All eyes will be on two of the NFL's best quarterbacks -- the New York Giants' Eli Manning and Dallas' Tony Romo -- when the 2012 season kicks off on Wednesday night in primetime (NBC, 8:30 PM ET) as the defending Super Bowl champion Giants host the division rival Cowboys.
Last year, both quarterbacks reached the 4,000-yard passing mark. Manning had a franchise-record 4,933 passing yards, his third consecutive 4,000-yard season. Romo passed for 4,184 yards, his third career 4,000-yard season. The 2011 season marked only the second time in NFL history in which the Giants and Cowboys each had a 4,000-yard passer in the same season; Manning and Romo also accomplished the feat in 2009.
Quarterbacks throughout the league find themselves in the spotlight as the NFL gets back to football, all hoping to lead their teams to a berth in Super Bowl XLVII on February 3 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
A team-by-team look at the NFC's projected starting quarterbacks on Kickoff Weekend:
Third-year quarterback JOHN SKELTON will make his first career Kickoff Weekend start. The 2010 fifth-round pick (No. 155 overall) out of Fordham started seven games in 2011 and guided the Cardinals to a 5-2 record. He appeared in eight games last season and the team won six of those eight contests. In his past 10 games (nine starts), Skelton has engineered six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. He has started 11 games in his career and has a 7-4 record, including a perfect 5-0 mark at home.
Fifth-year quarterback MATT RYAN had a franchise-record 4,177 passing yards last year and set career-highs with 29 touchdowns and a 92.2 passer rating. He had six 300-yard passing games in 2011, the most in a single season in team history. Ryan has led the Falcons to a 43-19 (.694) record in his career and his 43 wins as a starting quarterback are the second-most by a player in his first four NFL seasons (since 1950). At home, he has compiled a 26-4 (.867) mark. In his career, the Falcons are 23-0 in games when Ryan posts a passer rating of at least 100.
CAM NEWTON, the 2011 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and a 2012 Pro Bowl selection, became the first player in NFL history to pass for 4,000 yards (4,051) and rush for 500 yards (706) in the same season. He set NFL rookie records with 4,051 passing yards and 35 total touchdowns (21 passing, 14 rushing) and his 14 rushing TDs were the most by any quarterback -- rookie or veteran -- in a single season. He started his career with back-to-back 400-yard passing games (422 in Week 1; NFL rookie-record 432 in Week 2) and is the only rookie in NFL history to accomplish the feat.
Seventh-year veteran JAY CUTLER will make his fourth consecutive Kickoff Weekend start for the Bears. He started 10 games last season and led Chicago to a 7-3 record. In three seasons with the Bears, he ranks first in franchise history in career passer rating (82.1) and passing yards per game (225.8). Cutler is the only quarterback in team annals to post consecutive 3,000-yard passing seasons (2009-10) and back-to-back seasons with at least 20 touchdown passes (2009-10). In his career (including the playoffs), Cutler's teams are 24-0 when he has a 100+ passer rating.
Tenth-year veteran TONY ROMO will start at quarterback for the Cowboys and has a career 47-28 (.627) record as the team's starter (min. 10 attempts). Entering 2012, Romo ranks second in NFL history with a career 96.9 passer rating (min. 1,500 attempts). Last season, he posted a career-high 102.5 passer rating and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer ROGER STAUBACH (104.8 in 1971) as the only Cowboys with a 100+ rating in a season. Romo passed for 4,184 yards in 2011, his third 4,000-yard season. He is the only player in team history to pass for 4,000 yards in a season.
MATTHEW STAFFORD, the 2011 AP Comeback Player of the Year, will start on Kickoff Weekend for the fourth consecutive season. Last year, Stafford set single-season franchise records in passing yards (5,038), touchdowns (41), passer rating (97.2), attempts (663), completions (421) and completion percentage (63.5). Stafford, DREW BREES (2011) and DAN MARINO (1984) are the only players in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in the same season. Stafford is the only player to pass for at least five TDs three times in his first 29 career games.
Pro Bowl quarterback AARON RODGERS set the NFL single-season record with a 122.5 passer rating last season and was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player by AP. He had 13 games with a 100+ passer rating, the most in a single season in NFL history, and his 12 games with a 110+ rating also set a league record. Rodgers set franchise records with 4,643 yards and 45 touchdown passes and he is the only player in NFL history to pass for at least 45+ TDs and have six or fewer interceptions. He threw at least two touchdown passes in 13 consecutive games, tied for the longest such streak in NFL history.
CHRISTIAN PONDER, the team's first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft (No. 12 overall), will make his first Kickoff Weekend start. Ponder started the final 10 games of the 2011 season, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer FRAN TARKENTON's club record for starts by a rookie quarterback. Ponder set team rookie records for attempts (291), and completions (158) in a season. In Week 13, he passed for 381 yards, the most by a rookie in franchise history.
In 2011, Pro Bowl quarterback DREW BREES set single-season league records for passing yards (5,476), completions (468), completion percentage (71.2), 300-yard passing games (13) and consecutive 300-yard passing games (seven). Since joining the Saints in 2006, his 28,394 passing yards are the most by a quarterback in any six-year span in NFL history. He has passed for at least 4,000 yards in each of the past six years -- the top six passing totals in club annals -- and is one of only two QBs in NFL history (PEYTON MANNING) with at least six consecutive 4,000-yard seasons.
NEW YORK GIANTS
ELI MANNING led the Giants to the team's second Super Bowl victory in the past five seasons and became just the fifth player in NFL history to win multiple Super Bowl MVP honors (JOE MONTANA, BART STARR, TERRY BRADSHAW and TOM BRADY). Manning passed for a franchise-record 4,933 yards, his third consecutive 4,000-yard season. Last year, he threw 15 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the most ever in a single season, surpassing the previous mark (14) held by Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHNNY UNITAS and his brother PEYTON MANNING.
MICHAEL VICK passed for a career-high 3,303 yards last year, his second consecutive 3,000-yard season. Vick, who rushed for 589 yards in 2011, became the second player in NFL history (RANDALL CUNNINGHAM) to have at least 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in consecutive seasons. Vick has rushed for 5,219 yards in his career, the most ever by a quarterback. In Week 4, he became the first player in NFL history to record at least 400 passing yards (416) and 75 rushing yards (75) in the same game.
SAM BRADFORD, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, will start on Kickoff Weekend for the third consecutive year. The 2010 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year started 10 games in 2011 and in his first two NFL seasons has started 26 games, completing 545 of 947 passes (57.6 percent) for 5,676 yards and 24 touchdowns. Last year, Bradford had two 300-yard passing games, including a career-high 331 yards in Week 2. He has posted a 100+ passer rating three times in his career and the Rams are 3-0 in those contests.
Last year, ALEX SMITH led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and an appearance in the NFC Championship Game. The eighth-year quarterback completed 273 of 445 passes (61.3 percent) for a career-high 3,144 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions for a career-best 90.7 passer rating. Smith's 3.4-1 TD-INT ratio was the third-best in team history, trailing two seasons by Pro Football Hall of Famer STEVE YOUNG (1992, 1994). Smith's five interceptions were tied for the third-fewest in a season in NFL history (minimum 400 attempts).
Rookie RUSSELL WILSON will make his NFL debut on Kickoff Weekend. A third-round selection (No. 75 overall) out of Wisconsin, Wilson completed 40 of 63 passes (63.5 percent) for 536 yards with five touchdowns and one interception for a 110.3 passer rating in the preseason. During his college career at NC State and Wisconsin, Wilson started 50 games in a row and established an NCAA-FBS record by throwing 379 consecutive passes without an interception. He was named first-team all conference in both the ACC (2008) and Big Ten (2011).
JOSH FREEMAN passed for a career-high 3,592 yards last year, the second-most in a season by a Buccaneer. Freeman, who had 3,451 passing yards in 2010, is the only player in franchise history to record back-to-back 3,400-yard seasons. In his career, he has engineered eight fourth-quarter comeback or overtime wins. Freeman and AARON RODGERS are the only quarterbacks with at least 3,400 passing yards and 200 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons.
The Redskins selected ROBERT GRIFFIN III with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Griffin III, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, led Baylor to a 10-3 record last season and the school's first Bowl victory in 19 years. In his 41 career games at Baylor, he set or tied 54 school records, including most career passing yards (10,366), total offense yards (12,620), passing efficiency (158.9) and passing touchdowns (78). During the preseason, he completed 20 of 31 passes (64.5 percent) for 193 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 103.3 passer rating.
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