#8 – Eli Manning (NYG) – He declared himself one of the league’s elite last season and before the world had finished their raucous laughter over such a sentiment, Eli was hoisting his 2nd Lombardi Trophy and having the last laugh. Statistically, Eli doesn’t quite measure up to the very top echelon of NFL passing talent, but the score is the only truly important stat in the NFL, and when it mattered most Eli and the Giants won that battle over and over. He doesn’t have the array of mismatch inducing pass catchers that other top offenses boast, but he does have lots of options in the passing game in addition to a more than respectable defense and running game backing him up and a minimal enough ego to play to their strengths.
#7 – Andre Johnson (HOU) – Speaking of mismatch inducing pass catchers, Andre Johnson, when healthy is as good as any (except for perhaps Calvin Johnson). The Ravens will see him in week 7, and if he’s healthy he’ll be a handful. The Ravens were fortunate to miss him in 2011 in their regular season match-up with the Texans, but Johnson did post 111 yards on 8 catches in their playoff showdown while relying on unheralded rookie TJ Yates to get him the ball. With Matt Schaub back in the fold in 2012 Johnson will be tough for the Ravens to handle.
#6 – Tony Romo (DAL) – Romo might not stand out as the elite passer many seem to be waiting for him to become, but 2012 looks like a put up or shut up campaign for Romo and the Cowboys. He has the weapons on offense to be scary, he has offensive guru Jason Garrett calling the shots and he has as much pressure and expectation as any QB in the league going into the season. All of that could combine to make Romo and the Cowboys tough for any team to contain in 2012.
#5 – Arian Foster (HOU) – If there is a better running back in the NFL than Ray Rice at present, Arian Foster is probably it. We talked about the versatility of the Houston offense and the array of weapons at their disposal already and Foster is easily the most reliable and dangerous of those weapons. With a strong defense on their side too, Houston has the perfect bell cow back to grind out leads and shorten games. Last year the Ravens got him early in the regular season when he was less than his best, but 132 yards and a TD in the playoff game between these teams is what the Ravens and their fans know Foster to be capable of.