Playoffs for the National Football League are only three weeks away, with the race for the all-important divisional victory and wildcard spots well and truly underway.
Several teams across both the AFC and NFC have booked their spot in the playoffs whilst many still remain locked in a battle for their shot at the Superbowl this season—making for some fascinating viewing no doubt over the next few weeks.
But casting our eyes ahead to the playoffs, let's have a look at some of the stars who will light it up in the postseason—in particular, those in their debut year in the league.
We've been thoroughly entertained with the performances of several rookies so far this season; read on to see which ones are bound to delight once more in the 2012 NFL Playoffs.
Note: All playoff teams were selected as the divisional tables stand at the end of Week 15 of the National Football League. Hence teams such as the New York Giants, Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers were not included, even though they are still in contention for a playoff berth.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
There is simply no other place to start than with Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has so far had one of the most phenomenal rookie seasons in recent times following his selection with the No. 2 overall draft pick.
Griffin's big arm and athleticism in the pocket make him an incredibly difficult player to contain and there is little doubt that he will shine once more in the playoffs.
RG3 currently has 18 passing touchdowns, six rushing touchdowns and, importantly, just four interceptions through the season to date—numbers that see him clearly as the top rookie quarterback through the air and on the ground this year.
Running back Alfred Morris will continue to be key to Griffin's success, but the former Baylor quarterback's ability to keep the play alive and move the chains—even when it doesn't seem close to being possible—will be huge for the Redskins down the stitch.
Not that he needs an introduction, but Griffin could be huge these playoffs.
Casey Hayward, Green Bay Packers
Turning our attention to the defensive side of things, and it's Green Bay Packers corner Casey Haward as another player who could have a huge playoff run this year.
The 23-year-old has been excellent in the backfield this season and with the Packers repeating as NFC North champions this season, will be very important for Mike McCarthy's men in making stops when they need it most—just like he has done all season long.
Hayward currently sits second in the league behind Chicago Bears corner Tim Jennings in terms of pass deflections and interceptions, and is a clear leader in both categories when considering just rookies.
Definitely one worth keeping an eye out for these playoffs.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
What about the No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck? The Indianapolis Colts quarterback has lived up to the incredible hype placed upon him heading into his rookie season in the league—leading the now Manning-less Colts to a likely wildcard berth in the playoffs, something few would have predicted or expected with the personnel available to Luck.
The former Stamford quarterback has thrown 20 touchdowns so far this year, but it has been his ability to engineer drives when his team needs it most—coming back from the dead, if you like to chalk up victories—that has spoken the loudest about his performance this season.
We might very well get the Peyton Manning vs. Andrew Luck showdown that we all are secretly hoping for in the AFC playoff picture this season, and whilst one man is seemingly far better qualified than the other, don't completely rule out Luck from throwing a final few punches this season.
Indianapolis must obviously have thought that he would be a better investment than Manning; the NFL playoffs is the perfect opportunity to make that happen.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
After picking up former Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, the Seattle Seahawks had seemingly locked in on their starting gun-slinger—that was, until Russell Wilson continued to prove himself as a genuine starter in the NFL.
Despite throwing over 1,000 yards less than the likes of Andrew Luck, Wilson leads all rookie quarterbacks in passing touchdowns with 21 and has just nine interceptions for the year. His passing accuracy is the second highest amongst rookie quarterbacks—as is his quarterback rating.
Wilson has worked hard to get the Seattle Seahawks to a 9-5 record and a likely wildcard spot in the NFC and to get his team playing some very good football—which they currently are, having won their past two games by a combined score of 108-17.
Their 6-0 home record is also an imposing sight, so be careful about sleeping on Russell Wilson or the Seattle Seahawks heading into the 2012 NFL Playoffs.
Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati Bengals
One player that might not get the attention or praise that the likes of RG3 and Andrew Luck get is Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler, who the team selected with their first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Zeitler has been superb for the Bengals so far—ranking in the top five right guards this season according to ProFootballFocus—and continues to do his best to allow the likes of Andy Dalton and BenJarvus Green-Ellis time and space to operate.
He's not the sexy or game-changing selection that other players will be, but if Zeitler can continue to hold up his own on the right hand side—which is no easy task for a rookie—then the Bengals certainly can't be counted out of playoff discussions any time in the near future.
Which rookies do you think will light up the 2012 NFL Playoffs?
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