I wanted to make a list of MVPs for each NFL team. Basically, the premise is this:
Which player's absence (whether due to injury, suspension, etc.) would sink a team's chances to win (whether the Super Bowl or even making the playoffs)?
I'm also eliminating quarterbacks from the discussion, because, if they were allowed on the list, it would be very boring and monotonous since most NFL teams would be sunk without their star quarterback (I'm obviously also excluding teams that are already sunk WITH their QB from the preceding statement; see the Jaguars and Bills). Of course, you may find the list boring and monotonous anyway, but that is beside the point. While Kaepernick is my obvious answer to the question for the 49ers, I am excluding him because it is more interesting that way.
Here it is:
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald, WR. Fitz is the heart and soul of this team. He embodies what it means to be a professional. Now that he actually has someone to throw to him, it would be tragic if he were somehow not able to play. If he goes down, Carson Palmer is basically playing on the Raiders all over again, and we all know how well that worked out.
Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez, TE. I don't think that the Falcons are dead in the water without Gonzalez, but I think that the lack of his consistent brilliance would really hurt them. He sets a great example for the young guys to follow. Without Abraham and Turner, his leadership will be something that the locker room will really appreciate.
Baltimore Ravens: Haloti Ngata, NT. Before this year, it would have been Ray Lewis or Ed Reed. The defense is going to need someone to play consistently and lead. I suspect that Suggs will be the leader; Ngata will be the consistent play. It is awful hard to replace a monster in the middle who can stop the run and rush the passer.
Buffalo Bills: C.J. Spiller, RB. In the case of the Bills, it might actually help to have one of their quarterbacks get hurt (not that we would ever wish that on anyone). This team needs an identity, and badly. C.J. Spiller is one of the most explosive backs in the league; I think, right now, that he is coming to understand why Marshawn Lynch forced his way out of Buffalo a few years ago.
Carolina Panthers: Jon Beason, OLB. The Panthers are hard to figure out because they don't really lean on one player, but, at the same time, they are pretty predictable. They need Smith and Stewart to be healthy, but I think that without Beason on defense they don't have much chance of stopping anyone.
Chicago Bears: Matt Forte/Brandon Marhsall RB/WR. Ok, I know I said only one player, but I think that losing either one of these guys would be devastating to the Bears' offensive attack. They have already lost their defensive juggernaut in Brian Urlacher; to mix a new coach and porous offensive line with an injury to either of the offense's key weapons would kill their chances.
Cleveland Browns: Trenton Richardson, RB. I don't expect much debate here. To win, the Browns need Richardson to produce, regardless of who is playing quarterback.
Dallas Cowboys: DeMarcus Ware, DE. The Cowboys D-Line played most of last year banged up, and it showed, especially toward the end of the season. Simply put, for this team to win, DeMarcus Ware needs to be on the field.
Denver Broncos: Von Miller, OLB. The Broncos have everything they need to win already on their team; it would REALLY hurt them if Miller went down, especially after losing Dumervil. It's not like there are a lot of guys who can replace Miller's production. Not just on the team, but in the entire NFL.
Houston Texans: Andre Johnson, WR. This was a toss-up between Arian Foster and Johnson; the Texans look really solid all around, especially after free agency. Their one question mark is this: If Johnson gets hurt, who does Schaub throw to?
Indianapolis Colts: Reggie Wayne, WR. As one of the only guys on the team who has actually won it all, Wayne's leadership and experience are essential for this young team. He will help T.Y. Hilton immensely, and his presence is for Andrew Luck what Michael Crabtree was for Colin Kaepernick.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew, RB. This team has next to no chance of winning as it is. If Jones-Drew gets hurt or goes to prison, does anyone see them winning more than 3 or 4 games this year?
Miami Dolphins: Mike Pouncey, C. Pouncey is the glue holding together the unit that protects Ryan Tannehill, especially now that Jake Long is no longer with the team. They need Pouncey's leadership and ability now more than ever.
New England Patriots: Nate Solder, LT. The key to stopping the Patriots is putting pressure on Tom Brady. As long as Solder can keep edge rushers from putting a whooping on Mr. Brady, the Patriots will be a serious threat to win any game. They can cope with losing Welker, Gronkowski, and just about anyone else as long as they have Belichick, Brady and someone who can really protect him.
New Orleans Saints: Jonathon Vilma, ILB. Could the Saints win without Colston, Sproles, or Graham? Sure. Could they win without Vilma? Sure. They still have Brees and Payton, so anything is possible. Vilma gives the defense leadership though, and him getting hurt would cause the team a lot of problems.
New York Jets: Santonio Holmes, WR. The Jets basically did not have a real QB last year, but that apparent "fact" might have something to do with Holmes getting hurt in week 4 and being done for the season. You have to remember that, after losing 34-0 to the 49ers in week 4, the Jets were still only 2-2 and in playoff contention. Their slip (tumble, really) afterwards might have had something to do with Sanchez losing his top weapon. Maybe it had something to do with chemistry and a media circus too. For now, let's give some credit to a former SB MVP.
Oakland Raiders: Charles Woodson, S. This team has been gutted, chewed up, and spit back out. They need leadership, experience, and skill at almost every position. If Woodson can do ANYTHING at all to help the young guys progress, it will be a step in the right direction for this team.
Philadelphia Eagles: LeSean McCoy, RB. This could completely change by the time the season starts. But, then again, so could everything on the Eagles. Them winning or not depends on Chip Kelly's system and whether the players really buy into it or not.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Troy Polamalu, SS. This team has a lot of question marks. Look at the past few years: When Polamalu is healthy, the Steelers are a winning team. When he is not, they can't make up for his absence. In a lot of ways, he and his hair are the keys to this unit and team being a success. Of course, there are a lot of other factors involved, but Polamalu stands out as the most glaring one.
San Francisco 49ers: Justin Smith, DE. Was there ever any question in your mind as to the answer here? Were you really thinking of Lawrence Okoye? Or Kory Sheets? Justin Smith makes the defense dominant. He defines that word that you hear coaches use so often: "motor." This is still one of my favorite clips of all time:
St. Louis Rams: Jake Long, T. If Sam Bradford is going to throw for over 4,000 yards, he needs to be on his feet and not injured. Long can do a lot to help the Rams to reach that goal. I still don't think they win the division or that they are first in anything in the division, but they can be a good team, as long as they can protect Bradford and Fisher continues with the brilliant defensive gameplanning.
San Diego Chargers: Anyone on the offensive line. Phillip. Rivers. Needs. Protection. He is a great QB, when he has time. Until the line can show some continuity, health, and skill, this team is going nowhere.
Seattle Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch, RB. No 49ers fan wants to ever see anyone get hurt. But a substance-violation suspension... Is it that unlikely? I'm joking of course, but Lynch is a beast, and he has always given the 49ers problems (and the rest of the NFL, for that matter). If he were unable to play, we would get to really see what kind of QB Russel Wilson is, as well as what kind of coach Pete Carroll is. They are both good, don't get me wrong, but in a lot of ways I think that Lynch is even more important to this team's success.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Martin, RB. The muscle hamster is absolutely essential to the Bucs success. Until Freeman shows that he is better than what everyone thinks he is (an average NFL QB), I am going to stand by this premise.
Tennessee Titans: Andy Levitre, G. He reportedly has been having some knee problems; hopefully it's nothing serious, because the Titans invested a lot of money into him. They need him to open up some holes for their running backs, especially Chris Johnson. We all remember what he can do when he has some space. He just REALLY needs some space.
There you have it. I'm sure I will be crucified a couple times over by the time you're done commenting (and probably rightly so), but I always enjoy hearing your opinions anyway.
Thanks for reading!