Every team in the 2013 NFL playoffs has that one X-factor that, if he’s on, takes his club to another level.
Most squads aren’t so top heavy that their stars are simply capable of carrying them across the finish line. Those stars need role players to step up and complement their strengths. When that happens, victory is almost inevitable.
Here are the most important role players on each Super Bowl contender.
Denver Broncos: RB Knowshon Moreno
Denver’s passing attack and defense are so stacked that if the team is able to run the ball, the Broncos are nearly unstoppable. Moreno rushed for over 100 yards in Weeks 14 and 15, and the Broncos doubled their opponents on the scoreboard.
New England Patriots: S Tavon Wilson
New England’s greatest weakness is its pass defense, and Wilson has been its best ball hawk at the safety position this season. The Patriots are 4-0 in games in which Wilson recorded an interception.
Houston Texans: LB Whitney Mercilus
J.J. Watt can almost single-handedly win football games, but his influence is amplified if the Texans have other pass-rushers like Mercilus who are effective. Mercilus has just two tackles in the past two weeks after recording six sacks in a six-week span from Week 7 to Week 14—a span in which Houston only lost once.
Baltimore Ravens: WR Torrey Smith
After a sophomore season in which Smith failed to notably progress, he can still be considered a role player. He reeled in just the fourth-most balls on the team, but the Ravens didn’t lose a single game when Smith caught one of his eight touchdowns.
Indianapolis Colts: DE Dwight Freeney
Yes, at the age of 32 years old, Freeney has become a role player after losing his freakish athleticism. Entering Week 15, he only had two sacks, but Freeney recorded three in the final three weeks and is the Colts’ only respectable pass-rusher not named Robert Mathis.
Cincinnati Bengals: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Andy Dalton can’t throw to A.J. Green every play. Green-Ellis has rushed for over 100 yards in four out of the Bengals’ last seven games, and they’ve won soundly when he does so.
Atlanta Falcons: DE Kroy Biermann
Even if John Abraham can suit up next week after his ankle injury in the season finale, Atlanta’s best pass-rusher likely won’t be at full strength. That’s why it’s key for Biermann, who’s second on the team with four sacks, to get after the opposing passer.
San Francisco 49ers: WR Randy Moss
With Mario Manningham out for the season, Moss is now second among 49ers wide outs in receiving yards. He’s been quiet this year, but his emergence would make a San Francisco Super Bowl run significantly easier.
Green Bay Packers: CB Casey Heyward
As the Packers’ nickelback, Heyward has only played 65 percent of the snaps this season, according to ESPN. Despite that, he still managed to lead the team with six interceptions, and Green Bay only lost once (its choke job against Indy) when Heyward recorded one.
Washington Redskins: LB Rob Jackson
Who wants to sack the quarterback besides Ryan Kerrigan? Jackson is the only other Redskins defender to record at least four sacks this season, and he’s also second on the team with four interceptions.
Seattle Seahawks: WR Golden Tate
Golden Tate doesn’t always make an appearance, but when he does, it’s a grand one. In games that Tate, Seattle’s second-leading receiver, has caught one of his seven touchdown passes, the Seahawks are undefeated.
Minnesota Vikings: QB Christian Ponder
Who else? Because Adrian Peterson has been so dominant in the second half of the season, all Ponder has to do is not be a complete liability and it’s the Vikings’ game to lose.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.
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