Conventional wisdom holds that all 32 teams are still in it during training camp. But the reality is, four quarterbacks have combined to win 10 of the last 15 Super Bowls.
Yes, Tom Brady (Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX and XLIX), Ben Roethlisberger (Super Bowls XL and XLIII), Peyton Manning (Super Bowls XLI and 50) and Eli Manning (Super Bowls XLII and XLVI) have accounted for an astounding number of the rings won in recent memory. Consider also that four of the last five Super Bowls have featured quarterbacks who have appeared in the game before.
All of this is to say that the faces under center on Super Sunday have, for the most part, been awfully familiar lately. But that doesn't mean a first-timer can't find his way to glory come February.
Below you'll find 12 quarterbacks who have never won it all ranked according to their chances of capturing their first ring in Super Bowl LI, listed in reverse order. The list includes a mix of quarterbacks who can elevate a team to the top on their own and QBs who need a strong team around them to succeed -- though, of course, winning in the NFL always requires both individual and collective contributions.
A note about the Denver Broncos: You won't find Mark Sanchez listed here, even though he is currently in line to start for the defending champs. This is not a reflection of my feelings on the Broncos, who should not be counted out as potential Super Bowl contenders, given that they have a chance to repeat last season's winning formula of great defense + mediocre-to-poor quarterback play. Rather, Sanchez is not listed here because I am not confident Sanchez will start all 16 games, and I'm not ready to put Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch in a list of potential title-winning QBs.
12) Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
This selection might spark a few snickers, but Stafford does have significant ability. The first overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft ranks third in the NFL in total passing yardage (23,174 yards) and completions (1,988) over the past five seasons. He's the Lions' all-time record holder in career passing yards (25,976) and passing touchdowns (163). He boasts a very strong arm and good mobility; he just needs to put everything together. Notably, he seemed to respond to Jim Bob Cooter when the coach was elevated to coordinator midway through last season, sparking a 6-2 second-half run for Detroit. That said, I have plenty of doubts about the rest of the Lions' roster, especially with Calvin Johnson having retired, which is why Stafford ranks here.
11) Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Carr is an athlete who is also very football smart, and he can make all the throws you need to win. I watched Carr during my visit to the Raiders this week, and as I told him after practice, I saw him doing a better job looking off defenders and making great sight adjustments. He is reminiscent, in terms of style and the way he moves and the quickness of his release, of Drew Brees. Oakland has assembled a good team around Carr, and there is no doubt in my mind he'll be a factor in the very near future. That said, I think people might be getting on board with the Raiders a year early, as they tend to do with teams like this. Oakland will be good, and the Raiders might make a decent playoff push, but 2017 will be their year.
10) Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Unrivaled at his position in terms of competitiveness, Rivers put up good numbers in 2015 (4,792 passing yards and 29 passing touchdowns) despite being stuck on a poor team. He's racked up 60 touchdown passes over the past two seasons combined, while his 145 passing touchdowns over the past five seasons ranks as the fourth-most in the NFL. Over the last 10 years, he's passed for 41,299 yards -- second only to Drew Brees in that span. He's 14th overall in passing yards in NFL history and 11th in passing touchdowns. Rivers is extremely underrated, but if you put good players around him, he will win. Of course, the question marks on San Diego's roster leave him stuck in this portion of the list.
9) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan has the ability to win a Super Bowl -- he has the arm strength, the accuracy, the tools you need. The third overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft is the most prolific passer in Falcons history, possessing the franchise records in career yards (32,757), passing touchdowns (202) and completions (2,915). He just never has had a complete team around him. Last season was a mixed bag for Ryan, who posted the third-best completion percentage (66.3) and yardage total (4,591) of his career, along with his second-lowest touchdown total (21) and third-worst passer rating (89.0). As always with Ryan, the key is the cast around him, and while Atlanta did add a solid No. 2 receiver in Mohamed Sanu, I have concerns about the defense's ability to rush the passer.
8) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
I think you can throw out Luck's 2015 season, which was kind of a disaster, as a casualty of the injuries that dogged him for most of the year. The fact remains that he took Indianapolis to the playoffs in each of his first three professional years, advancing a level each time out. He has everything you need for success -- athletic ability, speed, arm strength, accuracy and leadership qualities. Yes, he's been saddled by a lack of roster support throughout his Colts tenure, but even after 2015, I have faith in Luck's power to elevate a lesser team through his play.
7) Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans
Yes, Osweiler did technically win a Super Bowl with the Broncos, but because he didn't actually play in the game, he counts here. In his first professional season as the presumptive starter for an NFL team entering Week 1, Osweiler cannot be worse than what the Texans trotted out at quarterback last season, when four different starters combined for a truly dismal showing -- and, in fact, he could be much better. He's a risk with good measurables, the kind of guy who will either make you look incredibly smart or incredibly dumb as a GM. In limited action with the Broncos last season, Osweiler put up passable -- if unspectacular -- numbers, but he showed flashes. (The kind of flashes that obviously helped land him the contract he signed with Houston this offseason.) As in Denver, Osweiler's defense should be outstanding, provided J.J. Watt recovers from back surgery without incident. If Osweiler really turns into something, I could see him putting the Texans over the threshold.
6) Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Heading into 2015, Romo would have been at the top of this list, coming off a 12-4 campaign marked by quarterback excellence (including a league-best passer rating of 113.2). Of course, the wheels proceeded to fall off last season, with Romo missing all but four of Dallas' games thanks to a twice-injured collarbone. Consequently, the Cowboys went 4-12. While he's a love-him-or-hate-him type among fans, a fully healthy Romo has the arm strength, accuracy and overall ability to win big in 2016. Of course, the window is closing fast for the 36-year-old -- so he'll have to take full advantage of Dez Bryant's return to health and the presence of a stud rookie back in Ezekiel Elliott.
5) Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
The third-year pro has athletic ability and can execute the script to a T. Minnesota depends more on its top-notch running game and defense than it does on elite quarterback play, but both are strong enough to give Bridgewater, who does a good job moving the chains, a healthy chance of capturing a ring in February. At worst, Bridgewater won't get in the way of the Vikings' twin engines -- at best, he can develop a rapport with first-round pick Laquon Treadwell and provide Minnesota with a significant boost.
4) Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Smith isn't a buzzy name, but he has won in Kansas City, recording a 30-16 record and two playoff appearances in three seasons. He is very athletic and can run, and he plays within the system. Smith might not be able to elevate a terrible team to contention, as we saw during his earlier years in San Francisco, but with the right players around him, he can rack up the Ws. After all, if Jeremy Maclin had been healthy enough to contribute fully, Smith might have knocked off the Patriotsin the Divisional Round last season. If the Chiefs are right, they should be a force on defense, and it's entirely conceivable that Smith could reach new postseason heights.
3) Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton doesn't get enough credit. All he does is take the Bengals to the playoffs. Last season, he broke out with career numbers -- 66.1 percent completion rate, 25:7 TD-to-INT ratio and a passer rating of 106.2 in 13 games -- and was poised to prove his doubters wrong. Unfortunately, a fractured thumb kept him from having a chance to add a little weight to the win column in his 0-4 postseason record. But that wasn't his fault. I know people want to see if he can get a team over the hump, but his production in 2015 was definitely Super Bowl-caliber. I think he has a good chance to get the Bengals to the playoffs a sixth consecutive time -- but this time, we'll see the elite version of Dalton carry Cincinnati forward in January.
2) Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
The first overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft is finally making good on the promise he showed in Cincinnati and Oakland. He is coming off an outstanding season that ended in the ignominious loss to the Panthers in the NFC title game. That ugly performance -- 23 of 40 for 235 yards and one touchdown with four picks, two fumbles lost and a passer rating of 43.2 -- makes his short postseason résumé look deceptively bad. However, I suspect he was not 100 percent for that game, and I still trust the veteran completely in the playoffs. He's not fleet of foot, but he's very smart and knows where and when to throw the ball. Palmer is a very hard worker with traits that translate to success, a good guy who also is playing with one of the best teams he's had in his career.
1) Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Newton took a huge leap forward in his career-long upward trajectory last season, serving as the do-it-all offensive dynamo behind Carolina's 15-1 record and trip to Super Bowl 50. If he were younger and less experienced, or if he didn't have outstanding work habits, I might be worried about a regression in 2016, but I fully expect the reigning NFL MVP to get even better in Year 6. He needs to improve his ability to throw quick slants and checkdowns and to complete more passes, but he'll be working with a better receiving corps (with Kelvin Benjamin healthy again) and has an excellent chance to win Super Bowl LI.