NFL Playoff Predictions: One Player on Each Team Who Could Cost His Team a Win

Matt Bowen@@IsItGameTimeYetAnalyst IIJanuary 17, 2012

NFL Playoff Predictions: One Player on Each Team Who Could Cost His Team a Win

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    NFL championship weekend is just days away and these players could single-handedly cost his team a win. With a spot in Super Bowl XLVI and reputations on the line, these players can not falter on the big stage.

    A poor performance from these guys would spell certain doom for their teams and certain doubters would be screaming, "Told You So!"

    Super Bowl XLVI is now just weeks away, and the NFL is hotter than a house fire right now.

    The AFC and NFC championship games have a certain buzz surrounding them rarely seen in sports. Football fans everywhere are thoroughly excited for these battles to go down. Unlike years past, the only thing fans should expect is the unexpected. 

    Here is one player on each team that could cost his team a win. 

Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco

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    There is no doubt that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is a winner. It's just the way he wins that scares the living daylights out of Ravens fans. 

    Flacco has never missed the playoffs in his four-year career and is now 5-3 in the postseason.

    He undoubtedly faces his biggest challenge of his career when the Ravens head to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots in the 2012 AFC Championship Game.

    For Flacco, his time must be now. He must play the best playoff game of his life and take his team to the Super Bowl in order to silence his critics. 

    In the Ravens' divisional round matchup against the Houston Texans, Flacco was mediocre at best. He was just 14-of-27 passing for 176 yards and two touchdowns.

    In fact, in eight career playoff games, Flacco has thrown just six touchdowns compared to seven interceptions.

    During the Ravens' last trip to Foxboro in 2009, the Ravens pelted the Patriots 33-14, but Flacco was just 4-of-10 passing for 34 yards. He can't afford a similar performance this time around. 

    Flacco knows what he has to do, and he's confident despite taking constant criticism. The fate of the Ravens lies with their quarterback. 

New York Giants: Lawrence Tynes

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    The New York Giants will need kicker Lawrence Tynes to be perfect if they are to beat the San Francisco 49ers in the upcoming NFC Championship Game. 

    Tynes has made 4-of-6 field goals this postseason and is 9-of-14 in his playoff career.

    With the Giants facing the tough-as-nails 49ers defense, Tynes will be the difference in the game.

    The Giants' offense is good enough to move the ball against the Niners, but may not be good enough to consistently score touchdowns.

    Quarterback Eli Manning will make sure to put his kicker in field goal range. It will then be up to Tynes to take his team to the Super Bowl. 

    The weight of the world will be on the leg of Tynes. Does he have what it takes? 

New England Patriots: Jerod Mayo

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    New England Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo is the key against the Baltimore Ravens in the upcoming AFC Championship Game. 

    As the leader of the scrutinized Patriots defense, Mayo must call the right shots against the Ravens offense.

    Mayo has to know when to load up the box to stop Ravens running back Ray Rice. He also has to know when to stunt and drop back into pass coverage. 

    Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco may have had a subpar outing against the Houston Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs, but the Texans defense is much better than the lowly ranked Patriots defense. 

    It will be up to Mayo to lead and inspire his defense on the field against the Ravens. If Mayo fails to do so, the Patriots will be considered a disappointment. 

San Francisco 49ers: Alex Smith

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    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith may finally be breaking out of the shadows, but he's not there yet.

    Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick, has been heavily scrutinized since his rookie season in 2005. Thanks to head coach Jim Harbaugh and a strong season, Smith is now relevant.

    His performance against the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs was one of heroic proportions. Smith picked an impeccable time to have the best game of his career. His four total touchdowns were a personal best. 

    Smith is no Joe Montana or Steve Young, though.

    After all, in the "Year of the Quarterback," Smith did not once throw for 300-plus yards. While he's improved tremendously, Smith still has plenty to prove. He has to carry the momentum he's gained this season into the NFC Championship Game. 

    Up next, the red-hot New York Giants, who have a better defense than the Saints. The Giants also have playoff experience and are a great road team. Their main goal is to not be embarrassed by Smith.  

    49ers fans: don't put all your eggs in the Alex Smith basket so quickly. Don't forget, he only has one playoff game under his belt. Truth be told, Smith has a long way to go.