Sept. 8 at Detroit, Dec. 29 vs Detroit
Lions QB Matthew Stafford led the league in both attempts (727) and completions (435) in 2012, but his play didn’t match the level of 2011, when he completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 5,048 yards and 41 TDs with 16 picks. In 2012, he completed less than 60 percent of his passes, had a 20-17 TD-to-interception ratio, and the Lions took a huge step back. His passer rating of 79.8 was his lowest since his rookie season. Still, the Lions signed Stafford to a three-year, $53 million deal during the offseason.
Sept. 15 at Chicago, Dec 1 vs. Chicago
Jay Cutler, in his fifth season with the Bears, is learning his fourth offense. This time it is new coach Marc Trestman’s offense, a version of the traditional West Coast offense that stresses efficiency and a quick release. But Cutler never has had a passer rating higher than 88.1 as a full-time starter. In 2012 he completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 3,033 yards, but had 14 interceptions to go with 19 TD passes.
Sept. 22 vs. Cleveland
A first-round draft pick, Brandon Weeden started the 2012 season as a 28-year-old rookie who struggled along with his team. He completed 57.4 percent of his passes for 2,285 yards, but had more interceptions (17) than TDs (14) and had a 72.6 passer rating. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner figures to implement an offense that enables Weeden to throw downfield more, his strength.
Sept. 29 vs. Pittsburgh in London
The hits caught up to Ben Roethlisberger last season, with a nasty rib injury leading a list of bump and bruises that limited him to 13 games. Still, he was efficient, with a .633 pass completion percentage and a 26-to-8 TD-to-interception ratio. With the Steelers planning on emphasizing the passing game more, how will Roethlisberger hold up?
Oct. 13 vs. Carolina
Cam Newton had huge numbers as a rookie before struggling in 2012 as guys such as Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III dominated quarterback-of-the-future lists. Bottom line is Newton has to prove he can win. In his sophomore NFL season, his completion percentage, passing yards and TDs were down. But so were his interceptions, a good sign. Look for him to push his way back into the young QB discussion this season.
Oct. 21 at N.Y. Giants
Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings, so we know he’s a winner. But his accuracy has fallen off; Manning’s completion percentage has fallen in each of the past two seasons, last year dropping under 60 percent. So consistency and accuracy is the key as he enters his 10th season. But Manning remains one of the NFL’s elite QBs, having passed for 86 TDs in his past three seasons.
Oct. 27 vs. Green Bay, Nov. 24 at Green Bay
His numbers might not have been as absurd as they were in 2011, but Aaron Rodgers still is among the best. He has led the league in touchdown percentage the past two seasons, has an 84-to-14 TD-to-interception ratio in that time and has topped 4,000 passing yards in four of his past five seasons. The question is, can his line protect him?
Last season Tony Romo completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 4,903 yards and 28 touchdowns, and still failed to win over Dallas fans. Not making the playoffs can do that. Romo had offseason back surgery that kept him out of the team’s offseason training. He will have plenty of targets to throw to, but he might struggle behind the Cowboys offensive line.
Nov. 7 vs. Washington
Assuming Robert Griffin III is healthy coming back from knee surgery, the Vikings will have their hands full. Griffin completed 17 of 22 passes for 182 yards and a score and ran 13 times for 138 yards and two more TDs against the Vikings last season. Minnesota did not have an answer for Griffin’s quickness in Washington’s read-option attack.
Nov. 17 at Seattle
Russell Wilson is another dual-threat QB who gave the Vikings fits last season. In a 30-20 loss in Seattle, Wilson chewed up the Vikings defense, passing for three scores. Wilson is efficient (64.1 percent completion rate), and he doesn’t turn the ball over much (26 TDs to 10 interceptions)
Dec. 8 at Baltimore
Joe Flacco’s wonderful playoff run established him as a winner and took him all the way to bank with a big-bucks, long-term deal. So, the question: Is Flacco, whose numbers are nice, but not mind-blowing, set to push into elite QB status? Or will he struggle on a Ravens team not nearly as talented as the one that won the Super Bowl? Flacco will miss Anquan Boldin badly.
Dec. 15 vs. Philadelphia
Will a new coach and a new offense — he no longer will be the square peg driven into the round hole that is the West Coast offense — mean a new professional life for Michael Vick? The Eagles and coach Chip Kelly better hope so. A paucity of receiving talent, though, will be a problem.
Dec. 22 at Cincinnati
After finishing the 2010 season 4-12, the Bengals have made the playoffs two consecutive years. A big reason: Andy Dalton. In two seasons Dalton has passed for 7.067 yards and 47 TDs with 29 interceptions. And now Dalton is becoming a leader of the team after becoming the only Bengals QB in history to make the playoffs in each of his first two seasons.