NFL Playoffs 2013: Predicting Top Offensive Stars for Wild-Card Weekend
The NFL playoffs kick off with Wild-Card Weekend on Saturday, and there will be several star players in particular destined to shine in these marquee matchups.
One of the three rookie quarterbacks is featured in addition to a slew of perennial Pro Bowlers. Interestingly enough, all of these players' teams will be on the road, which may be too much to key their sides to victory in the end.
But if you were assembling an ideal playoff fantasy team, this would be a wise lineup to start with.
QB Russell Wilson
The Redskins have a leaky secondary featuring shaky safety play, and between Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks will be able to establish enough of a running game to set up play-action.
What makes Wilson so dangerous is his calm in the pocket and uncanny ability to slip away from the grasp of defenders. Seattle has just enough weapons for Wilson to throw to—WRs Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, and TEs Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy.
Washington has had trouble in particular defending tight ends, and Miller and McCoy are both vertical threats that are a constant danger.
Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall may be able to limit Rice's production, but Tate can wrestle the ball away from anyone in a one-on-one situation, and Baldwin continues to come up with clutch catches for the Seahawks.
In other words, Wilson's supporting cast of playmakers is underrated and will need to be counted on more than usual against Washington's stout run defense.
Wilson grew up nearby in Richmond, Va., which makes this a homecoming of sorts for him. His rookie counterpart Robert Griffin III may get more hype, but Wilson's own unique abilities and Seattle's incredible defense will help Wilson get the upper hand in this one.
There's little reason to think that AP won't thrive against the NFC North rival Packers again, even though this contest takes place back in Lambeau Field.
Green Bay has had no answer for Peterson in 2012—as is the case with many teams, to be fair. But the Vikings running back has been simply extraordinary in two previous clashes, averaging over 200 yards per game.
The confidence of QB Christian Ponder has been growing in recent weeks, and the Vikings were two costly turnovers by the second-year signal-caller away from possibly pulling the sweep of the Pack.
With an improved passing game, running lanes are only going to open up even more for Peterson, who may not have given us his best game of the season yet. Even eight- and nine-man boxes can't stop him.
Peterson is where hope starts and ends for Minnesota. He is sure to get north of 30 carries and probably somewhere around 40 to 45 touches in this one. Even if he averages the standard four yards per touch, that will still equate to a huge day.
WR A.J. Green
It's going to be exciting to see Green and Texans receiver Andre Johnson try to outdo each other in Reliant Stadium on Saturday. Both of their quarterbacks aren't playing particularly well coming in, though.
Here is a subtle but shocking stat that may go unnoticed save for Cincinnati fans: Green caught 11 touchdown passes in the first 11 games, but has just one TD snag since.
Despite that recent trend, I like Green's chances to find the end zone better. Johnson reached paydirt only four times on the season, and Green will be able to exploit a Texans secondary that has seen its pass defense drop off in recent weeks.
Even double coverage isn't enough to slow Green down completely, and the better balance that RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis has provided during Cincinnati's second-half turnaround will open up shots deep down the field for the studly second-year wideout.
Another big factor to consider is that this upstart Bengals team—which weathered an ugly four-game losing streak early on to win 10 games—is looking to avenge last year's wild-card loss in Houston.
With the way the Texans have been playing lately and the revenge factor, look for Green to step up with a huge game and drive the Bengals to victory.
WR Reggie Wayne
Even though Andrew Luck tends to lock on to Wayne at times, it doesn't really matter. Wayne typically gets open no matter what the coverage is, and Luck doesn't really have to look elsewhere on the field if Wayne has a favorable matchup on the outside.
Wayne finished 2012 with the second-most catches in a season in his career with 106 and tied his second-highest receiving yardage total with 1,355.
That is a testament to a veteran who stuck with his team through adversity and what was thought to be a rebuilding project. That has been far from the case for the 11-5 Colts, and Wayne has been a huge reason for that.
Against the Baltimore Ravens' secondary that has been without top CB Lardarius Webb, Wayne is going to be a mismatch every time he lines up.
With speedsters T.Y. Hilton and Donnie Avery likely keeping safety Ed Reed occupied, there will be plenty of chances for Wayne.
It's unclear how many years Wayne has left in the league, but he's definitely in top form at the moment and will have another monster day catching passes from Luck.
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