NFL Playoff Predictions: One Non-Quarterback from Each Team Who Will Step Up
The "Final Four" of the 2012 NFL Playoffs has been set, with the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers advancing to next week's conference championship games.
Much of the publicity around these matchups will center around the four quarterbacks playing in those games, but plenty of other guys on either side of the ball are going to have to come up big to earn themselves a trip to Indianapolis.
The following quartet will do just that.
Torrey Smith: WR, Baltimore Ravens
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Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith was a complete non-factor in the Ravens' win over the Houston Texans, making only one reception for nine yards.
However, the Baltimore offense is going to have to crank it up next week when they travel to meet the New England Patriots, which means taking a few shots down the field to Smith, one of which he'll haul in for a score against the Patriots' woeful secondary.
Rob Gronkowski: TE, New England Patriots
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I'm afraid that if I don't mention him, he'll come to my house and tear it off the foundation.
All New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski did in the Pats' demolition of the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round was snag 10 passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns.
He's effectively unstoppable, and I doubt the Ravens will have much more luck with him than the rest of the NFL has.
Hakeem Nicks: WR, New York Giants
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Talk about tearing it up.
In two playoff games this season, New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has made 13 catches for 290 yards and four touchdowns.
If the Giants are going get past the San Francisco 49ers this week for another improbable postseason run all the way to the Super Bowl, they'll need another big game from Nicks, and if the past two weeks are any indication, he's more than up to the task.
Aldon Smith: OLB, San Francisco 49ers
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After bursting onto the scene with 14 sacks as a rookie in 2011, San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith was once again a force in his first career playoff game, logging three tackles and a sack in the 49ers' thrilling victory over the New Orleans Saints.
A big key to downing the New York Giants this week in the NFC Championship game will lie in San Francisco's ability to pressure New York quarterback Eli Manning, and my guess is Smith will do his part and then some in that regard.