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Matt Ryan and 10 NFL Players Improving Most as the Season Progresses

Alex WelchCorrespondent IIDecember 2, 2011

Matt Ryan and 10 NFL Players Improving Most as the Season Progresses

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    Every NFL season is filled with ups and downs. We see players go from the center of scrutiny to the athlete held in highest regard in a single season.

    Matt Ryan has been a perfect example of this leap in gratification this year. He endured a rocky beginning only to come off his bye week red hot. In his last four games Ryan has thrown nine touchdowns and just two interceptions, a great improvement after getting picked off eight times in seven previous matchups. 

    Ryan isn't the only one whose come on strong as of late. There are plenty of stars who have picked up the pace to really stand out late in the year.

    Here's a look at several of them.

Matt Ryan

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    Let's begin with the guy we've already discussed. Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to a 7-4 record in 2011. After opening the season with a sub .500 record, the Falcons have won five of their last six, and looking ahead it doesn't appear they will be slowing down.

    Ryan has become a star in Atlanta, and despite receiving criticism after the slightest mistake, he has managed the Falcons well. With a relatively easy schedule in front of them, Ryan will have a chance to continue his momentum, potentially into the playoffs.

Plaxico Burress

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    You may not care about Plaxico Burress and his return to the field, but he has been a nice surprise for the Jets this year.

    After a slow start, Burress has become a bigger target for Mark Sanchez. He has 20 catches for 261 and five touchdowns in his last five games. He's getting a lot of looks in the red zone, and has proved that he can still compete well in this league.

Michael Bush

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    The Raider nation was pleasantly surprised to see Michael Bush do a solid job of replacing Darren McFadden. The team that lost its starting quarterback for the year and its star running back for several weeks has still managed to win despite all the adversity. 

    Bush has 530 yards on 120 carries in his past five games, and he's found the end zone in each of the past three. DMC is not expected to play again this weekend, so Bush stays in the spotlight for now.

Victor Cruz

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    The Giants are hard to figure out, but regardless of their recent woes, Victor Cruz has be a shining star on this offense. The former undrafted wideout from UMass has made a name for himself in 2011.

    Cruz has 34 catches for 559 yards in the past five weeks, and he shown off his dance moves in the end zone seven times now on the year. They may not be winning, but you probably are if Cruz is on your fantasy team. 

Jordy Nelson

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    Jordy Nelson? Where did this guy come from? After three straight seasons of catching just two touchdowns per year, Nelson now has nine for the season. He has become a much bigger target for one of the best QBs in the NFL in 2011. 

    No. 87 has never caught more than 45 passes in a season, but he is already one away from tying that mark. He's been a scoring machine in the second half of the year, and Rodgers continues to look his way often.

Sean Weatherspoon

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    Here's a guy that needs to be in the discussion for the Pro Bowl. Sean Weatherspoon has made a huge impact for Atlanta's defense in only his second year as a pro.

    Spoon has more than doubled his tackle total from 2010, and is becoming a big help in stopping the run. Curtis Lofton has also been impressive for the Falcons, but I gave Weatherspoon the nod this time.

Marshawn Lynch

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    If you watched Thursday night's game or even saw the highlights, you should know why Marshawn Lynch is on this list. The dude doesn't go down easily, and had arguably one of the best runs of the year against the Eagles.

    Lynch looked like the same, underachieving runner he's always been early in 2011, but he's made an impact for the Seahawks down the road. With 591 yards and five touchdowns in the past five games, he's been a huge factor for Seattle's recent success.

DeMarco Murray

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    Another situation where the backup RB has taken over, DeMarco Murray made the most of the action he saw while Felix Jones was hurt, and now appears to have supplanted his predecessor.

    Murray didn't see much action in the first four weeks, yet he still ranks 10th in the NFL in rushing at this point. His 253 yard outburst in Week 7 made a strong case for his role in the Cowboys' offense going forward. 

Tony Romo

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    While on the subject of the Cowboys, Tony Romo has also stood out recently, and with the help of Murray, he's led Dallas to four straight wins. 

    He is probably one of the most criticized quarterbacks in the NFL at times. When he's down, everyone lets him have it. But right now, Romo is doing what he needs to lead his team to the playoffs, and keep his haters held at bay...sort of. 

Rob Gronkowski

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    Another second-year player, Rob Gronkowski has been on a tear for the Patriots this season. Tom Brady loves this guy, and has started looking his way more in near the end zone lately.

    Gronkowski has had a solid year all around, but the reason he's on the list is due to his six touchdowns in the past four weeks. After going four weeks without a touchdown, Gronkowski is on a scoring frenzy yet again.

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