The Weakest Link on Every Remaining NFL Playoff Team
It's the Divisional Round of the 2013 NFL playoffs, and the eight teams remaining represent some of the best that the National Football League has to offer, both as a team and as individuals.
However, even the strongest of chains has a weak link, and as we prepare for this week's round of games here's a look at the one spot on each remaining team in the tournament where the dam is most apt to spring a leak.
Baltimore Ravens: Chykie Brown, Cornerback
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For many years that Baltimore Ravens have been a team with a reputation of having one of the most fearsome defenses in the NFL.
That reputation took a big hit this season, as injuries to such prominent players as linebacker Ray Lewis have ravaged the unit, causing them to drop into the middle of the pick statistically.
However, the biggest injury that struck the Ravens this year was likely the loss of cornerback Lardarius Webb, which forced second-year pro Chykie Brown into a more prominent role defensively.
Brown has struggled with that increased role, but the Ravens are essentially stuck with him, as fellow second-year corner Jimmy Smith has been even worse, grading out as the second-worst player at his position in the entire NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
Denver Broncos: Derek Wolfe, Defensive End
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When a team goes 13-3 and ranks in the top five in the National Football League in both total offense and total defense it can be hard to find a "weak link" that stands out, and such is the case with the Denver Broncos.
That may make this seem like nitpicking, but someone's gotta take the hit.
That player is rookie defensive end Derek Wolfe. Granted, Wolfe tallied a respectable 40 tackles and six sacks in his first NFL season, but Wolfe also struggled mightily against the run at times, ranking dead last among defensive ends in Pro Football Focus' rankings in that regard.
Green Bay Packers: Don Barclay, Offensive Tackle
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers enjoyed another phenomenal season in 2012, throwing for nearly 4,300 yards and 39 touchdowns while posting the NFL's top passer rating.
That's all the more remarkable when you consider that Rodgers once again played behind a porous offensive line that was among the NFL's leaders in sacks allowed.
The right side of that line was especially troublesome, and right tackle Don Barclay may be the biggest turnstile of the bunch, with the undrafted free agent rookie allowing as many sacks this season as he has starts.
San Francisco 49ers: Justin Smith, Defensive End
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No, that's not a typo.
For many seasons San Francisco 49ers defensive end Justin Smith has been one of the more underrated players in the National Football League (at least by casual fans), as the impact that Smith makes on the field often times doesn't show up in the box score.
However, a partially torn triceps muscle has sidelined Smith since December 16th, and were it not for the fact that backup Ricky Jean-Francois has struggled in his stead Smith likely wouldn't even be playing against the Green Bay Packers.
The 12th-year veteran will gut it out Saturday, but with Smith effectively playing with one arm he may well turn out to be more of a liability than an asset.
Seattle Seahawks: Bruce Irvin, Defensive End
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This is another case where injury has turned an area of strength into a potential weakness for a playoff team.
The Seattle Seahawks didn't escape their playoff win over the Washington Redskins unscathed, as defensive end Chris Clemons, who led the team in sacks in 2012, was lost for the rest of the year to a torn ACL.
That thrusts rookie Bruce Irvin into a starting role, and while Irvin has shown flashes of the talent that made him a first-round pick in last April's draft in a situational role Irvin is all but certain to be a liability against the run given his 248-pound frame.
Atlanta Falcons: Peter Konz, Offensive Guard
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The interior of the offensive line has been an area of need for the Atlanta Falcons in recent seasons, and in the 2012 draft the team took steps to address that deficiency by selecting Wisconsin guard Peter Konz in the second round.
Things haven't gone exactly as planned.
Since taking over for Garrett Reynolds earlier this season Konz has been one of the worst guards in the entire NFL, with only three players in the entire NFL posting a lower score in Pro Football Focus' pass blocking efficiency rating, which measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis.
Houston Texans: Barrett Ruud, Inside Linebacker
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The inside linebacker position was one of the strengths of the Houston Texans' defense when the 2012 season began, but as is the case with many of the teams on this list things didn't stay that way.
The loss of star linebacker Brian Cushing to a torn ACL was a massive blow to the defense, and the problem was only exacerbated when the team recently had to place Tim Dobbins on injured reserve as well.
That leaves eighth-year pro Barrett Ruud as the starter next to Bradie James by default. Not only is Ruud a replacement level talent who is on his fourth team in three years and just joined the Texans earlier this season, but this is also the first time in Ruud's career that he has played in a 3-4 defense.
Not good heading into a matchup with the buzzsaw that is the New England Patriots.
New England Patriots: Kyle Arrington, Cornerback
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The New England Patriots are one of the most talented teams in the National Football League, and given the skill that has been used to assemble their roster over the past decade there aren't a lot of holes to poke criticism at Beantown.
However, the Patriots pass defense, much like last season, continues to give up yardage in bunches, ranking 29th in the NFL in that regard.
The acquisition of Aqib Talib has been of some help in that regard but the team is still prone to lapses in coverage, and while you can just as easily make the argument that it's Talib that belongs in this spot and not fourth-year pro Kyle Arrington, it's Arrington that gets the nod as low man on the New England totem pole in the defensive backfield.
The reason? Arrington was targeted more than any other Patriots' cornerback in 2012, which usually indicates that the receiver Arrington was covering was at least perceived to be open more often.