The National Football League has become the undisputed champion of pro sports. As we get ready for the opening kickoff, here’s a look at the hardest hitters, the biggest games and a few fearless predictions for the 2013 season.
RYAN CLARK (FS. Pittsburgh Steelers): Despite suffering from a sickle-cell trait, he’s become one of the most feared (and fined) defensive backs in the NFL. Clark might not be able to play in the Mile-High City because of his condition, but there’s a high likelihood he’ll be laying someone out when he steps onto the field. The recipient of the 2008 Ed Block Courage Award, the former Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ is known for two particularly brutal hits in 2011 on Rob Gronkowski and Ed Dickson, which resulted in fines in successive weeks.
JAMES HARRISON (LB. Cincinnati Bengals): Usually when a boss tries to make things safer in the workplace, it’s a good thing. Tell that to Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, two-time Super Bowl winner and one very angry man. Nicknamed Deebo (from the movie Friday), the ex-Pittsburgh Steeler combines bone-jarring hits with a “fuck you” attitude. Harrison might “hate and will never respect” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but the Bengals will dig having his intimidating presence in their linebacking corps.
CLAY MATTHEWS III (LB, Green Bay Packers): This third-generation NFL standout has football in his blood and a ferocious intensity that’s uncorked every time an opponent has the ball. Last season. Matthews tested a Depend adult diaper under his uniform in a commercial (raising S75.000 for charity), but something tells us it’s wide receivers who shit themselves when they have to run across the middle. In 2009 the USC Trojan walk-on was the first Packers rookie to be named to the Pro Bowl since James Lofton in 1978 and has been named to the NFC squad each year since.
BRANDON MERIWEATHER (SS. Washington Redskins): This two-time Pro Bowler is no stranger to trouble. As a collegian. Meriweather was part of the infamous Miami-Flonda International brawl in 2006, during which he was seen stomping several FIU players. In the NFL, Meriweather has racked up a string of fines. Most notably, his 2010 helmet-to-helmet hit on Todd Heap not only cost him $50,000 but was also the impetus for the league to start levying fines and suspensions for helmet-to-helmet contact with defenseless receivers.
IASON PIERRE-PAUL (DE, New York Giants): Dubbed the “Haitian Sensation” and blessed with frightening athleticism, Pierre-Paul was picked 15th overall by the New York Giants in the 2010 draft. It didn’t take him long to become one of the NFL’s elite defensive ends. On December 11, 2011, against the archrival Dallas Cowboys, he became the first player in NFL history to record a sack, forced fumble and blocked field goal in the same game. Later that season he added a Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl ring.
TROY POLAMALU (SS. Pittsburgh Steelers): Much like the biblical figure Samson, Polamalu’s hair and strength are a killer combo. Sure, he has a $1 -million insurance policy on that luxurious mane, but don’t think that makes him a pussy. Although no longer head and shoulders above the competition, he can still dish out serious punishment. Like fellow USC alum Ronnie Lott. Polamalu is considered one of the hardest-hitting safeties in league history. On top of that, he’s a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro who’s hoisted two Super Bowl trophies.
ED REED (FS, Houston Texans): Although often hampered by injuries. Reed is the best “ball-hawking” safety in the game. He’s a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, eight-time All-Pro. 2004 Defensive Player of the Year, member of the NFL All-Decade team for the 2000s, Super Bowl champion and shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Accolades aside, the former Baltimore Raven can still bring the pain.
Reed’s bone-crushing, helmet-leading hits have netted him numerous fines.
TERRELL SUGGS (LB, Baltimore Ravens):
Not even a torn Achilles’ heel could sideline this heavy hitter. In fact, Suggs recovered from the devastating injury—sustained prior to the 2012 season— and was back by Week 7! The 2011 Defensive Player of the Year is the Ravens’ all-time leader in sacks and has been named to five Pro Bowls. Off the field. Suggs has had a tumultuous, sometimes-violent relationship with his wife and has called ESPN talking head Skip Bayless a “douchebag” on more than one occasion.
NDAMUKONG SUH (DT, Detroit Lions): When he isn’t pitching Subway sandwiches, this 300-pound hulk can be found stomping or groin-kicking opponents. Suh was an absolute beast at the University of Nebraska, where he was a unanimous All-American and racked up just about every award a defensive tackle could win. However, since joining the Lions in 2010, he’s forked over tens of thousands in fines, explaining why his peers don’t seem to like him. A 2011 players’ poll in Sporting News ranked Suh as the NFL’s “dirtiest player,” while a 2012 Forbes poll named him the league’s “least-liked player.”
PATRICK WILLIS (LB. San Francisco 49ers): Simply put, Willis is the NFL’s best inside linebacker. Anchoring what is widely considered its most formidable front seven, he has the speed of a cheetah and the power of a Mack truck. In each of his six seasons he’s been both an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection. Even more frightening. Willis is just entering the prime of his career.