Kickoff Weekend 2011 will conclude in doubleheader fashion this Monday night as four AFC quarterbacks aim to start the season on a winning note. In the first game, quarterbacks TOM BRADY of the New England Patriots and CHAD HENNE of the Miami Dolphins will meet at Sun Life Stadium in the first Monday Night Football game (7:00 PM ET, ESPN) of the regular season. Brady leads a Patriots team into Miami that has won seven consecutive games on Kickoff Weekend. The two-time MVP is 44-11 (.800) as a starter against the AFC East and hopes to improve that mark. Henne looks to register a division win as Miami hopes to capture the AFC East for the first time since 2008.
The second game will feature a showdown between AFC West rivals, as KYLE ORTON and the Denver Broncos host JASON CAMPBELL and the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High (10:15 PM ET, ESPN). Campbell guided Oakland to an undefeated record (6-0) against the AFC West last season. Orton hopes to help the Broncos extend their streak of 11 consecutive wins in home openers.
A team-by-team look at the quarterback position in the AFC in 2011
BALTIMORE: JOE FLACCO is determined to lead the Ravens to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year. The strong-armed quarterback set career highs in passing yards (3,622), touchdowns (25) and passer rating (93.6) in 2010. Flacco will target a veteran wide receiver duo of ANQUAN BOLDIN and LEE EVANS, who was recently acquired via trade from Buffalo. All-Star running back RAY RICE will be a factor on the ground and out of the backfield.
BUFFALO: A seven-year veteran from Harvard, RYAN FITZPATRICK will make his first Kickoff Weekend start. Fitzpatrick registered career-highs in completions (255), passing yards (3,000), touchdowns (23) and passer rating (81.8) in 13 starts last season. In his second year commanding head coach CHAN GAILEY’s offense, Fitzpatrick will rely on wide receiver STEVIE JOHNSON, who developed into the Bills’ go-to receiver last season with 82 catches for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns.
CINCINNATI: Selected in the second round (No. 35 overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft, ANDY DALTON will become the first Bengals rookie quarterback to start the club’s first game of the season since GREG COOK in 1969. The TCU product will look to build chemistry with rookie wide receiver A.J. GREEN, who was selected No. 4 overall, and tight end JERMAINE GRESHAM, who was the Bengals’ first-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.
CLEVELAND: COLT MC COY, who started eight games in 2010, will direct a new West Coast-style offense under the tutelage of new head coach PAT SHURMUR. McCoy will look to utilize multi-purpose wide receiver JOSHUA CRIBBS along with a young cast of wideouts. Eighth-year tight end BEN WATSON, who recorded career-highs in receptions (68) and receiving yards (763) in his first season in Cleveland last year, will also be at McCoy’s disposal. He will hand the ball off to PEYTON HILLIS, who hopes to build on a career high 1,177 rushing yards a year ago.
DENVER: KYLE ORTON, who enters his third season as the Broncos starting quarterback, will join head coach JOHN FOX in the start of a new era in Denver. Last year, Orton passed for more than 3,500 yards for the second consecutive season (3,653 in 2010; 3,802 in 2009). Orton, who tied for third in the NFL with 11 completions of 40-plus yards in 2010, will rely on All-Star wide receiver BRANDON LLOYD, who led the league with a career-best 1,448 receiving yards a season ago.
HOUSTON: Since 2009, quarterback MATT SCHAUB ranks second in the NFL with 9,140 passing yards (PEYTON MANNING, 9,200). Schaub will play a pivotal role as the Texans challenge for their first postseason berth. The veteran quarterback will look to All-Star wide receiver ANDRE JOHNSON, sure-handed tight end OWEN DANIELS and the NFL’s 2010 rushing leader ARIAN FOSTER, who also registered a league-high 2,220 scrimmage yards (1,616 rushing, 604 receiving) last season.
INDIANAPOLIS: Recovering from offseason neck surgery, PEYTON MANNING is focused on leading the Colts to the postseason for the 10th consecutive year. Manning, who is entering his 14th NFL season, ranks third all-time in career completions (4,682), passing yards (54,828), and touchdown passes (399). Manning needs 286 completions and 22 touchdown passes in 2011 to surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (4,967 completions, 420 TDs) for second place all-time in each category.
JACKSONVILLE: LUKE MC COWN has been named the Jaguars starting quarterback. The eight-year veteran enters his third season with Jacksonville. McCown will rely heavily on All-Star running back MAURICE JONES-DREW out of the backfield, who has gained over 1,300 rushing yards in consecutive seasons (1,324 in 2010; 1,391 in 2009). In the passing game, tight end MARCEDES LEWIS and wide receiver MIKE THOMAS will serve as McCown’s top two receiving targets.
KANSAS CITY: A year ago, MATT CASSEL led the Chiefs to their first AFC West title since 2003. The former USC product passed for over 3,000 yards for the second time in his career last season (3,116 in 2010; 3,693 in 2008) and registered career-highs with 27 touchdowns and a 93.0 passer rating. In the passing game, Cassel will depend on All-Star wide receiver DWAYNE BOWE, who had a franchise-record and league-high 15 touchdown receptions in 2010. Running back JAMAAL CHARLES, who led Kansas City to an NFL-best 164.2 rush yards per game in 2010, will solidify the rushing attack.
MIAMI: Fourth-year quarterback CHAD HENNE enters his second season as a starter on Kickoff Weekend. In 2010, Henne passed for a career-high 3,301 yards. Henne’s receiver tandem of All-Star BRANDON MARSHALL (86) and DAVONE BESS (79) combined for the most receptions by a duo in team history (165). Acquired via trade from the Saints, running back REGGIE BUSH will serve as a threat in the passing game and on the ground. Henne will be directed by the Dolphins’ new offensive coordinator BRIAN DABOLL.
NEW ENGLAND: Coming off his second MVP season, TOM BRADY enters his 12th year with a 111-32 (.776) record – the best win percentage of any NFL quarterback in the Super Bowl era with at least 100 starts. Last season, Brady led New England to an NFL-best 14-2 record and passed for the second-most touchdowns of his career (36). In 2011, Brady needs nine wins to become only the sixth QB with 120 wins as a starting quarterback in history. Brady will turn to reliable targets DEION BRANCH and WES WELKER, along with Patriots newcomer CHAD OCHOCINCO.
NEW YORK JETS: After finishing one win shy of the Super Bowl the past two seasons, quarterback MARK SANCHEZ is focused on surpassing his accomplishments in his third NFL season. Named the Jets offensive captain, Sanchez will look to spread the ball around to tight end DUSTIN KELLER, who led the club in catches (55) last season, and a wide receiver trio of SANTONIO HOLMES and veteran newcomers PLAXICO BURRESS and DERRICK MASON.
OAKLAND: JASON CAMPBELL looks to flourish under new head coach HUE JACKSON, who was the Raiders’ offensive coordinator in 2010. In his second season in Oakland, Campbell is focused on returning the Raiders to the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season. The seventh-year veteran will target young receivers DARRIUS HEYWARD-BEY, JACOBY FORD and LOUIS MURPHY to stretch the field. Fourth-year running back DARREN MC FADDEN, who rushed for a career-best 1,157 yards in 2010, will balance out the Raiders offense.
PITTSBURGH: A proven winner since entering the NFL in 2004, BEN ROETHLISBERGER owns a 69-29 record (.704) as a starter, the third-best winning percentage among active NFL quarterbacks (minimum 10 starts). After missing the first four games of the 2010 season, Roethlisberger led the AFC with 3,200 passing yards for the remainder of the regular season. The strong-armed quarterback aims to stretch the field with speedster MIKE WALLACE and keep defenders on edge with his elusiveness in the pocket.
SAN DIEGO: PHILIP RIVERS has led the Chargers to four AFC West titles in his five seasons as the starter and aims to return San Diego to postseason play. Rivers led the NFL with a career-high 4,710 passing yards in 2010 and can become the first Chargers quarterback ever to record 4,000-plus yards in four consecutive seasons. Rivers will rely on All-Star tight end ANTONIO GATES and wide receiver VINCENT JACKSON as his top two pass-catching options.
TENNESSEE: Newcomer MATT HASSELBECK has a fresh start in Tennessee as Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman and rookie head coach MIKE MUNCHAK begins his tenure. Hasselbeck led the Seahawks to an NFC West title last season and reached the 3,000-yard passing mark for the seventh time in his career. The three-time All-Star enters his 13th NFL season and needs 421 passing yards to reach 30,000 (29,579).