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Gridiron 11

Gridiron 11

Our great national crisis is over ... again. I'm not referring to the pullout of the last U.S. combat troops from Iraq. I refer to the annual announcement-three years and counting now-that has had football fans, reporters and players alike all kowtowing to the NFL's all-time passing leader. Finally, the Vikings' three wise men (Jared Allen, Steve Hutchinson and Ryan Longwell) convinced the man to come down from the mountain in Mississippi with word of his intentions. It's official: Brett Favre will return as Vikings quarterback in 2010. Let the rejoicing begin.

Even the most ardent Favre supporters must admit that his days as a Top-5 or Top-10 fantasy quarterback have long since passed, but the fantasy lead, buried in the simple statement that Favre will play, is the effect that he has on the players around him. Now Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Visanthe Shiancoe and even Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart won't have to endure playing in the horror we've all seen before-a Tarvaris Jackson-operated offense-and therefore are all much more valuable for it.

While his MVP days are gone, Favre is still one of the most exciting players in the league, and more important, he's among the most pivotal players in fantasy leagues, with pivotal defined here as someone whose play affects the stats of numerous members of his team, a concept much different from most valuable players. As we count down the 11 most pivotal fantasy players, you'll notice that Chris Johnson and Maurice-Jones Drew aren't listed. That's because their teams, the Titans and Jaguars, respectively, are nearly devoid of fantasy talent. Either can be considered among the league's most valuable players, but their absence wouldn't kill their teammates' fantasy worth, since there's not much other value there to begin with. Same goes for Drew Brees, who, although he plays in a potent offense, doesn't have any sure-thing every-week starters around him save Marques Colston.

So, let's get on with it, fantasy football's most pivotal players.

For more insights, follow SI's fantasy expert David Sabino on Twitter at SI_DavidSabino.

1Brett Favre, Vikings
Brett Favre, Vikings
Slotting Vikings in preseason rankings was the hardest part of the whole offseason Favre guessing game. Without him they all would've dropped at least a few notches, including Adrian Peterson, who would have reacquired the bull's eye on his back and realized that touchdowns were tougher to come by during Tarvaris Jackson's days.
 
2Peyton Manning, Colts
Peyton Manning, Colts
Not only would the loss of Manning be devastating to his owners, but also you'd be able to hear the cries of agony from those heavily invested in Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, the two Colts who would be most adversely affected by any games Curtis Painter started. Luckily, Manning has shown up for work every week that he's been paid since entering the league.
 
3Tom Brady, Patriots
Tom Brady, Patriots
We saw two years ago what the Pats offense looks like without Tom Terrific, and it isn't pretty. Without him New England's running game is exposed for what it really is, a mishmash of third-stringers. Further, Wes Welker (timing patterns) and Randy Moss (deep accuracy throws) are much less of a threat with Brian Hoyer under center.
 
4Carson Palmer, Bengals
Carson Palmer, Bengals
With so many egos running patterns for the Bengals it takes someone with the strong personality and pedigree (if no longer the arm strength) of Palmer to keep everyone happy. An emergency situation would put the unproven Jordan Palmer or the useless J.T. O'Sullivan in charge, rendering the tiger attack untamed and therefore toothless.
 
5Frank Gore, 49ers
Frank Gore, 49ers
The first topic defensive coordinators must address when game-planning for the Niners is how to stop Gore, San Francisco's top offensive weapon and leading rusher over the past five seasons. Without him, the running backs would be newly-signed Brian Westbrook and rookie Anthony Dixon, who was fighting for a backup job with a guy (Glen Coffee) who decided to retire. To be effective the Niners have to be a run-first team. Without Gore, defenses can pressure Alex Smith, draining the values of Vernon Davis (asked to stay in to block more), Michael Crabtree (more safeties can stay home to help in the secondary instead of stacking the line) and even the defense (shorter offensive drives mean a more tired and vulnerable D).
 
6Ray Rice, Ravens
Ray Rice, Ravens
If the Ravens are, as recent reports have suggested, shopping Willis McGahee, then Rice's indispensability gets even more magnified since neither Le'Ron McClain nor Jalen Parmelee, or any combination of both would be able to carry the load like this yards-from-scrimmage machine. Like the Niners, the Ravens must have a running game to thrive, or else defenses can sit back in coverage, forcing Joe Flacco into mistakes, thus limiting the value of receivers like the newly-acquired Anquan Boldin.
 
7Donovan McNabb, Redskins
Donovan McNabb, Redskins
Curiously, McNabb's No. 13 quarterback ranking in SI's Fantasy Football annual drew the ire of Philadelphia talk radio last week as too low, but it was more a reflection of the talent (or lack thereof -- Joey Galloway? Really? No, really?) surrounding the veteran signal-caller than his abilities on the gridiron. Unfortunately for the Redskins, who weren't able to adequately fix a faulty offensive line, the fragile McNabb likely will be banged up again (he's played in all 16 games in just three of his 11 seasons), setting up a scenario where mistake-prone Rex Grossman takes the reins, a painful image for those who believe in the development of Devin Thomas and Fred Davis, Chris Cooley's comeback and Clinton Portis' renaissance.
 
8Andre Johnson, Texans
Andre Johnson, Texans
Very few players can control a game from the split end position, but Johnson is a rare talent. Without fantasy football's finest receiver causing havoc all over the field, defenses wouldn't have to double or even triple account for anybody, covering Jacoby Jones or Kevin Walter with their base offenses. They could also concentrate efforts on stopping Arian Foster and Steve Slaton out of the backfield, putting even more pressure on a running game already thinned by the curse of the Auburn Tigers backs, which added out-for-the-season rookie Ben Tate to its list. And that's to say nothing of Matt Schaub, who would go from being one of the league's top passers to just another maintenance QB in a hurry.
 
9Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
One of the top two quarterbacks and Top-10 players overall in fantasy football, Rodgers' supporting cast isn't as flashy as Manning's or Favre's, but there will be plenty of fantasy-productive Packers, all of whom benefit from their perennial 4,000-yard, 28-TD thrower. Thinking of Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley and Donald Driver running routes with Matt Flynn (64 career yards) running the show is the stuff of nightmares.
 
10Philip Rivers, Chargers
Philip Rivers, Chargers
He's already being asked to replace the greatest running back of this generation, so the last thing rookie Ryan Mathews needs is the added pressure of leading an offense that ranked second-to-last in rushing last season without it's Pro Bowl quarterback. There is some good news, though: Mathews could hold Fresno State Bulldogs alumni meetings in San Diego's backfield with backup quarterback Billy Volek.
 
11Michael Turner, Falcons
Michael Turner, Falcons
In Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood, the Falcons have two capable backups, but nobody fears them like they fear Turner, a 2008 revelation. But last season the rest of the offense, from Matt Ryan to Tony Gonzalez to Roddy White, all saw their averages drop with Turner suffering from a high ankle sprain that cost him five-plus contests. Turner's return will let the Falcons resume their climb up the NFC pecking order.
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