By Andrew Kahn
It’s a poorly-kept secret that the Seattle Seahawks don’t mind taking a penalty flag or two for pass interference or defensive holding in exchange for five or six no-calls on borderline plays. Supposedly, the NFL will be cracking down on physical play in the defensive backfield. If true—and that’s a big if—it could mean even bigger numbers for the quarterbacks.
1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
2013 Stats: 5,477 yards, 55 TD, -31 rush yards, 1 rush TD
Reports out of Denver indicate the 38-year-old Manning is throwing harder and farther than he could last season, when he set NFL records for touchdown passes (55) and passing yards (5,477). Even without Eric Decker, he still has plenty of talented targets.
2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
2013 Stats: 5,162 yards, 39 TD, 52 rush yards, 3 rush TD
Like Manning, Brees also seems unaffected by age. He turned 35 in January and still posted another phenomenal season. Brees won't have Lance Moore or running back Darren Sproles to throw to, but the Saints drafted a wide receiver with their first-round pick, speedy Brandin Cooks out of Oregon State.
3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
2013 Stats: 2,536 yards, 17 TD, 120 rush yards, 0 rush TD
The Green Bay gunslinger rounds out the obvious trio of top quarterbacks, and it’s not hard to imagine him having the best season of all. After missing seven games last season due to a broken collarbone, Rodgers' decision-making will be under the microscope, as he straddles the line between waiting an extra beat for a receiver to get open (and potentially taking a sack) and throwing the ball away. It's a struggle for any quarterback, but especially one like Rodgers who is capable of keeping plays alive with his feet.
4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
2013 Stats: 4,650 yards, 29 TD, 69 rush yards, 2 rush TD
There's an obvious drop-off here, but as long as Calvin Johnson suits up, Stafford remains a strong fantasy play. And with five seasons under his belt, he may be ready to take the next step. The head coach under whom Stafford set pass attempts records has been replaced, but deep threat Golden Tate was acquired from Seattle.
5. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
2013 Stats: 3,379 yards, 24 TD, 585 rush yards, 6 rush TD
Newton will have to get acclimated to a new receiving corps, as teammates Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn, Jr., and Domenik Hixon—Carolina’s top four wideouts last season—signed elsewhere in the offseason. His new targets include first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin, whose late touchdown grab helped Florida State beat Newton’s alma mater Auburn for the national championship, along with veterans Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, and Tiquan Underwood.
6. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
2013 Stats: 3,822 yards, 23 TD, 377 rush yards, 4 rush TD
Advanced statistics provide a blurry picture of Luck, but fantasy stats show a top-five quarterback. And as he enters his third season, he should only get better. Hakeem Nicks provides another target for the third-year QB.
7. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
2013 Stats: 2,891 yards, 27 TD, 221 rush yards, 3 rush TD
Upon taking over the starting spot in Week 6 last season, Foles performed as well as any quarterback in the league. Here's betting that he won't have a letdown, even with the departure of DeSean Jackson.
8. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
2013 Stats: 4,515 yards, 26 TD, 55 rush yards, 0 rush TD
He spent a lot of time picking himself off the turf last season, so Atlanta added some new offensive lineman, including Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, the No. 6 pick in the draft. Considering Julio Jones missed most of last season, it's reasonable to expect a bounce-back year from the talented and hungry Ryan.
9. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
2013 Stats: 4,478 yards, 32 TD, 72 rush yards, 0 rush TD
This may be higher than you'll see Rivers in other rankings, but he finished sixth among quarterbacks in fantasy points last season. Second-year receiver Keenan Allen could be a star.
10. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
2013 Stats: 4,293 yards, 33 TD, 183 rush yards, 2 rush TD
Dalton finished last season one spot ahead of Rivers in fantasy points, yet a terrible playoff performance has left a bad taste in the mouths of fantasy GMs. Don't undervalue Dalton, who has one of the best receivers in the league at his disposal and a new six-year, $115 contract to live up to.
Also consider: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins; Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys; Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers; Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks; Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at http://andrewjkahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.
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