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Colts, Saints, Chargers boast NFL's top quarterback situations

If the quarterback position is viewed as the most important in football, then the backup should receive special attention in the team-building process. After all, the second-string quarterback is just a play away from having to step into the spotlight and lead his squad.

Just think back to last season. In Philadelphia, Nick Foles subbed in for an injured Michael Vick and proceeded to play at an all-star level, carrying the Eagles to the playoffs. In Chicago, when Jay Cutler couldn't go, veteran Josh McCown held down the fort -- and kept the Bears in the NFC North race. The teams that were prepared to deal with the loss of a starter were able to navigate through rough waters.

As the 2014 campaign approaches, I thought I'd take a look at the talent and depth in each of the quarterback meeting rooms across the NFL, in an attempt to determine which teams have the best situations at the position. Remember, while the starter is ultimately the biggest player in this determination, the potential of the backup to sustain a high level of play is undoubtedly a crucial factor. Thus, teams with quality players at both the QB1 and QB2 spots ranked ahead of teams with just a single marquee signal-caller on the roster.

Without further ado, here's how I rank the quarterback situations entering the 2014 season:

1) Indianapolis Colts

Starter:Andrew Luck
Backup:Matt Hasselbeck
Outlook: It's uncommon for a team to have a three-time Pro Bowler backing up a budding elite signal-caller, and the fact that this is true in Indianapolis speaks to the depth of talent in the Colts' quarterback room. General manager Ryan Grigson wisely selected Luck with the top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, then added Hasselbeck as a veteran mentor in 2013 -- the latter decision helped the team make its second consecutive playoff appearance.

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2) New Orleans Saints

Starter:Drew Brees
Backups:Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin
Outlook: Brees has topped the 5,000-yard mark in four of the past six seasons, exhibiting the accuracy, ball placement and anticipation that scouts covet in elite quarterbacks. Despite first entering the NFL in 2004, McCown has made just nine career starts, the last one coming in 2011. Still, he's a trusted veteran capable of guiding the Saints through a rough patch under the tutelage of Sean Payton.

3) San Diego Chargers

Starter:Philip Rivers
Backup:Kellen Clemens
Outlook: The Chargers have one of the few elite signal-callers in today's game in Rivers, who played like an MVP candidate under Mike McCoy last season. Clemens has an upside-down career record as a starter (8-13), but his experience gives the Bolts a decent chance to survive a short-term absence of their franchise quarterback.

4) Green Bay Packers

Starter:Aaron Rodgers
Backups:Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien
Outlook: When healthy and ready to roll, the MVP of Super Bowl XLV is arguably the best quarterback in the game. Although the Packers' offense struggled without Rodgers at the helm for seven contests in 2013, a combination of Tolzien and Flynn kept the ship afloat in his absence. Given another offseason to master the nuances of Mike McCarthy's up-tempo scheme, the Packers should be better positioned to handle an injury to Rodgers this season.

5) Denver Broncos

Starter:Peyton Manning
Backup:Brock Osweiler
Outlook: Whenever a team has a five-time league MVP at QB1, that team has to feel good about its quarterback position. With Manning at the controls, the Broncos should be in good shape to make another run at the title. Osweiler remains a question mark due to his lack of experience, but the third-year pro has flashed capable skills during limited action in Denver's quarterback-friendly system.

6) New England Patriots

Starter:Tom Brady
Backup:Jimmy Garoppolo
Outlook: With his three Super Bowl rings and 31 career fourth-quarter comebacks, Brady is as clutch as they come. Not only is he the model of consistency at the position, but he's a durable playmaker, having missed time in just one season (he sat out the final 15 games of the 2008 season after tearing his ACL in Week 1) since taking over the No. 1 spot in New England in 2001. Garoppolo is an unproven commodity, but the Patriots are so good at getting their quarterbacks ready to play (see: Matt Cassel's performance in Brady's stead six years ago) that there should be little concern about the rookie serving as their primary backup.

7) Cincinnati Bengals

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Starter:Andy Dalton
Backup:Jason Campbell
Outlook: Dalton doesn't stand out as one of the top quarterbacks in the game, but he has led the Bengals to a 30-18 regular-season record and three straight postseason berths. Campbell, meanwhile, had the Oakland Raiders poised to reach the playoffs under coach Hue Jackson in 2011, compiling a 4-2 record as a starter before a broken collarbone prematurely ended his season. He is a solid backup with valuable experience directing Cincinnati's new offensive scheme.

8) Seattle Seahawks

Starter:Russell Wilson
Backup:Tarvaris Jackson
Outlook: Wilson has been a superb leader and game manager for the Seahawks since his arrival as a third-round draft pick in 2012. He guided the 'Hawks to a Super Bowl title last season with efficient play in the pocket (100.6 career passer rating) and sneaky improvisational skills. Jackson has been a .500 starter in the NFL (17-17 career regular-season record) and offers the team a capable veteran to lean on in a pinch.

9) Philadelphia Eagles

Starter:Nick Foles
Backups:Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley
Outlook: Foles is coming off an eye-popping campaign (27 touchdowns against two interceptions in 2013 with a 119.2 passer rating and an 8-2 regular-season record) that puts him in the conversation about the elite talents at the position. However, he must prove he can sustain his strong play heading into his second season as the Eagles' starting quarterback. Despite his unceremonious departure from the New York Jets, Sanchez did, we must remember, guide Gang Green to back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game. After watching him light it up in the preseason in coach Chip Kelly's scheme, the Eagles should have few reservations about sending him out on the field.

10) Kansas City Chiefs

Starter:Alex Smith
Backups:Chase Daniel and Aaron Murray
Outlook: While some dismiss Smith as strictly a game manager, it must be noted that he has the third-highest winning percentage (.763) in the NFL over the past three seasons, behind Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. He also has the lowest interception percentage (1.5 percent) of any quarterback during that span and has helped his teams reach the playoffs three straight times. Daniel is a trusty backup with the skills to thrive in coach Andy Reid's system. He played well in Week 17 last season, completing 21 of 30 passes for 200 yards against the Chargers in his only career start thus far, showing a knowledge of the scheme that inspired confidence throughout the organization.

11) Atlanta Falcons

Starter:Matt Ryan
Backups:T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree
Outlook: Yes, the Falcons took a step back in 2013, but Ryan, who's won nearly 64 percent of his starts and missed just two in his career due to injury, is a model of consistency and durability at the position. Yates has been in the league for just three seasons, but he gained valuable experience as a spot starter during his time with the Texans, which included winning the first playoff appearance in franchise history.

12) Pittsburgh Steelers

Starter:Ben Roethlisberger
Backups:Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones
Outlook: Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback, as indicated by the 23 fourth-quarter comeback wins and two Super Bowl victories on his resume. Most importantly, he is the Steelers' unquestioned leader in the locker room and one of the reasons that the offense remains effective despite the shakiness of the line. Gradkowski is a blue-collar quarterback with valuable experience as a ninth-year pro. He hasn't started a game since 2010, but he does have 20 career starts under his belt and is a quality option as a backup.

13) Carolina Panthers

Starter:Cam Newton
Backups:Derek Anderson and Joe Webb
Outlook: Newton has certainly lived up to the hype after the Panthers made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. The two-time Pro Bowler helped guide Carolina to the postseason in 2013, ending a four-year franchise drought -- and he has the team primed to make another run at the playoffs this year. He is coming off offseason ankle surgery and did sustain a fractured rib in the preseason, but he's also never missed a game in his career and says there's "no doubt" he'll start Week 1. Still, were Newton to miss any time, Anderson would be a suitable replacement. The one-time Pro Bowler is not a running threat or dynamic playmaker, but he is experienced and has demonstrated a decent football IQ.

14) Washington Redskins

Starter:Robert Griffin III
Backups:Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy
Outlook:Questions persist about Griffin's fit in new coach Jay Gruden's offense after the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year struggled to find the mark in the preseason. Now, I'm fully aware that preseason stats and standings don't count, but the amount of progress made does matter, and Redskins fans should be worried about the play of their starting quarterback. Cousins is a high-level backup who appears to be terrifically suited for the team's scheme. While he struggled down the stretch in 2013 when given the starting role, Cousins might be the best option to run Washington's quick-rhythm attack this season.

15) New York Jets

Starter:Geno Smith
Backup:Michael Vick
Outlook: Smith's alarming turnover total in 2013 (21 interceptions and four fumbles lost) put a damper on a somewhat-solid rookie campaign in which he led five game-winning drives despite a conspicuous lack of star power on the perimeter. With free-agent addition Eric Decker joining the receiving corps this offseason, Smith could enjoy a breakthrough 2014. Vick is a dynamic playmaker capable of energizing the Jets' locker room with his improvisational skills. While health always remains a concern with the veteran, he is the ultimate super sub.

16) Baltimore Ravens

Starter:Joe Flacco
Backup:Tyrod Taylor
Outlook: It's hard to poke holes in Flacco's game, considering his resume includes a Super Bowl MVP award and a 62-34 regular-season record. Although his inconsistencies have kept him from joining the ranks of the elite, Flacco could make that jump under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak this season. Taylor has been a productive gadget player for the Ravens, but the jury is still out as to whether he can get things done as a fill-in.

17) Dallas Cowboys

Starter:Tony Romo
Backups:Brandon Weeden and Dustin Vaughan
Outlook: The occasional big-moment gaffe aside, Romo has been a standout performer for the Cowboys. The veteran has shined, showing he can carry the offense on the strength of his right arm -- as is expected of a franchise quarterback. That said, he's coming off back surgery to correct an injury that prematurely ended his 2013 campaign, meaning his backup is potentially the most important player on the team. Weeden might not inspire confidence in fans, but his solid preseason play suggests he could be a better fit for Dallas' scheme than his previous career performances would indicate.

18) Detroit Lions

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Starter:Matthew Stafford
Backups:Dan Orlovsky and Kellen Moore
Outlook: Stafford is an A-plus talent with the potential to be an elite quarterback, but he needs to dramatically reduce his turnover totals (109 touchdowns against 73 picks for his career) and become a more efficient game manager. When he plays according to the script, the Lions have one of the most explosive offensive attacks in football. Orlovsky is a reliable veteran capable of getting the Lions through a game. But observers should have concerns about his inexperience, based on his career performance as a starter (2-10 regular-season record, including an 0-7 mark with the 2008 Lions).

19) Arizona Cardinals

Starter:Carson Palmer
Backups:Drew Stanton and Logan Thomas
Outlook: Palmer is clearly on the back nine of a solid NFL career, but he still offers value as a strong-armed veteran. While turnovers can be an issue with him, the Cardinals' impressive supporting cast makes it hard for Palmer to screw it up from the pocket. Stanton is a mobile quarterback with some experience as a substitute. He is capable of guiding the ship in Palmer's absence.

20) Chicago Bears

Starter:Jay Cutler
Backups:Jimmy Clausen and David Fales
Outlook: Cutler could be the most naturally gifted quarterback in the league, but injuries have kept him from fulfilling his potential as a leader in Chicago. The vet has missed 13 starts over the past four seasons, and his absences have derailed the Bears' title hopes. This year, coach Marc Trestman will make it a point to keep Cutler upright in the pocket, to maximize the ridiculous talent on the perimeter (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery). Clausen failed miserably as a starter in Carolina in 2010 (52.5 percent completion rate, 3:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 1-9 record), but he offers some upside as a young pocket passer with solid physical tools.

21) Minnesota Vikings

Starter:Matt Cassel
Backups:Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder
Outlook: Cassel is playing at an all-star level heading into the regular season, which makes the Vikings a dark-horse contender in the NFC North. If he continues to perform well in new offensive coordinator Norv Turner's system, he could give Minnesota plenty of time to develop Bridgewater on the practice field. The rookie has shown outstanding poise, composure and confidence while directing the offense during the preseason. He must continue to work on his footwork, but he is an intriguing option who looks ready for a prime role.

22) New York Giants

Starter:Eli Manning
Backup:Ryan Nassib
Outlook: Manning seemingly gets a free pass from criticism despite having led the NFL in picks three times during his career, including last season. While his supporters point to his two Super Bowl rings as proof of his elite status, the numbers suggest he's an inconsistent playmaker prone to turning the ball over. Nassib took a major leap in his development during the preseason, but who knows if the second-year pro can handle the pressure of starting at the NFL level?

23) San Francisco 49ers

Starter:Colin Kaepernick
Backups:Blaine Gabbert and Josh Johnson
Outlook: Kaepernick is unquestionably one of the most dynamic players at the position, but questions about his efficiency from the pocket make it tough to fully buy into his potential as a franchise player. Regardless, he's effectively guided the 49ers to back-to-back appearances in the NFC Championship Game (and to Super Bowl XLVII), and that's enough to earn kudos -- and a new contract extension -- from team officials. The backup situation, however, is a huge question mark, with Gabbert manning the QB2 spot. He was unable to get it done as a starter in Jacksonville, which sparks concerns about his ability to succeed in San Francisco.

24) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Starter:Josh McCown
Backup:Mike Glennon
Outlook: McCown was a fantastic fill-in for Cutler in Chicago last season, but a talented cast of receivers masked his deficiencies as a passer. He has similar threats in Tampa, with rookie receiver Mike Evans and first-year tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins joining veteran Vincent Jackson on the perimeter, but it will take some time for the veteran to adapt to offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford's system. Glennon flashed intriguing potential as a rookie in 2013. He needs a little seasoning, but it's possible that he offers more potential than the veteran this season.

25) Miami Dolphins

Starter:Ryan Tannehill
Backup:Matt Moore
Outlook: New coordinator Bill Lazor's fast-paced offense could help Tannehill put up big numbers this season. The third-year pro has teased Dolphins fans with his arm talent and athleticism, but he needs to get the ball out of his hands more quickly in order to exploit the aggressive defenses that will be attacking him from exotic formations. Moore is a quality veteran with valuable game experience. He has some limitations as a player, but he is certainly good enough to navigate the Dolphins through a rough patch if needed.

26) Jacksonville Jaguars

Starter:Chad Henne
Backup:Blake Bortles
Outlook: The Jaguars could rank higher on the list come late December, based on the potential shown by Bortles this preseason. The rookie, who was spectacular directing the offense against backups, looks like the franchise quarterback the team has coveted for years. Henne is a veteran signal-caller with adequate management skills and leadership ability. He won't wow evaluators, but he understands how to play the game in a winning fashion.

27) St. Louis Rams

Starter:Shaun Hill
Backup:Austin Davis
Outlook: With former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradfordhaving succumbed to another season-ending knee injury, Jeff Fisher has handed the ball to Hill as the Rams attempt to make a run at a playoff berth in the tough NFC West. Hill has been just OK as a starter (13-13 career record over 12 seasons), but he is a superb game manager with the luxury of playing behind a stellar Rams defense. He is a capable leader with enough skill to win games, provided he avoids making costly mistakes. Davis is an unproven commodity; no one knows if the third-year pro can survive under pressure.

UPDATE: After the publishing of this column, the Rams claimed Case Keenum off waivers. The quarterback had been waived by the Texans.

28) Tennessee Titans

Starter:Jake Locker
Backups:Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger
Outlook: Locker is a talented athlete with impressive physical tools. However, the 2011 first-round pick has struggled with injuries, and his absence has kept the Titans from developing consistency on offense over the past two seasons. It's hard to get excited about a player who is rarely available when it matters. Whitehurst, who seemingly has bounced around the NFL forever, has failed to deliver when given chances, and I'm not sure anyone knows if he has the tools to succeed as a short-term starter.

29) Oakland Raiders

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Starter:Derek Carr
Backups:Matt Schaub and Matt McGloin
Outlook: After talking up Schaub for much of the offseason, the Raiders now plan to start Carr in Week 1. The rookie created plenty of buzz in the Black Hole with his spectacular preseason performance, energizing the stadium in Oakland with a spunky playing style and gunslinger's mentalitylast Thursday night. Sure, he will endure some growing pains, but Carr is a more talented player than the veteran Schaub, and that should be enough to spark the team. Schaub, who has been dealing with a sore elbow, is a two-time Pro Bowler, but his penchant for throwing pick-sixes would make it hard for the team to rally behind him.

30) Houston Texans

Starter:Ryan Fitzpatrick
Backups:Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage
Outlook: The Texans' quarterback situation has been shaky throughout the preseason, with Fitzpatrick, Savage and the since-released Case Keenum struggling to find consistency under center. The veteran Fitzpatrick, in particular, hasn't looked good throwing the ball to receivers on the perimeter, and his perpetual turnover woes are always a problem. Mallett, who was acquired from the Patriots in a move to solidify the backup quarterback spot on Sunday, has limited experience and was outplayed by the rookie Garoppolo in New England.

31) Cleveland Browns

Starter:Brian Hoyer
Backup:Johnny Manziel
Outlook: Hoyer fended off a challenge from the rookie for the starting job, but it's hard to get fired up about his potential, based on his play this preseason. The veteran struggled to string together completions, and his suspect accuracy kept the team from getting on a roll. Sure, he led the Browns to a pair of wins last season, but he is coming off a torn ACL and might need some time to find his rhythm in the pocket. Manziel is an unorthodox playmaker capable of delivering spectacular highlights, but he has been inconsistent as a passer and was unable to move the Browns' first-team offense down the field with regularity.

32) Buffalo Bills

Starter:EJ Manuel
Backup:Kyle Orton
Outlook: Buffalo is primed to make a postseason run, based on a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball, but Manuel's shaky preseason has sparked concerns about his readiness as a starter. There is already a feeling around the NFL that veteran Kyle Orton -- brought in to stabilize the backup position -- could unseat the second-year pro in a few weeks. Given the overall instability at the position, the Bills are in a bit of a quandary.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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