A lone football player can only accomplish so much. A star receiver needs his quarterback, and the quarterback needs his offensive line. A sack artist needs someone to run interference, and a shutdown cornerback needs the sack artist to generate pressure. Football is a true team sport, and those who distinguish themselves as stars only do so with the help of their teammates. One player does not automatically make a team great, despite some players who have come close to accomplishing that feat over the years.
However, there is a lot that a great player can do on the right team. There’s a good reason that the best teams in the league draft last, and that reason is that the right team can make use of special pieces of talent in a way that teams with certain roster deficiencies can not. The top teams in the NFL are often separated by mere degrees, and the right player can close the gap between contenders and champions. While that player sometimes take an unexpected form, the top contenders in the NFL can all benefit from the contributions of the right person in a specific role. These are the top 15 NFL teams that are one player away from a Super Bowl.
15 Houston Texans - Quarterback
The Houston Texans suffered through an uneven 2016 season, but they’re not nearly as far from a Super Bowl as their worst moments would have you believe. The Texans have a solid defense, a great running back, and a stellar wide receiver. As you might suspect, their biggest weakness at the moment is quarterback. Let’s face it, the Texans do not have a franchise quarterback on the roster. At present, it feels like their best chance to get that quarterback - at least for a couple of seasons - is to somehow sign Tony Romo. Otherwise, they’re going to have to get very lucky in the draft or make a huge trade. Either way, the Texans will be a team to fear if they can get a true quarterback on the roster.
14 Minnesota Vikings - Offensive Tackle
The Vikings were dealt a huge blow this offseason when Minnesota confirmed that Adrian Peterson was not going to be returning to the roster. While no team has ever improved by losing one of the best running backs in the league, you do have to remember that the Vikings haven’t been able to depend on the services of Peterson for a few years. Despite this, they’ve still managed to put together some impressive runs that just kind of fall apart.
A running back can certainly help that, but it’s becoming clear that the real weak spot on the Vikings roster is somewhere along the offensive line. Until Minnesota finds a dominant offensive lineman, it doesn’t matter who is running the ball. With that offensive lineman - preferably a tackle - the sky is the limit.
13 Arizona Cardinals - Quarterback
The hard truth about the Arizona Cardinals is that they have been underachieving for some time. You look at the level of talent the Cardinals have across the board, and it’s almost impossible to believe you aren’t looking at a perennial Super Bowl contender. As difficult as it is to say, the Cardinals' problem is the big question mark that hovers above their quarterback. Some will argue that Carson Palmer is capable of leading this team to a Super Bowl, but even when Palmer has been healthy, he hasn’t shown that he is definitively the man for the job. Arizona doesn’t need an Aaron Rodgers level quarterback at the helm, but they do need someone that is able to effectively manage the game and occasionally throw a bomb down the field.
12 Miami Dolphins - Linebacker
The Miami Dolphins kind of snuck up on some people last year, but the truth is that Miami has been assembling an impressive roster for some time. Jarvis Landry is a top-10 wide receiver, Jay Ajayi is looking like the real deal at running back, and Ryan Tannehill is starting to look like the guy that the Dolphins were hoping he would become. As you’ve probably noticed, none of those guys play on the Dolphins' defense. While Miami isn’t the most defensively deficient team in the league, they have serious needs on the defensive side of the ball that are keeping them from achieving their full potential. Now, if Miami can find a way to secure a feared linebacker, then the defense they do have suddenly starts to look like a contender.
11 Carolina Panthers - Offensive Tackle
A year after looking like they could take on the world, the Carolina Panthers turned in a 2016 season that could most generously be described as forgettable. Many people have thrown out theories regarding what exactly happened, and many of those theories have centered around Cam Newton. While Newton’s last season wasn’t nearly as brilliant as his Super Bowl run, the real problem in Carolina is the Panthers' offensive line. Newton could use a little more help at wide receiver, but even a star receiver will only help him so much if he’s constantly being forced to look for the running option. Some have also said that the Panthers are weak at running back, but again, even a guy like Adrian Peterson would struggle behind their current O-line. A right tackle would be nice, but even an interior upgrade would help.
10 New York Giants - Running Back
The Giants made headlines recently when they added Brandon Marshall to the team. While Marshall may prove to be the second option Eli Manning sometimes needs, Marshall doesn’t feel like the guy that is going to help the Giants reach the Super Bowl once more. After all, the biggest problem with the Giants is that they’re still forcing Eli to throw the ball over 40 times a game way too often. The modern NFL may emphasize the passing game more than ever, but no quarterback should be forced into that position that often. We don’t know what the full story behind the Marshall signing is, but it feels like the Giants would have been better off investing that money into a true three-down running back that the Giants can lean on. If New York gets that, then they’ll be truly scary.
9 Pittsburgh Steelers - Outside Linebacker
The Pittsburgh Steelers were a hard team to figure out last season. At their best, they looked like a team that was primed to destroy the competition en route to a dominating Super Bowl victory. At their worst, they looked lifeless and unable to compete. Even when the Steelers were at their worst, though, it was hard to identify the offense as the source of the team’s troubles. As strange as it is to say, the Steelers defense if finally starting to look like the franchise’s biggest problem. They just don’t have the dominant defensive forces they used to regularly keep on the roster. This problem is especially noticeable at the linebacker position where James Harrison is being forced to shoulder too much weight. Get an outside linebacker in there to help with the pass rush, and the Steelers will be set.
8 Seattle Seahawks - Offensive Tackle
You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. While Seahawks fans everywhere respected the contributions of Marshawn Lynch, few people respected just how important Lynch was to the dominant style of play that defined the Seahawks in recent years. Without Lynch, the Seahawks are forced to rely on Russell Wilson to be at his very best on every play. For now, let’s assume that Eddie Lacy is going to step and up and be the power runner that Seattle needs. Even if that is the case, the Seahawks are facing an offensive tackle problem that they have been waiting to address for a long time. Seattle doesn’t need a completely new offensive line, but they could use a serious upgrade at tackle. With an anchor player at the tackle position, the Seahawks will have the chance to really see what their offense can do.
7 Kansas City Chiefs - Wide Receiver
Yes, the departure of Jamaal Charles does mean that the Chiefs are in an awkward position at running back. Yes, Alex Smith is still not a quarterback that can carry this team. None of that really matters as much as the problem that Kansas City faces at the wide receiver position. The Chiefs receiving core is arguably the worst in the NFL. Kansas City has tried for years to win without a star receiver on their squad, and they’re proving that sometimes you really do need a playmaker on the outside for more than just some highlight reel appearances.
While there is no simple solution out there for the Chiefs in regards to acquiring that big name receiver, that doesn’t change the fact that true star on the outside will complete the Chiefs roster.
6 Detroit Lions - Running Back
Were it not for the fact that Matt Stafford helped pull the Lions from the jaws of defeat several times throughout the 2016-17 season, Detroit would have had a miserable season. The Lions are still licking the wound they suffered from the departure of Calvin Johnson, but if you’re honestly examining the Lions' biggest problems, it’s hard to say that replacement receiver is the answer. Besides, who can come in and replace Calvin Johnson? No, the real issue with the Lions is still their lack of a real running back. They’ve gone for years without a true running back on their roster, and the Lions lack of a real running game is finally starting to haunt them. Jamaal Charles is obviously the most intriguing option out there for the Lions, but any acquisition would make them better than they are.
5 Indianapolis Colts - Defensive Lineman/Defensive End
The fall of the Colts has been one of the most shocking stories of the last couple of seasons. Despite having one of the best quarterbacks in the league throwing to one of the best wide receivers in the league, the Colts continuously find themselves playing catch-up. You might think that they could solve this problem by replacing Frank Gore with some fresh legs, and while you may be right, the Colts’ running back problems are nothing compared to their defensive line issues. Whether it’s an interior player or a defensive end, the Colts need someone who is going to pressure the quarterback and ensure that the good work that Luck regularly does isn’t undone after a single defensive series. A few more sacks could very well be the Colts’ ticket to the Super Bowl.
4 Oakland Raiders - Running Back
If you’re saying to yourself that the Oakland Raiders could have made a real playoff run if Derek Carr had been healthy...well, you might be right. The Raiders had no answer for Carr’s sudden injury and looked absolutely helpless without their star quarterback on the field. As easy as it is to say that the Raiders are all set so long as Carr is healthy, Latavius Murray was their starting running back in 2016 there is a reason why he doesn’t spring to mind when you think of dominant runners. In any event, he's now in Minnesota, so the Raiders need an answer at the position.
Now, if you put someone like Adrian Peterson in the Raiders’ backfield, then suddenly you’ve got an offense that could win it all under any circumstances. Marshawn Lynch has also been in the news and seems to be willing to come out of retirement to play for his hometown Raiders. If the Raiders sign him and get Beastmode, then that can indeed be the missing piece.
3 Dallas Cowboys - Defensive End
The Cowboys’ needs were a lot easier to address before the team lost a significant portion of their starting defensive backfield this last week. The Cowboys were already a little thin on pass defense and the departures of Barry Church, Brandon Carr, and Morris Claiborne only makes that part of their game worse. Here’s the thing about that, though. The Cowboys might not be better without the services of those players, but even with those guys on the roster, the Cowboys still had pass defense problems that stem from the team’s inability to generate a consistent pass rush.
Departures or no departures, the Cowboys still need a defensive end that is going to be able to pressure the quarterback on every snap. With that, the Cowboys defensive will significantly improve even with the recent free agent losses.
2 Green Bay Packers - Cornerback
At some point, you’ve got to feel for Aaron Rodgers. Sure, he’s one of the highest paid players in the league and arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, but it sometimes feels like Rodgers is expected to win the game single-handedly. What’s amazing is that he’s often able to do just that. For the few times he can’t, however, the Packers need to step up and start addressing the Packers’ deficiencies. The Packers can improve their team in a few ways, but the addition of a shutdown corner may be the single missing piece that completes the Packers championship puzzle. With that cornerback on the roster, Rodgers can afford to be off his game from time to time and still be confident that his efforts are going to keep the Packers ahead.
1 Denver Broncos - Quarterback
While nobody thought that the Broncos were going to get better when Peyton Manning left, few people could have predicted just how unprepared Denver was for Manning’s departure. Denver has tried to use a combination of Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, and Paxton Lynch to answer their quarterback question, but nothing has worked thus far. Now, if you’re feeling generous, you could say that Denver just needs to commit to either Siemian or Lynch and build around them. Honestly, though, this is a team that shouldn’t look as bad as they sometimes do when those guys are at quarterback.
The better option seems to be for the Broncos to step up and go get that star quarterback. While a guy like Tony Romo might only solve their problems for one or two seasons, the Broncos could do amazing things during that time.