NFL Playoff Predictions: 6 Biggest Player Liabilities Left in the Playoffs

Elyssa GutbrodContributor IJanuary 19, 2012

NFL Playoff Predictions: 6 Biggest Player Liabilities Left in the Playoffs

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    With just four teams left in the NFL playoff picture, it has never been more important for everybody to bring a high level of play to the field.

    In playoff football, if a player is not giving 110 percent then he is a liability to his team.

    The difference between a “good” player and an “elite” one is magnified enormously at this point in the playoffs by the fight for a team’s proverbial life.  Even when a player does bring his best game to the table, not every man in the NFL is able to play at an elite level at his position.

    If a good player is matched up against an elite player, then he also has the potential to be a liability to his team.

    As the conference championship games approach, let us take a few moments to identify some of the players on each team that can be considered liabilities in their upcoming matchups. Keep clicking to see which players must blow us away this week if their teams are going to advance to the Super Bowl.

Joe Flacco

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    Joe Flacco has never been the best quarterback in the league, and it appears that even by his standards, he had a bit of a down year in 2011. His success has been due to playing on the same side of the ball as running back Ray Rice.

    Flacco didn’t have as many pass attempts against the Cincinnati Bengals as he has in the weeks leading up to the playoffs. This worked out in the favor of the Ravens: with Rice keeping the offense wary against the run, Flacco had ample opportunity to make his passes count.

    He took advantage to the tune of 130 yards and a touchdown through the air, and he completed 78.9 percent of his passes.

    The more Flacco has the ball in his hands, the more of a liability he is to the Ravens. Holding him to around 20 pass attempts seems to be the magic number for the Ravens.

Ed Reed

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    During the Ravens playoff game against the Bengals, Ed Reed landed badly on his ankle in the end zone. Although X-rays came back negative, Reed has been limited in practice and won’t play at 100 percent when he faces off against the Patriots this weekend.

    It’s not just about his health, either. Ed Reed is reaching the twilight of his career, and one of the things that he lacks is a Super Bowl ring.

    Reed’s “ring envy" (via NFL.com), combined with the weakened ankle have the potential to overwhelm his better judgment on the field, particularly if the Ravens find themselves in a hole against the Patriots.

    He must keep perspective before trying to make a big play and inadvertently create openings for Tom Brady to exploit.

Ahmad Bradshaw

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    Although he hasn’t looked like it in the past couple of weeks, Ahmad Bradshaw is still nursing some lingering effects from the injury that sidelined him during the regular season.

    He sat out of practice Wednesday, and will probably do so again on Thursday in order to rest.

    The Giants have enjoyed surprising success with their running game thus far in the postseason after coming in dead last in the league during the regular season. This, in large part, is due to an amazing effort by Bradshaw.

    Even if Bradshaw is not slowed down by residual pain in his foot, he still must contend with the 49ers top-ranked run defense. The Giants were able to surprise the Atlanta Falcons by attacking effectively on the ground, but the 49ers defense feasts on rushing plays.

    They will not give up yards as easily as the Falcons or the Packers.

    That resurgent running game has done wonders for the Giants passing game—opening up all kinds of opportunities down the field for Eli Manning. Without the run game, the Giants become pass-heavy very quickly, so Bradshaw’s performance on Sunday will be critical.

Alex Smith

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    Against the New Orleans Saints, Alex Smith had the biggest game of his career. He stepped up admirably when it counted—going the extra distance to earn the win for his team. In a game where he could have been his team’s biggest liability, he turned into one of the biggest assets.

    The problem is that against the New York Giants, Smith will have to step up big all over again.

    The Giants defense is hungry, and they’re riding a wave of momentum with no signs of slowing down. They're becoming more confident in their role as road warriors.

    Alex Smith’s newly-found confidence on his home turf is a powerful thing, but it’s still fragile enough to be popped if the Giants have a strong defensive showing.

Michael Crabtree

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    Unlike his quarterback, Michael Crabtree did not have a great game against the New Orleans Saints. His only catch was a good one—giving the 49ers 25 yards and a touchdown—but other than that play Crabtree was a non-factor. He was neatly neutralized by pass coverage, forcing Alex Smith to turn to other options.

    Against the Giants, Crabtree will need to get creative and make himself a bigger part of the game.

    It is certain that he will find himself covered by the excellent Corey Webster, a corner that he will not be able to beat from a speed perspective. Crabtree will need to use his greater agility and run crisp routes to make a positive difference for his team.

The New England Patriots Defense

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    The New England Patriots managed not to be dead last in the league from a defensive perspective, because they were edged out by the Green Bay Packers in the last week of the season.

    The Packers are out of the race now, leaving all eyes on the Patriots.

    Although the Pats were able to hold the Denver Broncos to just 10 points, the Patriots defense cannot afford to take the upcoming game for granted.

    The Denver Broncos have not had the benefit of offensive continuity that the Ravens have enjoyed in the past few years, and that difference will be evident when New England and Baltimore take the field on Sunday.