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Golden era for QBs, with great stories around NFL

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Golden era for QBs, with great stories around NFL

NEW YORK (AP) The two kids from Northern California burst from NFL afterthought to championship contender in eerily similar fashion a decade apart.

Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick, each playing in a conference title game this weekend, are bookends to a fortuitous moment in quarterback history. On one side are the likes of Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, still scintillating in their mid-30s.

On the other are Kaepernick, a second-year player, and the brilliant class of rookies with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson leading their teams to the playoffs.

Young, old and in between, the current crop of NFL quarterbacks is not only deep but dynamic and diverse.

``We're in a little bit of a boom right now. We're flowing a little bit, especially young players,'' Hall of Famer Steve Young said last week. ``If those guys continue to develop, we'll have a period of time here, kind of a Camelot of quarterbacking.''

The depth of the position shows in the other two guys joining the Patriots' Brady and the 49ers' Kaepernick in the conference championship games. Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco were first-round draft picks in 2008, and for all their successes, they're probably low on the list when fans think of the most dominant NFL quarterbacks.

Yet here they are a win away from the Super Bowl after leading stirring comebacks that answered many doubts about each.

Quarterback has long been the glamour position of all of sports, but it seems even a bit more glamorous right now. Rule changes favor a wide-open passing game, which makes a superior quarterback more valuable. Colleges and high schools run more sophisticated offenses, and the best athletes gravitate to quarterback then develop into polished passers who happen to be able to scramble.

``I can't remember - even though this is a quarterback-driven league - as many remarkable and compelling stories on the quarterback side as you're seeing this year,'' CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said.

There was that brief stretch less than 15 years ago when Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson won Super Bowls, and it seemed perhaps championship teams didn't need a star at the position. Since then, here's the roll call of victorious quarterbacks: Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, both Manning brothers, Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

Twenty-five of the 46 Super Bowl MVPs have been quarterbacks, but now it's five of the last six. In the half-dozen years before that, four were non-QBs, including two defensive players.

``It ebbs and flows, no question. There's some dark times where you have two or three guys that can truly do it,'' said Young, Kaepernick's forerunner as a dual-threat San Francisco QB and now an ESPN analyst.

Jimmy Johnson, who won two Super Bowls with future Hall of Famer Troy Aikman as his quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, was talking to Bill Belichick last summer about the recent shift. Belichick has won three championships with Brady, but even as of a few years ago, both coaches believed a title was possible behind a strong defense and running game.

Not anymore, they agreed.

``Now, the only thing that matters is if you get a great quarterback,'' said Johnson, now a Fox commentator.

Of this year's playoff teams, the only one without great stability at quarterback was Minnesota. And the Vikings had a guy named Adrian Peterson.

The bottom of the standings is full of clubs with uncertainty at the position: from the Chiefs and Jaguars to the Eagles, Cardinals and Jets.

This year, 20 quarterbacks started every regular-season game, nearly two-thirds of the league. That's by far the most since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, according to STATS, four more than the previous high.

That record partly reflects a lack of injuries, in which all those rules protecting the QB may be a factor - along with, of course, sheer luck. But it also reflects how few teams benched their quarterbacks. Most clubs are quite happy with their current situation.

For all the quarterback intrigue in the playoffs, consider the big names who didn't qualify for the postseason: Brees, Eli Manning, Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Cam Newton. And then there's Tim Tebow, who may never start again as an NFL QB but is still one of the most recognizable and polarizing athletes in all of sports.

This quarterback Camelot is about more than the deep field of effective starters. The playoffs oozed with stars popular not just for their performances but their personalities and pizazz.

``I marvel at how prepared these guys are - not only on the field, but the exposure they get off it,'' said Aikman, who will call the NFC title game for Fox. ``Whether it's through social networks or different platforms, they are given the opportunity to talk to the press and are much more well-rounded and prepared for all that comes with the scrutiny of the position than ever before.

``If you're on Park Avenue in New York (at league headquarters), you're pretty happy with the new representatives that will be the ambassadors for the league for the years to come.''

The quarterbacks in the postseason undoubtedly fascinate fans, but they do so in different ways.

``All with incredibly different kinds of stories, all with incredibly different ways of getting to the playoffs,'' said McManus, whose network airs next month's Super Bowl.

Nielsen/E-Poll calculates an ``N-Score'' to measure the endorsement potential of athletes. Peyton Manning has the top score of current QBs, but other players come out ahead in specific categories in the surveys.

In this high school yearbook of NFL quarterbacks, Brees is voted most appealing. Rodgers is the most confident, Newton the most dynamic, Griffin the most talented. Luck is considered the most intelligent and Brady the most attractive.

Their back stories sizzle. This season saw Manning return from neck surgery to lead the Broncos to the AFC's top seed and earn All-Pro honors. Brees was dealing with the fallout of the Saints' bounty scandal.

Unlike past rookie quarterbacks who reached the playoffs, Luck and Griffin were anything but caretakers riding a strong defense; both were vibrant leaders turning around franchises. And Wilson advanced deeper into the postseason than either of them.

Kaepernick is for the moment the best story of them all. The 2011 second-round draft pick opened the season as a backup to Alex Smith, who led the 49ers to the NFC championship game last year. Kaepernick played so well after Smith was injured that coach Jim Harbaugh took the gamble to stick with him - just as Belichick did with Brady 11 years earlier.

Now Brady is the grizzled veteran, though fans won't get that expected matchup with his longtime rival, Manning, after Baltimore stunned Denver.

``They're not going to last forever,'' Young said of the old guard, ``but you've got a feeling that there's some guys around that we're in pretty good shape in the next generation. Right now, as we speak, there's compelling stories all over the playoffs at the quarterback spot, which is kind of fun.''

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Fantasy Football: Updated Week 4 rankings

Fantasy Football: Updated Week 4 rankings

Updated Week 4 fantasy football rankings following news on several key players, including Bills receiver Sammy Watkins placed on injured reserve. 

Quarterbacks

1.  Philip Rivers, SD -- The Saints defense has only allowed three touchdown passes, but they're not stopping anyone. Opponents are averagng over 300 passing yards per game. Look for Rivers top that at home in what projects as another shootout.
 
2.  Cam Newton, CAR
 
3.  Drew Brees, NO
 
4.  Andrew Luck, IND
 
5.  Matthew Stafford, DET
 
6.  Kirk Cousins, WAS
 
7.  Andy Dalton, CIN
 
8.  Carson Palmer, ARI
 
9.  Blake Bortles, JAC
 
10.  Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
 
11.  Derek Carr, OAK
 
12.  Joe Flacco, BAL
 
13.  Matt Ryan, ATL
 
14.  Russell Wilson, SEA - The Seahawks offensive line is a mess, the Jets defensive front rocks and Wilson isn't 100 percent. Don't be shy about sitting him for comparable option.
 
15.  Dak Prescott, DAL
 
16.  Trevor Siemian, DEN
 
17.  Eli Manning, NYG
 
18.  Jameis Winston, TB
 
19.  Alex Smith, KC
 
20.  Ryan Tannehill, MIA
 
21.  Jimmy Garoppolo, NE
 
22.  Sam Bradford, MIN
 
23.  Brian Hoyer, CHI -- For those in need, Hoyer faces a Lions defense that has allowed an NFL-high 10 touchdown passes.
 
24.  Brock Osweiler, HOU
 
25.  Tyrod Taylor, BUF
 
26.  Marcus Mariota, TEN
 
27.  Ryan Fitzpatrick, NYJ
 
28.  Blaine Gabbert, SF
 
29.  Jacoby Brissett, NEQ
 
30.  Cody Kessler, CLEQ

Running Backs

1. David Johnson, ARI
 
2.  Le'Veon Bell, PIT - He's baaaaaack. Adjust your lineups. Not the easiest of returning matchups, but Kansas City hasn't been exactly stout against the run so far.
 
3.  Ezekiel Elliott, DAL
 
4.  C.J. Anderson, DEN
 
5.  Melvin Gordon, SD
 
6.  Lamar Miller, HOU
 
7.  LeGarrette Blount, NE
 
8.  Mark Ingram, NO
 
9.  DeMarco Murray, TEN
 
10.  LeSean McCoy, BUF
 
11.  Todd Gurley, LA
 
12.  Carlos Hyde, SF
 
13.  Christine Michael, SEA
 
14.  Jeremy Hill, CIN
 
15.  Matt Forte, NYJ
 
16.  Frank Gore, IND
 
17.  Charles Sims, TB
 
18.  Devonta Freeman, ATL
 
19.  Matt Jones, WAS
 
20.  Isaiah Crowell, CLE -- The Redskins are not good stopping the run and the Browns will want to help rookie QB Cody Kesseler  by featuring Crowell and Duke Johnson.
 
21.  Jordan Howard, CHI
 
22.  Spencer Ware, KC
 
23.  Latavius Murray, OAK
 
24.  Theo Riddick, DET
 
25.  Jerick McKinnon, MIN
 
26.  Tevin Coleman, ATL
 
27.  Giovani Bernard, CIN
 
28.  Orleans Darkwa, NYG -- Tricky call here since Rashard Jennings looks like a game-time decision. If Jennings sits and with no Shane Vereen, Darkwa would receve 18+ touches.
 
29.  Dwayne Washington, DET
 
30.  Cameron Artis-Payne, CAR
 
31.  Chris Ivory, JACQ
 
32.  Terrance West, BAL
 
33.  T.J. Yeldon, JAC
 
34.  Duke Johnson, CLE
 
35.  Justin Forsett, BAL
 
36.  Matt Asiata, MIN
 
37.  Fozzy Whittaker, CAR
 
38.  DeAngelo Williams, PIT
 
39.  Derrick Henry, TEN
 
40.  Jamaal Charles, KC -- Good news! Charles (knee) will reportedly make his season debut. However, Spencer Ware likely remains heavily involved for now as Kansas City works its star back into action. Monitor news Sunday morning if you're considering using Charles as an RB2 or Flex.
 
41.  James White, NE
 
42.  Chris Thompson, WAS
 
43.  Damien Williams, MIA
 
44.  Kenyan Drake, MIA
 
45.  Jay Ajayi, MIA
 
46.  Alfred Morris, DAL
 
47.  Travaris Cadet, NO
 
48.  Robert Kelley, WAS
 
49.  Bilal Powell, NYJ
 
50.  DeAndre Washington, OAK
 
51.  Shaun Draughn, SF
 
52.  Dexter McCluster, SD
 
53.  Paul Perkins, NYG
 
54.  Chris Johnson, ARI
 
55.  Jalen Richard, OAK
 
56.  Devontae Booker, DEN
 
57.  Mike Gillislee, BUF
 
58.  Bobby Rainey, NYG
 
59.  Jacquizz Rodgers, TB
 
60.  Robert Turbin, IND

Wide Receivers

1.  Antonio Brown, PIT
 
2.  A.J. Green, CIN
 
3.  Allen Robinson, JAC
 
4.  Julio Jones, ATL
 
5.  Odell Beckham Jr., NYG
 
6.  DeAndre Hopkins, HOU
 
7.  Marvin Jones, DET
 
8.  Alshon Jeffery, CHI
 
9.  Larry Fitzgerald, ARI
 
10.  Travis Benjamin, SD -- The DFS stack of the week? Benjamin and Philip Rivers against the Saints' terrible secondary. Factor in the likelihood Antonio Gates sits and Benjamin could get 15+ targets.
 
11.  T.Y. Hilton, IND
 
12.  Brandin Cooks, NO
 
13.  Amari Cooper, OAK
 
14.  Kelvin Benjamin, CAR
 
15.  Mike Evans, TB
 
16.  Demaryius Thomas, DEN
 
17.  DeSean Jackson, WAS
 
18.  Jarvis Landry, MIAQ
 
19.  Doug Baldwin, SEA
 
20.  Julian Edelman, NE
 
21.  Stefon Diggs, MIN
 
22.  Emmanuel Sanders, DEN -- His 27 targets nearly doubles teammates Demaryius Thomas. Now faces a Bucs defense allowing the third most points to fantasy wide receivers.
 
23.  Jeremy Maclin, KC
 
24.  Michael Crabtree, OAK
 
25.  Terrelle Pryor, CLE
 
26.  Willie Snead, NO
 
27.  Tyrell Williams, SD
 
28.  Sterling Shepard, NYG
 
29.  Brandon Marshall, NYJ
 
30.  Steve Smith, BAL -- Prediction: Smith goes for 90+ yards and a touchdown. Jalen Ramsey angered him. Sorry, Oakland. This ranking could rise by Sunday.
 
31.  Will Fuller, HOU
 
32.  Allen Hurns, JAC
 
33.  Devante Parker, MIAQ
 
34.  Mike Wallace, BAL
 
35.  Michael Floyd, ARIQ
 
36.  Jamison Crowder, WAS
 
37.  Phillip Dorsett, INDQ
 
38.  Golden Tate, DET
 
39.  Tavon Austin, LAQ
 
40.  Tajae Sharpe, TENQ
 
41.  Quincy Enunwa, NYJ -- No Eric Decker means more work for the impressive Enunwa
 
42.  Tyler Lockett, SEAQ
 
43.  Cole Beasley, DAL
 
44.  Michael Thomas, NO
 
45.  Torrey Smith, SFQ
 
46.  Mohamed Sanu, ATLQ
 
47.  Terrance Williams, DAL
 
48.  Victor Cruz, NYG
 
49.  Pierre Garcon, WAS
 
50.  Dez Bryant, DALQ
 
51.  Kevin White, CHI
 
52.  Kenny Britt, LAQ
 
53.  Anquan Boldin, DET
 
54.  Chris Hogan, NE
 
55.  Marquise Goodwin, BUF
 
56.  Vincent Jackson, TB
 
57.  Robert Woods, BUF
 
58.  Dontrelle Inman, SD
 
59.  Markus Wheaton, PIT
 
60.  Kenny Stills, MIA

Tight Ends

1.  Greg Olsen, CAR
 
2.  Jordan Reed, WAS
 
3.  Rob Gronkowski, NE -- Patriots list Gronk as questionable. It would be understandable why owners would fret using him after last week's bait and switch. Just not sure how you can though assuming the Sunday morning news isn't scary.
 
4.  Travis Kelce, KC
 
5.  Eric Ebron, DET
 
6.  Dennis Pitta, BAL
 
7.  Kyle Rudolph, MIN
 
8.  Coby Fleener, NO
 
9.  Julius Thomas, JACQ
 
10.  Jason Witten, DAL
 
11.  Zach Miller, CHI
 
12.  Delanie Walker, TENQ
 
13.  Dwayne Allen, IND
 
14.  Jimmy Graham, SEAQ
 
15.  Gary Barnidge, CLE
 
16.  Jacob Tamme, ATL
 
17.  Hunter Henry, SD
 
18.  Martellus Bennett, NE
 
19.  Jack Doyle, IND
 
20.  Charles Clay, BUF
 
21.  Cameron Brate, TB
 
22.  Clive Walford, OAK
 
23.  Jesse James, PIT
 
24.  Larry Donnell, NYG
 
25.  Vance McDonald, SF

Defenses

1.  Arizona Cardinals
 
2.  Denver Broncos
 
3.  Seattle Seahawks
 
4.  Houston Texans
 
5.  New England Patriots
 
6.  Minnesota Vikings
 
7.  Carolina Panthers
 
8.  Cincinnati Bengals
 
9.  New York Jets
 
10.  Washington Redskins -- Home game against a rookie QB in his first road start screams streaming option
 
11.  Kansas City Chiefs
 
12.  Pittsburgh Steelers
 
13.  Baltimore Ravens
 
14.  Los Angeles Rams
 
15.  New York Giants
 
16.  Buffalo Bills
 
17.  Detroit Lions
 
18.  Miami Dolphins
 
19.  Indianapolis Colts
 
20.  Dallas Cowboys

Kickers

1.  Stephen Gostkowski, NE
 
2.  Adam Vinatieri, IND
 
3.  Chandler Catanzaro, ARI
 
4.  Justin Tucker, BAL
 
5.  Dan Bailey, DAL
 
6.  Steven Hauschka, SEA
 
7.  Graham Gano, CAR
 
8.  Josh Lambo, SD
 
9.  Brandon McManus, DEN
 
10.  Dustin Hopkins, WAS
 
11.  Blair Walsh, MIN
 
12.  Matt Prater, DET
 
13.  Cairo Santos, KC
 
14.  Will Lutz, NO
 
15.  Chris Boswell, PIT
 
16.  Josh Brown, NYG -- Minnesota has allowed the most field goal attempts (12) thru three weeks. 
 
17.  Matt Bryant, ATL
 
18.  Nick Novak, HOU
 
19.  Mike Nugent, CINQ
 
20.  Sebastian Janikowski, OAK

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Ravens' Ronnie Stanley question mark for Week 4 after missing third straight practice

Ravens' Ronnie Stanley question mark for Week 4 after missing third straight practice

OWINGS MILLS – Ravens coach John Harbaugh would not rule out rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley for Sunday’s game against the Raiders, although Stanley (foot) missed his third consecutive practice Friday.

James Hurst remained the likely replacement for Stanley if he could not play. Stanley has been very solid in the first three games of his NFL career, and his presence protecting quarterback Joe Flacco's blindside would be missed.

Stanley was not in the locker room after practice. Asked if Stanley’s injury could linger for a significant period, Harbaugh said, “I don’t see it that way, from what I’ve been told. I still think he has a chance for Sunday. You’ll see the (injury) report coming out later, but we’re not going to rule him out.”

Meanwhile, left guard Alex Lewis (concussion) was back at practice Friday, which was really a walkthrough, after missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Harbaugh sounded optimistic Lewis would play if he continued to pass concussion protocol.

“I think Lewis is fine if he cleared the concussion (protocol)," Harbaugh said. "It wouldn’t be a game-time (decision) in his case, if that’s true, and I’m assuming it is.”

If Lewis could not play, Ryan Jensen would likely be the starting left guard.

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