The 10 Biggest Underdogs in the Divisional Round of NFL Playoffs
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Every NFL team has dominant players that are simply better than others around them. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is a perfect example. The guy is one of the best to ever play the game. But even the superstars can have off-games or be held in check.
Then there are the players who are not supposed to stand a chance when looking at the matchup on paper. Those are the underdogs. The players may not be household names but are important to the outcome of the games. Sometimes underdogs are known, but face the difficult task of overcoming their opponent.
Here are eight individual players, one from each team, that are underdogs heading into the divisional round. There are also two teams that really stand out as underdogs in the four matchups this week.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens QB
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Flacco is a household name and is the only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five NFL seasons. So why would a player like him be an underdog?
The last time Flacco took on the Broncos when they faced off in Week 15, the quarterback only completed 50 percent of his passes. The former Delaware Blue Hen went 20 for 40 for 254 yards. Flacco did have two touchdown passes but also threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown as the Broncos beat the Ravens.
During the regular season, Denver had the second-best total defense in the NFL. The pass defense of the Broncos held opponents to under 200 yards passing a game. Flacco is going to need a huge game for the Ravens to win.
Orlando Franklin, Denver Broncos RT
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According to ProFootballFocus.com, Franklin is the sixth-best right tackle in the NFL. The only problem is Franklin will be facing off against the same website’s sixth-best outside linebacker, the Ravens' Paul Kruger.
Kruger is coming off a monster day versus the Colts in which the former Utah defensive end had 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Franklin held Kruger to zero sacks in the Week 15 matchup, but allowed Kruger to harass quarterback Peyton Manning the entire game.
Franklin has only given up four sacks on the regular season, but with Kruger playing as well has he has of late, Franklin will have his hands full all-game long. This matchup away from the football will be indicative of the game overall.
DuJuan Harris, Green Bay Packers RB
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Harris has given the pass-happy Packers some semblance of a rushing attack. Head coach Mike McCarthy praised Harris this week for the reason the Packers rushing attack is better.
While Harris has not had a 100-yard rushing game this season, the former practice squad player has given a spark to the Packers offense. That offense will need more contributions from him versus one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Harris will be rushing against the fourth-best defense in the NFL versus the run in 2012. The 49ers limit their opponents to 3.7 yards a carry. This defense allows 94.2 yards a game total on the ground and has not given up a run of more than 40 yards.
Randy Moss, San Francisco 49ers WR
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Moss, once the best wide receiver in the NFL, is a shell of his former self. Though listed as a starter, Moss has not had a 100-yard receiving game this season. But Moss has been known to show up in the playoffs and if the 49ers want to beat the Packers, Moss will need to be somewhat of a factor.
The Packers' four cornerbacks, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Davon House, all finished with positive grades in coverage, according to ProFootballFocus.com. This young group of cornerbacks has the ability to completely shut down the 49ers passing attack.
Moss has never been an underdog before. But entering this showdown with the Packers, Moss will need to prove he can be elite one more time.
Greg Scruggs, Seattle Seahawks DE
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Scruggs may be the biggest underdog in the entire playoff picture this weekend. The former seventh-round selection in last year’s draft will be asked to play significant minutes versus the Falcons. The former Louisville Cardinal's jump in playing time is due to Chris Clemons tearing his ACL in the win versus the Redskins.
Scruggs has two sacks on the season, which is not bad for a rookie on a deep defensive line. But the Falcons offensive line is a solid group that only gave up 28 sacks on the season. Right tackle Tyson Clabo has only allowed five sacks on the season and left tackle Sam Baker has only allowed six.
Scruggs will have his time in the spotlight. How the rookie performs under the lights will determine if he will ever be looked at as an underdog again.
Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons RB
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Turner has not rushed for 100 yards in a game since Week 9 versus the Cowboys. In his last four games, Turner is rushing for under three yards a carry. For a starting running back on the No. 1 seed in the NFC, those statistics would make anyone an underdog.
Now add the fact the Seahawks are the sixth-best team in the NFL versus the run, and one can see why Turner has a major uphill battle. Only the Falcons (14) allowed fewer rushing touchdowns than the Seahawks on the season.
In Turner’s last two playoff games, the former Northern Illinois Husky has not gained over 45 yards. Both ended up as losses for the Falcons.
Matt Schaub, Houston Texans QB
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Even though Schaub got his first playoff win last week versus the Cincinnati Bengals, the signal-caller enters the divisional weekend as a major underdog. Not only is he playing second fiddle to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but Schaub has not thrown for over 300 yards since Week 12.
Schaub will be facing one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, but the former Virginia Cavalier will need to match scores with Brady for the Texans to stay in the game. Schaub will need to avoid turnovers and manage the time clock like he did so efficiently in the win over the Bengals.
Schaub does not need to win the game for the Texans, but he cannot make mistakes to lose the game. How Schaub responds to the pressure of the spotlight in New England will determine the fate of the Texans.
Alfonzo Dennard, New England Patriots CB
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According to ProFootballFocus.com, Dennard is the 30th-best cornerback in the NFL. Not bad for a rookie seventh-round draft selection. The only issue for Dennard this week is he will at times be matched up with ProFootballFocus.com’s No. 1 rated wide receiver, Andre Johnson.
Johnson had eight receptions for 95 yards in the Week 14 matchup. Johnson had six 100-yard games on the season and will be looking to get number seven versus the rookie.
Dennard will have help from fellow cornerback Aqib Talib, but some of the onus will fall on the former Nebraska Cornhusker to contain Johnson. The challenge is not impossible, and the underdog Dennard has already proved he can hold his own in the NFL.
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The betting lines in Las Vegas can say whatever they want, but the No. 1 seed in the NFC is still the underdog until it wins a playoff game. A team loaded with veteran players, the Falcons need to show they have the leadership and fortitude to get to the next round of the playoffs.
Quarterback Matt Ryan needs to prove he can live up to the moniker “Matty Ice.” Head coach Mike Smith has led the Falcons to five straight winning seasons, but until he wins a playoff game, Smith will always have a monkey on his back.
The Seattle Seahawks come into Atlanta as one of the hottest teams in football. The Seahawks showed their fortitude versus the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card Round. Seattle was down by 14 points on the road, yet stormed back to win the game. Atlanta enters this game as the underdog in the public's eye.
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The Texans limped into the playoffs and cost themselves the No. 1 seed. Though they beat the Cincinnati Bengals at home last weekend, the Texans never showed a dominant mentality and allowed the Bengals to hang around far too long.
The Texans claimed that the Week 14 matchup versus the Patriots was the biggest game of the year and then went out and laid an egg. The Texans got run out of New England 42-14 in a game that seemed to crush their spirit.
Houston will need to start fast and hope its defense can contain quarterback Tom Brady. If the Texans can find a way to win the game, the underdogs will have pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent history.