By Steve Silverman
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Sports fans understand the changes on the calendar better than most. The next big event is the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday night. It represents the symbolic midpoint of the baseball season, even though teams went past the 81-game mark earlier this month.
But about the same time Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Craig Kimbrel close out the game for another American League victory, a big change will take place.
It's the start of football season. NFL players will be days away from reporting to training camp and preparing for the season. It's nothing like the old days when coaches actually put the player through demanding paces, including two-a-days with hard hitting, but they will go through the motions and learn the playbook. (Perhaps my point of view is way too old school, but I saw Lawrence Taylor go through training camp at the height of his ability, and that was a sight to behold.)
With the start of the 2016 season right around the corner, we will be looking at NFL position rankings in the coming weeks.
Of course, we start with the quarterbacks.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
The 2015 season was not the best for Rodgers, and he was never able to overcome the loss of No. 1 receiver Jordy Nelson. The lanky and speedy wideout was lost to a knee injury during the preseason, and the Packers never had the consistency on offense that Rodgers or head coach Mike McCarthy expect. Look for Rodgers to improve on his 60.7 completion percentage, which was the lowest of his career. A 31-to-8 TD-to-interception ratio was not bad, but Rodgers can do much better, and the offense should be much more consistent this season.
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
One of these seasons, it will all come to an end for Brady, and he will lose the zip on his fastball. When that happens, head coach Bill Belichick will let him know what he sees and Brady will get one day to let it sink in and then move on. That day is not here yet, as he threw for 4,770 yards with a 36-to-7 TD-to-interception ratio in 2015. Brady may have to miss some games at the start of the season – he is still waiting for final dispensation from the courts on Deflategate – but he will come through when he is back in the lineup, and the Pats have enough firepower on both sides of the ball to rank as a serious Super Bowl contender.
3. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Losing the Super Bowl hurts badly, and it was clearly Newton's worst moment in what had been a brilliant season. However, he is not going to take that game with him onto the field this year. Newton will never be the consistent percentage passer that Rodgers, Brady and Drew Brees have become, but he is as good in the clutch as any of them. A remarkable athlete with a powerful arm, Newton can change a game like few others, and he has a chance to become No. 1 before the end of the season.
4. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
There's still a faction out there who wants to put down Wilson and minimize his impact on the game. Don't believe it for a second. Wilson's lack of height is having the same impact on his productivity that Fran Tarkenton's height had on his. Tarkenton is one of the most deserving players in the Canton, Ohio, Pro Football Hall of Fame shrine. Wilson has a plus arm, wonderful anticipation of how the defense is going to come after him and the ability to deliver the ball to his receivers in stride.
5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have a shot to win any game when Roethlisberger is healthy, and he has all his weapons at the wide receiver spot. His size and strength allow him to throw off potential sackers, buy time and get the ball to superior receivers such as Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. When the Steelers get off to a good start, they are capable of putting up 40-plus points nearly every week.
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
The end is coming closer for Brees, but he still has the arm strength and leadership to serve as a positive attribute for the Saints. He had 10 games last year when he exceeded the 300-yard mark, and he is still capable of leading the Saints to productive games against very good opponents.
7. Eli Manning, New York Giants
The Giants can always count on Manning to be the starting quarterback every game because he has had the miraculous ability to avoid major injuries. Look for the Giants' offense to take a major step up this year under new head coach Ben McAdoo. The combination of Manning to Odell Beckham Jr. will be on par with Roethlisberger to Brown.
8. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona quarterback has an excellent working relationship with head coach Bruce Arians, and that's one of the reasons Palmer has thrived since arriving in the desert. Arizona and Seattle should battle for the top spot in the division, and Palmer's accurate deep passing will be one of the primary reasons for the Cardinals' success.
9. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
If there is any quarterback in the league who is due for a season of good breaks, it is Rivers. The Chargers have always been lacking in one area or another, and last year saw their season torn apart by multiple injuries. Rivers is a hungry leader who completed a career-high 437 passes in 2015.
10. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Luck is the highest-paid player in the league, and the Colts gave him the big deal and a contract extension even though his 2015 season was disastrous. The biggest reason was his series of injuries to his back, shoulder, abdomen, ribs and kidney. The Colts have tried to upgrade their offensive line, and if that actually occurs, Luck is capable of leading his team a long way in the postseason.
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