Five players to watch out for in the 2012 season
(Reuters) - Five players to watch out for during the National Football League's (NFL) 2012 season, which starts on Wednesday.
AARON RODGERS, GREEN BAY PACKERS
Once again, the Green Bay Packers are widely seen as favorites to reach the Super Bowl from the National Football Conference (NFC) but, to do that, they must regain their champion swagger and 28-year-old quarterback Aaron Rodgers will have to bury memories of his playoff lapse last season.
NFL Most Valuable Player Rodgers led Green Bay to a stunning 13-0 start and 15-1 record in 2011 and broke Peyton Manning's single-season league record for passer rating with a 122.5 mark while throwing for 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
However, when it mattered most in the second round of the playoffs, Rodgers was outplayed at home by Giants quarterback Eli Manning as top-ranked Green Bay lost 37-20 to eventual Super Bowl champions New York.
CALVIN JOHNSON, DETROIT LIONS
Nicknamed "Megatron" because of his uncanny speed, strength, agility and hand-eye coordination, Johnson delivered a breakout season in 2011 with 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns -- all career highs.
In March, the two-time Pro Bowler signed to a seven-year contract extension that will reportedly make him the highest-paid wide receiver in the league, so the pressure is on for Johnson to build on his stellar 2011 campaign.
Only the third player to record at least 95 catches, 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns in a single season, Johnson helped the Lions return to the playoffs for the first time since 1999, though they were thumped 45-28 by the heavily favored New Orleans Saints in a wild-card shootout.
PEYTON MANNING, DENVER BRONCOS
Cut by the Indianapolis Colts in March after missing the entire 2011 season following neck surgery, 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback Manning was signed by the Broncos as one of the league's most sought after free agents ever, his arrival turning Denver into an instant Super Bowl contender.
John Elway, the Broncos' head of football operations, was instrumental in bringing the 36-year-old Manning to Denver with the promise of winning a championship in the latter stages of his career, something Elway did when he quarterbacked Denver to back-to-back championships in the final two seasons of his Hall of Fame career.
Manning, a four-time NFL Most Valuable Player, won the Super Bowl MVP award in 2007 after leading the Colts to 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in the NFL's title game. He then took Indianapolis to a second Super Bowl in 2010 when they lost 31-17 to the New Orleans Saints. Can he regain those giddy heights after being sidelined for all of 2011?
ROBERT GRIFFIN III, WASHINGTON REDSKINS
The weight of expectation for any Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback entering his rookie season in the NFL is always immense, and this year is no different for the richly talented Robert Lee Griffin III, who is popularly known as RG3.
Taken by the Redskins as the second overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Griffin is a running threat as well as a strong-armed passer and he edged out celebrated Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck for Heisman Trophy honors in December as the top U.S. college player.
However, he joins a Washington team that finished bottom in the NFC East last season with a 5-11 record and was so coveted by them that the Redskins traded their No. 6 overall pick along with a second-rounder and No. 1 picks in 2013 and 2014 to the St. Louis Rams in order to claim him. "I don't look at it as any added pressure," Griffin said. "If anything, it makes me want to go out and get to work even sooner. They believe in me."
DARRELLE REVIS, NEW YORK JETS
A four-time Pro Bowl cornerback after his first five seasons in the league, Darrelle Revis will start his sixth campaign as one of the most respected and feared players in his position. Opposing receivers are often described as being "lost on Revis Island" because of his blanket coverage and unwavering ability to play 'one-on-one.'
A first-round draft pick by the Jets in 2007, Revis scaled unprecedented heights last season when he intercepted a pass intended for Brandon Marshall and ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins, tying the longest Jets interception return of all time first set by Aaron Glenn in 1996.
Widely regarded as the best cornerback in the league, Revis ended a holdout in 2010 by signing what has been described as a 'band-aid' of a contract worth an estimated $46 million for four years with $32 million guaranteed. He has certainly proved his value. In 77 games for the Jets, he has recorded 233 solo tackles, 18 interceptions on 363 yards and a total of 95 career passes defended.
(Compiled by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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