Commentary

Which QB would you go to war with?

Originally Published: September 2, 2010
By Bill Simmons | ESPN.com

Breaking news: Quarterbacks are important.

Fine, we always knew that. But I can't remember quarterbacks hogging the NFL spotlight more than they have in 2010. The two best QBs (Peyton Manning and Drew Brees) determined February's Super Bowl. The juiciest offseason subplots for trading (Donovan McNabb), drafting (Tim Tebow), criminal activity (Ben Roethlisberger), retirement (Kurt Warner), non-retirement (Brett Favre) and longtime codeine abuse that made everyone say, "Wow, now it all makes sense!" (JaMarcus Russell) involved quarterbacks. The last two No. 1 picks (Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford) were quarterbacks; so is New York's newest "heartthrob who's about to be booed mercilessly because everyone's hopes are unrealistically high and they're going to blame him if things go wrong" (Mark Sanchez). And we haven't even mentioned Tom Brady's hair yet.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireThe only way dudes of America will excuse the Brady Cut is if Gisele made the call.

(Important note: A few weeks ago, all Patriots fans made a pact to pretend that Brady's 2010 hairdo isn't happening. We're going to ignore it completely -- even if his hair catches fire during a game and a referee puts it out with a challenge flag -- and play dumb whenever you bust our balls about it. Which will probably be often. Just know this is the last time I will mention No. 12's hair in 2010. In fact, what hair? Tom Brady changed his hair? I didn't notice.)

The quarterback boom goes beyond name value. Rules swung in their favor last decade: Cornerbacks can't punish receivers like they once did, and defenders can only hit quarterbacks between their thighs and shoulder pads (and only as they're releasing the football, and not too hard, and not in a way that might give them a boo-boo). It's glorified flag football with better plays. While that was changing, the importance of running backs was devalued because of injuries (they routinely break down within a few years), strategy (we've seen more situational backs than ever), incredible depth (there always seem to be eight guys like Tashard Choice or Arian Foster lurking out there) and Mike Shanahan's longtime dream to ruin fantasy football (finally taking hold). Anyone can contend in the National Football League with two mediocre runners and a half-decent third-down back, as long as they can throw and play defense. But you can't contend in the National Football League if your QB sucks, or even if he's mediocre. The days of Trent Dilfer winning a Super Bowl are long gone.

For me, the position hinges on one question: Can you go to war with him? Minnesota players knew they couldn't go to war with Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels, so they guilt-tripped Favre into coming back. Steelers fans might not be crazy about forgiving Roethlisberger, but they know he's a warrior on Sundays. Ravens fans love their Super Bowl chances, but deep down they're a little worried about Joe Flacco in big moments with bodies whizzing around him. San Fran fans feel confident they can steal a decrepit NFC West, but every time they think about Alex Smith coming through, they feel like Doc Rivers Googling his daughter's boyfriend. There's a reason they call quarterbacks "field generals."

Every time I thought about writing a 2010 NFL season preview, I kept drifting back to quarterbacks. Don't they ultimately decide this thing, anyway? I started writing a preseason QB Power Poll on Monday, not realizing that John Clayton was posting his own version of that idea the next day. (These things tend to happen on ESPN.com from time to time. We have 45,562 writers. And that's just for football.) So let's tweak my original idea, count them down backward from 32 to 1 and break them into tiers named after my favorite war movies that came out in my lifetime.

APOCALYPSE NOW

32. Matt Leinart/Derek Anderson, Cardinals
Living proof that the quarterback position matters: The drop-off from Kurt Warner to Leinart/Anderson will single-handedly doom this Cardinals season. One position out of 22 … and they're hopeless. Will we ever figure out why Leinart didn't make it? I keep going back to that "Punk'd" episode in 2006 when they pretended to arrest Leinart and his buddy for soliciting a prostitute, then a panicked Leinart convinced his buddy to take the rap for him before a giggling Ashton Kutcher jumped out of a van. That's a leader? Would Brees or Brady have ever done that? We should have written him off then and there.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
J. Meric/Getty ImagesJosh Freeman's partnership with Raheem Morris is about as shaky as a house made of balsa wood.

31. Josh Freeman, Bucs
Remember my Shaky Scale that ranked every team's coach and quarterback from 1 to 10, with unshakiest being a "1" (think Sean Payton or Brees) and shakiest being a "10"? Add the scores for every team's coach and QB together -- if it's 15 or higher, that team can't make the playoffs. You'd have a better chance of seeing Tiger Woods asking a Kardashian out. Well, guess what? I have Freeman and coach Raheem Morris (or, as they'd be known if Us Weekly covered sports, "Freeheem") adding up to 17. Not good.

30. Trent Edwards, Bills
It's always fun when a QB sucks, but especially when fans are in deep denial and say things like, "If he had time to throw, I think he'd have a chance to be good" (like Bills fans do with Edwards). In general, deep denial is fun. My wife watches "Bachelor Pad" every Monday as I read books and magazines and pop my head up anytime someone's in a bikini. For this week's immunity game, they had everyone answer mean questions about everyone else in the house, one of which was, "Which one of the girls is destined to be a bridesmaid but never a bride?" Everyone picked the show's tramp, Natalie, who did everything but roofie the other guys in the house during the first few episodes. Amazingly, Natalie was blindsided by this and ended up breaking down in the bathroom after the game. My wife (who never tweets except when this stupid show is on) tweeted, "Why do women who act like sluts act shocked and hurt when someone points out that they probably won't get married?" As if we don't know the answer. Come on. Deep denial. It's a dangerous drug.

CASUALTIES OF WAR

29. Jake Delhomme, Browns
The case for rooting for Jake in Cleveland: It's like watching someone trying to put his life back together after committing an accidental homicide and serving the mandatory prison sentence. Except in this case the accidental homicide was of the entire Panthers fan base.

The case for rooting against Jake in Cleveland: After a decade of Browns fans getting kicked in the collective walnuts, I'm not sure bringing in the guy who (A) destroyed more parlays and three-team teasers over the past seven seasons than every other QB combined, (B) threw eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions last season, and (C) played the single worst playoff game in QB history was the way to go. Actually, this situation makes me sad.

Charlie Whitehurst
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireWait, was Chaz Whitehurst the backup quarterback in San Diego AND the center fielder for the 2004 Red Sox?

28. Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks
I asked my former editor, KJ (Seattle sports nut), to describe Seattle's QB situation in one sentence. Here's what he wrote back: "Praying one guy's back holds up, fascinated by the other guy's hair (but hoping he never dons a helmet), and rationalizing every bad pass by either as bringing us one step closer to Jake Locker under center in 2011."

This sent me on a furious "Charlie Whitehurst hair" Google image search. Put it this way: Any time a quarterback's photos come popping up along with images of Barry Gibb, Oded Fehr, Viggo Mortensen, Gregg Allman, the Prince of Persia and porn star Colt Steele, that's a fun 10 seconds of Googling. Not to mention the irony of the aging Hasselbeck (bald since forever) being tested in the preseason by someone with flowing locks who looks like he'd hit on your girlfriend the moment you left the room. I'm ready to talk myself into the Charlie Era immediately. Whether it's the starting gig with Seattle or a spot in next year's "Bachelor Pad" house trying to resist Natalie the tramp. I'll take either.

HAMBURGER HILL

27. Alex Smith, 49ers
26. Matt Moore, Panthers
25. Matt Cassel, Chiefs

Basically the same guy -- right down to their ages (28, 28 and 26), their short names and the fact that something will have gone horribly wrong with your fantasy season if you start any of them. You can go 10-6 with them as long as everything else is going right.

FIRST BLOOD

24. Sam Bradford, Rams
Shades of Drew Bledsoe showing up in New England in 1993: No. 1 overall pick, great name (never underestimate the value of a great name), tons of hype, new ownership, a defensive specialist for a head coach, a downtrodden franchise that desperately needs to be rescued and fans that couldn't be more fired up for him. Then the season starts. And every fan says, "Crap, I forgot, we need a helluva lot more than a franchise quarterback, new owners and a competent coach."

As for "First Blood": During my senior year in college, my buddy Horgs and I roped a professor we liked into teaching a tutorial about Vietnam War movies. This was a big deal because nobody at Holy Cross ever got less than a B-plus in a tutorial, not even our buddy House, who never turned in his final assignment but got an A-minus after taking the professor out to dinner and getting him drunk. (College! $21,000 a year at the time.) Horgs and I spent the semester watching every Vietnam movie made from 1972-92, meeting with our professor for two hours a week to discuss them, then writing one big thesis at the end of the semester. (Did I mention how much I miss college? What a racket.) Our pick for most underrated? "First Blood." Rambo became a cartoon over the next three films, but in "First Blood," he's no different than Bruce Dern in "Coming Home" or De Niro and Walken in "The Deer Hunter" -- a veteran who lived through some horrible things in Vietnam, came home and can't figure out how to live in a country that hates the war he fought. Had Sly never made the sequels and turned Rambo into a cartoon character, "First Blood" would be remembered as one of the classic Vietnam films; not on par with the Vietnam Movie Mount Rushmore ("Deer Hunter," "Apocalypse Now," "Full Metal Jacket" and "Platoon"), but right on the next level. You have to believe me. How many people do you know who took a Vietnam War movies tutorial??????

[+] EnlargeKevin Kolb
Tim Umphrey/Getty ImagesWas Kevin Kolb overrated or underrated when he played the Chiefs? Just kidding; no one is underrated against the Chiefs.

23. Kevin Kolb, Eagles
A legitimate 2010 fantasy sleeper until everyone started pimping him, causing Kolb to make history: Without playing a down, he became overrated for being underrated. When he stunk against the Chiefs last weekend, every Philly fan remembered, "Oh yeah, we have no idea if this guy can be half as good as McNabb was." The good news for Kolb: Philly fans are famously patient and supportive.

(Important note: I think this will swing back the other way. By mid-September, he's going to become so overrated for being underrated that it's going to make him underrated again, making him the first underrated overrated underrated guy.)

RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II

22. Matthew Stafford, Lions
21. Mark Sanchez, Jets

Of the 46 quarterbacks who threw at least 100 passes last year, Stafford ranked 45th in Football Outsiders' adjusted rankings, beating only a cough-syrup chugger. In their annual almanac, they wrote that only one QB rated worse than Stafford as a rookie and ended up having a good career: the Super Bowl puker himself, Mr. Donovan McNabb. And with all that said … I still like him. Better team, more weapons, cannon arm, tough, carries himself like he belongs.

As for the Sanchize, the Jets made a concerted (and successful) effort to turn him into a game manager last winter. It worked. Now he has new toys (Santonio Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson), higher expectations, a higher profile and an offensive coordinator gunning for a head job. The Jets won't be sneaking up on anyone this year. So really, he's in the same spot as Stafford -- Year 2, blessed with an improved supporting cast, only needs to progress as a playmaker -- but Stafford has the safety net of low expectations, whereas Sanchez's second year is threatening to play out like a "Tosh.0" clip in which a dumb teenager walking a tightrope between two apartment-building roofs ends up plunging head-first into a dumpster. During the latest "Hard Knocks," @KristerJohnson tweeted me, "Mark Sanchez is the most charismatic, entertaining mediocre QB I've ever seen." Thought that summed it up.

THE THIN RED LINE

20. Jason Campbell, Raiders
19. Chad Henne, Dolphins

As I've written before, the Backhanded Compliment Scale for starting QBs goes like this …

1.0: (Shrugging helplessly)
2.0: I mean, he's not a train wreck or anything.
3.0: You could do worse.
4.0: You could definitely do worse.
4.5: You know, he's really not that bad.
5.0: I'll tell ya, he's NOT that bad.
6.0: He throws a nice deep ball, I will say that.
7.0: Say what you want about the guy, but he makes plays.
8.0: He's not pretty, but he's pretty effective.
9.0: You could make the playoffs with this guy.
10.0: Look, if the Ravens could win a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer …

I have Campbell at 7.0 (10 points better than the minus-3.5 they got from JaMarcus last season) and Henne at 8.5 (just one reason I think Miami can steal the AFC East in 2010). And yes, the Sanchize was a 6.0.

PLATOON

18. Kyle Orton/Tim Tebow
On paper, it's the perfect platoon: Orton chucks the ball well enough (3,800 yards and 21 TDs last season!), but not well enough that he'd be insulted if you spotted him with a second QB for short-yardage spots and special packages. My big concern: I believe Tebow will be more effective than anyone anticipates, to the point that it will start a QB controversy, ruin Orton's confidence and lead to Tebow stealing the job. Quarterback platoons are like long-term affairs and repeated threesomes: Eventually, all hell will break loose. It just will. But Denver might be able to squeeze one effective season out of them.

(Quick Tebow tangent: After watching football for 35 years, I now believe the QB Success Pie Chart is something like 65 percent confidence/leadership/poise/coolness/intelligence, 20 percent accuracy/arm strength, 5 percent athletic ability and 10 percent toughness/balls/heart. That means Tebow is already 80 percent home. Throw in his marquee value and I believe Jacksonville fans and Buffalo fans will be very bitter by December. Of course, at least one Buffalo fan just read that and said: "Wait a second, I'm bitter every December. Are you saying I'm going to be more bitter than usual? Last December I sucker-punched a Jets fan outside Ralph Wilson Stadium just because he seemed a little too proud of his Sanchez jersey, then I ripped off the jersey and repeatedly drove over it with my snowplow as 150 Buffalo fans cheered me on. I'm going to be more bitter than that?" Yes.)

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN

17. Jay Cutler, Bears
The Reverse Tebow: all the tools, none of the intangibles. You had to admire how he handled the offseason, after Roethlisberger supplanted him as the league's premier QB villain, so he spent the spring and summer having horrible interactions with Chicago fans -- seriously, out of any athlete since I started writing for ESPN, nobody has spurred more of my readers to e-mail me a "Hey, I never do this, but I have to tell you about what happened last night" celebrity-bashing e-mail than Jay Cutler -- then upped the ante by reportedly falling for Kristin Cavallari (the resident b---- on "The Hills"). Next up for Cutler: either becoming best friends with Kourtney Kardashian's deadbeat husband, or doing all news conferences while wearing a white cap, white pants and a navy blue sportscoat with an anchor on it so he looks like William Kennedy Smith.

[+] EnlargeVince Young
Jim Brown/US PresswireAll you need to do to game plan against Vince Young is make fun of the Longhorns.

16. Vince Young, Titans
Not sure he'd succeed for every team, but on this specific Titans team? With the great Chris Johnson behind him, Jeff Fisher pulling the strings and the Titans saying, "We're gonna pound the ball, control the clock and overpower you?" I like it.

(As for "Saving Private Ryan": I blame William Goldman for ruining this movie for me by correctly pointing out that it starts with the old guy going to the cemetery with his big-breasted granddaughters, then we zoom into his eyes and go back to World War II and see Tom Hanks, so we presume that the next two hours are being told through Hanks' eyes, then Matt Damon's character shows up about an hour into it, then they save Damon and Hanks dies, then it goes back to the cemetery and we realize it was Damon's character having the flashback. Huh? How did he know all the stuff that happened to Hanks? A narrative travesty. Kills its rewatchability for me. Thanks for nothing, Goldman.)

WE WERE SOLDIERS

15. Carson Palmer, Bengals
14. David Garrard, Jaguars

Elite QBs or has-beens? Palmer hasn't thrived since 2006 and faded horribly down the stretch last season; Garrard had one magnificent season (2007: 102.2 QB rating, 18 TDs, 3 INTs) and hasn't approached it since. In 2009, you could make the "They had terrible receivers" excuse for both guys. Garrard gets to use it again this year (Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard and Troy Williamson, anybody?), but Palmer has three fun toys (Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and explosive rookie Jordan Shipley) and a solid running game. He's out of excuses. Well, unless T.Ocho self-combusts.

(My take on that: If they weren't already friends, an attention-hog/alpha-dog battle would have submarined the Bengals' season much like in any first episode of a new "Bad Girls Club" season, when the two biggest instigators are drawn to each other like natural enemies in the wild, butt heads, keep escalating things, and then someone crosses the line and gets kicked out of the house. But since Ocho/Owens are friends, it's more like the eighth or ninth episode of a "Bad Girls Club" season, after everyone's already acted crazy and gotten into a few screaming matches, and now they've properly assessed each other's sanity, made out in the limo a few times, gained a certain level of lunatic kinship and even defend each other when strangers are provoking them into fights at nightclubs. It's just crazy enough to work. I'm signing off even though it breaks my "Don't put two head cases on the same team because they might hang out" rule.)

FULL METAL JACKET

13. Matt Ryan, Falcons
12. Joe Flacco, Ravens
11. Matt Schaub, Texans

FYI: You could conceivably make a Super Bowl with these three guys and the next 10. Ryan is the cutoff. Anyway, all three have breakout potential as fantasy guys and/or playoff guys. My reservations: Ryan took a step backward last season and I can't figure out why; Flacco just seemed like you could easily rattle him in big moments; and Schaub is the master of the "My fantasy numbers were fantastic but I choked on two plays down the stretch that killed us" performance. We'll see. Just know this is my favorite war movie/QB pairing so far. All three of them remind me of Joker a few scenes after the Private Pyle shooting -- seasoned by a few battles, not as wide-eyed, more efficient, ready to just bang out a few wins and go home.

Matthew Modine
Bill SimmonsLet's just hope what really happened is he got a text message from his agent saying, "Scorsese wnts u for nxt pic."

(As for "Full Metal Jacket," it's probably the most polarizing war movie: phenomenal first 40 minutes, flawed last hour, but a few iconic scenes. It's like Dan Marino's career for me: You just have to ignore the last few years and the lack of a Super Bowl ring/Best Picture nod and concentrate on everything else. I had a great 20-year rewatchability run with this movie until a reader showed me the picture of Matthew Modine celebrating at a WNBA game. Now I can't watch it.)

THE HURT LOCKER

10. Brett Favre, Vikings
Did we finally reach Favre's "One of these years, his body is going to finally break down and that will be it" season? No Sidney Rice for half a season (at least). Percy Harvin saddled with those migraines. Tougher schedule. Year after the "Everything went right for 18 straight weeks" year. A bum ankle that's already acting up and getting injected with things that end in "sone." And beyond that, there's some Cal Ripken potential here: Favre's incredible consecutive-starts streak prohibits him from resting this month until his ankle feels better, so "being a warrior and a gamer" really means "I'm putting myself ahead of the best interests of the team." I continue to have a terrible feeling about the 2010 Vikings.

MISSING IN ACTION

9. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Wanted to leapfrog him over the next group because of his two rings and his pass to Santonio Holmes to win Super Bowl XLIII. (That was one of the greatest throws in football history. I don't think any of the next four guys complete that specific pass in that specific moment.) Here's my concern: As we just saw with Tiger Woods these past six months, it's not easy to come back when (A) you're fundamentally changing who you are as a person; (B) you just got raked over the coals; (C) if you stumble even a little coming out of the gate, nobody will feel bad for you; and (D) if anything, people will be rooting for you to fail.

Again, the quarterback position hinges on intangibles: not just about the plays themselves, but moments like Joe Montana kneeling down before the biggest drive of the second Niners-Bengals Super Bowl, peering into the crowd and saying to teammates, "Is that John Candy?" You need a confidence like the kind NASCAR car drivers have. That's the quality that allowed Roethlisberger to make that throw to Holmes. What happens if it's damaged? What happens if you've been humbled? What happens when your teammates and fans don't totally trust you? To be continued.

(As for "Missing in Action," it's my favorite Chuck Norris movie other than "Silent Rage," and one of the better rewatchable cable movies ever. Chuck escapes from Vietnam in the beginning, comes home, then maintains that there are still POWs in prison. He convinces some government officials to fly back, then goes on a killing spree that rivals Daunte Culpepper's fantasy-owner killing spree in 2006 … all while wearing Ray-Bans and never changing his beard, the tone of his voice or the expression on his face. It's fantastic. And it does the impossible: rips off a "First Blood" sequel that hadn't even come out yet. It's like they found out: "Stallone is making a sequel? We gotta beat them to the punch! Pay Chuck Norris, get him some Ray-Bans, set a date to start filming and we'll figure the rest out later.")

COURAGE UNDER FIRE

8. Eli Manning, Giants
He'd be six spots lower if not for the Helmet Catch. That play continues to kill me. Super Bowl XLII randomly came on the NFL Network this summer; I hadn't watched it since I saw it live. Totally forgot that, for four straight plays, the Pats could have ended the game.

Fourth-and-1, NYG 37, 1:34 left: Handoff up the middle to Brandon Jacobs. Vince Wilfork slides over to plug the hole and would have … but he slips and falls down. Jacobs gets 2 yards.

First-and-10, NYG 39, 1:28 left: Heavy pressure on Eli, slips out of the pocket, scrambles right with Adalius Thomas chasing him, and even as it's happening, you're thinking, "I have seen this play happen 2,500 times, and every time it happens, the linebacker karate-chops the QB's right arm from behind, causes a fumble and falls on it," but in this case, of course, Thomas' chop fails to totally dislodge the ball and Eli juggles it before falling on it. Timeout, Giants.

[+] EnlargeDavid Tyree
Larry French/Getty ImagesWe now interrupt this column to throw up in our mouths.

Second-and-5, NYG 44, 1:20 left: Manning sails a deep out over David Tyree's head to All-Pro cornerback Asante Samuel, who screws up his jump and lets the title-clinching pick go through his hands.

Third-and-5, NYG 44, 1:15 left: The Helmet Catch. Made by a player who never caught another pass during a professional football game.

(I'll be right back. Just going to pour a shot of scotch.)

7. Donovan McNabb, Redskins
Put it this way: If the ignominy of getting traded within his division doesn't inspire one of his greatest seasons, then maybe he wasn't so great to begin with.

6. Tony Romo, Cowboys
Put it this way: I'd rather have him as my fantasy QB than my real QB.

5. Philip Rivers, Chargers
Regular-season résumé: 46-18, two Pro Bowls, two 4,000-yard seasons, 62-20 TD/INT ratio in 2009/2010.

Playoff résumé: 3-4, eight TD passes, eight INTs, a 79 QB rating and two collapses at home (2006 vs. Pats, 2009 vs. Jets).

(Translation: We have some work left. And he'd better hope Vincent Jackson doesn't leave -- they were the best long-ball combo in the league. On the bright side, Jackson's holdout could lead to Gus Johnson screaming, "Rivers goes deep for Naanee … Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! TOUCHDOWN, LEGEDU NAA-NEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!" Can he just do this anyway? Can CBS just throw this on its website?)

THREE KINGS

4. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
2010's most savvy bet: Rodgers to win the MVP as a semi-long shot at 12-1 odds. Last season, he threw for 4,434 yards, 30 touchdowns and just seven picks, then nearly pulled off a historic comeback in that unforgettable Packers-Cards wild-card game (finishing with 423 passing yards, four TDs). And Green Bay's offense has "The Look" in the preseason: Everything is pointing toward a 2009 Saints-type breakout year. On a personal note, my affection for Rodgers increased exponentially at ESPN's Sundance party during the conference championships, when Rodgers and his buddies unabashedly rooted against nemesis Favre and the Vikings down the stretch and celebrated raucously when New Orleans pulled it out. Rodgers couldn't have been more delighted; he did everything but climb on the bar and start a "F--- YOU, FAVRE!" chant. I will always root for him after that. And yes, that story is 100 percent true.

(One more note: Our next three guys could all say, "As long as I'm healthy, and as long as I have a half-decent defense and skill guys who can make a few plays, pencil me in for 10-12 wins and a playoff spot." I think Rodgers gets there this year.)

3. Tom Brady, Patriots
Seems a little high? Know that Football Outsiders had him ranked first in its adjusted rankings -- on top of the yearly reality that he doesn't get eight home games in a dome like Brees or Manning, FBO calculates that he played the hardest schedule of pass defense opponents of any QB since 1993 -- and remember that it takes two years to fully recover from reconstructive knee surgery. The Patriots also spruced up their tight end spot (remember this name: Rob Gronkowski) and go four-deep at receiver with Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman (last year's find) and Brandon Tate (this year's find). Throw in their potentially lousy defense, the nonstop Brees/Manning/Favre/Rodgers hype and Bob Kraft's miserly refusal to extend his contract … and yes, all signs point to a monster Brady fantasy season. We'll see if it translates to a playoff appearance. Or a better hairc-.

(Crap, I slipped. Sorry.)

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Luc Leclerc/US PresswireIs the Manning Face dormant again or back to stay?

2. Peyton Manning, Colts
He maintains his "Don't bet against me in any nationally televised night game" status, as well as his "Don't ever throw my opponent into a tease or parlay" status and "If you're up by 17 with a quarter to go and you don't chop my head off and finish the game, I will absolutely drop three quick touchdowns on you, and you know I will" status. But Super Bowl XLIV did three things. First, Manning lost the QB belt to Brees. Second, he had a chance to cement his legacy and didn't. (Now troublemakers like me can play the "Yeah, he was great, but he only won one Super Bowl, and it was against Rex Grossman" card until he gets that second ring.) And third, we have no idea if the unexpected return of the Manning Face -- thought to be dead and buried -- was a one-night-only return cameo or something more substantial. Intriguing season ahead. Especially with the umpire position shift potentially wreaking havoc with Manning's hurry-up offense.

(Quick note on that: I love how the Colts are complaining about that rule change even though head honcho Bill Polian voted for it. He's like a bearded Jack after they got off the island in "Lost." We can't do our hurry-up as well! I don't care if umpires were getting maimed and concussed. WE HAVE TO GO BACK! Anything that gets the Colts this riled up is a rule change I can support.)

GLORY

1. Drew Brees, Saints
He won New Orleans its first Super Bowl, solidified his status as one of the city's true heroes and grabbed the individual belt from Manning in the most dramatic way we've seen in sports or sports entertainment in 27 years (since this happened). Then he spent the offseason with everyone hugging him, thanking him and congratulating him. In a sports movie or television show, this would lead to the success going to the guy's head -- just a little -- and manifesting itself in some small way. For Brees, I thought it would be a better haircut.

Let's face it: He's the least-famous-looking QB in recent history. His hair makes him look like one of those unkempt sportswriters who frequent local cable television sports shows. I thought for sure that, after a taste of real celebrity, someone would say to him, "Look, dude, you gotta pay more than 15 bucks for a haircut," so he'd go to a real salon, get one of those shortly cropped Chris O'Donnell/"NCIS: Los Angeles" cuts, and within a few months, he'd be getting his birthmark lasered off and wearing $10,000 outfits in news conferences. I would have bet anything. That's just how the position works. The best and most famous quarterback eventually can't help himself. He has to play the part on and off the field.

Fast-forward to last week. I'm watching Jon Gruden's ESPN special about spending a week at Saints training camp. Brees sits down with him to go over some film. Cameras rolling. And Brees' hair? Just as endearingly bad as ever. It looked like Gruden and Sean Payton had invited the No. 3 columnist of the New Orleans Times-Picayune to join them. You could say Brees failed the Better Haircut Test … and in this case, you want to fail it. Drew Brees, you have the belt. Wear it with pride.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com and the author of the recent New York Times best-seller "The Book of Basketball." For every Simmons column and podcast, check out Sports Guy's World. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sportsguy33.

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Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. To send him an e-mail, click here.