Four young stars and an influx of strong-armed, light-footed rookie hopefuls are giving teams offensive alternatives. The question now: How can the read-option be stopped?
Four young quarterbacks took the league by storm in 2012, but how quickly—and how high—will they rise? SI compared each with a Super Bowl champion, showing ways in which the past could be prologue
Physical skills? The Cowboys' wideout has always had those. Now that his talent and maturity are in better balance, he's finally ready to take off as a pass-catching star
1 New England PATRIOTS
It's been an off-season of upheaval, but long before the tumult, the braintrust had identified the source of their offensive struggles in the postseason
2 Denver BRONCOS
You want to be a running back in the Mile High City? Great. One thing, though: Peyton Manning's got a job for you—and it has nothing to do with running the ball
3 Cincinnati BENGALS
Andy Dalton has to get better on the deep ball. A.J. Green knows it. Heck, Andy Dalton knows it. But if he can't figure it out? Well, that defense is a horrible thing to waste
4 Baltimore RAVENS
Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Anquan Boldin.... The champs bid adieu to a slew of Super Bowl contributors, but if you think they're crying about those losses, think again
5 Indianapolis COLTS
The running game has some new Pep in its step, but the tight ends could benefit the most from a new commitment to the West Coast offense
6 Houston TEXANS
Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt can't do everything for a D that under-achieved last year. A rehabbed Brian Cushing will bolster an otherwise sad-sack pass rush
7 Kansas City CHIEFS
In a city that's all about the sauce, the Chiefs hope their new coach and quarterback can add some much-needed flavor. The name of the secret sauce? 22 Z In
8 Buffalo BILLS
Investing in a new franchise quarterback to run a new up-tempo offense is cause for renewed optimism. There's talent here, and maybe a good sleeper pick too
9 Cleveland BROWNS
Patience is the play in Cleveland—heard that one before?—even with a restocked defense that should live up to the AFC North's absurdly high standards
10 Pittsburgh STEELERS
In the midst of an identity crisis, the Steelers returned to their roots by drafting Le'Veon Bell, who should be a classic man of Steel—just as soon as that foot heals
11 Tennessee TITANS
Chris Johnson got what he was looking for, some Big Uglies to pave the way for a ground revival. A middling franchise, though, is still playing a game of Chance
You didn't expect the Dolphins to hit the ground running with a rookie coach and QB, did you? They practically did—and now they've added Mike Wallace. Watch out
13 San Diego CHARGERS
A new coaching staff wants you to get it out of your head: Philip Rivers doesn't need an overhaul. But a few tweaks—shorter drops, more reliance on his runners—are in order
14 Jacksonville JAGUARS
Big data— at least that offered by the front office—is the friend of Blaine Gabbert, who got a vote of confidence and a huge gift in the draft. This is his last, best shot
15 New York JETS
A year removed from a butt fumble of a season, the Jets are hoping to sneak up on opponents. The question is: With what, exactly?
16 Oakland RAIDERS
Some big-name dumps replaced by low- and mid-level stopgaps suggest this is the rebuilding before the rebuilding. Six wins would be a major triumph
1 San Francisco 49ERS
The Super Bowl runner-ups need a hand, a bunch of them, actually; they'll find them in their February nemesis and a tight end suddenly back in demand
2 Seattle SEAHAWKS
A new coordinator, a tweaked scheme and plenty of moving parts—not exactly what you would expect from one of the NFL's top defenses. But it's Super Bowl quality
3 Atlanta FALCONS
The passing game is as balanced and well-oiled as they come, but the franchise needed to make a ground-breaking off-season move. Hello, Steven Jackson
4 Green Bay PACKERS
They sank a fortune into their franchise quarterback, but their big-ticket expense on the other side of the ball is no less vital to a title run
5 New Orleans SAINTS
Loud. Entertaining. Swagger. It's been an off-season blitz of those words commonly associated with Rob Ryan and his defense. But it's time the results live up to the hype
6 New York GIANTS
For the Giants, a return to defensive excellence is all about keeping up with the times. Good thing, then, that this team ain't afraid to tinker
7 Washington REDSKINS
Recall, if you will: RG3 didn't revive the Redskins alone last year. Alfred Morris was, in fact, the bigger revelation, and he's not done surprising people
8 Minnesota VIKINGS
Whether Christian Ponder blows up or gets benched in 2013 likely comes down to a matter of trust—trust in himself and in a new crew of talented pass catchers
9 Chicago BEARS
Rebuild? Or make a run for it all? The seemingly on-the-brink Bears will go for the Lombardi. If it doesn't work out, they're well-positioned for a good gutting
10 Philadelphia EAGLES
Ducks ... Eagles ... They're both going to fly in Chip Kelly's no-oxygen attack. Thing is, these Birds are of a different feather for the rookie coach
11 St. Louis RAMS
Quarterback Sam Bradford suffered from a big-play problem in 2012. The solution—a most excellent and effective one—comes in a small package
The pass defense has been addressed in a huge way. The pass offense, though? It's time for Josh Freeman to make that Eli-like leap
13 Dallas COWBOYS
In order to keep pace in the East, owner Jerry Jones ditched one defensive guru in exchange for another. But does 73-year-old Monte Kiffin have many tricks left?
14 Arizona CARDINALS
It's easy to sling mud—the passers didn't pass muster in 2012. Not even close. But Carson Palmer has the arm to make the new coach's big-play-minded playbook work
15 Detroit LIONS
In terms of big uglies, they don't get any bigger and—well, nastier than Suh and Fairley. But it's time for that feral pair to start delivering unit-changing results
16 Carolina PANTHERS
Cam Newton has the tools. Cam Newton has the numbers. Cam Newton just needs to get on the same page as his teammates in a make-or-break season
THE SILENT Treatment
Domes and the ever-growing cacophony of 12th Men everywhere turned play-calling into a leaguewide nightmare. Then a wise old man came up with an innovation that changed the game: He told his quarterbacks to shut up
Surviving the U.S. Open
It's one of the most grueling fortnights in sports: withering matches in weather that can go from blistering hot to postmonsoon humid to autumn chill in a matter of hours. Here's how 13th-seeded John Isner—who is no stranger to epic tennis, having played an 11-hour match at Wimbledon in 2010—copes