But who is second?
This week, the Philadelphia Eagles lost what may be the most essential player to their team. Carson Wentz was having a phenomenal year, leading the league with 33 touchdown passes. But it all went down in flames on Sunday when Wentz suffered an ACL tear, ending his season. The Eagles are built to weather this storm and should still compete in the NFC, but it’s an undoubtedly huge loss for the conference leaders.
Whether or not Wentz is the player the Eagles could least afford to lose is up for debate. But for the Detroit Lions, there is no debate. Without Matthew Stafford, this team is doomed.
Last year, Stafford got all of the credit for the Lions’ nine wins, and rightfully so. In eight of those nine wins, he orchestrated fourth-quarter comeback drives, setting an NFL record. He did so with the worst-ranked defense in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and a bottom-10 running game.
This year, Stafford hasn’t been awarded the same attention. He hasn’t had as many of the flashy comebacks and, at times, he’s been given some help from his defense in the form of turnovers.
But Matthew Stafford may be more irreplaceable than ever. The Lions cut loose Dan Orlovsky in the offseason, leaving Jake Rudock as their backup quarterback. Rudock has only thrown five career NFL passes and one of those was a pick-six.
And Stafford is arguably playing even better than last year. Check the stats:
2016 Stafford: 65.3 comp. %, 7.3 Y/A, 24 TDs, 10 INTs, 93.3 passer rating
2017 Stafford: 65.6 comp. %, 7.9 Y/A, 23 TDs, 9 INTs, 97.9 passer rating
He’s improved despite the fact that the Lions’ running game has somehow gotten even worse. Ranked 25th in DVOA last year, the Lions running game has fallen all the way to 30th this year.
Stafford is playing his best football of the season right now, and the Lions have absolutely needed him to. Look at the trajectory of every other unit of the team:
Everything is trending down right now, except for Matthew Stafford.
But we all already knew this. He may not be getting the deserved attention this year, but there’s a reason the Lions just handed Stafford the richest contract in NFL history.
So the real question is: Who is the player behind Stafford that the Lions can’t afford to lose?
There are plenty of candidates here. Golden Tate, Darius Slay and Glover Quin are probably the most likely players. You could even throw Matt Prater into the fray.
I’ll leave that discussion up to you.