Several stars were hurt during the course of last season. So we asked our experts: Among those coming back from injury, who will have the biggest impact for their respective team?
- Steve Wyche NFL.com
'Boys need Romo to be on his game
A lot of players could fit into this category -- Colts tight end Dallas Clark and Packers tight end Jermichael Finley among them -- but by the position he plays and the team he plays for, I have to say Tony Romo. Romo missed the better part of 10 games last season after breaking his collarbone. He is entering what could be the most important year of his career. If he falters, it could be time for Dallas to explore replacing him. If he's on his game, then he's good enough to carry the Cowboys well into the playoffs.
- Jason La Canfora NFL Network
Strong get stronger in Pittsburgh
Aaron Smith missed virtually the entire season for the Steelers. He is, undoubtedly, one of the best 3-4 ends of his era and one of the most underrated players of his generation.
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His return boosts an already scary front seven. Ziggy Hood blossomed last season, but coordinator Dick LeBeau can never have enough personnel. A team with Super Bowl expectations now has more parts available, with Smith and nose tackle Casey Hampton getting older, that's quite a luxury. End Brett Keisel battled through injury last season as well, and if he can stay healthy, along with the additions of Cam Heyward and Chris Carter in the draft, the Steelers will have intriguing personnel available for sub packages.
Looks to me like a classic case of the strong getting stronger.
(And, as a postscript here, dear reader, I know I might be stretching. Matthew Stafford is an obvious choice and I believe the Lions will be playoff bound if he's at the helm 16 weeks ... But I'm also generally cool with being the contrarian).
- Vic Carucci NFL.com
Another weapon for Rodgers to use
Jermichael Finley seems primed to have a huge comeback from the knee injury that ended his season in October. The Packers' tight end was on a dominant statistical pace before suffering a torn meniscus in Week 5 against the Redskins. Through the first four games, he clearly established himself as a go-to target for Aaron Rodgers, catching 21 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown. There is no reason to think they will do anything but pick up where they left off in 2011.
Although Finley would likely be a spectator even if teams were holding offseason workouts, he is reportedly making good progress and is on schedule to be ready to participate in training camp. Besides considerable talent, he also brings a tremendous amount of passion. Missing the Packers' Super Bowl run was a crushing blow that has been a driving force in Finley's rehabilitation and recovery. And there is no doubt he has made it his mission to do everything in his power to help bring a second Lombardi Trophy to Green Bay in as many years.
- Charles Davis NFL Network
Romo will rise to the occasion
The player coming back who needs to have the biggest impact on his respective team is Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Why? Last year, there was so much hype heading into the season and then it all fell flat, even before the shoulder injury. While no one really expects Jon Kitna to be the starter in Dallas, he did galvanize the team down the stretch. It's up to Romo to return, win back his team and lead the Cowboys to the playoffs. There are many doubters out at this point, but I believe he'll have his best year yet.
- Bucky Brooks NFL.com
Key to explosive offense
Matthew Stafford's return to the Lions will have the biggest impact on the league. He has the potential to be a 4,000-yard passer and his presence could make their offense one of the most explosive in football. He has shown flashes of brilliance when he has been on the field and the team added weapons in the draft -- Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure -- that should help. If he can stay upright, Stafford will not only fulfill his potential but he could help the Lions make a serious run at the NFC North title.