The news that Jake Locker will be the Tennessee Titans' starter in Week 1 means that the first five quarterbacks taken in the 2011 NFL Draft will start their respective openers in 2012. Which team will enjoy the most success in 2012: Cam Newton's Carolina Panthers, Locker's Tennessee Titans, Blaine Gabbert's Jacksonville Jaguars, Christian Ponder's Minnesota Vikings or Andy Dalton's Cincinnati Bengals?
Not only will quarterback Cam Newton's rise continue during his sophomore season, but so will the Carolina Panthers' place in the standings. The Panthers are in a tough division, but they should be able to at least give the Atlanta Falcons a good run for a wild-card spot this year.
I don't think the Titans will be the best team in this group -- that honor should go to the Bengals -- but the division you play in counts. Tennessee has a much easier road than a Cincinnati team that has to play both the Steelers and Ravens twice. That's why Tennessee will make the playoffs before the rest of this up-and-coming bunch.
Jake Locker will make the team better, but the truth is, they were already good. Chris Johnson, weapons at receiver, an underrated defense -- that's a nice mix. Remember, Tennessee overcame adversity to finish 9-7 in 2011. With a stable quarterback situation -- and Titans folks think Locker gives them just that -- Tennessee should make the playoffs this time around. The fact that Johnson looked lightning quick in Game 2 of the preseason underscores this belief.
Cam Newton is the best quarterback of his class by a wide margin. He should have the best team, too.
The Panthers' defense only needs to improve from awful to average for Carolina to make a big leap into the playoffs. Newton is already a top-10 quarterback (and he's possibly a top-fiver). The Panthers already have an elite offense with a strong line, two outstanding running backs and a top-five receiver. The combined presence of Jon Beason and Luke Kuechly will improve the Panthers' defense enough. Cam can do the rest.
Cam Newton is the best player, but the Panthers are paper-thin at receiver and have questions on defense. Carolina is a last-place team. I love the appointment of Jake Locker as Tennessee's No. 1 quarterback (I voiced my support for such a move last week). I think the Titans are in the seven-to-eight win range. I believe in Christian Ponder, but the Minnesota Vikings are the worst team in the NFC. I'm not buying the preseason success of Blaine Gabbert.
Meanwhile, Dalton is very good and continually getting better. A.J. Green is a star, and Mohamed Sanu will become a legit No. 2 target for Dalton. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a nice pickup at running back. Jay Gruden is a great coordinator. Mike Zimmer will have that defense flying around. Bottom line: The Bengals are good for another nine-win season.