NFL Playoff Predictions: Offensive X-Factors Who Will Be Key to Playoff Clashes

Jonathan IrwinContributor IIJanuary 10, 2013

LANDOVER, MD - JANUARY 06:   Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks carries the ball against the Washington Redskins during the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game at FedExField on January 6, 2013 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

With some of the most elite quarterbacks in the game playing in these playoffs, expect each of the divisional games to be high-flying affairs.

But these playoffs are ripe with defense as well. Teams are going to have to be balanced and flexible if they hope to put up points.

That's where the X-factors come in. They're the players that slip in and make a difference when it really counts.



Baltimore vs. Denver

Baltimore: Joe Flacco

Joe Flacco is far from an elite quarterback, but on a good day he can be very tough to beat.

While Baltimore has great role players in Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin, this game game will come down to how well Flacco plays.

The Raven's QB completed just 12 passes last week against Indianapolis, but they produced 282 yards and two touchdowns.

Another performance like that would close the gap between these two teams.


Denver: Knowshon Moreno

The Broncos are sitting pretty on the shoulders of Peyton Manning but face a tough challenge this week in the Baltimore defense.

Denver took a balanced approach in its regular-season win over the Ravens, rushing for 163 yards.

Baltimore isn't nearly as banged up now as it was then, but it still struggled against the ground last weekend. The Colts averaged 5.1 yards per carry.

If Knowshon Moreno has a solid game, it'll help take the pressure off Manning. Once that happens the rest will be history.

Prediction: Baltimore 17, Denver 27


Green Bay vs. San Francisco

Green Bay: Committee of Running Backs

Aaron Rodgers did a fantastic job spreading the ball around last week against Minnesota, hitting six different receivers for 365 yards.

But the 49ers are too balanced defensively to be beat just by the passing game.

The Packers will have to produce something with the run if they hope to win. That's been a struggle this season, and they managed just 72 yards on the ground against the Vikings.

But if they can stay balanced and keep the pressure off Rodgers, Green Bay can steal this one.


San Francisco: Vernon Davis

Just like Green Bay, San Francisco will need a balanced approach if it hopes to win this game. Frank Gore can carry the offense, but the team still has to produce in the passing game.

Collin Kaepernick has been solid since taking over as the starting QB, but this is his first playoffs. He'll be leaning on his receivers for help.

While the Niners are deep at wideouts, it'll be Vernon Davis that makes the difference.

The veteran tight end has had an oddly quiet season but still had 548 yards receiving. He averaged 29.2 yards per catch in last year's postseason. If he can do that again, the Niners will be tough to stop.

Prediction: Green Bay 22, San Francisco 27


Seattle vs. Atlanta

Seattle: Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson

Atlanta struggled up front this season, and the Seahawks had one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL.

Marshawn Lynch ran for 132 yards and a touchdown against Washington. It's that kind of explosiveness that Seattle needs to lean on against the Falcons.

Despite his hot arm, Russell Wilson runs a better offense when he's on the move. He averaged 5.2 yards a carry this season with four rushing TDs.

If the whole Seattle team can go into beast mode, they'll move over the Falcons.


Atlanta: Tony Gonzalez and Jacquizz Rodgers

Roddy White and Julio Jones are a dynamic force to be reckoned with. But the Seahawks' physical corners dominate down field and will be tough to go against all game long.

Matt Ryan will need to lean on his other receivers for aid in the passing game.

Tight end Tony Gonzalez immediately comes to mind. The long-time veteran has said he's retiring after the season (via CBS Sports), and what better way to go out than with a bang.

Jacquizz Rodgers is another who could have an impact. He averaged 7.6 yards per catch in the regular season, and his speed is lethal in the flats.

Prediction: Seattle 21, Atlanta 24



Houston vs. New England

Patriots: Tight End Duo

If his play against Cincinnati was a sign of anything, it's that New England's wide receivers are going to have their hands full against Johnathan Joseph this weekend.

For Tom Brady to open up the passing game, he'll have to rely on his other targets. That means his deadly tight ends.

Rob Gronkowski should be back to full health and ready to make an impact. In the regular season, Aaron Hernandez had eight catches and two touchdowns against the Texans.

If the Pats can open up the passing game with their tight ends, they'll be tough to stop.


Texans: Arian Foster

Houston dominated on the ground against Cincinnati, and they'll need that same kind of attack to win this week at Foxborough.

Matt Schaub is a solid quarterback, but he can't exchange blows with Tom Brady on his own. He relies heavily on Houston's balanced offensive attack.

Arian Foster can break open any game, and he had 140 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Bengals. But he was shut down against the Pats in the regular season, rushing for just 46 yards on 15 carries.

As long as Foster runs like he did last week, Houston will give New England a run for their money.

Prediction: Houston 20, New England 30


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