Which NFL players might hold the keys to their teams' success in 2014? Here's a candidate for each team:


Seattle Seahawks WR/KR Percy Harvin: After missing most of his first year in Seattle, he's the champs' biggest de facto addition to the lineup in 2014. With Golden Tate gone, Harvin will doubtless be QB Russell Wilson's No. 1 target, and his effectiveness on jet sweeps could lighten the load (and defensive box) for RB Marshawn Lynch. A healthy Harvin should equate to a very healthy bid for a Super Bowl repeat. Also watch CB Byron Maxwell

Arizona Cardinals LT Jared Veldheer: QB Carson Palmer went down a career-high 41 times in 2013. His lead feet won't make many pass rushers miss, and he also has to hang in the pocket for relatively long periods while many of Bruce Arians' deep-strike plays unfold. Veldheer struggled with the Oakland Raiders in 2013 while returning from a torn triceps. But he's armed with a healthy arm and big contract and should anchor the left side along with 2013 first-round G Jonathan Cooper. Also watch RB Andre Ellington

St. Louis Rams WR Tavon Austin: Outside of a three-TD explosion against the Indianapolis Colts, Austin had an unexpectedly forgettable rookie season. Lacking playmakers, the Rams need a quantum leap in Year 2, and Austin sounds ready to announce his presence both out of the slot and on special teams. Expect a lot more short darts and even a few handoffs to come his way as St. Louis looks to exploit his run-after-catch gifts. Also watch LB Alec Ogletree

San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick: Is there a more physically talented quarterback in the league? Kaep runs like a gazelle and throws like a howitzer. But he still lacks touch and accuracy and would be wise to start relying less on his legs and more on his third and fourth reads. With a better supporting cast but potentially depleted defense, the Niners' Super Bowl hopes may rely on Kaepernick taking his game up another notch. Also watch S Eric Reid


Dallas Cowboys OLB Bruce Carter: Plenty of attention will fall on QB Tony Romo, WR Dez Bryant and the offense. But what's the point of dissecting it if the defense bleeds points and yards like it did in 2013? Playmakers are needed, especially ones capable of momentum-swinging plays, and it's time for a guy like Carter to fulfill his potential on a unit stripped of departed DeMarcus Ware and injured Sean Lee and rookie DeMarcus Lawrence. Also watch RB DeMarco Murray

New York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul: Injuries to his back and shoulder left JPP a shell of the player who was an all-pro game wrecker in 2011 (161/2 sacks, 7 batted balls) during the Giants' march to a Super Bowl victory. But with DE Justin Tuck having joined Osi Umenyiora as an ex-Giant, this team really needs Pierre-Paul to generate pressure in the NFC East, where New York won't be spared from sophisticated passing attacks by any of its divisional foes. Also watch RB Rashad Jennings

Philadelphia Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin: His 2013 season ended it before it began courtesy of a torn ACL in training camp. Now Maclin returns to an offense that shockingly jettisoned No. 1 wideout DeSean Jackson in March. Entering his sixth pro season, Maclin has never been a 1,000-yard receiver, but he's also never had the opportunity to flourish in Chip Kelly's system. His next contract and Philly's season could largely pivot on his productivity. Also watch OLB Marcus Smith

Washington Redskins WR DeSean Jackson: The centerpiece of another active offseason in Washington, Jackson has plenty to prove as a crucial element to Jay Gruden's offense. If Jackson's speed continues to warrant double coverage, QB Robert Griffin III and RB Alfred Morris should have green pastures in front of them while WR Pierre Garcon and TE Jordan Reed enjoy one-on-one matchups. If defenses opt not to focus on Jackson, he should do plenty of downfield damage. Also watch CB David Amerson


Chicago Bears DE Jared Allen: This assumes QB Jay Cutler is healthy, and the Bears don't have to rely on an unproven passer. Regardless, Allen was the primary addition to a defense that was probably the worst in Chicago's 94-year history last season. His ability to relentlessly hunt quarterbacks while infusing fresh attitude to a group that gets WLB Lance Briggs and CB Charles Tillman back healthy could easily translate into a playoff return. Also watch QB Jay Cutler

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford: He's in danger of becoming Tony Romo 2.0 gaudy stats that seem to make little difference in the win column. Stafford is surrounded by talent and now coached by Jim Caldwell, who's been a boon to Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco. But Caldwell must deprogram Stafford from making too many ill-advised throws after he was picked off 12 times during Detroit's 1-6 finish last year. Also watch DE Ziggy Ansah

Green Bay Packers S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: Having healthy OLBs Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers rushing the quarterback should significantly upgrade a Green Bay D that's underwhelmed frequently over the past three seasons. First rounder Clinton-Dix doesn't need to be the second coming of former captain Charles Woodson right away, but solidifying the back end and coming up with a few takeaways would certainly be appreciated by coach Mike McCarthy. Also watch RB Eddie Lacy

Minnesota Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson: By the end of last season, the 6-2, 220-pounder looked less like a raw rookie and more like a super-sized version of Percy Harvin, doing damage as a receiver and returner while even occasionally breaking off a long carry (Patterson scored three TDs on handoffs). If his arc keeps trending up, RB Adrian Peterson who's supposed to be a bigger part of the pass game himself and whichever quarterback Minnesota fields should be that much more effective. Also watch TE Kyle Rudolph


Atlanta Falcons T Jake Matthews: No team gained fewer yards on the ground in 2013 than the Falcons, who also permitted QB Matt Ryan to be sacked a career-worst 44 times for good measure. The mandate to rebuild the offensive line begins with first-round pick Matthews, who will begin his career at right tackle but could eventually wind up protecting Ryan's blind side. Also watch CB Desmond Trufant

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton: Sure, Captain Obvious could tab Newton as pivotal, too. But the top pick of the 2011 draft may have to come up with a career year he doesn't know who his left tackle is yet, nor who will emerge as the new No. 1 wideout, nor if last year's No. 2 defense will be as effective after the secondary's facelift for Carolina to make an unprecedented title defense of the NFC South throne. Also watch TE Greg Olsen

New Orleans Saints FS Jairus Byrd: After fielding a historically awful defense in 2012, the Saints vaulted to fourth overall in 2013 under new coordinator Rob Ryan. The next step? Create turnovers. The Saints managed just 19 takeaways in 2013, just two in the final seven games and none in postseason. Byrd has picked off 22 passes and forced 11 fumbles in five seasons, and the Saints forked over a $54 million megadeal for more of the same. Also watch WR Brandin Cooks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers DE Michael Johnson: He was solid, if unheralded, during five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. But after scoring a five-year, $44 million contract, Johnson will need to surpass solid. Lovie Smith's defense relies on pressure from the front four, but Johnson (a solid run defender) has averaged fewer than six sacks per season over the course of his career. He'll need to produce more and should by taking advantage of double teams drawn by DT Gerald McCoy. Also watch QB Josh McCown


Buffalo Bills WR Sammy Watkins: A lot of pressure for a rookie, but the No. 4 pick of the draft will be the focal point of the passing game in light of Stevie Johnson's departure. Watkins is excellent with the ball in his hands, and the Bills might be wise to mix in some jet sweeps or other handoffs to ensure he's constantly involved. His development is also sure to correlate to that of second-year QB EJ Manuel. Also watch LB Brandon Spikes

Miami Dolphins LT Branden Albert: His five-year, $47 million free agent contract establishes him as the linchpin of a new-look O-line, and he'll also likely have to be its leader until C Mike Pouncey recovers from offseason hip surgery that's expected to shelve him for several games. Perhaps most importantly, Albert must be central in limiting the sacks suffered by QB Ryan Tannehill (NFL-high 58 in 2013) while sparking a dormant running game. Also watch LB Koa Misi

New England Patriots CB Darrelle Revis: QB Tom Brady could probably line up with 10 Red Sox players and still guide the offense to a top-five finish. But with his ability to delete elite wideouts by himself, Revis should embolden Bill Belichick and coordinator Matt Patricia to get far more creative defensively. Don't be surprised to see more exotic blitz packages and/or double teams on opponents' secondary targets. Also watch WR Danny Amendola

New York Jets QB Geno Smith: A wildly inconsistent rookie season ended on a high note with more efficient play from Smith as the Jets closed with three wins in their final four games. Now surrounded by needed offensive weaponry like WR Eric Decker and RB Chris Johnson, Smith has drawn rave reviews so far in training camp but needs to keep the good vibes going into the season if the Jets are to return to the playoffs. Also watch CB Dee Milliner


Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco: The onus of operating new coordinator Gary Kubiak's (very foreign) offense falls on Flacco's head and shoulders. The seventh-year passer must also adjust to new targets (WR Steve Smith, TE Owen Daniels) and blockers without relying on suspended RB Ray Rice during the season's first two contests, both divisional games. And after cashing in on that Super Bowl XLVII high, there will be pressure on Flacco to justify his $120 million contract in the wake of his worst pro season (career-worst 22 INTs, 73.1 rating). Also watch S Matt Elam

Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton: Many fans would love to root for a quarterback who wins 63% of his regular-season starts while steadily improving his production (though Dalton must curb his growing interception figures). But maintaining the Bengals as a playoff club and posting Pro Bowl stats isn't enough anymore for Dalton, who must break into the postseason 'W' column especially that he's now broken into owner Mike Brown's bank. Also watch TE Tyler Eifert

Cleveland Browns ILB Karlos Dansby: Whether it's Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel, the Browns can probably only rely so much on their offense. And that means the defense will almost surely need another top-10 performance if this team is to make a serious playoff push. Enter Dansby, who replaces D'Qwell Jackson as the D's quarterback, after a career season with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. Another playmaking year from him could unlock this unit's substantial potential. Also watch TE Jordan Cameron

Pittsburgh Steelers OLB Jarvis Jones: Rookies typically don't make much noise in coordinator Dick LeBeau's intricate defense. Jones was no exception in 2013 (one sack in 14 games). But it's time for last year's first rounder to make his presence felt as the Steelers move ahead with him and fellow youngster Jason Worilds on the edge after successfully relying on departed James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley for so many years. Also watch C Maurkice Pouncey


Houston Texans ILB Brian Cushing: Not only is this team captain's leadership a key to this club, his impact on the defensive efficacy is readily apparent. The Texans allowed 268 yards per game with Cushing on the field in 2013, but that figure ballooned to 356 yards after he broke his left fibula and suffered ligament damage in his knee in Week 7. Houston didn't win a game without Cushing last year, but a steadied defense could be key to keep a team with a transitioning offense relevant in 2014. Also watch QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

Indianapolis Colts WR Reggie Wayne: Coach Chuck Pagano and QB Andrew Luck consider the recuperating wideout the emotional heartbeat of the Colts, who struggled noticeably when he was lost to a torn anterior cruciate ligament midway through the 2013 season. With TE Dwayne Allen and WR Hakeem Nicks expected to diversify the passing game, Wayne may no longer need to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but there's no understating what his presence does by providing ballast to an ascending club. Also watch RB Trent Richardson

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart: The Heisman Trophy runner-up at Stanford in 2009 and former backup to Adrian Peterson is the newly anointed workhorse of the Jacksonville backfield. The Jags may have to start a pair of rookie wideouts in 2014 and perhaps even rookie QB Blake Bortles so it may be up to Gerhart to provide steady production for an unproven offense, though he'll need help from a rebuilt O-line. Also watch S Johnathan Cyprien

Tennessee Titans QB Jake Locker: His numbers were good, and the Titans were playing winning football behind Locker in 2013 until he was put down by the injury bug. Now he's playing for a second contract while hoping to thrive (and stay upright) while operating in his third different offense over the past three seasons. But Locker is hopeful he can have the type of impact Ben Roethlisberger did while playing for Ken Whisenhunt. Also watch RB Bishop Sankey


Denver Broncos OLB Von Miller: A depleted defense was hardly the sole culprit in Denver's Super Bowl XLVIII blowout defeat. But having its best player back Miller was never in peak form last year even when he was available (nine games played) should offer quite a boost to a group bolstered by free agency and the healthy returns of other Broncos. Lighter, happier and playing opposite DeMarcus Ware, Miller should spearhead a potentially stifling group. Also watch RB Montee Ball

Kansas City Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe: He is the team's best wideout, though that's a backhanded compliment. Bowe certainly didn't live up to the $56 million deal he signed in 2013 and is now four years removed from his lone Pro Bowl season. He's lost weight in a bid to become more dynamic and needs to play like a No. 1 receiver if the offense is achieve any diversity outside of giving the ball to RB Jamaal Charles. Also watch LT Eric Fisher

Oakland Raiders DE Justin Tuck: The Raiders were subject to plenty of criticism after allotting so much cap space to players seemingly past their primes. But with a Pro Bowl resume and Super Bowl rings on each hand, Tuck might be best able to infuse some championship DNA back into this franchise given his willingness to lead and offer unsparing honesty. Oh, and he did manage 11 sacks in 2013. Also watch QB Matt Schaub

San Diego Chargers OLB Dwight Freeney: He hasn't reached double-digit sacks since 2010 and only appeared in four games last year before a quadriceps tear ended his season. Still, even if Freeney is limited to mostly passing downs, if he can inject some juice into the Bolts' pass rush, a 29th- ranked pass defense armed with new defensive backs could improve considerably. Also watch TE Ladarius Green

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