NFL Playoff Predictions: The Player Most Vital to Each Team's Success
The NFL playoffs are finally here, and only 12 teams remain in the Super Bowl chase.
The remaining teams have been the best in the league all season long, and they all deserve their place in the postseason.
Each postseason franchise relies on one player above the rest to lead them to January victories. Here are the 12 most vital players in January.
Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green
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Without A.J. Green, the Bengals offense would be a mess.
The rookie wide receiver has emerged as one of the league's most dangerous deep threats, and he continually keeps opposing defenses on their toes.
The Georgia product recorded 65 catches for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns in his first year, and was often relied upon by quarterback Andy Dalton to make spectacular catches.
When Green runs, Cincinnati's offense runs.
Honorable Mention: Andy Dalton
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger
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The health of Ben Roethlisberger will determine the Steeler's playoff fate.
The star quarterback continues to captain a terrific Pittsburgh offense, and he has helped dynamic wide receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace emerge as two of the best players at their position.
With running back Rashard Mendenhall done for the year with an ACL tear, Roethlisberger will be relied on even more to lead the Steeler's offensive unit.
The two-time Super Bowl champion has shown he can still perform with injuries, but he will have to play out of his mind if Pittsburgh is to win it's second consecutive conference title.
Honorable Mention: Troy Polamalu
Denver Broncos: Tim Tebow
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Tim Tebow is the most polarizing figure in the NFL today, and his play usually determines his team's success.
When Tebow performs at a decent level, the Broncos usually win. When he is awful, the Broncos normally lose. The Florida product has been absolutely terrible over the last few weeks, and his team has gone 0-3 over that span.
If Denver is to have any chance of upsetting the Steelers on Sunday, Tebow will need to avoid turnovers, and keep the offense rolling.
Honorable Mention: Champ Bailey
Houston Texans: Arian Foster
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With an inexperienced quarterback at the helm, the Texans will be heavily reliant on the run this postseason.
Running back Arian Foster has developed into one of the game's most explosive players: He has terrific speed and vaunted strength.
Foster will carry the load this Sunday and throughout the postseason, and he will need to perform at an extremely high level if the Texans are to make a run.
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Joseph
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice
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Ray Rice is the most complete back in the league today, and he is a major threat in both the running and the passing game.
The Rutgers product had a banner year, and he was the biggest reason for Baltimore's success.
With inconsistent Joe Flacco under center, the Ravens will rely on Rice heavily this postseason.
The Pro Bowl running back needs to lead a Baltimore offense that can sometimes struggle, and give the stout defense some rest throughout the playoffs.
Honorable Mention: Terrell Suggs
New England Patriots: Tom Brady
Without Tom Brady leading the offense, the Patriots would be one of the worst teams in the league.
The MVP quarterback is one of the best players to ever step on an NFL field, and he has had led New England to three Super Bowl titles.
Brady will have to be astonishing in January if the Pats are to claim another title, as the feeble defense will be lit up by opposing offenses.
If anyone can be consistently relied upon to put up mind-blowing numbers, it has to be Brady.
Honorable Mention: Devin McCourty
Detroit Lions: Calvin Johnson
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Matthew Stafford would be just an average quarterback without Calvin Johnson.
The mammoth wide receiver is one of the most athletically gifted players the league has ever seen, and he has torn up opposing defenses all year long.
The Georgia Tech product recorded 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns in the regular season, as he has emerged as the best wideout in pro football.
Stafford constantly looks to Johnson to bail him out, and Megatron is always relied upon to make a huge play.
Johnson is the heartbeat of the Lions offense.
Honorable Mention: Matthew Stafford
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan
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While few would argue that Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco are better than Matt Ryan, it is important to know that Sanchez and Flacco have a combined eight playoff wins since 2008, while Ryan does not have a single one.
Matty Ice is a fabulous regular season performer—he has put up terrific numbers and led Atlanta to a 43-19 record as a starter.
However, Ryan has struggled in the playoffs. He has recorded just 385 yards to go with three touchdowns and four interceptions in two games.
If Atlanta is to keep up with the NFC's potent offenses, then Ryan must step up and perform like the elite quarterback many believe him to be.
Honorable Mention: John Abraham
New York Giants: Eli Manning
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After years of inconsistent play, Eli Manning has taken his game to a whole new level this season.
The former first-round pick has led the Giants to a divisional title, and has established himself as one of the game's elite signal-callers.
Manning is relied upon to lead New York's offense, as the ground game can struggle mightily at times.
If Big Blue is to be a dark horse this January, then Manning must continue to perform at an incredibly high level.
Honorable Mention: Justin Tuck
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees
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Drew Brees' performance will decide the Saints' postseason fate.
In New Orleans thirteen wins, the former Super Bowl MVP has put up unbelievable numbers. He has completed nearly 73 percent of his passes, while tossing 41 touchdowns to just nine interceptions.
In the three losses, Brees has put up shaky numbers—he recorded a completion percentage of under 66, to go with just five touchdowns and five interceptions.
When Brees is hot, the Saints are unbeatable. If he is cold, New Orleans is an easy out.
Luckily for New Orleans, the record-breaking quarterback is sizzling right now, as he has recorded a gaudy 19 touchdowns to just three interceptions in the last five games—all Saints wins.
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Vilma
San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore
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Despite a solid year from quarterback Alex Smith, the 49ers will still be largely reliant on the ground game this postseason.
San Francisco has won with a solid running game and a stingy defense, and they will enter January with the same strategy.
Frank Gore is one of the league's most dynamic backfield threats, and he is coming off a superb 1,200-yard year.
If the Pro Bowler can continue to punish opposing defenses with his tough running, then the 49ers can control the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of the NFC's elite quarterbacks.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Willis
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers
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Aaron Rodgers is the reason the Packers are the defending Super Bowl champions and will enter the postseason as favorites.
The California product is the league's best player, and he has made Green Bay's offense the best in football.
The Super Bowl MVP has been amazing all year long—he recorded a staggering 45 touchdowns in just 15 games.
With a struggling defense and an inconsistent running game, the Pack needs Rodgers to be lights out again this postseason.
Honorable Mention: Charles Woodson