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The crucial players for NFL teams down the stretch

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The crucial players for NFL teams down the stretch

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Bruce Hemmelgarn- US PRESSWIRE

As the halfway point arrives in the NFL, we discuss who the most important player is for his team to make a run at the playoffs.

The obvious answers are the 32 quarterbacks and although there are some signal callers on the list, that seems too easy. Most of the players on the countdown are well-known and are crucial to their team. There are three exceptions with two units and a coach appearing on this list, but you can read about that when you get to them.

Each of the players on this list has done one of two things, exceeded expectations or fell below them. They have directly been the reason their team has won or lost this season. To put it simply, these players have a major impact on the game week after week.

The criteria of who the most valuable player is for each team varies based on how the team is doing. For the teams at the top, the players selected are the ones who can make the squad even better by elevating or maintaining their play. For the teams around .500, the players are the ones who we all know can play so much better and must rise to the occasion if they want to be playing football in January. For the teams at the bottom, it comes down to the players that must singlehandedly lead their team to victory and respectability.

All in all, this list looks at the 32 players that should make the most impact in November and December, when the football starts to count for just a little bit more.

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Arizona Cardinals- Kevin Kolb

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Jennifer Stewart- US PRESSWIRE

The drop in the play from the quarterback has led to this freefall for Arizona. Kolb has to elevate his game again if the Cardinals want to get back to being relevant in the NFC West.

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Atlanta Falcons- Peria Jerry

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Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Jerry has played in all seven games for Atlanta and has six tackles. The Falcons are 26th against the run, so the defensive tackle has to be more active in the running lanes for Atlanta to continue to be a Super Bowl contender as the weather gets colder and running becomes more prevalent.

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Baltimore Ravens- Ed Reed

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Evan Habeeb- US PRESSWIRE

No Ray Lewis means the Ravens' need a new vocal leader on defense. Reed is the best safety in the league and he has to now step into a leadership role and right the ship in Baltimore.

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Buffalo Bills- Mario Williams

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Timothy T. Ludwig- US PRESSWIRE

Super Mario has not shown up in Upstate New York and if the Bills want to make a playoff push, it needs it's free agent stud to actually perform to his talent level.

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Carolina Panthers- Cam Newton

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Jeremy Brevard- US PRESSWIRE

For everything that has been said positive and negative about Newton, it is clear the Panthers will only be as successful as he is this season.

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Chicago Bears- J'Marcus Webb

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Jerry Lai- US PRESSWIRE

The only thing holding the Bears back is the offensive line. That line couldn't protect a high school quarterback and Webb is the most egregious offender of them all.

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Cincinnati Bengals- Andy Dalton

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Greg Bartram- US PRESSWIRE

When your coach calls you out for not being a good leader, something is wrong. Dalton has to elevate his game on and off the field to get the Bengals back in the thick of things.

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Cleveland Browns- Trent Richardson

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Ron Schwane- US PRESSWIRE

Nothing is right with the Browns offense except Richardson. He has to continue to grow as a runner and his progression this season will help determine how good the Browns could be in the future.

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Dallas Cowboys- DeMarco Murray

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Matthew Emmons- US PRESSWIRE

The Cowboys backfield is a mess without Murray. If Murray can stay healthy he can help take a load off of Tony Romo and develop into a true weapon on the ground.

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Denver Broncos- Willis McGahee

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Ron Chenoy- US PRESSWIRE

We all know Peyton Manning can throw the ball, but if he can get the yards in the running game, it will take the pressure off his aging body.

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Detroit Lions- Mikel Leshoure

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Howard Smith- US PRESSWIRE

The running game is important to balance the Lions' offense and Leshoure seems to have found his game in recent weeks.

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Green Bay Packers- Alex Green

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Scott Kane- US PRESSWIRE

The Packers' offense has the potential to be too one-dimensional and Green will need to find a way to force opponents to respect him running. If he doesn't Aaron Rodgers and company may meet an untimely departure yet again.

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Houston Texans- Tim Dobbins

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Brett Davis- US PRESSWIRE

Somebody has to have the uneviable job of replacing Brian Cushing and Dobbins is the lucky linebacker. He doesn't need to replicate Cushing's numbers, but he can't be the obvious weak link in an otherwise strong Texans defense.

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Indianapolis Colts- Chuck Pagano

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Brian Spurlock- US PRESSWIRE

This is the only non-player in the bunch because of how much Pagano means to the Colts. This team will elevate its game the healthier Pagano gets and will use him as inspiration for the remainder of the year.

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Jacksonville Jaguars- Cecil Shorts

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Brian Spurlock- US PRESSWIRE

Shorts has to continue to be a big target for Blaine Gabbert and make the big plays Jacksonville needs to win.

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Kansas City Chiefs- Matt Cassel

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Derick Hingle- US PRESSWIRE

This should probably be the quarterback in general, but Cassel has been a major disappointment. He has to take this team by the reins and make them respectable.

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Miami Dolphins- Reggie Bush

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Steve Mitchell- US PRESSWIRE

The Dolphins have a young quarterback, so Bush must carry the load and take the pressure off his quarterback's shoulders.

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Minnesota Vikings- Christian Ponder

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Bruce Kluckhohn- US PRESSWIRE

The Vikings' offense revolves around the running game, but Adrian Peterson can't carry this team forever. Ponder has to rise to the occassion and prove he can lead this team into the playoffs.

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New England Patriots- Aqib Talib

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Jim O'Connor- US PRESSWIRE

He may only be a member of the Patriots for a day, but New England's passing defense is so bad, Talib must be able to stabilize the unit. The pressure is on for Talib to showcase why the Patriots traded for him.

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New Orleans Saints- Defense

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Ron Chenoy- US PRESSWIRE

We know the Saints can put up points like Michael Jordan in the playoffs. However, the defense also gives up points like crazy. If New Orleans wants to win games, it must shut down the opposition on offense.

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New York Giants- Secondary

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Matthew Emmons- US PRESSWIRE

For all the credit the Giants' defense gets, their play against the pass has not been very good. They rank 26th against the pass and it's up to the secondary to play better and get New York back to the Super Bowl.

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New York Jets- Mark Sanchez

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Debby Wong- US PRESSWIRE

The Jets are a mess and no position exemplifies that mess than the quarterback. Calls for Tim Tebow to start won't be answered so its up to Sanchez to quiet the critics.

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Oakland Raiders- Michael Huff

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Josh D. Weiss- US PRESSWIRE

Although Darren McFadden would be a great choice, the Raiders will only compete if the pass defense continues to improve. Oakland's only hope of keeping the secondary together is for Huff to continue to be a leader in the back end.

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Philadelphia Eagles- Michael Vick

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Howard Smith- US PRESSWIRE

In case you do need an explanation, Vick's turnovers have destroyed the Eagles' hopes this season. Philadelphia needs its quarterback to take care of the football and give the defense a chance to win.

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Pittsburgh Steelers- Rashard Mendenhall

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Jason Bridge- US PRESSWIRE

The Steelers running game has been inconsistent and having a good running back will help alleviate that issue.

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San Diego Chargers- Phillip Rivers

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Christopher Hanewinckel- US PRESSWIRE

If the Chargers want to win the AFC West, the good Rivers needs to show up. If the bad Phillip Rivers shows up, San Diego will be in big trouble.

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San Francisco 49ers- Alex Smith

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Mark J. Rebilas- US PRESSWIRE

The defense is elite, the running game is deep and the passing game can be prolific. If Smith can repeat his Monday Night Football performance, the Niners will be a challenger for the Super Bowl.

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Seattle Seahawks- Russell Wilson

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Tim Fuller- US PRESSWIRE

The Seattle defense is there and Marshawn Lynch is a great back, so now the Seahawks need a solid passing attack. It will be up to Wilson to lead the aerial assault.

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St. Louis Rams- Danny Amendola

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Scott Rovak- US PRESSWIRE

When Amendola went down with an injury, the Rams offense fell apart. He's coming back in the next week, so the Rams can jump back into the NFC West race.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Doug Martin

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Bruce Hemmelgarn- US PRESSWIRE

The Tampa Bay offense is average, but Martin has the talent to elevate them to a good offense. He needs to continue to run hard and help them pick up chunks of yards.

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Tennessee Titans- Chris Johnson

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Don McPeak- US PRESSWIRE

The resurgence of the running back had brought with it a resurgence in Tennessee. The Titans will only go as far as Johnson takes them.

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Washington Redskins- Reed Doughty

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Debby Wong- US PRESSWIRE

The Redskins are the worst team in the league when it comes to defending the pass and the worst member of the secondary is Doughty. He only has one pass defended, not good for a safety.