More than any other sport, the NFL's best players do not necessarily find postseason glory. Barry Sanders never won a Super Bowl. Dan Marino didn't either, and with every New York Jets loss, LaDanian Tomlinson is closer to retiring without one.
There are a handful of of elite players with the opportunity to play for the Super Bowl on February 27. Here is a power ranking of the NFL's best players playing for the game's best teams.
Frank Gore is everything to the offense that Patrick Willis is to the San Francisco 49ers’ defense.
Gore sets the tone on offense, averaging 4.6 yards per carry in spite of Alex Smith’s 27th-ranked passing offense.
Call Gore the anti-Chris Johnson, as he has done everything asked of him after receiving his new contract. Gore rebounded from the worst year of his career to have one of his best, and is on pace for a 1,400-yard season.
As good as Wes Welker has been through the years, he is set to obliterate all of his personal marks.
Welker leads the NFL in catches, yards, yards per game and yards after the catch. For being known as a possession, move-the-sticks guy, Welker is averaging a solid 14 yards per catch and has six touchdowns.
Arian Foster's hamstring healed just in time. Right as Mario Williams and Andre Johnson dropped out of Houston Texans' lineup, Foster came back in a big way.
Foster has gone well over 100 yards in four of his seven games since returning from injury. Now the team will rely on the defending NFL rushing champion even more, as the injury bug has struck yet again, with the explosive play of Matt Schaub being replaced by the game-managing Matt Leinart.
For the Texans to hold on and make the playoffs, Foster will have to carry the offense.
Ray Rice has been the lone constant on the Baltimore Ravens’ offense. In fact, the only force that has been able to contain him is Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron.
Rice has nearly 1,200 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns on the year. After just five carries in the team’s upset loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Cameron was all but given an ultimatum to get Rice the ball. Rice responded with 147 total yards and two touchdowns in a big win against the Cincinnati Bengals.
He will have to pick it up a bit, but a second season with 2,000 yards from scrimmage is not out of the question.
While Tony Romo’s play has gone up, Eli Manning’s has gone down. The New York Giants are coming off two straight tough losses, and have lost control of the division they seemed to have a stranglehold on just three weeks ago.
After limiting his turnovers for the majority of the season Manning’s questionable decision-making has returned. Manning has three interceptions in the last two games, both losses.
It is not too late for Manning and the Giants, as they are a half-game behind the Dallas Cowboys with two head-to-head matchups to go.
After a maddeningly inconsistent start to the season, Tony Romo has his Dallas Cowboys on top of the NFC East.
Romo has played great football during the team’s four-game winning streak that has them half a game ahead of the New York Giants. After the embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Romo has 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.
If Romo’s hot play can continue into December (which has been the knock on his career), Dallas will take the division. With the new-found balance on offense with DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys are a team no one will want to play come playoff time.
After a blistering start to the season, Calvin Johnson has cooled off some. For a while it looked like Johnson would have a shot at Randy Moss' single-season touchdown record.
Johnson had eight touchdowns in his first four games, but has just four since. Still, Johnson has been held under 80 yards receiving just twice all year. In a marquee matchup on Thanksgiving day, Johnson was shut down by the Green Bay Packers' defense. Johnson did add to his touchdown total, but it was well after the game had been decided.
Johnson’s assault on the record books will have to wait for another year, but he is still the most feared receiver in the game.
The Green Bay Packers defense has come under scrutiny, but Charles Woodson is hardly at fault.
In the midst of a career revival as a Troy Polamalu-like playmaker, you never know where Woodson will line up. Woodson is second in the NFL in interceptions and has taken one to the house. Woodson has added two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery just to show off his versatility.
At 35 years old, Woodson shows no signs of slowing down and has to be one of the top candidates for another Defensive Player of the Year award.
Through his NFL career, Ben Roethlisberger has slowly transitioned from game manager to the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense.
He might not be Aaron Rodgers, but Roethlisberger is in the top 10 in virtually every passing category. After a slow start that saw his offensive line sending Roethlisberger toward martyrdom, Big Ben and the Steelers have picked it up.
Since the Week 4 beatdown at the hands of the Houston Texans, Roethlisberger has 13 touchdowns to four interceptions and the Steelers are 5-1. Two of the Steelers' three losses have come to the hated Baltimore Ravens, though in their second matchup Roethlisberger put his team in a position to win only to see the defense with a rare collapse at the end of the game.
After being deemed "done" after the first month, the Steelers are considered by many to be the favorite to come out of the AFC.
We might just have to start calling the San Francisco 49ers superstar linebacker “Ray Lewis West.” Everyone on that side of the country has known how good Willis has been for years. Now that the 49ers are winning games, the rest of the country is catching up.
Willis is as sure of a tackler you will find in this league. He is in the top 10 in that category and his hellacious hits have him tied for the league lead in forced fumbles.
Willis has an interception to add to his resume, and is the heart and soul of the resurgent San Francisco 49ers.
Lost in the constant coverage around Tony Romo is the fact that the Dallas Cowboys have one of the most dominant defensive stars in all of football.
Ware is leading the NFL in sacks with 14 and has a shot at Michael Strahan’s single-season record. Ware has forced two fumbles along the way, and has been a one-man wrecking crew all season.
Once again, Drew Brees is chasing Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season.
Brees finished 15 yards shy of Marino’s record in 2008. If Brees averages 300 yards per game for the rest of the year (which would actually be 33 yards below his season average to date) he will be the new single-season passing king.
For the year, Brees is tops in yards and yards per game, third in quarterback rating and fourth in touchdowns. His New Orleans Saints might be the best competition for the Green Bay Packers in the NFC; they have the experience and the explosive offense to hang with Aaron Rodgers.
In their Week 1 shootout, the game was in question until the final play.
Matt Forte has been the star of the Chicago Bears offense all season. With Jay Cutler out for the year, Forte might have just become the most valuable player in the NFL.
Forte is fourth in the NFL in rushing and is the Bears’ leading receiver with 46 catches. Only an injury will stop the back from reaching 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
He would need to tear it up in the last six games, but Forte even has an outside shot at Chris Johnson's single-season record of 2,509 yards from scrimmage.
Tom Brady again has his New England Patriots on top of the AFC East. The Patriots have to be considered one of the top candidates to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Brady’s assault on the record books has slowed, and he may indeed see some of his own records broken by Aaron Rodgers. Regardless, it has been another elite season for Brady. The two-time NFL MVP is in the top three in passing categories across the board.
If the defense ever catches up to Brady's offense, the Patriots would be the favorite to win the AFC.
If Aaron Rodgers continues on this pace, he will hold about every single-season passing record the NFL has to offer.
His quarterback rating (128.8) is 26 points ahead of second-place Tom Brady. He leads the NFL with 33 touchdowns and has a paltry four interceptions to go with them. Nearly three-quarters of his passes have been completed, as Rodgers has picked apart opposing secondaries all season.
The best player for the best team and a lock for the NFL MVP award. It is safe to call A-Rod the best player in the NFL.