American football is the ultimate team game.
If all 11 players on the field do their job, one team can dominate the rest of the league each and every week. But, at the same time, there are certain players who make a bigger impact than others.
Here are four players, one from each of the teams in the AFC North, who will have to bring their A games this season if they want his respective team to go all the way this season.
Baltimore: Tom Zbikowski
With All Pro safety Ed Reed likely out for at least the first six weeks of the season, Baltimore's defensive success will hinge on the performance of the secondary. Baltimore's defensive backfield suffered a second huge blow with the news that cornerback Domonique Foxworth will miss the entire season with a torn ACL which he suffered in camp.
In four starts for the Ravens last season, Zbikowski recorded 14 tackles and intercepted two passes. This is his chance to prove himself as he is entering his third NFL season.
Cincinnati: Cedric Benson
Benson ran in to more trouble this offseason, but will not be suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell, fortunately for him. Despite the addition of future Hall of Fame wideout Terrell Owens, I think Benson is one of the most important pieces of this offense. Palmer has weapons with Owens and Ochocinco, but that just means defenses are going to adjust their gameplan to stop the two All Pros, in my opinion. Cincinnati is going to have to keep the offense as balanced as possible, so Benson will still get his carries and will need to put up numbers much like his 2009 campaign if the Bengals want to be able to wrap games up late in the fourth quarter.
They can finish the regular season with a great record just by having Palmer air it out to Ochocinco and T.O., but if they expect to play well in the playoffs, the success of Benson is extremely important.
Cleveland: Shaun Rogers
Cleveland's defense ranked 29th against the pass and 28th against the run last season. In my opinion this was because Cleveland's 3-4 scheme lacked a consistent nose tackle hold the front seven together. The 350 pound tackle missed five games, recording just 27 tackles and two sacks this past season. When healthy, Rogers can really do some damage to an offensive and wreak some havoc in the backfield.
He looks to be close to his regular self so far, meaning we could see another 2007 or 2008-esque campaign (played all 32 possible games in those two seasons while making a combined 87 solo tackles and 11.5 sacks).
Pittsburgh: whoever wins the quarterback battle in camp
It's likely that Ben Roethlisberger's suspension will be downgraded to four games instead of the original six, but Pittsburgh's quarterback for the first four weeks will need to play mistake-free ball in order to put Roethlisberger in a good position once he does return. Right now it looks as though the battle is between Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich.
Next: AFC East