WHAT'S AN NFL offseason without Brett Favre ready to make a comeback and soothe his ego. It's a maddening ritual, but the NFL needs proven quarterbacks, and let's scan the NFL for how rare a breed that is.
Raiders: JaMarcus Russell is entering his second season as the full-time starter, though this time he has a bona fide backup in Jeff Garcia ready to push him. We should answer some questions about Russell (e.g. ankle, weight, mindset) at this weekend's minicamp, starting Friday. Russell's job is safe this year, and probably in 2010, even if he falters.
Chargers: Philip Rivers is the ace pitcher of this division, for the three-time defending champs, no less. But LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates appear to be fading. Rivers is getting put to the test more now than ever, but he's their man for years to come.
Chiefs: Matt Cassel came over via an amazingly friendly deal with the New England Patriots. He took advantage of his opportunity in place of an injured Tom Brady, including a dominant effort against the Raiders. Cassel is entrenched for at least 2011.
Broncos: First-year coach Josh McDaniels is apparently really high on ex-Chicago Bear Kyle Orton. But McDaniels would have loved any QB not named Cutler after that disaster this offseason. Orton doesn't make the Broncos a menacing threat. Neither does backup Chris Simms.
49ers: They haven't endorsed Shaun Hill as much as they have the "daily" competition between Hill and Alex Smith. Odds are Hill enters the season as the starter, and if he struggles, Smith gets his final shot with the 49ers by Week 5 (or surely after the Week 6 bye).
Rams: Marc Bulger's stock has dropped so much that it wasn't wild to speculate that the Rams would draft Mark Sanchez with the second overall pick. Here's hoping Kyle Boller gets a chance to revive his career here.
Cardinals: Kurt Warner is back (after cashing in on a new deal, after using the 49ers as leverage). Warner likely will retire by 2011, but will Matt Leinart still be on the payroll to take his place?
Seahawks: Again, there was lots of speculation that Sanchez might go high in the draft to Seattle, which instead will rely again on a back-weary Matt Hasselbeck. But new coach Jim Mora had better get a capable replacement, and fast.
Patriots: Paging Tom Brady, paging Tom Brady, please report back for duty. Is his surgically repaired knee OK? Must be if the Patriots were willing to ditch Cassel. Brady deserves the benefit of playing as long as he likes in New England (unless the Pats decide to trade him to Kansas City so we can keep up his comparisons to Joe Montana).
Jets: Trading up in the draft to nab USC quarterback Mark Sanchez was a smart move, and it sure takes any sting off the latest Favre saga. But will the Jets be patient with Sanchez? Probably not. Look for him to get action early, if not right away over Kellen Clemens.
Bills: Trent Edwards gets Terrell Owens as a target — and as a distraction. Hope Edwards got a psychology degree from Stanford. His backup: Ryan Fitzpatrick (aka Owens' best friend once the Bills start struggling).
Dolphins: Yes, Chad Pennington really is still in the league, and he had a great comeback year in 2008 for the Dolphins. Hard to peg him as their long-term future answer. Same goes for Chad Henne. They'll be in the market next year (when Favre is ready to play closer to Mississippi).
Bengals: Anyone seen Carson Palmer since the 2005 season playoffs? If his elbow hasn't healed, he won't be the top USC quarterbacks in the NFL (see: Cassel or Sanchez, but keep Palmer ahead of Matt Leinart and soon-to-be Favre backup John David Booty in Minnesota). J.T. O'Sullivan is Palmer's backup, much to the glee of 49ers fans who jumped off the JTO bandwagon as fast as pass-rushers were jumping on him.
Steelers: Big Ben Roethlisberger is fresh off his second Super Bowl championship. A few more and no one will remember Terry Bradshaw.
Ravens: Joe Flacco looked good in purple as a rookie and will do so as long as the Ravens' defense helps him. (Take a second and just try envisioning Favre in the Vikings' purple jersey. Yikes.)
Browns: Look for Derek Anderson to be new coach Eric Mangini's guy, what with all the rumors still swirling that Brady Quinn still might get traded. Mangini should keep both for insurance reasons, unless a team offers up a 2010 first-round pick (which the 49ers have two of, by the way).
Colts: Thank goodness Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl a couple years back. His supporting cast is vanishing, from receiver Marvin Harrison to coach Tony Dungy (with key assistant coaches reportedly on the verge of retirement, too). Manning is the type of guy who'll play forever (or however long Favre establishes that timeline).
Titans: Kerry Collins returns to the fold for the team that went one-and-done as the AFC's top playoff seed. Didn't these guys once draft a chap named Vince Young?
Texans: A playoff berth might finally within view, and they'll vie a third straight season for one with Matt Schaub, who passed for 3,043 yards last season. Schaub's backup is Dan Orlovsky, who was last seen running beyond the Lions' end zone.
Jaguars: David Garrard is coming off a 3,620-yard season for a 5-11 squad. Is it too early for the Jags to sidle up to their neighbors at the University of Florida and grab Tim Tebow. If not Tebow next year, then it'll be Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy or, try this on for size, Terrelle Pryor after only two years at Ohio State.
Cowboys: As much as everyone thinks Tony Romo is better off without Terrell Owens around, don't believe it. Owens is a legitimate playmaker. So is tight end Jason Witten. Now Roy Williams must prove himself as one, too. And Romo had better win in this season's playoffs, or he might be gone, too. Prediction: Romo gets hurt and Jon Kitna leads the Cowboys to the NFC Championship Game.
Giants: Eli Manning has a few more seasons to live off that Super Bowl XLII win. David Carr is his primary backup, so, the Giants better hope Eli stays upright, because Carr sure won't.
Eagles: Really, Donovan McNabb is still in Philly? After all that tough talk of wanting a new contract and a happier home? Good, because Philly got a lot better this offseason. Right now, McNabb holds the title of Best Active Quarterback Who Hasn't Won A Super Bowl.
Redskins: Really, Jason Campbell is still in D.C.? After all that talk of wanting to upgrade the position with Jay Cutler and others? Too bad for him. He's doomed. Bring on Todd Collins. No, bring on Colt Brennan. No, make that Chase Daniel!
Saints: Drew Brees should have a better defense to complement arguably the NFL's most exciting offense. Brees still could use better receivers (and perhaps better backups than Mark Brunell and Joey Harrington).
Falcons: Matt Ryan, this is your franchise. Just don't go start any dog-fighting rings. But if Ryan gets hurt, Chris Redman gets the call, and the Falcons will flop.
Panthers: They're a perennial challenger in the NFC, but can 34-year-old Jake Delhomme get them over the top? Magic 8-Ball says no. Neither can backup Josh McCown. Look for the 2010 draft to net them their quarterback of the future.
Buccaneers: They drafted Josh Freeman in the first round last month, but they have four other quarterbacks to choose from, and Jeff Garcia isn't one. Freeman's mentors: Byron Leftwich, Brian Griese, Luke McCown and Oakland native Josh Johnson.
Vikings: If/when Favre joins the Packers' hated rivals, the NFC North might just become the most exciting division to watch, especially with its cast of quarterbacks. Favre definitely makes the Vikings a playoff-caliber team instead of Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson.
Packers: If Rodgers thought he couldn't face any greater pressure than replacing Favre, he will if Favre is in the same division. Unheralded Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm are Rodgers' backups. Oh my.
Lions: Matthew Stafford has $41.7 million reasons to be glad he's in Detroit as the No. 1 overall draft pick. He better kick some of that dough down to Daunte Culpepper, who'll likely be the opening-day starter while the Lions adjust before exposing Stafford to the NFL.
Bears: Jay Cutler will soon learn that the NFC North features much tougher defenses than the AFC West. There's a reason why the Bears rotate quarterbacks every year, and Cutler will learn that lesson, too. Rex Grossman isn't lingering around Soldier Field anymore, so the Bears' backups are the unknown Brett Basanez and Caleb Hanie.
Look for Cam Inman's Web-only "Candid Cam" takes whenever there's a breaking sports story, or whenever Cam's got something to say _ in short, just about every day. You can reach Cam at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CamInman.