17. Joe Flacco
Best Case: Flacco is a highly-paid, Super Bowl winning quarterback. In 2013, he finally starts producing like one. His 4,100 yards and 28 touchdowns both lead the AFC North, a division the supposedly rebuilding Ravens run away with.
Worst Case: Flacco’s hot finish proves to be a “time and place” mirage, as Joe Cool struggles to find a go-to chain mover in the absence of Anquan Boldin. His 3,700 yards and 23 touchdowns are par for his career course, but feel lacking following the events of the past 12 months.
18. Ryan Tannehill
Best Case: Tannehill makes GM Jeff Ireland’s offseason spending spree seem unnecessary, taking the biggest step forward of any sophomore quarterback as the Dolphins finally vault past the Patriots on the back of Tannehill’s 4,200-yard, 30-touchdown season.
Worst Case: Ireland’s spending spree indeed proves unnecessary...because new LT Jonathan Martin can’t block a soul. Harried from the word go, Tannehill suffers a collarbone/shoulder injury soon after Miami’s Week 7 bye. Ireland’s fate is sealed, and Tannehill backers sigh “wait till next year.”
19. Sam Bradford
Best Case: Bradford’s hot 2012 finish was not an illusion. Buoyed by continuity with the coaching staff and an explosive new supporting cast, Bradford finally sneaks by 7.0 yards per attempt while becoming the newest member of the 4,000-yard club.
Worst Case: After three years of excuses, it finally becomes clear that Bradford is a part of the problem in St. Louis, and not just a victim of circumstance. “Usually competent” is the best that can be said for his game.
20. Carson Palmer
Best Case: Working with a living, breathing supporting cast for the first time since 2010, Palmer doesn’t turn back the clock so much as give it a new pair of batteries. Despite the Cardinals’ shaky line, he keeps his YPA above 7.0 and once again surpasses 4,000 yards in Week 17.
Worst Case: Palmer finds garbage time isn’t quite as forgiving in a division that includes San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis. Constantly banged up, he has a hard time developing a connection with Larry Fitzgerald, and finds Bruce Arians doesn’t appreciate him dumping it off to the tight end or running back every other play. Arians’ affinity for deep, low-percentage throws results in another 20-interception campaign. Palmer is a forgettable QB2.
21. Josh Freeman
Best Case: Freeman puts coach Greg Schiano’s mind games behind him as he rides off into the contract year sunset. He bests last year’s yardage (4,065) and touchdown (27) totals, while tossing the second fewest picks of his career (15). The Bucs apply the franchise tag and make him do it again in 2014.
Worst Case: Freeman can no longer take the heat in Schiano’s kitchen, who responds in kind by revolving his offense around Doug Martin even more than he did last season. Called on to chuck it deep far less often than he did in 2012, Freeman gets his completion percentage back above 60, but is a thoroughly uninspiring QB2.
22. Andy Dalton
Best Case: Dalton puts his nightmarish 2012 finish behind him, surpassing 30 touchdowns while inching closer to 4,000 yards. He game manages the Bengals to their third straight Wild Card bid.
Worst Case: The unraveling that began late last season (198.5 yards per game over his final eight non-Week 17 starts) continues unabated, as defenses stuff the box and bracket A.J. Green knowing Dalton can’t beat them deep. With no viable backup, Dalton gets to tend the garden all 16 weeks, but sends the Bengals searching for a long-term replacement.
23. Matt Schaub
Best Case: Schaub continues to look like a player who’s already peaked, but not one who’s bottomed out. A competent QB2 for fantasy purposes who can be a QB1 depending on the matchup (ahem, Jacksonville).
Worst Case: The shell-of-his-former-self Schaub from the Divisional Round was just a preview, as he emerges as a full-on checkdown machine. The arrival of DeAndre Hopkins is of little help as Andre Johnson loses another step. Schaub and the Texans’ window slams shut before most even realized it was open.
24. Philip Rivers
Best Case: Mike McCoy can’t return Rivers to elite status, but does stop the bleeding by dialing down the low-percentage deep balls. Rivers no longer carries the Chargers on his back, but at least stops costing them games with his inane decisions.
Worst Case: Playing behind the league’s most embarrassing line, Rivers hits rock bottom, tossing 20 picks for the second time in three years while missing his first games since 2005. The Chargers void the final two years of his contract in the offseason.
25. Alex Smith
Best Case: Managed and manipulated to an even greater degree than he was in San Francisco, Smith passes for a career-high 3,300 yards while adding an additional 250 on the ground. He keeps the Chiefs in the hunt for a playoff spot until mid-December in the wretchedly weak AFC.
Worst Case: Smith leads the Chiefs to a season sweep of the Raiders, but otherwise leaves fans wondering why in the world the new braintrust surrendered a precious second-round pick for his services. All of his flaws (namely, his noodle arm) are back on parade as he flounders without Jim Harbaugh’s guiding hand.
26. Brandon Weeden
Best Case: Weeden comes out of his shell under the vertically-minded duo of Rob Chudzinski and Norval Turner, becoming the league’s most surprising 4,000-yard passer. Along with Josh Gordon, he becomes one of the few desperate Mike Holmgren gambles to pay off.
Worst Case: The league’s oldest 30 year old plays like he’s 40, continuing to move in slow motion as not even Norval can speed him up. A laughingstock of epic proportions, Weeden begins wondering when he might be able to return to Oklahoma State as an unpaid offensive assistant.
27. Jake Locker
Best Case: Locker is worlds more effective in the Titans’ stripped-down, run-based offense. He’s in the bottom five in pass attempts, but top 12 in yards per attempt. His 20:12 TD:INT ratio is better than OC Chris Palmer thought possible.
Worst Case: With Chris Johnson continuing to hold the run game hostage, too much is put on Locker’s plate and he cracks. His 11-of-21 for 97 yards performance in Week 6 in Seattle calls to mind his most embarrassing games at the University of Washington. Ryan Fitzpatrick is installed under center following the Titans’ Week 8 bye.
28. E.J. Manuel
Best Case: Installed as the Week 1 starter after running circles around Kevin Kolb in camp, Manuel is surprisingly efficient — if not prolific — under run-minded coach Doug Marrone. He’s still only a borderline QB2 for fantasy purposes, but hints at much bigger things ahead.
Worst Case: As raw as any first-round quarterback in recent memory — including Locker — Manuel’s 22 pass attempts all come after Week 14, and in garbage time to boot. He enters 2014 just as he did 2013: As an unknown entity.
29. Christian Ponder
Best Case: Ponder stops shackling the Vikings’ run-based offense with absurdly poor play (5.43 YPA after Week 12 last season), getting his yards per game close to 225 and YPA near 7.0. He still has bad stretches, but they’re 1-2 games long instead of 3-4.
Worst Case: The meltdown continues, as new additions Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson are no match for Ponder’s scattershot play. Backup Matt Cassel makes five starts as GM Rick Spielman begins dreaming of a rich 2014 quarterback class.
30. Matt Flynn
Best Case: Flynn is surprisingly effective as the league’s preeminent checkdown machine. He has the fewest 20-plus yard completions in the NFL, but limits his mistakes as the Raiders go 6-10.
Worst Case: Flynn “wins” the starting job solely because of his Packers connection to GM Reggie McKenzie, though even that isn’t enough to keep his job coming off the Raiders’ Week 7 bye. Tyler Wilson replaces Flynn as the moribund Raiders’ sacrificial lamb, making over $5 million less in the process.
31. Geno Smith
Best Case: Smith wins the Jets’ quarterback competition, limiting his mistakes as he oversees one of the league’s most conservative offenses. His 2,900 yards and 17 touchdowns hint at a serviceable, if not blindingly bright, future.
Worst Case: Smith appears so overmatched in the early days of camp that the Jets decide to not only keep Mark Sanchez, but name him their starter. Smith still ends up making six starts, but does nothing to suggest he’ll be any better of an answer under center than Sanchez.
32. Blaine Gabbert
Best Case: The Jaguars still don’t get a starter’s return on their 2011 draft investment, but don’t have to avert their eyes every time Gabbert attempts a pass. Gabbert emerges as this generation’s Brady Quinn.
Worst Case: Gabbert makes only two starts before the Hindenburg-style humanity of it all overwhelms rookie coach Gus Bradley. Chad Henne is installed for good, and the Jaguars’ front office spends more time breaking down Teddy Bridgewater tape than Louisville’s 12 opponents combined.