NFL Playoffs 2013: Defensive Starters with Most to Prove in Divisional Round

Chris StephensCorrespondent IIJanuary 7, 2013

Bruce Irvin has to step up in the absence of Chris Clemons.
Bruce Irvin has to step up in the absence of Chris Clemons.Win McNamee/Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin has a lot to prove as the NFL playoffs reach the divisional round.

With a reported ACL tear by starter Chris Clemons, the rookie out of West Virginia will likely get his first start against the Atlanta Falcons.

For Atlanta fans, that's good news since Clemons recorded 11.5 sacks on the year and constantly found ways to get to the quarterback.

Seattle fans, however, don't feel as good since Clemons was the dominant pass-rusher on the defense. In fact, you could actually say he was the only real pass-rusher.

In steps Irvin, who was taken with the No. 15 pick in the 2012 draft.

As we saw from Minnesota Vikings backup quarterback Joe Webb, having a backup start at a key position can be downright disastrous.

However, Irvin is not an ordinary backup. He was able to get to the quarterback as well, recording eight sacks this year.

Still, there is going to be a lot more expected of him as he is thrust into the starting role. Irvin has to be that primary pass-rusher who gets to the quarterback. It's all on him.

Here's a look at other players who have a lot to prove this weekend.

John Abraham, DE, Atlanta Falcons

The first concern for Abraham is the ankle. In Week 17, Abraham injured his ankle in a non-important game against Tampa Bay.

From there, if the ankle is good, the next concern is what kind of pass rush he can provide.

Abraham has gone without a sack in his last four games. In total, Abraham has gone sack-less in nine games this year. His only multi-sack games were against Oakland (three) and Arizona (two).

With the release of Ray Edwards earlier this season, Abraham has had to be that guy that gets to the quarterback. Unfortunately, he hasn't done so as often as fans would like.

In fact, the entire defense has failed to get sacks this year as the Falcons ranked 28th in the league with 29.

Abraham has a lot to prove in this game. He has to prove that age is just a number and that he can provide good, consistent pressure.

If he can do that, then he'll be the John Abraham of old.

Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens

While most people won't agree with Lewis being placed here, Lewis knows he belongs on this list.

First, there's nothing more Lewis really needs to prove to any team, any fan or any player. He's going down as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) linebacker in history.

However, Lewis has a lot to prove to himself over his final game(s).

He has to show himself that he can go out at the top of his game. That's why instead of retiring right away, Lewis came back for the playoff run. There's no way he was going to retire without a few more bone-crushing hits.

Lewis is leaving the game on his own terms and the way we've always seen him do it.