|Matt Schaub on Crutches|
Most experts regard the quarterback position as the most important in all of sports. If your team has a great quarterback, a trip to the playoffs is likely. However, a great quarterback does nothing for the team while wearing a sling. Which quarterbacks need to prove that they can stay healthy in 2012?
Peyton Manning - Denver Broncos
Manning has never been chronically injured. However, he did miss all 16 games last season in his final year with the Indianapolis Colts. At the age of 36, he is entering a phase of his career when even a nagging injury will take longer to heal. Considering that he needed three neck fusion surgeries (there was a fourth procedure that went unreported) to get back into playing shape, he may be one hit away from missing all of this season as well. If that happens, the Broncos may be toast. No one thinks Caleb Hanie or Brock Osweiler can lead a team to the playoffs.
Matt Schaub - Houston Texans
Matt Schaub has played in 11 or fewer games in three out of his five seasons with the Texans. Last season, Houston was forced to finish the season with rookie T.J Yates at the quarterback position. He fared OK for a rookie, but Schaub is clearly the type of player at quarterback that the Texans need to lead a balanced attack. In his absence, the Texans have been forced to put more of the burden on running backs Adrian Foster and Ben Tate. If healthy, Schaub has the ability to throw for over 4,000 yards in a season without much effort.
Mike Vick - Philadelphia Eagles
Vick has missed seven games over the last two seasons due to various injuries. In 2003, he missed 11 games after suffering an injury in the preseason. He suffered a rib injury in a preseason game against New England a couple of weeks ago. Vick has not played since then. While he will be ready to go for the first game of the season, it has to be disconcerting to know that he refuses to stay in the pocket. The majority of his injuries have come from scrambling while trying to extend plays. If he goes down, the Eagles will have to rely on rookie Nick Foles or Trent Edwards.
Matthew Stafford - Detroit Lions
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was among a handful of quarterbacks who threw for over 5,000 yards last season. However, he has also missed 19 of a possible 48 starts in his NFL career. If he goes down, the Lions season could go down with him. Shaun Hill is a nice player, but he is not likely to be the guy who could lead you to the playoffs. This is because the Lions defense is mediocre at best once you get past Suh and Tulloch.
Sam Bradford - St. Louis
While with Oklahoma, Sam Bradford suffered a season-ending shoulder injury just three games into his senior season. Last season with the Rams, Bradford started in only 10 games. He has had issues with his shoulder as well as other various injuries. It doesn't help that he plays behind a poor offensive line that constantly gives up sacks.
For fans of these teams, it is critical that the starting quarterback stays upright for the entire season. If they don't, it can be a long season for fans in Denver, Philly, Detroit, Houston and St. Louis. As Manning showed last season, a good quarterback can mask a lot of weaknesses. It can be the difference between a playoff team and a 2-14 team.