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Posted: Thursday August 20, 2009 11:31AM; Updated: Thursday August 20, 2009 4:42PM
John P. Lopez John P. Lopez >
INSIDE THE NFL

All-Indispensable Team: Players NFC teams can least afford to lose

Story Highlights

Tony Gonzalez can help the Falcons make the leap into the NFC elite

No players on the Cowboys is more important than DeMarcus Ware

As Adrian Peterson goes, so goes the Minnesota Vikings offense

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tony-gonzalez.jpg
Tony Gonzalez's presence gives the Falcons offense an extra dimension it lacked in '08.
Getty Images

Before reading another word, knock on wood. Pray that the spate of injuries ransacking NFL training camps does not arrive at the doorstep of a crucial player near you.

Sure, injuries are just part of the game. But it also is true that some injuries are more devastating than others. Here, then, is a look at the one player each NFC team could least afford to lose to injury. Call them the "crippling" injuries when it comes to a team's hopes for 2009. And since losing a starting quarterback, obviously, would be devastating to every team, we left them out of this little exercise.

CLICK HERE FOR THE ALL-INDISPENSABLE TEAM FOR THE AFC.

(Listed alphabetically, by franchise city)

Arizona Cardinals, Adrian Wilson

The Cardinals never have had an identity, or at least not a positive one. Wilson embodies everything a franchise craves, within and outside the locker room. He leads. He's durable. He's a winner. He shows everyone else the work ethic necessary to succeed. And he's loyal, staying with the Cards despite opportunities to leave until he saw a Super Bowl run happen.

It's not a stretch to say that Wilson is among the most, if not the most important player in Cardinals history. He certainly is the most important since the move to Arizona in 1988.

He is underappreciated outside of Arizona. But imagine the raves and tickets to Canton that already would be punched for him if he had played in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles? Only nine players in NFL history have recorded as many as 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in a career. Wilson will become the 10th in 2009, presuming he stays healthy.

Atlanta Falcons, Tony Gonzalez

Don't get me wrong. Michael Turner is crucial to the Falcons, much like Adrian Peterson is to the Vikings. And the Falcons have an elite, young and strong-armed quarterback in Matt Ryan. This is a multidimensional team that can do a lot of things at a high level. Most often it will be Turner leading the way. Sometimes, it will be Ryan.

Thus, after an 11-5 season, the Falcons are looking to get over the hump and become the elite of the elite in the NFL. Gonzalez can help them get there.

Gonzalez has had a very nice camp, adjusting to life as a Falcon and flashing the blocking and pass-catching ability that has made him a 10-time Pro Bowler. He can add the extra dimension to the Falcons' offense that may well be enough to make this team a threat to make a Super Bowl run. At 33, staying on the field could become a problem. If he can, great things could happen.

Carolina Panthers, Jon Beason

When play-making defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu was lost for the season with an Achilles tendon injury on the first day of training camp, everything changed for Beason. For starters, as an undersized (6-foot, 237-pound) middle linebacker accustomed to having his defensive linemen take on most blockers, Beason's prospects for another Pro Bowl season suffered a hit.

Now, he's going to have to deal with much more traffic, and size coming at him. And how much of that pounding can Beason take? He's integral to the Panthers defense. He's strong, quick and always takes efficient lines to the ballcarrier. When he gets there, Beason is a sure tackler. Beason delivers a lot of sure hits. This year, he's going to take more, too.

Chicago Bears, Tommie Harris

When Harris is healthy and motivated, the Bears are a vastly better team with him on the field. It's as simple as that. He is quick and strong and can play two-gaps as a space-eater, or shoot one gap and cause trouble in the backfield.

Harris says he is motivated this year, after a subpar 2008. Healthy? That has yet to be determined. The Bears have limited his reps in camp this year, and arthroscopic knee surgery in March has not exactly inspired confidence.

The Bears certainly have got a good thing going, with Matt Forte becoming one of the league's better running backs and the acquisition of Jay Cutler at quarterback. But the Bears return to prominence depends also on the defense playing to its expected level, and if Harris cannot stay healthy, the Bears' D suffers a severe blow.

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