Not even halfway through a rundown of quarterbacks the Buffalo Bills will face this year, Steve Beuerlein laughed in disbelief.
"This is shaping up, from a quarterback's perspective, to be dream matchups pretty much every week," Beuerlein said.
The Bills have generated hope in the football world not only among their fans, but also the prognosticators. Routinely, we hear various experts and media outlets predict the Bills will break the NFL's longest active playoff drought this season.
A significant reason for that optimism is the weak menu of quarterbacks Buffalo will face. Ryan Fitzpatrick, despite leading the NFL in interceptions last year and ranking 22nd in passer rating, should be considered the better quarterback in most of the matchups.
The Bills are scheduled to face rookie quarterbacks five times and a sophomore with zero starts once. The Bills' lineup includes two quarterbacks who finished in the top half of the league in yards and only three in the top half in passer rating.
"There aren't many times anybody has an edge over Fitzpatrick," Beuerlein said. "That bodes well. If Ryan can stay healthy and get the support he needs – I was really surprised how well he was playing last year – I expect him to come out with something to prove."
While it might seem simplistic to break down a season by comparing two players who never are on the field simultaneously, the position is so critical to a team's success that a comparison is worthwhile.
"I believe that premise is accurate," said Mike Martz, the accomplished offensive coordinator and former head coach. Martz was the St. Louis Rams' head coach when they drafted Fitzpatrick in 2005.
"The things that surround the quarterbacks matter. But, no question, Fitzpatrick is better than most of the others. It's a very big impact."
The Buffalo News asked two quarterbacking experts – Beuerlein and former head coach ?Jim Fassel – to break down each quarterback matchup and declare who has the edge.
Beuerlein, one of three analysts on CBS Sports Network's new show "NFL Monday QB," played 16 NFL seasons with six teams. He led the NFL in completion percentage in 1998 and yards in 1999, going to the Pro Bowl for the Carolina Panthers.
Fassel is a noted quarterback whisperer who often consults for NFL teams and is head coach of the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL.
In 1997, Fassel's first season as New York Giants head coach, he went undefeated in the NFC East with quarterbacks Danny Kannell and Dave Brown and was named Coach of the Year. He took the Giants to the Super Bowl three seasons later.
Rookies are marked with an asterisk, and second-year quarterbacks are marked with a .
Sept. 9 at New York Jets
Matchup: Mark Sanchez
Fast fact: His passing stats have improved every season, but questions about his viability persist.
Beuerlein's take: Edge Buffalo. Sanchez has a fragile ego right now, and that's always been the rap on him. Going into Week One, I don't think he believes he's the clear-cut starter. Ryan knows he is.
Fassel's take: I don't see a clear-cut winner there, but I'll go with Sanchez because he's at home. I think both of them have a ways to go to prove themselves. They've shown flashes.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 1-0. Beuerlein's decisiveness over Fassel's virtual coin flip.
Sept. 16 Kansas City Chiefs
Matchup: Matt Cassel
Fast fact: Tom Brady's former backup is entering his fifth season as a starter with a 28-26 record and an 82.5 passer rating.
Beuerlein's take: A draw, maybe with a slight edge to Buffalo because it's a home game. They're two quarterbacks with a lot to prove. Both have shown flashes of brilliance mixed in with mediocrity.
Fassel's take: Fitzpatrick's at home. He has his crowd. He can operate no-huddle or his two-minute. The confines favor Fitzpatrick.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 2-0.
Sept. 23 at Cleveland Browns
Matchup: Brandon Weeden*
Fast fact: He'll turn 29 next month, making him one year younger than Fitzpatrick, but is a rookie because he pursued a baseball career first.
Beuerlein's take: Edge Buffalo all the way. The jury obviously is out on Weeden whether he'll be a legitimate starter. It matters that it's early in the season, too. Weeden could be like an Andy Dalton and get better as the season goes along.
Fassel's take: I'll take Fitzpatrick on the road. I think there will be a difference in the quarterback play. It matters when you get a rookie that early in the season.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 3-0.
Sept. 30 New England Patriots
Matchup: Tom Brady
Fast fact: The seven-time Pro Bowler has won three Super Bowls and been to two others, including last season.
Beuerlein's take: Even though Buffalo beat New England early last year, you can't give anyone an edge on Tom Brady.
Fassel's take: Brady, without a doubt.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 3-1.
Oct. 7 at San Francisco 49ers
Matchup: Alex Smith
Fast fact: The top pick of 2005 was considered a bust, then posted his first winning record last year, going 13-3.
Beuerlein's take: Draw, with maybe a slight edge to San Francisco. Experience goes to Ryan, but Alex Smith, with what he did late in the season last year, his confidence is at an all-time high. Plus, the game is in San Francisco.
Fassel's take: I've got to go with Alex Smith. The style of football San Francisco plays takes the pressure off the quarterback to win the game. Like my first year as a head coach with Danny Kanell, their quarterback was a non-entity because the rest of ?the team takes care of everything.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 3-2.
Oct. 14 at Arizona Cardinals
Matchup: John Skelton
Fast fact: Cards backup Kevin Kolb has a career record of 6-10 as a starter with a 76.7 passer rating, while Skelton is 7-4 with a 66.9 rating.
Beuerlein's take: Edge Buffalo, definitely. Skelton and Kevin Kolb are one in the same when it comes to a quarterback matchup. If one of them can't separate, there will be a cloud of uncertainty.
Fassel's take: At that juncture, that's a toss-up. But I'll go with Fitzpatrick because of his experience – even on the road.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 4-2.
Oct. 21 Tennessee Titans
Matchup: Jake Locker
Fast fact: Last year's eighth overall draft pick enters the season with 66 NFL pass attempts and zero starts.
Beuerlein's take: You've got to give the edge to Ryan. Jake Locker's got tremendous upside, but the jury's still out. A first-round draft choice is a 50-50 crapshoot.
Fassel's take: After six games and at home, I'll go with Fitzpatrick again. This isn't going to be an aerial circus in Tennessee. They're going to protect him.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 5-2.
>Week 8 / Bye
Nov. 4 at Houston Texans
Matchup: Matt Schaub
Fast fact: Schaub, a prolific passer with an elite target in Andre Johnson, routinely seems just outside the perimeter of the NFL's great quarterbacks.
Beuerlein's take: Edge Houston, decidedly. I really like Matt Schaub every year. They got to the second round of the playoffs last year with a backup rookie. With what [head coach] Gary Kubiak has done down there and [receiver] Andre Johnson healthy … that's going to be a very difficult game for Buffalo.
Fassel's take: I'll go with Houston. Schaub has proven himself to be a good QB, and he has enough help that he doesn't need to put the team on his back.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 5-3
Nov. 11 at New England Patriots
Matchup: Tom Brady
Fast fact: The Patriots will be ?coming off their bye week.
Beuerlein's take: Edge New England. With the playoffs in the air, well into the second half of the season, you've got to assume New England's going to be playing at a pretty high level.
Fassel's take: It's tough for the Bills. ?The Patriots play so well coming off a bye.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 5-4.
Nov. 15 Miami Dolphins
Matchup: Ryan Tannehill*
Fast fact: He was the eighth overall draft pick and the third quarterback off the board.
Beuerlein's take: No doubt, edge Buffalo. We may be singing Tannehill's praises at that point, but right now there's no reason to believe he'll have significant success, especially with the Dolphins cleaning out some talent this summer.
Fassel's take: I'll go with Buffalo at home. ?I think Tannehill will be a good quarterback. ?He has the potential to progress into the top half of the league. He has talent. But Fitzpatrick ?has the edge.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 6-4.
Nov. 25 at Indianapolis Colts
Matchup: Andrew Luck*
Fast fact: The son of former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck is considered an NFL star in the making.
Beuerlein's take: Interesting. I'm going to give the edge to Ryan. We'll truly be able to evaluate this matchup next year, but even if Luck comes out and does well, I still would think he's going to be learning the game. Ryan gets the nod because of where they are in their careers.
Fassel's take: Andrew Luck. He has played better than any rookie quarterback I've ever seen in the preseason. He looks like he's been in that offense 10 years. Unless they can't run the ball a lick, he's going to be real good.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 6-4-1.
Dec. 2 Jacksonville Jaguars
Matchup: Blaine Gabbert
Fast fact: He went 4-10 as a rookie last year and completed only 51 percent of his passes.
Beuerlein's take: Big edge Buffalo. No more needs to be said.
Fassel's take: Fitzpatrick again. He's at home. Weather could be an issue. I think Gabbert will improve, and this is later in the season. But this one's clear.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 7-4-1.
Dec. 9 St. Louis Rams
Matchup: Sam Bradford
Fast fact: First overall draft pick in 2010 has an 8-18 ?record, but considered more ?talented than his supporting cast is helpful.
Beuerlein's take: I'm going to call it a draw. ?I'm really bullish on Sam Bradford. The kid's got tremendous upside. He had a really tough year, but I think he's on a mission to set things straight.
Fassel's take: I'm going with Bradford. You have a new regime, and every time you do that you have a great chance for a bump. Jeff Fisher ?is a veteran coach. I have to go with Bradford.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 7-5-1.
Dec. 16 Seattle Seahawks
Matchup: Russell Wilson*
Fast fact: Third-round draft pick is surprise starter ahead of free-agent signee Matt Flynn.
Beuerlein's take: Edge Buffalo. If Matt Flynn is there, no telling what he will do. Before the season's over, I think Flynn's going to be in there. Even with Wilson, I don't think Seattle's going to be strong enough to travel across the country with a rookie quarterback and win.
Fassel's take: Fitzpatrick. Wilson is a rookie, and I'm sorry. I just don't understand some of Seattle's moves. Some people think they're going to make a leap, and ?I just don't see it.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 8-5-1.
Dec. 23 at Miami Dolphins
Matchup: Ryan Tannehill*
Fast fact: Rookie wall? Tannehill played only two games after Thanksgiving at Texas A&M.
Beuerlein's take: Edge Buffalo again. The plan was for David Garrard to be the guy [but Garrard was released on Tuesday]. If Tannehill is showing he can't handle it, maybe the Bills face [backup Matt Moore].
Fassel's take: I'm going to go with Tannehill in this ?one. They're in Miami. Tannehill will have plenty ?of time by now. I'm giving him that one.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 8-5-2.
Dec. 30 New York Jets
Matchup: Mark Sanchez or ?Tim Tebow
Fast fact: The Bills intercepted Tebow three times and sacked him four times last December in Orchard Park.
Beuerlein's take: Edge Buffalo. This is a totally different animal at the end of the season than Week One because Sanchez will either have improved or gotten worse. Against Tebow, Fitzpatrick obviously has the edge.
Fassel's take: Fitzpatrick again. He's at home, and that was the deciding factor for me in choosing Week One. ?He and Fitzpatrick are close, in my mind. The comforts of home make a difference.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick, 9-5-2.