One Player Each NFL Team Relies on the Most
Sometimes teams in the NFL have off weeks and lose games they shouldn't have lost. Hey, it happens.
Usually, of course, it's because of one or two key players that can shift the course of a game with an off week.
So, who is that guy on each NFL team that will more or less determine how his team will fare through his own play? Here are my picks for the one player that each team relies on the most:
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan
With two great receivers (Julio Jones and Roddy White) and perhaps the greatest tight end to ever play the game, Tony Gonzalez, the skill position players are great in Atlanta.
They also have a pair of pretty good running backs in Michael Turner and Jaquizz Rodgers.
So their offense is pretty good. The key is quarterback Matt Ryan. When he does well, the Falcons will win. When he struggles, all those skill position players become pretty useless.
The Falcons are in the hunt for a Wild Card spot in the playoffs, and they'll need Matty Ice to be in top form to make it there.
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald
This one is a no-brainer.
The Cardinals are pretty bad, but Fitzgerald is still a top-three wide receiver. Despite having starting quarterback Kevin Kolb out with an injury, the Cardinals are still getting decent production from John Skelton, and that's mostly because of Larry Fitzgerald.
When Fitz is being double-covered, that opens up things for Arizona's other receivers.
Fitz is Arizona's only elite weapon on offense, which is likely why they've done so much to keep him happy (like paying him a ridiculous amount of money and trading for Kevin Kolb).
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis
I think everyone can agree that the Ravens are great because they have a great defense. You could argue that just about any starter they have is one of the best at his position, so picking the most important player on the team can be tough.
Why Ray Lewis then? Because he's their leader.
Despite being sidelined the last two weeks with a toe injury, you can still see Lewis walking along the sidelines pumping the other defenders up and keeping spirits high.
He may be gone after this season, but he'll go down as maybe the best inside linebacker in the history of the NFL, and he's earned that title.
Buffalo Bills: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Well, the Bills started out strong, but they seem to be flat-lining, and I think that Ryan Fitzpatrick has had a lot to do with that.
Every game that Buffalo has lost has been a game that Fitzpatrick has played badly in.
Against Cincinnati, Fitzpatrick only completed 58 percent of his passes. Against the Giants, he threw as many interceptions as he did touchdowns. In the last three games, Fitz has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and completed fewer passes than he usually does.
When Fitzpatrick does well, Buffalo does well, and when he struggles, they lose. They really do depend on him.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton
Cam Newton exploded onto the NFL this season in the same way he did at the college level last season. He's currently eighth in total passing yards among quarterbacks, and he's amassed an additional 411 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns, just for good measure.
He will be the future of this franchise and the key to their success in the years to come.
Chicago Bears: Matt Forte
This was a tough choice between Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, but with the season Forte has been having, I had to go with him.
Forte has rushed for 926 yards on only 186 attempts, and he's done so behind a horrible offensive line. He only has three touchdowns, but that's because Marion Barber gets a lot of goal-line carries.
With Cutler now out for the year with a broken thumb, Forte will be the key to keeping the Bears on track for the postseason. If he can keep doing what he's been doing, the Bears ought to win enough games to sneak into the playoffs.
Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green
Cincinnati really hit it out of the park with its first two draft picks last year. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have both been phenomenal this season, especially when you remember that they're both rookies.
With Green out against Baltimore, Cincinnati lost 31-24. You can bet having A.J. Green in there would have helped immensely and may have been the push they needed to come out on top of the Ravens.
A.J. Green will be back this week, and even if he isn't at 100 percent, he'll demand double coverage and will still put up decent numbers.
Cleveland Browns: Joe Haden
The one exciting player that the Browns boasted, Peyton Hillis, has been a virtual non-factor this season.
At least they still have shutdown corner Joe Haden. Beyond him, they've got a lot of needs.
Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo
When he's on, he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league. When he's off, he costs them games.
The Cowboys have all the talent in the world on paper, but they can't seem to put it all together. Whether that lack of leadership comes from the coaches or from the players is anyone's guess. But either way, Romo has to shoulder a lot of that responsibility.
For better or worse, the Cowboys are relying on Romo now. If he can do well for the remainder of the season, he could get them into the postseason.
Denver Broncos: Tim Tebow
As an avid Tebow hater, it's hard for me to write this, but he is the most important player on the Broncos roster right now.
Tebow is winning games for the Broncos. He's played badly for the most part, but when it matters, he can put together a game-winning drive.
I still think that he won't be able to succeed as a quarterback in the NFL, but he's keeping the Broncos afloat for now, and that's all you can ask for.
Detroit Lions: Calvin Johnson
What's great about Detroit isn't its offense, it's its defense. However, there is no one player on the defense as central to the team's success or failure as wideout Calvin Johnson.
In my opinion, Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in the league, hands down.
Yes, better than Andre Johnson, better than Larry Fitzgerald.
The Lions defense has been a force to be reckoned with, but there's a distinct lack of discipline on the team, especially on the defense, that is holding them back. Until they fix those issues, they won't be a legitimate playoff threat.
Calvin Johnson, though, has continued to do everything he can as a wide receiver. When he's there, he delivers and gives 100 percent every time.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers
Is this even a contest? Quarterback is the most important position in the game, and the Packers just happen to have the best quarterback in the game right now.
The Packers are stacked with talent at every position, so they don't overly rely on any one player, but it still goes without saying that their quarterback is their most important asset.
Houston Texans: Arian Foster
First of all, let me say, Go Vols!
But seriously, all bias aside, the former University of Tennessee back may be the best running back in the league when he's healthy.
Foster led the league in rushing yards last season and led running backs in total yards as well. With Matt Schaub out for the rest of the season with an injury, the Texans offense will rely more and more on Foster.
Whether it be in run plays or dumpoff passes, Arian Foster is a critical part of Houston's offense. If the Texans make the playoffs this season, it'll be because of Arian Foster more than anyone else.
Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning
The Colts are postseason regulars with Peyton Manning and are 0-10 without Manning. That's all that needs to be said about that.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew
The AFC South is all about running backs.
Maurice Jones-Drew is a top-five running back, without a doubt. Since Jacksonville has no elite receivers and a rookie quarterback, he's also, by a large margin, the most important player on Jacksonville's offense.
Of course, he can't win games by himself. Jones-Drew has put up 941 yards on 212 carries this season. He's done that while defenses have keyed on him completely. That'll happen when you're the only viable weapon on an offense.
Without Jones-Drew, the Jaguars would go from bad to Colts-level awful.
Kansas City Chiefs: Brandon Flowers
Kansas City has a lot of problems. Jamaal Charles, their best offensive player, has been out all season with a torn ACL, as has Eric Berry, one of their better defenders.
Matt Cassel has been inconsistent this season, as has Dwayne Bowe. In short, it's been a long season for Chiefs fans.
Probably the player they depend on the most right now is cornerback Brandon Flowers. He's been great all year, and, like the Browns, that's pretty much all they've been able to depend on from week to week.
Miami Dolphins: Matt Moore
Who would've thought, at the beginning of the season, that Matt Moore would be starting for the Dolphins and would be doing a great job? Not me, certainly.
This season, Moore has completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,607 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. Better yet, he seems to be improving. He has led the Dolphins to close losses to the Cowboys and the Giants, along with victories over the Chiefs, Redskins and Bills.
If he keeps up the good work, the Dolphins may not be picking a quarterback in the 2012 draft.
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson
Last year, I would've argued that Chris Johnson was a better running back than Adrian Peterson. Now, Peterson is still coming on strong while Chris Johnson has fallen by the wayside.
Peterson has earned his reputation as the league's premiere running back. He's rushed for 872 yards this season, and he's done that with defenses keying on him every down. Despite defenses stacking the box with as many as eight players, he's still put up those respectable numbers.
Peterson got paid even more than Chris Johnson did this offseason, but at least he's trying to earn it.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady
Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks that ever played the game, and he's still phenomenal. There's really no explanation necessary for this one.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees
See the last slide and insert "Drew Brees" wherever you see "Tom Brady."
New York Giants: Eli Manning
Everyone made fun of Eli Manning in the offseason when he put himself in the same category of elite players as his brother Peyton and Tom Brady. Well, this year, he's starting to look like he may have been right.
Manning has completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,952 yards, 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He's also been a clutch player when the situation calls for it.
He may not be on Brady or his brother's level, but he's certainly been an elite player this year.
New York Jets: Darrelle Revis
Wide receivers on Revis Island have wrecked my fantasy team this season so far, and I'm not alone.
Mark Sanchez is terrible. Period. The Jets have gotten by on their defense. And who happens to be the best player on that defense? Everyone knows it's Darrelle Revis.
Despite the very low number of targets that his opposing receivers gets, Revis already has four interceptions this season.
He's the best corner in the game, and the Jets depend on that to win games.
Oakland Raiders: Whoever's Playing Running Back
Whether it's Michael Bush or Darren McFadden as their primary back, the Raiders rely on the running game to win.
Philadelphia Eagles: Michael Vick
Vick has had a rough year, and the Eagles' win total reflects that.
Despite being labeled as the Dream Team, due to the large number of big-name free agents they picked up in the short offseason, the Eagles are 4-6 this year. With Nnamdi Asomugha out for the time being, their chances of coming back from a slow start are even worse.
The Eagles seem to be in a place where they can't decide whether they're good or not. Whichever they are, they better figure it out soon, or they'll be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
Michael Vick was superhuman last season, and he'll need to bring back some of that if he wants to get his team into the postseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Troy Polamalu
The Steelers defense started out slow this season, but the Steelers are still in the running for the AFC North title.
Some may pick James Harrison as the leader of this defense, but I disagree. I think Polamalu is the one who makes this defense tick.
Every time that play stops (and the Steelers are on defense), Polamalu is there. He is never far from the ball.
While NFL Network may disagree, I think that Troy Polamalu is the best safety in the league today.
He's the best player on the team, and if nothing else, he's certainly much classier than James Harrison.
San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers
Again, a quarterback.
Rivers has been struggling this year, and it shows. He's thrown 17 interceptions this season. That's a lot.
The AFC West is still wide open and the Chargers could still win it, but for that to happen, Rivers is going to have to get his act together.
San Francisco 49ers: Jim Harbaugh
I can't think of a single player that the 49ers rely on too heavily.
However, whatever it is that Harbaugh is doing in San Francisco, he's doing it right.
The same team that went 6-10 last season in the weakest division in the NFL is now 9-2. One of those losses came in overtime, and the other came when they had to travel across the country after a mere three days' rest against a very good Ravens team (that his brother was coaching).
Harbaugh seems to be doing everything right in San Francisco, so the Niners have a bright future ahead of them.
Seattle Seahawks: Lady Luck
The Seahawks are bad. Even their wins are against teams they should have lost to.
They don't depend on one player; what they've depended on, so far, is that the Giants and Ravens played badly enough to lose to them (the Rams are also that terrible).
The only player that the Seahawks rely on is Lady Luck.
St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford
The Rams are terrible this year, and Bradford is having a sophomore slump. Think they might be related?
I don't blame Bradford much. His receivers are dropping balls like crazy and his protection is terrible. The Rams ought to have a high enough draft pick this season to fix at least one of those problems.
Bradford is their future, come hell or high water.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: LeGarrette Blount
I bet the Titans now wished they hadn't cut LeGarrette Blount after picking him up in undrafted free agency.
Blount is definitely a top-10 running back, and when he's healthy, he may be a top-five guy this season.
In the eight games he's played in this season, Blount has gathered up 541 rushing yards on only 118 carries. Not bad for an undrafted free agent.
Josh Freeman has been having an off year this season, and so Blount's play has become much more important to the Buccaneers this season. Now that he's healthy again and the Buccaneers are on the outside of the playoff race, Blount will only become more important.
Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson
Holdouts seem to work pretty well if the goal is money. If the goal is staying in top physical condition, they don't.
Chris Johnson has had a worse year than anyone could have predicted. So far, he's only rushed for 509 yards on 160 attempts.
Not coincidentally, the Titans are 5-5. Without Johnson, the Titans went from a perennial playoff contender to the lower end of mediocre. If they can get their running game back up to par, then they'll be in good shape again, but until that time, they'll be struggling.
Washington Redskins: Rex Grossman
The Redskins started strong, but are terrible now.
Rex Grossman, the Redskins starting quarterback, has always been inconsistent, and that reflects the Redskins this season. They started strong, but were revealed as pretenders before long.
Now, they're looking to have one of the top picks in the draft.
They do have a pretty good defense, but it isn't dependent on a single player. If they could get decent quarterback play, they may be contenders. Until that time, they'll be bottom dwellers.