As we prepare to watch games three and four of the divisional round of the 2012 NFL playoffs, we'll highlight five impact players who, win or lose, will struggle to get going in this week's games.
With a defensive battle between the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens and an impending shootout between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers, it will be very interesting to see which stars get the job done for their team and which ones get shut down for one reason or another.
Find out who will likely get shut down.
Arian Foster is a stud of a running back that has had a profound effect on this Texans team. After years of searching for a franchise running back, they seem to have finally found one in the third-year Tennessee product.
However, this is not a week that Foster will likely shine.
Although he did put up 153 yards and two touchdowns on just 24 carries against a very solid Cincinnati run defense, Baltimore's defense is a whole different animal. Houston's offensive line doesn't seem to match up well with the Ravens' 3-4 defense, especially if they put their nose tackle directly over the center (which was working for the Bengals in the first half of the Wild-Card game).
The last time Foster played the Ravens, he was stifled into just 46 yards on 15 carries. I think the Texans will play it closer this time and Foster should have a better game, but it won't be much better.
Baltimore's defense is just too good and the Texans won't have a potent enough passing attack to open it up for their star tailback.
We said the Ravens-Texans game would be a defensive battle, and we mean it. There's no reason to believe otherwise given the success of the defenses coupled with the relative struggles of the offenses.
Another player that will struggle because of that is Anquan Boldin.
Boldin had eight catches for 132 yards against the Texans earlier in the year. That's not exactly struggling. However, Houston's defense has improved since then, and Johnathan Joseph will very likely be stuck to Boldin most of the game.
Given the way Houston (primarily Joseph) defended AJ Green last week, it's difficult to see the aging Boldin, who will be coming off of knee surgery, faring any better.
I found it a bit ironic that the team I am projecting to win the Super Bowl is the only team with two players on this list. That's how highly I regard their defense.
Anyway, Joe Flacco is another player who could struggle against the Texans defense. According to ESPN, Flacco felt slighted since he wasn't being talked about among the best quarterbacks in the playoffs this year.
This could go one of two ways: he could use the motivation to come out and have the game of his life, picking the offense up and carrying it on his back, or he could force the issue and make some mistakes.
I'm leaning more towards the latter, because Flacco just hasn't proven that he can be the main man on offense. He's still in an Alex Smith-esque role (though Smith, coincidentally, just had the game of his life in a win over the Saints).
On top of that, Flacco will be facing one of the best pass rushes in the NFL from Connor Barwin, JJ Watt, Antonio Smith and Brooks Reed.
I still have the Ravens winning, but I don't think it will be primarily because of Flacco's arm. Instead, it may be in spite of it.
Eli Manning has had a stellar year for the New York Giants, racking up nearly 5,000 yards passing while tossing 29 touchdowns to 16 interceptions.
This week when he goes up against the statistically-worst pass defense in the NFL, it's easy to assume he will have a great game. However, I'm not so sure he will.
First of all, his two favorite targets, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, will likely be paired up with Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams all day. Williams and Woodson are well-documented ball hawks that will take any opportunity to pick Manning off.
Despite what the stats say, you have to give the edge to the Packers over Atlanta's secondary, and while Manning did have a great day statistically, the Falcons were holding up against the pass for most of the game.
The Packers' defense has seemed to come up big when it has needed to, and this is obviously one of those times. Manning could be in for a relatively rough outing at Lambeau.
As talented as so many NFL players are, a lot of them just don't use their brain sometimes.
Such is the case with BJ Raji this week, who inexplicably decided to give some extra motivation to the New York Giants' already-improved offensive line by effectively suggesting they aren't a very tough unit.
The Giants showed why they are still a run-first team against the Falcons, rolling up 172 yards on the ground after finishing the regular season dead last in rushing.
Raji is one of the NFL's best defensive tackles, but his comments will only make the Giants' line work harder to stop him. He may have been speaking the truth from what he saw during the regular season, but it wasn't a smart thing to say right before having to play them to advance to the NFC Championship.