Who can you turn to with the game hanging in the balance? When there are just minutes left on the clock and your team is trailing by a few points? In the NFL, this is a question that must be answered time and time again over the course of every season.
Some players have made entire careers out of their ability to step up in the most critical moments of a contest and deliver an accurate pass or make a tremendous catch in traffic. Other guys have found themselves out of work because they simply wilted under the pressure of a game-defining moment.
Here we will look at those players who currently know how to shine their brightest when the clutch meter is kicked up to 10. These are the guys who win games for their teams because of their unique ability to stay calm under pressure and turn in outstanding performances.
There is no one definable statistic for determining the most clutch players the game has to offer, so we must turn to the scary metric of opinion and judgment. A list like this is obviously going to be dominated by QBs, but let's not spoil too much too soon.
These are the five most clutch players in the NFL today, and we start with one of the game's best quarterbacks, who also happens to play in one of the league's most storied cities...
There is more to being a clutch player than crafting game-winning drives (GWDs) and throwing touchdowns in the final seconds. Obviously those are huge factors, but some players make all the right plays at critical junctures throughout the game as well.
A crucial third-down pass in the second quarter to keep a drive alive or a deep pass to inject some life into the offense—these are the kind of clutch plays that can elevate a QB into the upper echelon of the game's signal-callers. Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers excels at these types of scenarios.
He has only five fourth-quarter comebacks (4QCs) and nine GWDs to his credit. These are respectable numbers, but seem tepid when compared to other guys on this list. The difference here is that Rodgers has made his mark so quickly in this league and already has an all-important Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP award to his credit.
Rodgers is arguably the best QB in the NFL right now because he knows how to utilize every receiver at his disposal and make the most out of the players around him. He is 52-26-0 and consistently puts Green Bay in position to win games.
The fact that Rodgers has been intercepted on just 1.7 percent of the passes he has thrown in his career only further illustrates that he rarely makes mistakes. The GWDs and 4QCs will undoubtedly come, but for now we have to look at everything else to understand how clutch Rodgers is.
The only non-quarterback on this list comes to us courtesy of Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The NFL's best WR does a lot of his damage because of the great play of his QB, Matthew Stafford, but there is no denying the clutch nature of No. 81.
Detroit has come to rely on Johnson to make the most important plays for the team when the game is hanging in the balance. Opposing defenses have taken to double- and triple-teaming Johnson on nearly every play, but he finds ways to attacks holes in coverage and make catches in heavy traffic.
His receiving yardage totals have risen in each of the last four years, as have his receptions per game. Johnson put to rest any belief in the so-called "Madden Curse" in 2012 when he broke Jerry Rice's single-season receiving yards record and solidified himself as one of the NFL's most explosive playmakers.
Detroit needs Johnson to continue his budding relationship with Stafford if the team hopes to have any hope of perennially competing in the NFC North division. However, his status as the game's most clutch wideout is definite.
Earlier in his career, Tom Brady may have been the unquestioned No. 1 player on a list like this, but he has had enough playoff failures in recent years to land at No. 3. Still not a bad spot for the New England Patriots QB with three Super Bowl victories. However, New England has failed in its last two appearances in the big game and Brady has not been able to mount a clutch win.
What he has done is rack up 26 4QCs and 37 GWDs over the course of his career. Brady is known for his ability to never waver when the pressure mounts. His demeanor is steady and he always seems to make accurate passes and smart decisions when they are required of him.
It is hard to overlook the playoff disappointments of recent years, but this is still a player that has two Super Bowl MVP awards to his credit and has recorded four GWDs in the playoffs.
The mystique is starting to wear off slightly, but there are few players more clutch than Brady in the NFL today. Another Lombardi Trophy would almost certainly solidify him as one of the most clutch players the game has ever seen.
It is hard to argue with the track record that Peyton Manning has compiled over the course of his career. He has had his playoff stumbles to be certain, but there are few quarterbacks that are more proficient near the end of games.
Manning has engineered 38 4QCs in 15 NFL seasons and added 49 GWDs in that time. Only one of those drives came in the playoffs (2006), but No. 18 has refused to slow down even as his career has worn on.
Manning missed all of 2011 due to injury, but even after switching franchises from the Indianapolis Colts to the Denver Broncos he was able to continue making clutch plays. He helped Denver to a 13-3 record, led three 4QCs and had three more GWDs last season.
He could use some more playoff magic to move higher up on this list, but it is impossible to argue with the numbers already posted by Manning. He is a future Hall of Famer and a truly clutch player.
When he entered the league, it would have been hard to imagine that Eli Manning would ever match up to his brother in any categories, but the fact of the matter is that he has proven to be a more clutch player than anyone else in football, even Peyton.
2012 was a down year for the New York Giants, as the team posted a 9-7 record, missed the playoffs and failed to capitalize on the momentum of their Super Bowl win from a season prior. However, Manning still led three GWDs and three 4QCs.
For his career, Manning has posted 24 4QCs and 28 GWDs. His late-game heroics in Super Bowl XLII will be forever remembered in the annals of NFL history and the former Ole Miss Rebel has proven that he can step up when the game is on the line.
The debate about whether Manning is an elite QB may rage on forever. However, the debate about whether he is one of the most clutch players in NFL history should be non-existent.