NFL Players that Carry Their Teams to Betting Wins
by Trevor Whenham - 11/21/2006
As I was watching San Diego come back and dismantle Denver in the second half of the Sunday night game this week, I was struck by just how good LaDainian Tomlinson is. Sure, Philip Rivers is playing very well, and there is all sorts of talent on both sides of the ball for the Chargers, but Tomlinson is such a huge part of that team that you have to think that the Chargers would be lost if he were to get hurt. They wouldn't be without hope, but it would certainly be much harder for them to win.
Some players would seem to be crucial to their teams, but their absences prove that that isn't the case. The Seahawks are a perfect example. Despite losing both their running back, the league MVP Shaun Alexander, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, the team went 2-2 when both were out and they were arguably not much worse than they would have been with both players in the line up.
I believe that the impact of losing Tomlinson would be much bigger on the Chargers than Alexander was on the Seahawks. The Seahawks can still reasonably be considered as a play without their star, but it would be hard to back the Chargers without LT. Here's a look at five players that would dramatically change the betting attractiveness of their team if they were to miss a game or more:
Tomlinson - This guy is a one-man wrecking crew. He has eight touchdowns in the last two weeks alone. His 19 rushing touchdowns are four more than any other team has rushed for, and it is more than any team but the Colts have passed for. He has run for more touchdowns than the entire offenses of almost half the teams in the league - the Packers, Rams, Texans, Panthers, Cardinals, Bills, Redskins, 49ers, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Browns, Vikings, Titans and Raiders. His impact doesn't stop there, though. He's also caught 47 passes for three touchdowns, and, to really rub it in, he's even passed for a touchdown. The potent Chargers offense has scored 38 touchdowns and he has accounted for 23 of them. That's a truly ridiculous proportion.
Some would argue that Michael Turner is a more than capable running back, and that is unquestionably true. He could run just fine if he had to fill in, but the true impact of Tomlinson isn't just carrying the ball or catching passes. It's his presence. He is so scary and so dangerous that defenses are on edge whenever he is on the field, and he creates opportunities for his team that other backs just can't.
Brett Favre - Given how truly mediocre his play has been this year, it seems odd that Favre would make this list. Somehow, though, despite his shortcomings he has found a way to help his team win more games already than I thought they would win all year. Bigger than that, though, the drop-off behind Favre is currently the biggest in the whole league. Aaron Rodgers got his shot to show what he could do against New England. Not only did he stink, but he broke his foot and is out for the season. That means that a rookie named Ingle Martin from the football powerhouse of Furman is one Favre injury away from being at the helm of the team, despite the fact that he has never thrown an NFL pass. The team will surely go shopping for another pivot, but for now Favre is absolutely indispensable. The team may not be pretty to watch with him in the game, but it would be incredibly ugly without him.
Larry Johnson - The Chiefs have 12 rushing touchdowns. Johnson has 12 rushing touchdowns. With two touchdown receptions he's also the second leading receiver. The Chiefs' offense is as one-dimensional as any in the league, and Johnson is that dimension. He is crucial to the team's success - the Chiefs have won and covered five of six games when Johnson has rushed for more than 100 yards, and just one of four when he hasn't. The Chiefs have endured crippling injuries in the past, like when Priest Holmes went down, but the difference then was that their passing game was very potent and they had more depth, like Johnson himself, to fill in. The bench depth isn't there this year, and the passing game just isn't that good.
Steve McNair - You could argue that the Ravens would be fine if McNair went down because they have Kyle Boller waiting in the wings. Boller might be technically a comparable player to McNair at this point in McNair's career, but McNair's value is so much more than how he can throw a pass. The Ravens are putting together a very good season this year, and it is largely due to the swagger that a skilled leader like McNair has brought to the team. For the first time in an eternity the Ravens have a quarterback that they trust and that can lead them competently when it gets to crunch time. With McNair taking snaps the Ravens are a dangerous playoff team. Without him, they're just another team.
Frank Gore - The 49ers have been my pet team all year, so I'm thrilled that they finally seem to have this football thing figured out. A lot of that success is due to the incredible season being put together by Frank Gore. He's just two yards behind Johnson for the league lead in rushing yards, and that's despite missing parts of two games with injuries. He's broken 100 yards in four of the five San Francisco wins, and his 212 yards against St. Louis were the main reason his team was able to beat the defending NFC champs. Alex Smith is growing and developing as a quarterback in every game, and a lot of that is because Gore keeps defenses honest and gives Smith options that he was lacking last year. The backup running back is Michael Robinson, the rookie who was quarterbacking at Penn State last season, so the team would struggle incredibly if he were out for an extended period.