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Rating the NFL quarterbacks

1. Tom Brady, New England: Never mind the Spygate stuff. No quarterback does a better job reading defenses and effortlessly finding the open receiver. Last season, his third-down passer rating was a nosebleed-high 115.6.

2. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis: A victory in Super Bowl XLI allowed Manning to quiet all talk that he can’t win big games. Superb as he is, he definitely missed Marvin Harrison last season.

3. Tony Romo, Dallas: OK, so he’s 0-2 in the playoffs. But Romo still has the potential to be great. He already has 10 games with 300-plus yards passing. That’s three shy of Troy Aikman’s club record.

4. Drew Brees, New Orleans: Where would the Saints be without Brees? Certainly not on the national radar screen. And, according to STATS LLC, the Saints dropped a league-high 41 catchable balls in 2007.

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5. Brett Favre, New York Jets: There’s a reason we paid attention to his retirement rumba: The three-time MVP was on fire last season. Can he do it with a new team, though, when he’s turning 39 in October?

6. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh: Just when we thought the motorcycle accident might forever change him as a player, he bounced back last season with 32 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions.

7. Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle: He has a bad body for a quarterback, but who cares? Hasselbeck makes quick decisions, is very accurate underneath and runs the Seahawks offense the way it’s supposed to be run. Very underrated.

8. Jeff Garcia, Tampa Bay: Lost in all the Bucs’ flirtations with Favre was this: Garcia just wins. No one was more accurate last season on passes that sailed 20 yards or deeper.

9. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati: Unlike Brees or Garcia, Palmer looks like he rolled off a quarterback assembly line. He could have assembled some better numbers in the interceptions department last season, though. He had a career-high 20.

10. Eli Manning, New York Giants: If not for his performance in the playoffs and Super Bowl last season, Manning wouldn’t be in the top 10 on this list. But he showed poise most didn’t think he had.

11. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia: When he’s relatively healthy, and that hasn’t been often of late, McNabb is one of the league’s better quarterbacks. He’s very tough and, considering the beating he takes, he needs to be.

12. Derek Anderson, Cleveland: Don’t know much about this out-of-nowhere Browns quarterback? Think young Drew Bledsoe. Anderson stands tall in the pocket and has the huge arm necessary to take advantage of Cleveland’s field-stretching receivers.

13. Jay Cutler, Denver: Cutler threw for 3,497 yards and 20 touchdowns with 14 interceptions last season. Stats-wise -- and stats aren’t everything, of course -- that’s better than the second seasons of Brady, Favre, Roethlisberger, Palmer and many, many others.

14. Philip Rivers, San Diego: The Chargers lost, but Rivers proved a lot in the AFC championship game at New England last season. Hobbling and wincing, he kept his team in the game, proving he can and will play through pain.

15. David Garrard, Jacksonville: The Jaguars rewarded Garrard with their richest-ever contract this off-season, and for good reason. He’s smart, poised, and is better than just about every quarterback at protecting the ball.

16. Marc Bulger, St. Louis: Bulger is coming off a lousy season -- his first with more interceptions than touchdowns -- but a lot of that was because of shoddy protection from his offensive line. He is capable of playing much better.

17. Matt Schaub, Houston: Before injuries took their toll, Schaub gave Texans fans reason to feel good about their team. He’s coming off shoulder surgery, and needs to do a better job protecting the ball.

18. Jon Kitna, Detroit: Kitna’s a great guy and a terrific teammate who puts up some big numbers and has inspired loyalty everywhere he’s played. But he’s not the guy you want for a championship run. He’s a typical 8-8 quarterback.

19. Jake Delhomme, Carolina: Delhomme has shown flashes of excellence over the course of his career. He has a long way to go in light of his elbow problems, though, and might not have much left.

20. Trent Edwards, Buffalo: If the Bills can assemble a supporting cast, Edwards could be very good. He’ll probably never be hit as hard (or as frequently) as he was at Stanford. He could have been great at, say, USC.

21. Chad Pennington, Miami: Booted from the Jets, Pennington has the chance to exact revenge in an opening-week game. Even though he’s smart and experienced, his arm strength is questionable.

22. Jason Campbell, Washington: Another year, another offensive system for Campbell, who’s not the prototypical quarterback to run Jim Zorn’s version of the West Coast scheme. But Campbell is a quick learner, and this could be a breakout year.

23. Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota: The Vikings are building quite a team, but quarterback is their weak link. Jackson is 8-4 as a starter, however, and is coming off a very good spring.

24. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay: Forget the NFC North pressure, can Rodgers take the pressure of following Favre? Will he be booed the first time a key pass falls incomplete? The real question is his durability. It seems he’s always dinged up.

25. Matt Leinart, Arizona: This is shaping up as a make-or-break year for Leinart, who has Kurt Warner looking over his shoulder. Leinart looked good in the exhibition opener, and his coaches say he’s extra-focused. Now, he has to prove it.

26. Vince Young, Texas: Yes, he’s a spectacular athlete who can do some great things with his feet. But this isn’t the guy you want trying to win a game with his arm. He just isn’t accurate enough.

27. JaMarcus Russell, Oakland: Physically, Russell belongs in the top 10 on this list. So far, though, he has proved only that he can pack on pounds and hold out for more money. We’ll learn a lot about him this season.

28. Matt Ryan, Atlanta: In time, Ryan could be good. At the moment, he’s on a bad team that’s trying to change its image in the post-Michael Vick era. He’ll be earning every dime of that $72-million contract.

29. Alex Smith, San Francisco: Smith’s toughest opponent might be his head coach. The two did some serious head-butting last season, and seem no closer this summer. Can Mike Martz save the day?

30. Kyle Boller, Baltimore: The Ravens haven’t decided on a starting quarterback yet, so Boller’s as good a guess as anyone. Simply put, no one has been impressive.

31. Brodie Croyle, Kansas City: The good news for Croyle: With six starts under his belt, he’s not completely new. The bad news for Croyle: The Chiefs lost all six of those games.

32. Rex Grossman, Chicago: If Grossman can’t beat out Kyle Orton, he’ll be No. 33 on next year’s list.

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WEB POLL

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