The Schein Nine  

 

Jay Cutler, Von Miller headline nine players who can be trusted

Earlier this week, I hit you with nine guys not to be trusted down the stretch of the season.

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Now, I'm in a good mood.

In no particular order, here are nine guys I believe in this holiday season, going beyond the obvious Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings of the league.

1) Jay Cutler

That's right. I believe in Jay Cutler.

Now I don't believe in Gabe Carimi and the Chicago Bears' offensive line. I am concerned about the injuries to the bevy of key players last week. But I don't worry about the quarterback.

Forget the demeanor. Forget the shoving of teammates or tuning out and walking away from coaches. Focus for a second on Cutler's presence. Think about how grotesque the Bears were against Houston and San Francisco without him. Visualize the laser he hummed to Matt Spaeth for a touchdown last week. You can dream about the incredible and unstoppable connection with Brandon Marshall.

Cutler was horrible against Green Bay in Week 2. There is no denying that. But he has been the epitome of clutch ever since. Sure, he doesn't light up the scoreboard or win you your fantasy league. All he does is make the important plays, specifically against Carolina in the fourth quarter.

Cutler has the Seattle Seahawks and their tough defense this weekend. I predict we see vintage Cutler. He will make a throw or two that will make you cringe. He will yell at someone. His body language will be questioned. And the Bears will win. That's Jay Cutler.

Plus, I predict he will be the difference when they get revenge on the Packers in Chicago come Week 15. While I'm at it, Cutler will also lead them to wins against Minnesota, Arizona and Detroit to run the table.

It should be a great lasting image for the fine folks over at Smokin' Jay Cutler.

2) NaVorro Bowman

He's the straw that stirs the drink for the San Francisco 49ers on defense. Fellow linebacker Ahmad Brooks made a fascinating point to me on the SiriusXM Blitz this week, comparing the Niners defenders to pitchers in a successful starting rotation. Brooks said, "I see NaVorro making plays, Pat (Patrick Willis) doing his thing, Aldon (Smith) sacking the quarterback, our defensive backs, everyone wants to stay in line and be the next one to make a play and change the game."

Bowman is a star. Jim Harbaugh can afford to play musical chairs with his quarterback and look for more explosiveness and upside with Colin Kaepernick. He knows he has the best defense in the NFL, anchored by Bowman, to make his team a force.

3) Von Miller

If you haven't noticed, the Denver Broncos' offense has sputtered just a tad. Now, don't misinterpret. I stand by my bold prediction on NFL.com that Peyton Manning and the Broncos win every game down the stretch, even sans Willis McGahee. But Knowshon Moreno's consistency does worry me a bit, since he had been glued to the pine all season.

But Von Miller helps keep Denver complete and in the mix for a legit Super Bowl run.

Miller is in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. He's a dominant, game-changing sack master who disrupts with constant pressure and beats double-teams. Miller has 14 sacks on the year. Take a look at the Broncos' remaining schedule. He's a lock to get 20.

4) Andy Dalton

Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden talked for three straight minutes when I asked him about Dalton's leadership and growth from last season. He referenced Dalton's smarts, work ethic, improved leadership and edge. Gruden gushed about his ability to get the Bengals in and out of run plays. This is beyond statistics, beyond what it says on the back of Dalton's bubble gum card as just a second-year player in the NFL.

Dalton is a stud. And he plays with the best receiver in the NFL this season in A.J. Green. Those two have built an incredible rapport. But Dalton has learned not to force the ball into one receiver, getting Mohamed Sanu involved recently. Gruden stressed to us how there is "no ego" on offense, whether it runs through Green, BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Jermaine Gresham. And that selfless attitude starts with Dalton.

Look at what the kid has accomplished in two short years. He's a winner. Andy Dalton is leading Cincy to the playoffs. He's the main reason why I trust the young Bengals to handle the pressure down the stretch.

5) Reggie Wayne

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Andrew Luck is already a star. He's also lucky -- no pun intended -- to have a savvy, dominant, winning veteran to throw to. I believe Wayne is in the mix for MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.

I think Green has been the top receiver in 2012, but nobody has been more valuable at the position than Wayne. He has the numbers with 1,105 receiving yards. The clutch catches have been incredible. And you cannot quantify his leadership.

6) Robert Griffin III

The kid is remarkable. He's an unflappable game-changer. The Washington Redskins have holes, no doubt, but RG3 is a young Ben Roethlisberger in terms of masking areas of deficiency.

Washington will win some games you don't expect down the stretch solely because of Griffin, even as a rookie, even as pressure mounts.

7) Duane Brown

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This Houston Texan is officially the best left tackle in the NFL. He's superb protecting Matt Schaub's blind side. He opens up holes for Arian Foster.

Brown told us this week on the SiriusXM Blitz that he's taken on a bigger leadership role this year with Eric Winston's departure to Kansas City.

8) Stevan Ridley

Funny to think about a chat I had with Ridley the week of Super Bowl XLVI. After a bout of fumbling, Bill Belichick didn't have him on the roster for the AFC title game. Talking to Ridley a few weeks ago on SiriusXM NFL Radio, he said that fueled him all offseason.

The Patriots are the Patriots because of Tom Brady. Despite a shaky defense, the Patriots have a great opportunity to win the Super Bowl because of Brady and the offense having balance with Ridley running the football.

Ridley has enjoyed a very strong season, with 939 yards on an average of 4.6 yards per carry. He's earned Belichick's trust. That's good enough for me.

9) Eli Manning

Not sure if you know this, but Eli's elite.

After Manning played eight straight wretched quarters against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the haters and critics came out of the woodworks. The whispers about a tired arm were so frequent they sounded like a yell.

Well, last week, Manning reminded folks that he has two Super Bowl rings for a reason. This is Eli's time of year. The NFC is on notice.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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