Elite players get the glory, the postseason awards and the Madden video game covers, but team success depends in large part on how stars, supporting cast and coaches work together within a unit. A veteran, top-tier running back might not be able to carry an offense; rotate him with an explosive young talent and maybe you're playoff-bound. The league's best units deftly balance power and speed, experience and youth, confidence and hunger—and finding players who complement each other is one of the secrets to victory. These eight units, not a collection purely of All-Pros, would form the ultimate NFL team.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
DEPTH IS nice at the game's most important position, but an elite starter trumps all. The Pats get the call over the Colts because Tom Brady wins more in January. He's 14--3 in the playoffs, with 14 more touchdowns than interceptions and 62.5% accuracy—and seven of those games were played in subfreezing conditions. The synergy among Brady, Bill Belichick and coordinator Josh McDaniels is unmatched. So what if they don't have an experienced backup? Brady hasn't missed a start since early in 2001. "This is the perfect place for a quarterback," he says. "No distractions. All football."
THOUGH FRED TAYLOR, 32, and Maurice Jones-Drew, 23, compete for carries in this backfield, they're as close as teammates can be: They talk on the phone almost daily in the off-season, work out together and just hang. No jealousy here. "We complement each other," says Jones-Drew. "I'm learning things every day from him." They also know that by sharing the load—last year Taylor had 223 attempts, Jones-Drew 167, for a combined 1,970 yards—they have a better chance of staying healthy. Says Taylor, the NFL's 16th-ranked rusher all time, "It's a young man's game, but I'm here to stay."
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
LAST YEAR New England traded for two players whose teams didn't want them—Randy Moss of the Raiders and Wes Welker of the Dolphins—and got one of the greatest seasons in NFL history by a pair of wideouts: 210 receptions, second-most ever for a duo, and 31 touchdown receptions, most all time. Welker tied for the league lead in receptions. The two are back this year, with dependable Jabar Gaffney as the No. 3 receiver, Ben Watson as the tight end with wideout speed and Kevin Faulk as one of the league's classiest pass catchers out of the backfield.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
CENTER NICK HARDWICK barely played high school ball and was a walk-on at Purdue. Guard Kris Dielman was an undrafted free agent. Right tackle Jeromey Clary was a practice-squadder two years ago. On this line only left tackle Marcus McNeill, a second-round pick in 2006, and guard Mike Goff, an 11-year vet, have pedigrees. Yet they all come together on Sunday, using zone schemes, man schemes, gap schemes—anything to give LaDainian Tomlinson a sliver of space. "We're blue-collar guys," Clary says. "You want guys on the line who are willing to die for you. We're willing to do that."