One Player Each NFL Team Should Be Thankful for
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We thought it would be appropriate on Thanksgiving to highlight one player from every NFL team the fans and management should be thankful for.
These are players who are either having a great year or have been enjoying a solid career void of negative headlines or police-blotter material.
For some teams in 2012, it was a struggle to find many players to be thankful for, so in some cases, we took the liberty to do some looking ahead into the future.
If you are reading this on Thanksgiving, we trust you are surrounded by family and loved ones and are able to enjoy a football game or two on Thursday. This is a good time to share some of the things that we are all thankful for.
Arizona Cardinals: Daryl Washington
Daryl Washington intercepts a Matt Ryan pass in Week 11.
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
The Cardinals have lost six in a row, and after a promising start, the season has turned south quickly.
Arizona hasn't received very good play from any of its quarterbacks. As a result, Larry Fitzgerald is in danger of seeing his streak of 1,000-plus receiving yards per season snapped this year.
But one of the bright spots is linebacker Daryl Washington. Washington leads Arizona in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and is tied for the team lead in forced fumbles.
Washington is tied for No. 10 in the NFL in sacks in 2012. It is rare to see somebody enjoy that much success in blitzing the quarterback from the inside or middle linebacker position, but that is the kind of athlete Washington is.
Arizona is thankful that he has all of those assets to put to work every week.
Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez
Tony Gonzalez follows up touchdowns with his slam dunk.
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There is a very good chance that 2012 will be the last hurrah for Tony Gonzalez. The odds are 95 percent that he will retire at the end of 2012, as reported by Peter King of Sports Illustrated.
Gonzalez has been a model of consistency over the years. For the 2012 season, he has 64 receptions after 10 games. That gives Gonzalez an amazing streak of at least 50 receptions in 15 straight years in the league.
It is one thing to still be hanging on in the NFL at age 36, it is something else entirely to play at such a high level. Gonzalez has served as a great example to every player in the Falcons organization on how to conduct yourself like a pro and how to take care of your body.
One more feather in his hat is that he currently leads the Falcons in touchdown receptions with six. Considering the great receivers the Falcons have, you just have to shake your head and marvel at what he does every year.
There is no doubt that Gonzalez will be in the Hall of Fame. He is the kind of player that every player on the team can model himself after.
Atlanta has been making the transition from a run-first to a pass-first team, and Matt Ryan's development—his five interceptions against Arizona on Sunday aside—has enabled the Falcons to enjoy their greatest success while making the transition.
It remains to be seen whether Ryan and the Falcons will finally carry that success over into the postseason.
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis closes in on a tackle against Dallas.
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In some ways, Ray Lewis is very much like the player we just highlighted, Tony Gonzalez—one of the best to ever play at his position. They are both on the wrong side of 35, future Hall of Famers and team leaders.
Like Gonzalez, it is only a matter of time before Lewis decides it is time to hang up the helmet.
Injuries have been nagging Lewis throughout his career. From 2004-2007, he missed at least one game due to injuries. Then, he completed a streak from 2008-2010 where he played in all 16 games for three straight years.
Lewis missed four games in 2011 and has already missed that many in 2012. While he can't dress in uniform to help his team, he is still there to inspire his team at practice and in the games.
From his work ethic to his passion, Lewis sets the example for every Ravens player to follow. Much of the success Baltimore enjoys is due to the tone and mentality that begins with Lewis.
According to this tweet from Melissa Stark of NFL Network:
melissa starkVerified @melissastark
at Ravens today...Haloti Ngata told me he talked to Ray Lewis last night and Lewis vows to return for an 18th season. More #FOF Sunday 7 am
The fact that he has stayed with the same organization for his entire career is another thing that Baltimore can be thankful for. 2013 could be the curtain call, so Baltimore needs to enjoy him while it still can.
Buffalo Bills: C. J. Spiller
C.J. Spiller made a number of Dolphins tacklers miss on Thursday Night Football.
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While it is true that fellow running back Fred Jackson is the heart and the soul of the Bills team, the future of the team is C.J. Spiller. His progress at learning how to become a more patient and disciplined running back has led to dynamic results in 2012.
Spiller excites the Bills fans with every carry of the ball because you never know when he is going to break off a long run—very reminiscent of O.J. Simpson in that regard. Heading into Week 12, Spiller leads all running backs with an average of 6.6 yards per carry. Next closest to him is Adrian Peterson at 5.8.
There are only so many players who can make you marvel at what they do, and Spiller is one of those players. He will continue to develop, just as he has with his ability to block in pass protection.
Buffalo is rewarding Spiller by naming him the starting running back for the Week 12 game at Indianapolis, despite Fred Jackson being cleared from his concussion. It appears that this is the time for the Bills to pass the torch from Jackson to Spiller. That is something that all Bills fans can be thankful for.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton
Cam Newton will continue his development at QB.
Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE
At 2-8, there isn't a whole lot to be thankful for in Carolina this year, but Cam Newton is the future of this franchise.
Sure, his sophomore season has been painful to watch at times. Newton had been on a two-year high, but 2012 has been a rough year for the Panthers.
There are moments where you wonder how much drive he has and where all of his confidence went. The guy who shows off his Superman cape is far removed from the player we see moping at press conferences following a loss.
This is all part of the maturation process for Newton. Maybe things came too easy for him as a rookie. He was coming off a national championship team at Auburn and followed that by winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
People just assumed that he would take another step up in his performance in 2012. The results prove that defenses were ready for him.
Newton had 35 touchdowns as a rookie. After 10 games this year, he has only accounted for 13 touchdowns. His passer rating and QBR rating are down, and he won't top 4,000 passing yards like he did in 2011.
Newton will need to make adjustments. When he comes back around and snaps out of his funk after the offseason, he will be a different player and will be better for what he experienced.
The Newton we see in 2013 will be the player Carolina fans are happy to call its franchise quarterback.
Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler has needed to run for his life too often in Chicago.
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The first inclination was that one of the many excellent Bears defensive players could be plugged in to this slide.
Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman would all work. But all of those guys played in the Monday Night Football game, and they didn't make much of a difference in the outcome.
The guy who would have made a difference wasn't able to play, and that was quarterback Jay Cutler. The Bears offense looked lost without Cutler. He has learned how to cope with a porous offensive line and how to stand there and deliver the pass knowing that he is about to be creamed.
Cutler has continued to be the leader on the Bears despite so many fans turning on him when he couldn't continue in the 2010 NFC Championship game. Cutler is a fierce competitor and gets in the faces of linemen when they need to be chewed out.
Where on earth would the Bears be without Cutler? Hopefully for the Bears team and their fans, they won't have to wait much longer for Cutler to receive medical clearance for his concussion. If he has any further complications, this could be a repeat of the 2011 late-season fade from the playoffs.
Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green
A.J. Green continues his touchdown streak.
John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE
This selection was between A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, but hearing some quotes from head coach Marvin Lewis helped to seal the deal for Green. On an episode of Pro Football Talk this week, Lewis had the following things to say about Green:
His very first practice as a rookie was after the lockout. The first time I saw him on the practice field was at training camp. I turned and looked at somebody in practice and I said, "Oh my gosh, he is the best player I have ever been around."
He has gone on from that day forward and never disappointed me one bit. A.J. is better than Chad Ochocinco in his prime.
When you hear a head coach talk like that, how can you not back up his opinion? Green is a player who will be exciting Bengals fans for many years to come.
Green is tied for the NFL lead with 10 touchdown receptions. He is closing in on a 1,000-plus-yard season for receiving yards, with 911 yards after 10 games. He continues to make amazing catches and is proving to be one of the hardest wide receivers in the league to control.
He is a special player and somebody Cincinnati can be very thankful it has.
Cleveland Browns: Joe Thomas
Joe Thomas exhibits his All-Pro form against DeMarcus Ware.
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Joe Thomas has now been the starting tackle for the Browns for the past five years, and he is a five-time Pro Bowler. He has been selected first-team All-Pro for each of the past three years.
For the struggling Browns, Thomas is the perfect player to build around. He performs at an elite level and remains consistent year in and year out.
When Thomas made the decision to sign a contract extension to remain with the Browns, he realized that it may be a long time before he gets to experience postseason play. But he believed in the organization to continue to improve, so he signed the seven-year deal.
The Browns should be thankful that Thomas showed that much faith in them. Hopefully, they will be able to reward that faith by continuing to improve.
Dallas Cowboys: Jason Witten
Jason Witten is the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver.
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Not only is Jason Witten the all-time leader in receptions for the Cowboys, but he continues to play at a high level at 30 years of age. He has taken more than his fair share of hard hits over the years, but Witten just continues to produce.
The Cowboys wide receivers have been inconsistent this year, but if there is one target Tony Romo can count on every week, it is Witten.
2012 is no exception. Witten is tied for No. 2 in the NFL (along with Wes Welker) with 73 catches, and he is just three receptions behind Reggie Wayne.
Even though this is his 10th season in the NFL, Witten is on pace for the first 100-plus-catch season of his career. He continues to be the consummate pro, and that is something that all of Dallas can be thankful for.
Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning
Manning hears cheers from Broncos fans after beating San Diego.
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In less than one calendar year, the Broncos have become a powerful offense (ranked No. 3). They are averaging 394 yards of offense per game thanks to Peyton Manning.
Manning is performing as well as he ever has. He is likely to secure at least one of three major awards at the end of the year: Comeback Player of the Year, NFL Offensive Player of the Year or the NFL MVP. It is unimaginable that he would be shut out.
Denver is averaging 30.1 points per game under Manning (No. 2). Under Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton, the Broncos averaged just 19.3 points per game.
When you are averaging 30 points per game, you will win a lot of games. Having the No. 6-ranked defense helps too.
Manning shows the Broncos how to prepare for an opponent. His work ethic and film-room preparation is just part of what he does to prepare his team to have success. That all rubs off on his teammates, so when they see the old man doing everything that he does, it makes everybody else respond in kind.
Denver is very thankful that Manning is part of the organization for 2012 and for however many more years he wants to play.
Detroit Lions: Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson is ranked as the No. 1 wide receiver in 2012.
The Lions tasted success in 2011 by becoming a surprise postseason team.
A number of players were arrested in the offseason, though, so that positive momentum didn't seem to take hold. That trend of bad news hasn't slowed down; the Lions sit in the basement of the NFC North with a 4-7 record after a devastating loss to the Texans.
Despite the double coverage or zones that rotate toward wherever Calvin Johnson is on the field, he continues to find ways to get open or make plays on the ball.
Johnson leads all NFL receivers with 1,317 receiving yards. To think that he has produced this much with an injured knee makes you wonder what he could do if he were 100 percent healthy.
Detroit has improved its run game this year, but it is not strong enough yet to divert attention away from Johnson.
With all of the past wide receiver busts that occurred in the Matt Millen era, the fact that Johnson continues to thrive and be a leader on offense is something that Detroit can only be very thankful for.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers is pleased with the Packers win over the Lions.
Aaron Rodgers has already led Green Bay to one Super Bowl, and the Packers will likely make the postseason again this year.
Once again, Rodgers is having an All-Pro-like year. He is the No. 1-ranked quarterback in passer rating coming into Week 12. Rodgers has an awesome ratio of 27 touchdowns to only six interceptions. More importantly, he has the Packers on a five-game winning streak and tied with Chicago for the best record in the NFC North.
In a 22-game span that began on Week 16 of the 2010 season through the playoffs and Super Bowl, Rodgers led the Packers to a record of 21-1. That is just an incredible streak and one that will be hard to match in the current NFL.
To think that Rodgers had to bide his time for three seasons on the bench and watch Brett Favre seems amazing at this point. Some things are worth the wait. Green Bay and its fans are thankful that he was able to persevere.
Houston Texans: J.J. Watt
The Houston Texans want to see more finger wags from J.J. Watt.
Bob Levey/Getty Images
J.J. Watt took the NFL by storm in the first half of the 2012 season with his ability to sack the quarterback and his mastery of deflecting passes at the line of scrimmage. Watt has spearheaded the Houston Texans defense and made quite a name for himself in the process.
Watt is making a much bigger impact across the board as a second-year player. He had 5.5 sacks in 2011 and already has 14.5 this season. In 2011, Watt had just four pass deflections. This year, the number has jumped up to 13.
You will find Watt making an impact almost every game. If he isn't coming up with sacks, he is coming up with quarterback hits, tackles for a loss or quarterback hurries. He has turned himself into a dynamic force on the line of scrimmage and is one of the main reasons that the Texans are tied for the best record in the NFL.
If he is doing all of this in his second year, just think how much better he will be when he gains even more experience and becomes even stronger when he fills out more. Houston has a lot to be thankful about when it comes to J.J. Watt.
Indianapolis Colts: Reggie Wayne
Reggie Wayne broke the 1,000-yard mark in just 10 games.
Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
Most people probably assumed that Andrew Luck would be occupying this slide, but Reggie Wayne is my choice. The main reason is that if you eliminated Wayne from the Colts offense, who exactly would Luck have been throwing the football to this year?
Despite many veteran players leaving Indianapolis for other teams in the 2012 offseason, Wayne surprised an awful lot of experts by deciding to return to the Colts and signing a brand-new contract.
Clearly, Wayne would come in and be the main target for Luck, but he would also wind up being the mentor for the very young stable of Indianapolis wide receivers.
After Week 11 action, Wayne has already topped the 1,000-yard barrier and is ranked as the No. 2 receiver in the NFL with 1,003 yards. Wayne's decision to come back actually sped up the development of Luck and the other Colts receivers to drive the offense into another gear this year.
With Luck's talent and knowledge, they would get there on their own eventually, but the speed would have been much slower if Wayne didn't sign on the dotted line.
The Colts should be very thankful that Wayne put the team first.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Paul Posluszny
Paul Posluszny intercepts a pass against Houston.
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With a 1-9 start to their 2012 season, it is admittedly difficult to find many things to be thankful for with the Jaguars.
Maurice Jones-Drew has only tallied 414 yards due to injuries and a nasty contract holdout. Blaine Gabbert may be replaced by Chad Henne at starting quarterback. With no hope for the playoffs, new head coach Mike Mularkey gets to see who really wants to play and be a part of the organization.
That brings us to Paul Posluszny. He is tied for the team lead in three different categories: tackles, passes defended and tackles for a loss. Posluszny is tied for No. 10 in the NFL in tackles with 85 (along with fellow linebacker Russell Allen).
Posluszny is a no-nonsense player with a high motor. He covers sideline to sideline and plays with the kind of tenacity you wish all linebackers had. While some players may be tempted to start throwing in the towel for the Jaguars soon, that is something that you won't see Posluszny do.
Kansas City Chiefs: Jamaal Charles
Jamaal Charles is looking for a 1,000-yard-plus season.
John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE
The Chiefs have been reeling in 2012. When the fans start showing up and begin passing around bags to put over their faces, you know things are bad.
The one player who has stood out is Jamaal Charles. He came back from a fairly serious knee injury in 2011 to become the leading rusher again for Kansas City. The Chiefs sometimes forget to include Charles in their game plan, but he is still a good bet to top the 1,000-plus-yard mark in rushing again.
One of the biggest concerns for Chiefs fans is that there is a huge drop off after Charles to the No. 2 back on the team. While Charles has gained 821 yards so far in 2012, the next back is Shaun Draughn, who only has 193 yards.
The other aspect of Charles is that his knee looks good. His average gain per rush is a very strong 4.8. The fact that he recovered so well and is looking strong is something that the Chiefs can be very thankful for.
Miami Dolphins: Cameron Wake
Cameron Wake is having a great year for Miami in 2012.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
With all of the changes that went on with the Miami Dolphins in the 2012 offseason, there was a brand-new coaching staff that was brought in along with new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
Cameron Wake was one of the main players the Dolphins were counting on to be an impact player in 2012. Wake had finished the 2010 season as No. 3 in the NFL with 14 sacks on the season. In 2012, Wake is on pace to equal or even better that mark (he has 9.5 sacks after 10 games).
Wake is a talented player who was able to excel this year despite changing position, scheme and coaches. That isn't very easy to do.
To give you a better idea on the kind of progress that Wake made this year, the Palm Beach Post wrote up this report on Wake prior to Week 10:
Wake, who moved from outside linebacker to defensive end, already has matched his sack total from last year with 8.5. According to the website Pro Football Focus, he leads the NFL with a combined total of 55 sacks, quarterback hits and hurries and “warrants Defensive Player of the Year consideration.”
Wake has stepped up his play to show that he is more than capable of becoming a leader on the Dolphins defense. Miami is thankful that he found a way to overcome the obstacles.
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson
NFL leading rusher Adrian Peterson has made a remarkable recovery.
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Due to the severity of his knee injury late in the 2011 regular season, it didn't seem likely Adrian Peterson would be back in time to start the 2012 regular season.
However, Dr. James Andrews found out something interesting upon operating on Peterson. According to a tweet from Jeff Darlington of NFL Network:
Dr. James Andrews was amazed by muscular composition & freakish lack of aging when he cut into Adrian Peterson's knee: http://on.nfl.com/kneerehab
Even though Peterson has been in the league for five years and carried the ball 1,406 times for a grand total of 6,752 yards, there wasn't any signs of aging in his knee. It just goes to prove that Peterson is a true freak of nature. And that is something that Minnesota can be very thankful for.
When Peterson tore his ACL in late December last season, it was questionable whether he'd be ready for the start of the 2012 campaign.
Peterson did answer the bell on opening day, though, and he has looked great. He leads the NFL with 1,128 rushing yards through the first 10 games, averaging 5.8 per carry.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady
Once again, Tom Brady will be leading the Patriots to the playoffs.
David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE
You thought we were going with Julian Edelman, right?
No matter what happens from one year to the next, Tom Brady will take his new cast of teammates and turn them into a playoff team.
Coming into the 2012 season, Brady has been the quarterback for 10 years in New England. The Patriots have qualified for the postseason nine times in that span, missing out in 2002. (We didn't include the 2008 season which Brady missed due to injury.)
Steady like clockwork, Brady just keeps finding a way to get the job done. Brady will find a way to get the ball to the open receiver; he does not pick favorites.
Winning three Super Bowl championships in a four-year span is the closest thing we have seen to a dynasty in the NFL in the recent past. While Brady isn't the most mobile or physical quarterback, he can take a pretty good lick and get back up and throw again.
Brady has provided far more success to New England than it could have possibly imagined, especially when you consider that Brady was a sixth-round draft pick. The Patriots should be very thankful indeed.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees
Drew Brees leads the NFL with 28 touchdown passes.
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While the 2012 offseason headlines continued to spew more doom and gloom involving the Saints, there was one piece of news that offered hope. That was the development that Drew Brees had been signed to a long-term contract.
Dealing with that much negativity and numerous suspensions impacting the team, it is not surprising that New Orleans began the year 0-4. However, with six games to go, the Saints are back to .500 and are in the hunt for a postseason berth.
What has Brees done this year to lead the turnaround? For starters, he has already passed for more than 3,000 yards on the year. He is only six yards behind Matt Ryan for the lead in that category. Brees has also passed for 28 touchdowns, which is tops in the NFL this year.
Brees brings tremendous confidence and a will to compete. He gives everyone in the huddle the belief that they can move the ball, and the team feeds off his will and desire to compete.
Ever since Brees came to New Orleans, he took his game up to another level. For everything that has happened to the Saints and the city of New Orleans, everybody should be thankful that Brees continues to call New Orleans home.
Only one team (the 1992 San Diego Chargers) has ever started an NFL season 0-4 and reached the playoffs. The Saints have a chance to be the second.
New Orleans has had to endure the season-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton as well as the six-game suspension of interim head coach Joe Vitt.
New York Giants: WR Victor Cruz
Victor Cruz has put up some amazing stats for being an undrafted free agent.
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Even though Victor Cruz has appeared in 29 games for the Giants in his NFL career, he has only been the starter (Pro-Football-Reference.com) in 17 of them. With a total of 2,279 yards, that comes out to an average of 134 yards per start.
For an undrafted player, Cruz has taken his success in stride. Cruz appears to be having fun on the field, and he projects a positive image and outlook. That is refreshing when you consider how depressing all the headlines are when it comes to the New York Jets.
In 2012, Cruz is ranked No. 12 among the wide receivers. He has 743 receiving yards on the year, which should put him on pace to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. Cruz finished the 2011 season as the No. 3 receiver in the league (with 1,536 receiving yards).
Whether you like the salsa dancing or not, Cruz is a breath of fresh air in the NFL. The Giants need to sign Cruz to a new contract, and that will no doubt make Eli Manning happy. It should also make Giants fans thankful that they have a dynamic wide receiver on board to keep the chains moving.
Eli Manning's recent struggles are a cause for concern with the Giants, but he's bound to turn things around soon, and Cruz will quickly be back to putting up insane statistics.
New York Jets: Tim Tebow
A rare sight in 2012, Tim Tebow getting a snap.
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The New York Jets organization can be a very difficult environment to work in. When the Jets acquired Tim Tebow, the organization made it clear that Mark Sanchez was the starter.
The Jets are now 4-6 and in a three-way tie for second place (or the basement, if you prefer) in the AFC East.
Tebow has been asked to make seven throws and run the ball 29 times. He has come up with a combined total of 126 yards of offense from scrimmage so far in the first 10 games.
But during this whole season, Tebow continues to say and do the right things. He is a team player, and he doesn't complain to the media that his role is far less than what he expected.
No doubt, if Tebow knew in advance of how limited his playing time would have been, he would have opted to play for Jacksonville, where he would likely be the starter now.
The Jets need more quality players like Tebow who put the team before their own personal interests. The Jets should be thankful that they have him to keep a positive spin on a very negative season.
Oakland Raiders: Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer has already thrown for over 3,000 yards in 2012.
To keep the Raiders competitive this year, Carson Palmer has needed to throw the ball as often as Daryle Lamonica did in the late 1960s.
To date, Palmer has already passed for more than 3,000 yards (3,035 to be precise) and has passed for 17 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions.
The running game has suffered due to another Darren McFadden injury. No running back has totaled more than 455 yards this year, so that puts even more pressure on Palmer to air it out.
The 2012 season for the Raiders was going to be one of many changes. From the passing of Al Davis to bringing in general manager Reggie McKenzie and new head coach Dennis Allen, there will be some growing pains as the Raiders search for their new identity.
But as long as they have Palmer at quarterback, they know that he will keep them in every game. For right now, they can be thankful for that.
Philadelphia Eagles: LeSean McCoy
LeSean McCoy is on pace for another 1,000-plus-yard season.
Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE
It is difficult to find a lot to be thankful for when your team is mired in a six-game losing streak. Head coach Andy Reid will more than likely be fired at the end of the season, if not sooner.
One player the Eagles are sure they want to retain will be LeSean McCoy. The talented running back hasn't been provided with a very strong offensive line to work with this year, as evidenced by how often Michael Vick is flat on his back.
McCoy has churned out 750 yards this season and still has a very respectable average of 4.2 yards per carry.
One of the things that the Eagles have grown to enjoy about McCoy is how versatile a back he is. From his ability to pass block, catch the ball and run inside the tackles, McCoy can basically do it all.
For all the negativity building in Philadelphia right now, at least it can be thankful it has McCoy to cheer for.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger
How many more weeks will Ben Roethlisberger be out?
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Ben Roethlisberger is out right now due to his injured ribs and shoulder, but we all saw how different the Steelers offense ran when Byron Leftwich was under center.
When you remove Roethlisberger from the equation, you get a team that looks like it will have trouble moving the ball consistently enough to win (sorry, but 10 points won't cut it most weeks in the NFL).
Roethlisberger is completing 66 percent of his passes and seems to be doing just fine in Todd Haley's offense. The touchdown-to-interception ratio is stellar, as Roethlisberger has thrown 17 touchdowns to just four interceptions on the year.
The Steelers can only hope that Roethlisberger will be able to return soon.
The Steelers are thankful that Roethlisberger will be able to come back sooner than he probably should, but that is part of what makes him so special.
San Diego Chargers: Eric Weddle
Eric Weddle has been All-Pro for the last two seasons.
Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE
Eric Weddle has been named to the NFL All-Pro team in each of the last two seasons. He was tied for the NFL lead in interceptions in 2011 with seven (along with Charles Woodson and Kyle Arrington).
While other star players have opted to leave San Diego, like Vincent Jackson and LaDainian Tomlinson, Weddle opted to sign a contract extension last year to stay with the Chargers.
Weddle's strong suit is run support, but as evidenced by the seven interceptions last year, he is also capable of making the big play on defense. He leads the Chargers again this year with three interceptions.
San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore
Frank Gore makes the 49ers offense tick.
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Frank Gore is the constant force on the 49ers offensive unit that makes everything else function.
Gore has already played through seven full seasons in the NFL. During that time, he has played in at least 14 games in six of those years. For somebody who has averaged 236 carries per year over the seven seasons, Gore is still holding up quite well.
The 49ers are giving more carries to Kendall Hunter to keep Gore fresher later in the year. So far, it seems to be working just fine.
Gore has increased his average a full yard since last season due to the decreased work load. He is now averaging 5.3 yards per carry (which would be the highest average he has posted since 2006).
While the 49ers have a number of wonderful players on the defensive side of the football, fans are very thankful they have Gore.
Seattle Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch
Seahawks congratulate Marshawn Lynch after his touchdown run vs. the Saints in a 2010 playoff game.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
The date was Jan. 8, 2011. In the first round of the 2010 NFL playoffs, Marshawn Lynch took off on his infamous 67-yard touchdown run where he ran through the New Orleans Saints defense. That play turns out to be the longest run in Seattle postseason history.
Since that play, Lynch is who people think of when they think of the Seahawks. The 2012 season is no different. Lynch still runs with the same "Beast Mode" style, forcing the opposition to bring in multiple players to bring him down.
Lynch brings a toughness to the Seattle organization that transcends through the rest of the team. He leads by example, and he makes it easy for the rest of the team to follow suit.
In 10 games this year, Lynch has already broke the 1,000-yard mark. He is averaging 100.5 yards per game and is ranked as the No. 2 rusher in the NFL, trailing only Adrian Peterson.
The Seahawks are still in the playoff picture at 6-4, and they have Lynch to thank for keeping the chains moving every week—that and a couple bags of Skittles.
St. Louis Rams: Danny Amendola
If he can stay healthy, Amendola is a force to be reckoned with.
Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
Steven Jackson is rushing for less than four yards per carry. Sam Bradford is barely above the 60 percent completion rate, and his ratio of 12 touchdowns to eight interceptions leaves a lot to be desired.
That brings us to Danny Amendola. At 5'11", 188 pounds, it's no surprise that he has trouble staying healthy.
So far in 2012, there has been a foot injury to go along with the more serious clavicle injury, where he came close to losing his life. Still, Amendola continues to play with the same passion that he always does.
A free agent in 2013, Amendola wants to remain in St. Louis and be on board when it turns the franchise around. That is something that St. Louis can be thankful for.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Freeman
Josh Freeman is blossoming in 2012 with 21 touchdown passes so far.
Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE
Trust me, the Buccaneers are thankful that they drafted running back Doug Martin, but the player who deserves to be highlighted is quarterback Josh Freeman.
Freeman is having a banner 2012 season and doesn't seem to be getting enough national praise for how much he has improved this year.
Look at the numbers. In 2012, Freeman has already thrown 21 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions. He has thrown for three touchdowns in four different games this year.
In 2011, Freeman threw for 16 touchdowns versus 22 interceptions. He never had any games in 2011 with three touchdowns.
In 2010, Freeman had a strong year with 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions. He only had one game with at least three touchdowns that year. That was a banner five-touchdown performance against Seattle.
Freeman seems to enjoy playing under Greg Schiano. The Bucs are a disciplined team this year. They have a balanced offense with Martin running the ball and Freeman throwing it to Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and Dallas Clark.
Every year that Freeman continues to gain in experience and improve, he will grow on the job. The Buccaneers are a team to watch, and Freeman will be a big part of that going forward.
Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson leads the Titans with 862 rushing yards this year.
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Scanning the Titans roster and statistics, there really weren't too many choices. Chris Johnson is designated for the Titans because he will certainly break the 1,000-yard mark again this year, so that is something that the Titans can be thankful for.
When Bud Adams went ballistic after the Titans saw the Chicago Bears score 51 points on them, you know that this hasn't exactly been a great year in Tennessee.
To Johnson's credit, he vowed to be in better shape this year, and true to his word, he hasn't missed a single game this season. Johnson has turned in four games of over 100 rushing yards this season. The most encouraging sign is that he is averaging 5.1 yards per rush. That is a positive development.
In 2013, Johnson should continue to be in shape and play at a high level. He is being well paid, so he should have no complaints. Well, at least the Titans could add some more weapons to their offense. That is something that all Tennessee fans would be thankful for.
Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin is all smiles after a win in the NFC East.
Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE
While Robert Griffin III has helped to transform the Redskins offense in his first 10 games as a pro, it is the promise of what he can do in the future for Washington that has the team and fans thankful that he will be leading the team for many years to come.
Dynamic, charismatic, good communication skills and bright, Griffin brings a number of skills on and off the field to a Washington team that was in need of some true star power.
His ability to run with the ball, to be mobile in the pocket and to throw an accurate deep pass are some of the skills that a team can build an offense around.
Griffin is averaging 7.92 yards per attempt (No. 4 in the NFL). For all starting quarterbacks with at least 250 passing attempts, Griffin is tied with Tom Brady for fewest interceptions with just three on the year. His ratio of 12 touchdowns to three interceptions shows that he is taking good care of the football.
Another facet of his game is his ability to pick up big yards with his speed. Griffin has already gained 613 yards on the ground in 10 games, and his average of 6.6 yards per rush is tied with C. J. Spiller for the highest average in the NFL.
Griffin is the real deal and will prove to be a wonderful drawing card for the Washington Redskins. He gives the team confidence and hope for the future, which are things the team can be very thankful for.
Thanks for checking out the presentation. Happy Thanksgiving to all!