A trio of NFL superstars will take center stage on Saturday evening in Houston, where the AFC South champion Texans will host the AFC Wild Card Cincinnati Bengals, with a berth in the AFC Divisional Round on the line.
Arian Foster (league-leading 15 rushing touchdowns), J.J. Watt (league-leading 20.5 sacks) and A.J. Green (1,350 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns) will all play key roles for their respective team this weekend as they each face a win-or-go-home scenario for the first time in a year. But beyond those familiar faces, a trio of lesser-known game changers will also be on display.
With kickoff on the horizon, let's take a closer look at a handful of game changers to keep an eye on in Saturday's much-anticipated AFC Wild Card showdown.
Owen Daniels, Houston Texans, TE
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub was one of just 11 passers to throw for more than 4,000 yards in 2012, thanks to wide receiver Andre Johnson of course, but also veteran tight end Owen Daniels, who reeled in 62 receptions for 716 yards and a team-leading six touchdowns.
Although Daniels doesn't produce eye-popping numbers like New England's Rob Gronkowski, he is a pivotal piece in Houston's offense.
Daniels was targeted 103 times during the regular season, roughly 18.6 percent of the time when the Texans dropped back to pass in 2012. Houston finished the season ranked 11th in the NFL in passing offense, and so Daniels will need to be a factor in order for the home team to find consistent offensive against Cincinnati.
Look out for No. 81 in blue on Saturday.
Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati Bengals, S
Bengals safety Reggie Nelson will be a player to watch when Cincinnati's defense steps onto the field inside Reliant Stadium on Saturday.
The sixth-year veteran, who's in his third season with the Bengals, has anchored Cincy's seventh-ranked pass defense this season, tying banged-up teammate Chris Crocker with three interceptions this season. Nelson is also the Bengals' third-leading tackler (85 total) despite having only played in 14 regular season games in 2012.
In addition to creating turnovers through the air, the former Florida Gator can force them on the ground. He forced two fumbles for the third straight year this season, and now has 15 turnovers forced since joining Cincinnati in 2010.
Antonio Smith, Houston Texans, DE
Although dominant pass rusher J.J. Watt gets most of the attention on Houston's defense, and rightfully so (he recorded 20.5 sacks in 2012), fellow Texans defensive end Antonio Smith has quietly been having a solid season.
Smith tallied a career high seven sacks this season to go along with two forced fumbles.
The 31-year-old has been around since 2005, but has never truly emerged as a game-breaking talent. Still, NFL fans should keep an eye out for Smith on Saturday evening, as he should get plenty of opportunities to get to Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton with so much attention being paid to Watt on the other side.
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