10 Players Under Most Pressure to Succeed in Divisional Round of NFL Playoffs

Clint DalyContributor IIJanuary 11, 2012

10 Players Under Most Pressure to Succeed in Divisional Round of NFL Playoffs

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    Wild Card Weekend is over and we are on to the Divisional Games.

    The NFL is down to the Elite Eight.

    Eight teams that still have a chance to contend for what all 32 teams were aiming for...Super Bowl XLVI.

    We have the expected favorites like the Packers and the Patriots.

    We have surprises like the Texans and the Broncos.

    The tension and pressure are building.

    But which players are feeling the pressure the most?

    Maybe they will have to carry their team.

    Or maybe they need to finally win a big game.

    Either way, here are 10 players who are under the most pressure this coming weekend.

10. Champ Bailey

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    All the talk this week is about Tim Tebow, but if the Denver Broncos are going to knock off the New England Patriots, Champ Bailey will have to shore up a defense that has been struggling as of late.

    The Broncos gave up 400 yards of offense against the Steelers in the Wild Card game on Sunday.

    And in Week 15 against the Patriots the defense gave up a whopping 451 yards at home.

    That will have to change or the Broncos will be playing from behind all day.

    Champ Bailey, the 13 year veteran would love a shot at a Super Bowl.

    He will be carrying a defensive backfield that is playing without safety Brian Dawkins again this week.

    The Broncos will need a big game from Bailey if they are to pull the upset.

    Did I mention that Bailey went without a single tackle during the regular-season matchup against the Patriots?

    Champ has to be better this Saturday.

9. Green Bay Packers Offensive Line

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    Aaron Rodgers has had an unbelievable season.

    He led the league in passer rating while throwing for 45 touchdowns with just six interceptions.

    This week he will face a New York Giants defensive line that is beginning to hit its stride.

    Jason Pierre-Paul has 16.5 sacks so far this year. Osi Umenyiora has nine.

    If the Packers are to defend their Super Bowl title the Green Bay offensive line will have to protect Rodgers.

    In Week 13 against the Giants the Packers allowed just two sacks and Rodgers threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns.

    Marshall Newhouse, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang need to have a similar performance this week.

8. Darren Sproles

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    Darren Sproles has spent his NFL career watching the Super Bowl on TV.

    Playing his first five seasons in San Diego he was on a team that always came up short.

    Sproles now enters the NFC divisional round of the playoffs with a team that has a legitimate chance to contend for a Super Bowl berth.

    Sproles may be the wild card of the playoffs. He can hurt you in so many ways. As a runner, a receiver, and a kick returner Sproles has many opportunities to make his presence known.

    On Saturday we'll see if Sproles can take advantage of those opportunities.

7. Jerod Mayo

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    Don't forget, when the Broncos and Patriots last faced in Week 15, the Denver offense did have some early success.

    The Tim Tebow led Broncos racked up 167 yards.

    In the first quarter.

    Then the Patriots decided to change their game plan. They went to an odd spaced front to try to bottle up the Denver run game.

    The change allowed weak-side linebacker Jerod Mayo to keep Tebow and the Denver runners inside where the strength of the defense could make the tackles.

    Mayo finished the game with eight tackles and the Denver running game sputtered—gaining just 85 yards over the final three quarters combined.

    If the Patriots are going to knock off the upset minded Broncos they will have to limit the run game once again.

6. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks

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    The New York Giants offense has been on a tear for the past three weeks.

    Eli Manning is having a stellar season and the wide receiver duo of Cruz and Nicks has been nearly unstoppable.

    If the Giants are going to knock off the Super Bowl champs this trend will have to continue.

    The Giants running game has been inconsistent.

    So for Eli and company to keep pace with Aaron Rodgers, Cruz and Nicks will need a big game.

    When they met in Week 13, Cruz finished the game with seven catches for 119 yards, while Nicks had seven catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

    The Giants lost 38-35.

    Cruz and Nicks will need to carry a big load again on Sunday.

5. Arian Foster

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    Last week in the Wild Card game against the Bengals Arian Foster rushed for 153 yards. That's a good way to keep your young quarterback T.J. Yates from getting roughed up.

    Things weren't so easy for Foster earlier this season, when in Week 6 he faced the Ravens defense, and was held to just 49 yards.

    With Yates facing that Ravens defense for the first time it might be asking too much of him to carry the Houston offense.

    Arian Foster doesn't have a history of big games at big times.

    That has to change this week for the Texans to win.

4. Tom Brady

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    No one is going to take away Brady's Super Bowl trophies if they somehow lose to the Broncos on Saturday. His legacy as a quarterback might take a hit though.

    The Patriots were knocked out of the playoffs by the Jets in 2010.

    In 2009 it was the Ravens who beat them.

    The Patriots didn't make the playoffs in 2008.

    In 2007 it was the dreaded upset in the Super Bowl by the underdog New York Giants after the Patriots' undefeated season.

    Tom Brady hasn't won a playoff game since.

3. Jonathan Vilma

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    The San Fransisco 49ers run the ball pretty well. They average nearly 130 yards per game. That allows them to control the ball and keep the opposing offense off the field.

    If the Saints are going to go into Candlestick Park and beat the 49ers they are going to have to get a few stops.

    Jonathan Vilma is going to have to make things difficult for San Francisco running back Frank Gore.

    I know...feel free to insert a New Orleans Saints defense joke here...but that San Fransisco defense is good enough to slow down Drew Brees. Especially if weather conditions are right.

    And if the Saints offense is slowed down their defense will have to make a few key stops.

2. Alex Smith

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    Is there an NFL quarterback that is looked down upon as much as the 49ers Alex Smith?

    All he did was lead them to a 13-3 record and the two seed in the NFC.

    Granted, this team relies on its running game and hard nosed defense, Alex Smith is still the guy with the ball in his hands on every play.

    A home loss to the Saints will just give the critics more ammunition against the abused signal-caller.

    Smith needs to convert several third downs and play turnover free football on Saturday.

1. Joe Flacco

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    What to make of four year veteran quarterback Joe Flacco?

    Is he ready to take the next step and win big games?

    Is he going to save his worst for last as he did a year ago against the hated Steelers when he was held to just 125 yards passing and the Ravens were eliminated when the offense stalled again and again in the second half?

    The Ravens have been knocking at the door of the Super Bowl for the past three seasons and that defense isn't getting any younger.

    The pressure is on Joe Flacco to knock that door down.