NFL Playoffs 2013: Offensive X-Factors for NFC Teams

Jonathan IrwinContributor IIJanuary 7, 2013

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 02: Cornerback Janoris Jenkins #21 of the St. Louis Rams dives to tackle tight end Vernon Davis #85 of the San Francisco 49ers during the game at the Edward Jones Dome on December 02, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Rams beat the 49ers 16-13 in overtime. (Photo by David Welker/Getty Images)
David Welker/Getty Images

Each NFC team features explosive key pieces that their offenses are expected to flow through. But at the end of the day it's the x-factors that make a real difference for their teams.

Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback, but at the end of the day he's expected to put up great stats. He's a key player sure, but he's not the x-factor.

The x-factors are the solid players who can torch your opponent at any minute. The player that is so perfect at exploiting your opponent's weaknesses, he's sure to have an explosive game.

And as long as that player can rise to the challenge, playoff success will be at hand.


Seattle: Golden Tate, WR

The Seahawks offensive success will hinge on the effectiveness of quarterback Russell Wilson against Atlanta. But the rookie QB can only be expected to be as good as his receivers.

Which means Golden Tate has to come up big for the Seahawks.

His third year in the NFL, Tate has finally emerged as a solid receiving option. He posted career highs in all major stat categories this season, while coming in second in yards per catch (15.3) and tying for first in receiving touchdowns (seven) for Seattle.

Tate has averaged 16.3 yards per catch over his last five games, but hasn't found the end zone since December 2.

If the Seahawks are expected to trade blows with Atlanta offensively, Tate will need to be an effective weapon for his quarterback.


Atlanta: Tony Gonzalez, TE

The Falcons have a dynamic list of role players on offense, and it's their depth that makes them so dangerous. One hole gets plugged, and two more show up in its place.

Atlanta will be facing it's biggest defensive challenge of the season when they take on the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle has one of the NFL's best ranked passing defenses, allowing just 203.1 yards per game.

While the Hawks have physical corners, they're only two guys. And Atlanta has a wealth of receiving talent.

With Julio Jones and Roddy White expected to be covered all game long, it'll be up to Tony Gonzalez to break open the passing game.

The long-time veteran is still a force to be reckoned with, and at 36 years of age he just barely missed a 1,000 yards receiving season.

Despite his age, Gonzalez averaged 10 yards per catch with 93 receptions and eight touchdowns this season.

If Gonzalez can break open in the flats and set up the pass, it will help take the pressure off Atlanta's other leading receivers. From there it's Matt Ryan's time to shine.


Green Bay: DuJuan Harris, RB

The Packers' bread and butter is with the pass, and as always Aaron Rodgers will be a huge factor in the game. But the Green Bay offense plays at its best when it's balanced.

For that to happen, they need to get the running game going. It's something the Pack's struggled with all season, as they average just 106.4 rushing yards per game.

Despite the rotating door of starters, DuJuan Harris will most likely get the nod at running back against San Francisco.

The second-year back has shown some fire late in the season, scoring touchdowns in three of his last five games, while averaging 3.78 yards per carry over his last two.

The 49ers have one of the best ground defenses in the league, and they're not going to make things easy on Harris. But it wouldn't be surprising if they played it safe against the pass and forced Harris to beat them on the ground.

If he rises to the challenge, it could make all the difference for Green Bay.


San Francisco: Vernon Davis, TE

Despite the emergence of Michael Crabtree, a case can still be made for Vernon Davis being the 49ers best and most valuable receiver.

But the tight end hasn't played liked it this season, posting a four-year low of 548 receiving yards. He also had just five touchdowns in the regular season.

Still Davis is a force to be reckoned with. He averaged 13.4 yards per catch in 2012, the second highest mark of his career.

And he certainly comes alive in the playoffs. In two games last season he averaged 29.2 yards per catch with four touchdowns.

If Davis can reemerge as a top target on San Francisco's offense, it will do wonders for Kaepernick's ability to spread the ball around—making an inconsistent Niners offense all the more dangerous.