NFL Playoffs 2013: Players That Will Make or Break Super Bowl Runs

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 30:  Lavonte David #54 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pressures Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on December 30, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It takes a great team to win the Super Bowl, but there's no denying that great individual efforts can carry a team to the big game.

The Giants wouldn't have come close to winning it all last season if it weren't for repeated Herculean performances from wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. The Patriots would not have been their opposition without great games from Rob Gronkowski.

The performance one way or the other from individual players can determine whether or not that team makes a serious run at the playoffs.

Looking at this season's field of contenders, these three players will have a huge impact on whether or not their team is considered a contender or pretender come game time.


Matt Ryan

The Falcons Super Bowl hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Matt Ryan.

We've seen this same song and dance from the Falcons before, and Ryan has yet to come through when it matters most.

In 2011, the Falcons entered the playoffs with a 10-6 record and a home game against the 9-7 New York Giants. Ryan threw for 199 yards as the offense failed to score a single point and the Giants beat the Falcons 24-2.

In 2010, the Falcons went 13-3 and earned a home game once again. This time Ryan threw for 186 yards as his team was outgunned by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers 48-21.

With two straight playoff blowouts at home on his résumé, Ryan will be criticized for his playoff play until he finds a way to win one. If he plays like he has the last two postseasons, the Falcons can plan on an early exit once again.


Knowshon Moreno

The Broncos have been all about Peyton Manning and the passing game this season, but at some point in the playoffs you're going to have to run the ball in key situations.

That's where Moreno comes in.

After underwhelming results with the team for the first three seasons of his career, the Broncos need Moreno to play up to his potential if they want to reach theirs as a team.

Moreno is averaging 3.8 yards per carry and has only broke the 100-yard mark twice since taking over as the team's starting running back for the final six games of the season.

The Broncos desperately need a consistent rushing attack that can balance out the offense and eat at the clock when they have the lead. If Moreno steps up the Broncos will be dangerous, if he doesn't they are much more susceptible to being upset.


Michael Crabtree

Everything the Niners do is based around the belief that they can bully the opposition on the ground. They want to get out to an early lead. Force the opposing offense to throw the ball and utilize their running game to make the game short.

However, in order to do that they must have a weapon that doesn't allow the defense to stack the box against Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore.

The most likely candidate to do that is Michael Crabtree, who finally seems to be coming into his own as an NFL wide receiver.

Crabtree has always been gifted, but injuries have held him back from playing up to his massive potential. He's managed to stay relatively healthy this season and has been putting up big numbers as the No. 1 target in the passing game.

Vernon Davis has been a big reason for the Niners postseason success in seasons past, but he's having a down year. If San Francisco is to go all the way this year, it will take a great performance from Crabtree throughout.