NFL Playoffs 2013: Players with Most to Prove in Divisional Round

Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2013

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

Eli Manning may not be suiting up for the 2013 NFL Playoffs this January, but the two-time Super Bowl champion doesn't need to prove himself just one year after leading the New York Giants to the promised land (for the second time in his career). 

But that doesn't mean there aren't a few signal-callers with plenty to prove during the divisional round this coming weekend. From past Super Bowl MVPs to aspiring ones, the list includes some big names.

Here we'll highlight a trio of players with the most to prove in the 2013 divisional round. 

Tom Brady, New England Patriots

If Tom Brady flames out in the divisional round against the Houston Texans, much like he and the Pats did two years ago against the rival Jets, the mystique of No. 12 in Foxborough will be completely gone.

Say what you want about Brady's accomplishments in the NFL, but he hasn't led the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl championship since 2004. It's been nearly a decade, and since winning his first 10 career playoff games, Brady is just 6-6 in the postseason (including an 0-2 record in Super Bowls). 

To say that Brady needs a win on Sunday to preserve his mystique and to protect his legacy is a colossal understatement. But even beating the Texans wouldn't be enough. Brady needs to lock up a fourth Super Bowl title in order to elevate himself into an elite group of quarterbacks and players. 

Matt Schaub, Houston Texans

Houston's Matt Schaub isn't out of the woods yet. Like Brady, Schaub is in desperate need of another playoff win.

Sure, Schaub played just well enough to lift the Texans past the Cincinnati Bengals on Wild Card Weekend. But Houston beat Cincy last postseason as well and is eyeing a berth in the AFC Championship Game for the first time ever in 2013. Neither Schaub nor the Texans are content to crash out in the divisional round for the second-straight winter.

The pressure on the veteran quarterback's shoulders is immense.

He is already being singled out by fans as the reason why Houston failed to lock up home-field advantage, and a loss on the road at New England would only add to the cloud of negativity floating over Matt Schaub.

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan's playoff failures have been well-documented, and a loss in the divisional round in 2013 would run his postseason record to 0-4 (which would include two home playoff losses). 

Of course, it's unfair to fault Ryan for all three of Atlanta's previous three playoff losses, but clearly he could have played better in the Falcons' two most recent postseason defeats to the Giants and Packers, which they lost by a combined 49 points. 

The No. 1 goal for Ryan, like both Brady and Schaub, will be to lead his team to a victory this coming weekend, by any means necessary. Forget about Ryan's numbers. As long as Atlanta is hosting the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 20, he can breathe a sigh of relief.

At least for another week. 

The NFL Playoffs are just getting started, and for these three players, anything less than a Super Bowl victory will be considered a failure. 

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