Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Everything's crucial during the NFL postseason. Like having game-breaking players. Here are 10 to watch this weekend.

Ray Rice, Ravens
Lost in Baltimore’s blowout victory over the Chiefs was the receivers’ inability to separate downfield. The Ravens’ most effective play of late has been the dumpoff to Rice, forcing him to beat linebackers for big plays. If the Ravens are to succeed in Pittsburgh, Rice must get the ball in space rather than running straight into the teeth of the Steelers’ vaunted front seven.

Mike Wallace, Steelers
Hines Ward has the name, but Wallace has the game. One of the game's fastest players finished fifth in receiving yards with 1,257 to go with 10 touchdowns while breaking records set by Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Thanks in large part to Wallace, the Steelers offense boasts a speed element they’ve never seen.
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Darrelle Revis, Jets
The NFL’s pre-eminent shutdown corner held Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne to just one yard in the Jets’ wild-card victory. It gets tricky this week as the Patriots don’t possess a true No. 1 receiver. Revis’ skills were wasted covering slot machine Wes Welker in Week 13 while Tom Brady picked apart the Jets’ secondary for 326 yards and four touchdowns.

Danny Woodhead, Patriots
A star of HBO’s Hard Knocks with this Jets last summer, Woodhead was picked off the scrap heap by the Patriots when Kevin Faulk was lost for the season. Woodhead came back to haunt Jets coach Rex Ryan with 104 yards on four receptions as one of the stars in the Pats’ 45-3 Week 13 blowout. Ryan will have to game-plan stop a role player.

Mike Williams, Seahawks
Williams proved to be a matchup problem when he burned the Bears for 10 catches and 123 yards in a Week 6 upset at Solider Field. Chicago’s corners will be prepared this time around, but Williams remains entrenched as Matt Hasselbeck’s go-to receiver. He’ll need to succeed as a post-up chain mover in the rematch.

Leon Washington, Seahawks
Bears’ return ace Devin Hester may have broken NFL records with his 14th career return touchdown and a 17.1 average on punts, but Washington has him beat on return scores over the past three years. Washington’s seven career kickoff-return touchdowns are the second-most in NFL history. Seattle needs another one to pull off a second straight upset.

Matt Forte, Bears
At a season-low 1.4 yards per carry in the Bears’ Week 6 loss to Seattle, Forte was an afterthought. Mad Mike Martz has transformed the offense since then, switching to the most balanced attack of his play-calling career. Forte has responded with the fifth-highest per-carry average and the third-most total yards in the NFL over the final six weeks.

Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
Michael Turner led the NFL with 334 carries and Roddy White in catches with 115. During the Saints’ Week 16 victory at Atlanta, New Orleans succeeded in taking away the Falcons’ top two playmakers, effectively strangling the offense. Gonzalez has lost a step in his 14th season. He’ll need to channel his Chiefs form to make the Packers pay for concentrating on Turner and White.

Kroy Biermann, Falcons
Biermann registered just three sacks in his first season taking over as the starting left end, but he broke through for 10 quarterback hits and an impressive 35 pressures. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers rushed for 51 yards earlier in the season at Atlanta. Biermann has to turn those hits and pressures into sacks if the Falcons are going to win the rematch.

James Starks, Packers
The Packers talked up Starks before their November loss to the Falcons. Instead, Aaron Rodgers ended up leading the ground attack in attempts and yards in a one-dimensional offense. Starks is coming off a 123-yard breakout game at Philly, excelling out of a three-back Wishbone formation that promises to give Green Bay a more balanced offense this time around.

author: chris wesseling

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