The NFL season got off to an exciting start Thursday evening as the Green Bay Packers won a 42-34 shootout over the New Orleans. Watching the game we saw an amazing display of super star quarterback play. Aaron Rodgers completed 27 of 35 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Drew Brees completed 32 of 49 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns. It was as good a QB duel as you may ever see.
That is the exact opposite of what we'll see from a variety of other teams beginning this Sunday. Whether it's the Washington Redskins and Rex Grossman, the Seattle Seahawks and Tarvaris Jackson, or the Buffalo Bills and Ryan Fitzpatrick, the NFL has numerous teams that are in need of a franchise quarterback and could be looking at immense struggles until they find him.
Enter Andrew Luck. The NFL Draft is over seven months away, but at this point Andrew Luck is considered by most to be the surefire number one pick of the draft. He is not considered a Peyton Manning type of QB guarantee, but he is considered as NFL ready as most any quarterback to enter the league since Manning.
Given the need for a franchise QB, it's safe to say some teams might be less disappointed about losses in 2011 than they would otherwise be. That's not to say teams will be tanking early season games, but if a team is in the running for that top pick in November or December, would anybody surprised if they start "resting" veterans? Without a lottery like the NBA, tanking might be even a bigger issue in the NFL where the worst record is guaranteed the top pick.
Given the potential for that, let's take a look at some of the top contenders for the number one pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Washington Redskins: Any team prepared to start Rex Grossman at this point is looking for trouble. The Redskins have numerous problems all across their roster and quarterback is just the start. Andrew Luck would provide a potential franchise quarterback around which Mike Shanahan could rebuild the franchise.
Seattle Seahawks: The team jettisoned Matt Hasselbeck and replaced him with Tarvaris Jackson. While Jackson is an impressive athlete, his quarterback abilities leave something to be desired. While the Seahawks made the playoffs last year, they have had a lot of roster turnover as they build for the future. Hopes are not high for the Seahawks and this could put them in prime position for a franchise quarterback.
Indianapolis Colts: They were the impetus for this stream following Peyton Manning's Thursday surgery. Even if Manning is able to return before the end of the year and even if he is still a good quarterback, the Colts need to find a long term answer for the post-Manning era. I actually don't think they will be bad enough to get that number one pick without benching Kerry Collins, but plenty of people disagree.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals are going to be a bad team this year. That's not a shocking revelation. The question is what they would do if they had the number one pick. Although the Carolina Panthers proved this year that using a second round pick on a QB does not preclude taking a QB number one overall the next year, not every team operates like the Panthers. If you're Cincinnati and you actually do like Andy Dalton's long term potential after what could be a brutal rookie season, maybe you package away the number one overall pick for a Ditka-esque boatload of picks?
San Francisco 49ers: As a 49ers fan it's hard for me to believe they could be bad enough in 2011 to climb into the number one position. I don't think they're a Super Bowl contender, but I do think they win at least six games, and potentially seven or eight. Six wins keeps them out of the Luck sweepstakes.
Carolina Panthers: Given how awful they were last year, introducing a rookie QB into the starting lineup does not strike me as the optimal way to win a lot of games this year. Cam Newton could turn into a solid QB, but he might end up running for his life quite a bit as a rookie. They are an even bigger argument for dealing the top pick if they get it considering they just drafted Newton.
Buffalo Bills: Ryan Fitzpatrick put together some fairly impressive numbers in 2010 considering he was playing for a pretty bad Bills team. Was it the start of a breakthrough, or a peak that is due for regression in 2011? I'd guess the latter, but crazier things have happened.
Odds are high that other teams will be right in the thick of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes when November and December roll around. The Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings are both teams that are an injury or two away from being right in the thick of this. The Oakland Raiders have a good deal of talent, but they are so unpredictable that it would not shock me to see them suddenly struggle this year.
Right now I'd say Seattle is the favorite with Washington a close second. Much can and will change over the next four months and we'll be here through it all to follow who gets the inside track on the number one pick.