Russell Wilson (.781), Peyton Manning (.781) and Tom Brady (.75) -- all Super Bowl-winning passers -- have better marks than Palmer's .727 during the past two seasons.

With Palmer declaring himself 100 percent from last year's ACL injury, and the roster re-loaded from top to bottom, there's no reason to think he won't keep his winning ways going.

I think the Cardinals -- with their fierce defense, depth and sensational head coach -- enter the season, at worst, the third-best team in the NFC and with a realistic chance to play in Super Bowl 50.

3) Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles

Too high? Stay with me.

It's kind of a big deal that the quarterback I've dubbed "Bigfoot" is ready for training camp. Injuries have sidelined Bradford for 31 games in his four-year career; the most recent one, a torn ACL suffered last preseason, kept him off the field for the entire 2014 season.

I still don't trust Bradford to stay healthy, but, as I've written before, I have a lot of faith in Chip Kelly. I love all the offseason moves the enigmatic coach has made other than at the quarterback position. DeMarco Murray, Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell all represent upgrades. And to fill the void created by Jeremy Maclin's departure, Kelly used his 2015 first-round pick on the versatile Nelson Agholor.

If Bradford can stay on the field, his accuracy makes him a solid fit in Kelly's offense.

And if Bradford plays more games than he misses, I think Philly tops the NFC East, and hosts and wins a playoff game.

4) Ryan Mallett/Brian Hoyer, Houston Texans

I wrote earlier this offseason that this could be the year of the Texans. And I still believe coach Bill O'Brien gets this team over the hump -- regardless of who he decides to start under center. Mallett is high on the this list (and ahead of Brian Hoyer) because I think he represents the most upside for Houston at quarterback.

5) Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

I think the Miami Dolphins are a playoff team after signing Ndamukong Suh. The All-Pro defender makes everyone on that defense better, and should create some one-on-one matchups for Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon on the edge.

On offense, though, this is Tannehill's show. His growth and improvement last season makes me believe he could be the difference that inches the Dolphins past the Bills and Jets for second place in the AFC East. He's clearly better than Geno Smith and all the quarterbacks on Buffalo's roster.

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6) Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings

I'm on the record saying the Vikings could be the surprise team in the NFL this year -- the league's version of the Golden State Warriors. With Adrian Peterson back in the fold, Mike Zimmer coaching the team up and Bridgewater's inevitable growth after a solid rookie campaign, there's plenty to believe in.

The second-year quarterback has a lot of talent around him and a rapidly rising defense. At the very least, I believe the Vikes make the playoffs.

7) Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

Please remember this isn't a quarterback ranking. I've been calling Romo a top-10 quarterback, and frankly one of this generation's greats, for a long time.

But I'm worried for him and the Cowboys.

Look, I acknowledge the upside for Romo and the Cowboys is to win a wide-open NFC East and even a playoff game. The Romo-to-Dez Bryant connection behind the best offensive line in football is the main reason why.

But I'm very concerned about what the loss of DeMarco Murray means for this team, as I've written throughout the offseason. Sure, the line is fantastic and will make anyone running behind it better. But Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle don't exactly strike fear in the opposition in quite the same way as the NFL's reigning rushing leader.

And sans Murray, I'm worried about the domino effect on Romo. The quarterback enjoyed his best and most efficient season in 2014, as the Cowboys finally established balance on offense.

I think the Cowboys are an eight- or nine-win team. And believe me, I want much more for Romo.

8) Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

As I've said before, Alex Smith will never win a QB beauty pageant. He just wins. Over the last four seasons, as a starter in San Francisco and Kansas City, Smith's 38-16-1. Need postseason chops? How does a playoff passer rating of 108.6 with nine touchdown strikes and zero interceptions sound to you? This cat has what it takes to win games on the biggest stage. Flanked by Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin -- as well as a defense that ranked second in points allowed last season -- Smith has the surrounding cast to make a dark-horse run.

9) Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

I don't think the Panthers are a complete team. Their offensive line is still missing a couple pieces, and their receiving corps lacks depth behind Kelvin Benjamin (though, rookie Devin Funchess might develop into a solid player).

Still, Cam Newton is a franchise quarterback who, with more consistency, could help make up for the team's deficiencies in other areas. When I spoke with Phil Simms on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," on Thursday, he raved about Newton's abilities and Carolina's overall upside. As Simms said, the Panthers have a talented defense led by the fantastic Luke Kuechly, who's easily a top-10 player in my eyes.

In such a weak division, it wouldn't surprise me if Cam Newton and Carolina's defense led the Panthers to their third-straight NFC South title and maybe even a postseason win.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.
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