This has been an incredible year for rookies—especially at the quarterback position. In Week 17, some of those same rookies will make a major impact in the playoff race during the final game of the season.
Let's take a look at some first-year players that will help finalize the NFL playoff race.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins are just one win away from the playoffs in what has been an improbable run this season. After starting out 3-6, the 'Skins have won their last six games and now stand at 9-6 with just one win left to make them a playoff team.
On the flip side, the Dallas Cowboys are looking to get into the playoffs themselves and can do so by beating the Redskins on Sunday night in the nation's capital.
Dallas has been in this situation before, having a must-win game in front of them. But during the Tony Romo era in Dallas, the Cowboys have been no strangers to choking under pressure. It's quite possible that America's team actually beats itself in this game.
But even if that happens, the Redskins still need to put points on the board and having RG3 behind center will undoubtedly help them do just that.
RG3 has thrown for 3,100 yards and run for another 752, while compiling 26 touchdowns in total. In the Week 12 Thanksgiving victory over the Cowboys, the Redskins signal-caller scorched his division rival for 304 yards and four touchdowns through the air.
There's no reason to believe that RG3 can't repeat a similar performance. After all, the Cowboys aren't any better defensively now than they were in that game. Being that Dallas is ranked 21st and 17th against the pass and run, respectively, RG3 has multiple avenues to win this game.
Granted, RG3 appeared limited due to injury last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, but that shouldn't be a concern against the Cowboys. In fact, RG3 himself sounded very positive about his physical health going into Week 17, per Mike Jones of The Washington Post:
“The knee is fine. Whatever I feel like I can do on that day, I will,” said Griffin, who on Wednesday was voted to his first Pro Bowl. “I’ll be able to do more, to answer your question. I won’t dodge it. I’ll be able to do more against the Cowboys than Philly, but we’ll see how that goes.”
That collective "gulp" you just heard was from the throats of Cowboys fans everywhere.
Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
While RG3 will be the main focus of the Cowboys defense on Sunday night, Dallas cannot overlook the best young back in the NFL: Alfred Morris.
Morris has had a sensational year in 2012 and is no doubt a viable candidate for the Rookie of the Year award, much like his teammate above. Morris has compiled over 1,400 yards this season and scored 10 touchdowns in the process.
It's bad enough that teams have to plan for RG3 and all the different ways he can beat them, but opposing defenses also have to account for the 'Skins running game—helping to keep them honest in the process.
Morris was stellar in the Redskins' Thanksgiving day win over the Cowboys, rushing for 114 yards and a score. Such a performance forced the Cowboys to put more defenders in the box and that enabled the Redskins to go deep, which was ultimately the difference in the game.
That recipe for success has to remain the same in Week 17. The Redskins know they can beat the Cowboys deep, but Morris must get going first if Washington is to have success in that department all game long.
RG3 might be the most important player on the field for the Redskins, but it's Morris who will be the catalyst for the Redskins' passing attack to get going once he starts gaining serious yardage on the ground.
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
While Luck and the Indianapolis Colts have nothing to play for in Week 17 with their playoff berth already clinched, the Houston Texans, have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs to play for.
With a win, Houston automatically seals the deal for the best record in the AFC as they hold the tie-breaker over the Denver Broncos. However, with a loss and a Broncos victory, the Texans would become the No. 2 seed going into the playoffs.
Being able to play every playoff game leading to the Super Bowl at home would be a huge boost for Houston, who comes into this game struggling as much as a 12-3 team can possibly struggle.
These two teams have already met and it was the Texans who topped the Colts in the Week 15 matchup, 29-17. Indianapolis had a golden opportunity to win the game going into the fourth quarter, but were unable to improve on the 23-17 deficit it faced.
This week's matchup will be different. The Colts are at home, where they have one of the best records in the NFL at 6-1. Clearly, the Colts are a tough team to beat on their field.
Luck wasn't outstanding by any means in their previous matchup, but he nearly did enough to win the game. Luck failed to break the 200-yard mark, but he did throw for both of the Colts' touchdowns in the contest and didn't turn the ball over once.
The biggest problem was the five sacks that the Colts allowed. That was mostly a result of the Colts missing two key offensive lineman in center Samson Satele and right tackle Winston Justice.
Both lineman will play this week and that will help give Luck more time in the pocket to throw. More time will enable Luck to take more shots down the field, which is the biggest weakness of the Texans at this point in the season.
The Texans were able to stifle Luck in the fourth quarter during the Week 15 showdown, but expect things to be different this time around.
As long as Luck is within a score late in the fourth quarter, the Colts' rookie signal-caller will lead his team to victory like he has all season—sending the Texans to a No. 2 seed after the Broncos handily dismantle the worst team in the NFL: the Kansas City Chiefs.