Rookie Quarterbacks Start NFL Season Amid Referee Labor Dispute

Rookie Quarterbacks Start NFL Season Amid Referee Labor Dispute
Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins looks for a receiver against the Chicago Bears during a preseason game at Soldier Field in Chicago. Photographer: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The National Football League’s replacement officials aren’t the only ones lacking experience as the season begins.

Five rookie quarterbacks, the most since at least 1950, will start their team’s season opener -- the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck, the Washington Redskins’ Robert Griffin III, the Cleveland Browns’ Brandon Weeden, the Miami Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill and the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. The NFL said the previous high was three rookie quarterbacks starting season openers in 1968 and 1969.

Griffin and Luck, both 22, were the top two in Heisman Trophy voting last season for college football’s best player, then reversed those positions in this year’s draft. They and the other rookies are looking to have an effect similar to that of the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton, voted the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year last season.

“Newton set the bar pretty high,” Steve Beuerlein, a former NFL quarterback and CBS Corp. NFL analyst, said in an interview. “The guys this year, including both Griffin and Luck, have looked really good. But they’re going to make mistakes, every young quarterback does.”

The first full day of play in the most-watched U.S. sports league is Sept. 9, with 13 games. The season started Sept. 5, when the Dallas Cowboys beat the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants 24-17 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Replacement Officials

The NFL’s replacement officials probably will make mistakes too, if the preseason was any indication.

With the NFL and its officials union unable to reach an agreement on a new contract, the league has filled the jobs from below the top level of college football. During the preseason, the replacements drew criticism from players, coaches and fans for missed and inaccurate calls and a lack of experience.

“There’s no way there can’t be a significant drop-off,” said Eric Mangini, a former New York Jets and Browns coach who’s now an NFL analyst for ESPN. “You can’t put a bunch of guys in a place that they haven’t been in with no experience and expect them to officiate the game like the group of officials we’ve seen year in and year out.”

Lack of experience is a reason none of the five teams that are starting rookie quarterbacks are among the 15 with the best odds to win the NFL championship. Even as Newton set an NFL rookie record with 4,051 passing yards last season, the Panthers missed the playoffs with a 6-10 record.

The New England Patriots enter the season as 5-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl, scheduled for Feb. 3 in New Orleans. The Green Bay Packers are the 6-1 second choice at the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book, followed by the San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans and Denver Broncos at 10-1.

Title Longshots

The Dolphins, with Tannehill at quarterback, are tied with the Minnesota Vikings with the longest Super Bowl odds at 300-1, meaning a winning $10 bet would return a $3,000 profit. The Browns have 200-1 odds, the Redskins and Colts are both listed at 100-1, and the Seahawks are 40-1.

The Giants have 16-1 championship odds. Their opponents this season combined for a league-best 140-116 record last year.

The Jets, who added Tim Tebow in the offseason as the backup to starting quarterback Mark Sanchez after missing the playoffs with an 8-8 record, are listed at 40-1 to win the Super Bowl.

Jets coach Rex Ryan said he expects Sanchez to lead the team back to the postseason after reaching the American Football Conference championship game in his first two seasons.

“As a rookie he was looked at as a weakness on our football team, and I said there’s going to be a day where he’s looked at as the strength of our team,” Ryan said at a news conference. “That day is right now.”

Denver’s Manning

The Broncos released Tebow after adding four-time NFL Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning, 36, and have had their odds lowered from 60-1. Manning, who spent his first 14 seasons with the Colts, missed the 2011 campaign following neck-fusion surgery.

“Adjusting to new personnel and a new system, that’s probably going to be more to deal with than his health,” former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino said in an interview.

The New Orleans Saints are 20-1 to become the first team to win the Super Bowl in their home stadium.

The Saints are slated to play this season without coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who were suspended by the NFL after the team was accused of running a bounty program that paid bonuses for hits that hurt opposing players. Joe Vitt will serve as interim coach, although he’s also suspended for the first six games.

Adrenaline Rush

“They’ll have that initial adrenaline of proving people wrong, that little chip on their shoulder of what’s been done to them,” former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher said of the Saints in an interview. “But as the season goes on, it’s hard to sustain that adrenaline rush. As they hit that bump in the road that every team hits, they don’t have that calming force that has been there in the past in Sean Payton.”

The Patriots, who have won 10 or more games each of the past nine years and made the playoffs eight times in that stretch, have steady leadership in quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick. After losing to the Giants in last season’s Super Bowl, New England is favored by oddsmakers to win its first title since the 2004 season.

They’re followed closely by the Packers, who won the championship after the 2010 season and went 15-1 last year behind MVP Aaron Rodgers before losing to the Giants in their playoff opener.

“There’s no better place to start than Lambeau Field,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, whose team hosts the 49ers in the opener. “We’re all looking forward to it.”

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