The NFL's divisional round is on the horizon, and although every remaining team is loaded with quality players, a transcendent few will rise above the competition.
It happens every season—a quarterback will get hot, a receiver will become unstoppable or a defender will take his game to the next level. And although football is the ultimate team sport, the efforts of these individuals will power their team's victory.
Look for the following players to fill that role this weekend by submitting classic performances.
Peyton Manning - QB, Denver Broncos
The 36-year-old Manning was as good as ever this season, throwing for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also threw just 11 interceptions, and he ranked second in the NFL in both completion percentage (68.6) and quarterback rating (105.8).
More importantly, he led the Broncos on an all-out rampage this season. Denver finished 13-3 after winning 11 straight games to finish the year.
One of those games was a 34-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, who will be riding into Mile High Stadium this Saturday. Denver used its running game to dominate Baltimore in Week 15, but look for Manning to take center stage in the playoffs.
He is one of the best quarterbacks to play the game, and with his career winding down, I'm expecting an amazing performance from Manning this postseason.
Tom Brady - QB, New England Patriots
Like Manning, Brady is an aging quarterback who has refused to fade. Brady had another incredible regular season, racking up 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns while throwing just eight interceptions.
Also like Manning, Brady will be facing an opponent whom he destroyed earlier this season.
The Patriots completely dominated the Houston Texans in Week 14, leading by 35 points in the fourth quarter before winning 42-14. As usual, Brady led the charge. The future Hall of Famer threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns against the Texans D.
Although it might be a little closer this time around, I'm expecting another emphatic win from the Patriots. Tom Brady is 10-2 in home playoff games, and the Texans haven't exactly impressed in recent weeks.
Look for another vintage Brady performance and another double-digit Patriots victory.
Marshawn Lynch - RB, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson deserves plenty of credit for Seattle's success, but Lynch's hard-nosed running has allowed Wilson the time and space to work his magic.
The man they call "Beast Mode" was an absolute monster this season, finishing third in the NFL in rushing yards (1,590) and fifth in rushing touchdowns (11). Lynch also stepped his game up in the Seahawks' first game of the playoffs. The bruising back ripped off 132 yards and one touchdown on just 20 carries.
Lynch should have another big day this Sunday, as he will be facing a Falcons defense that ranked 21st in opponent rushing yards (123.2 per game). If Pete Carroll feeds him early and often, Lynch will lead Seattle to the NFC Championship Game.
This should be a thrilling weekend of football, so be sure to catch all the action. The divisional round schedule is listed below.
|Denver||Baltimore||Saturday, Jan. 12||4:30 p.m.||CBS|
|San Francisco||Green Bay||Saturday, Jan.12||8 p.m.||FOX|
|Atlanta||Seattle||Sunday, Jan. 13||1 p.m.||FOX|
|New England||Houston||Sunday, Jan. 13||4:30 p.m.||CBS|