While Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson and a trio of rookie quarterbacks dominate the headlines leading up to Wild Card Weekend, it's the unsung players, the lesser-known names on the field, who ultimately do their jobs—allowing the stars to do theirs—and help carry their teams to victory.
These players aren't necessarily all at skill positions either. In the playoffs, you finally take notice of the consistent run-blocking of a left tackle, the way a defensive lineman clogs the hole or how a player in the secondary keeps stepping up to take on the run.
It's the little things that sometimes make the biggest difference, and you can be assured that these lesser-known players will be difference makers when their teams step onto the field.
Morgan Burnett, S, Green Bay Packers
Overshadowed by players like Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk and Charles Woodson on the Green Bay defense, it's third-year safety Morgan Burnett who leads the team in tackles with 123.
Burnett has quietly gone about his business this year, playing well against both the run and the pass, and he's been as reliable as anyone on the Packers defense, never coming off of the field, as noted by B/R's Aaron Nagler on Twitter (courtesy of Cheesehead TV):
Nagler (@Aaron_Nagler) January 4, 2013
Burnett has played a role in the Packers' defensive improvement over the last two years, and playing in front of a fired up crowd at Lambeau Field, Burnett will make his presence felt, both in stopping Adrian Peterson and putting pressure on Vikings QB Christian Ponder on blitzes from the edge.
Cedric Peerman, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn't play in the team's regular-season finale against the Baltimore Ravens due to a hamstring injury (h/t ESPN).
While the "Law Firm" is listed as probable for Cincinnati's game against the Houston Texans on Saturday, hamstrings can be tricky. All it takes is one misstep, one hit, to re-aggravate the injury and leave Green-Ellis utterly useless.
Peerman only carried the ball twice in Week 17 as Brian Leonard got the bulk of the carries in Green-Ellis' absence, but the third-year running back out of Virginia will see action this weekend, regardless of whether Green-Ellis plays.
He's averaging 7.2 yards per carry this year, slightly over his career average of 6.7, and while those numbers have come via a small sample size, Peerman has the ability to create plays and pick up yardage in the NFL.
It's true that the Texans have one of the better run defenses in the NFL, but with Houston's issues in defending against the pass, they'll be dropping defenders back into coverage to try and limit the damage that Andy Dalton can do through the air.
That'll open things up for Peerman, who will move the chains for the Bengals offense on the ground.
Vonta Leach, FB, Baltimore Ravens
You won't find any gaudy stats next to Vonta Leach's name in the box score, but make no mistake about it—Leach is going to be a big part of Baltimore's success on offense against the Indianapolis Colts.
While he missed practice earlier this week with an ankle injury, he's back and expected to be fine for the game, according to Luke Jones of 1570 WNST AM in Baltimore.
Indy has an undersized defensive line, one that has had serious trouble stopping the run, ranking 29th in the NFL against opposing ground games.
Baltimore is going to feed the Colts a heavy dose of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce all game long, and it will be up to Leach to clear the path for his tailbacks to break off big plays.
It's a task that he'll excel at, leading Baltimore down the field on drives that eat up the clock and wear out the opposition.
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