Divisional weekend is upon us, and with eight teams still vying for 2013 NFL supremacy, there are always going to be guys that step into the limelight for their teams.
This year, the field is wide open and no one—with the slight exception of the Denver Broncos—has really set themselves apart as the No. 1 contender.
That being said, the heroes on Saturday and Sunday could be any player on any unit. Offensive and defensive guys star in the spotlight, but what about the undrafted rookie that makes two or three plays on the special teams group?
With that in mind, here's a look at four guys that will emerge from the ashes as the MVPs of this weekend's action. Keeping in mind that MVPs are usually from the winning team, you also get an added dose of prediction here—which four teams will advance to championship Sunday?
Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos MVP—LB Ray Lewis
If the Ravens are going to have any shot at pulling off the road upset against the AFC's No. 1 seed, it's going to be behind Lewis, the defensive captain of the team who has opted for retirement following the conclusion of the year's playoffs.
He totaled 13 tackles in a win over the Indianapolis Colts last weekend—current Broncos QB Peyton Manning's old team. He'll now face Manning in the flesh, as two of the NFL's best at making audibles at the line of scrimmage square off.
There's no doubt Lewis has lost some of his lateral quickness, but his ability to recognize offenses and make plays downhill are still tops at his position. To stuff the running game of Denver, Lewis will have to do just that.
If the running game slows down it makes things a whole lot easier on the Baltimore defense—so much so that we could be talking upset. I like Baltimore to run the ball a lot and control the clock, but it's Lewis who will have a profound impact on this week's game.
Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers MVP—WR Randall Cobb
With the San Francisco defense a major concern for QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, Green Bay's offense must find a way to stretch the field from side to side.
Lucky for the visitors, they have just that sort of weapon in Cobb, the versatile pro from Kentucky that can virtually do it all. From lining up in the backfield to splitting out in all four WR positions, you can bet Jim Harbaugh will have his eye on the team's most explosive receiver with the ball in his hands.
With Cobb stretching the defense thin, look for Green Bay to try and exploit him as a decoy to get the run game going. This is a different 49ers offense, but the defense has been about the same since the first time the team's met in September.
Cobb is on special teams, too, and don't discount the impact that can have on a game—especially the postseason. I'm taking Green Bay to win, and Cobb to take home the game ball in the process.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons MVP—CB Richard Sherman
Sherman has become a household name after an eight-INT season and a bevy of other incidents that caught the eye of the media.
He fought off suspension from the league, got in Tom Brady's face after a big Seattle win over New England and is one of the big reasons why QBs are struggling to move the ball against the Seahawks defense.
Against Atlanta, he'll draw either Julio Jones or Roddy White—both threats to beat you deep and underneath. Sherman hasn't given us any reason he won't be up for the challenge, and since Atlanta's running game has been struggling for most of the season, look for him to back that assertion up one more time this weekend.
Seattle is hot right now, and Atlanta has been inconsistent. If the Seahawks pull off the upset, Sherman will be right in the middle of the action, and therefore will be the game's MVP.
Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots—QB Tom Brady
Same story, different day.
Not only has Brady been in this situation before, but he's poised to prove to Houston that the last time these two teams met was not a fluke. Houston will score more than the 14 points they did in December on Monday Night Football, but New England might score more than 42, too.
With Brady in peak form and New England's defense playing well since the addition of CB Aqib Talib, New England just needs to get out of Brady's way and let the big man do his thing.
There's a full complement of players back from injury, including both healthy TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker has once again been Mr. Consistent.
Houston played well against Andy Dalton and the Bengals, and managed to squash their passing attack for most of the night. This is a different animal, and Houston will have to contend with the Massachusetts faithful on a cold, winter day.
Brady does what he does best—win, and then take home MVP honors, just like the other four guys on this list.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.
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