There is never a stress-free time to be an NFL quarterback, but some of the league’s starting signal callers have painted themselves into an especially pressure-filled corner.
The following three quarterbacks could be in a drastically different position depending on how their 2013 season fares, so without further ado...
1. Andy Dalton
If anything or anyone is prone to the scalding heat of NFL fans and media, it is Andy Dalton’s fiery-hot ginger crown. The Bengals’ quarterback has drawn rays of criticism due to slow finishes in each of the past two years, ending in back-to-back losses at Houston in the 2012-2013 postseasons. Dalton has been red-hot at times—typically in early-season matchups against weak defenses—followed by periods of Sanchezian ineptness. Entering his third NFL season, Dalton is in make-or-break territory, as the jury is still out about his long-term viability in a starting role. The determination in his ginger-browed gaze is hard to doubt, though, so he gets the 2013 season to prove what he can do.
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2. Sam Bradford
After three NFL seasons, Sam Bradford has failed to surpass either 4000 yards or 7 wins. The St. Louis Rams are still waiting for the 2010 first-overall pick to perform at a truly high level, and while he gets a break for an underwhelming supporting cast, the time for excuses has passed. The Rams rapidly-improving defense, which ranked a respectable 14th in 2012, has finally been complemented by some offensive weaponry. The additions of rookie receiver Tavon Austin and criminally-underused tight end Jared Cook give St. Louis the explosive elements they have missed in seasons past, depriving Bradford of legitimate excuses from here on out. If the Rams have a disappointing season, Bradford’s competency as a starting quarterback will be seriously questioned. Conversely, a strong performance with a revamped offense could help Bradford make his way up the QB totem pole.
3. Joe Flacco
Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford, and . . . Joe Flacco? This entry may stand apart from the previous two, but make no mistake—the reigning Super Bowl MVP faces more pressure than ever before. Aside from taking home the Lombardi Trophy after a magnificent playoff run, Flacco’s $120-million contract, including $52-million guaranteed, make him the NFL’s second-highest paid player. Like Bradford, Flacco has never passed for 4000+ yards, and has had more than his share of “meh” performances over the past 5 seasons. Flacco has redefined the way that NFL teams value quarterbacks, and while he won’t be expected to put up Drew Brees-like numbers, inconsistencies will be scrutinized like never before. The NFL universe scoffed at Flacco when he proclaimed his elite status, and since his successful middle-finger of a Super Bowl win, pundits will tear him to shreds with a sub-par follow-up in 2013.