NFL Playoff Bracket 2013: Each Team's X-Factor in Conference Title Games

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2013

Aaron Hernandez must step up against the Baltimore Ravens.
Aaron Hernandez must step up against the Baltimore Ravens.Elsa/Getty Images

The NFL playoffs are the time when every player needs to step up.

Champ Bailey has long been the best cornerback in the NFL, but he was constantly getting overmatched by Torrey Smith. It wouldn't have been a problem if the Denver Broncos safeties had been there to provide a last line of defense.

The likes of Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick and Ray Lewis will get most of the attention in the buildup to the conference title games. It's the seldom-covered players, though, who can step up with a big catch, a key run or a game-changing turnover.

Here is one player for each team in the conference title stage who can provide that extra production necessary to get to the Super Bowl.


Atlanta Falcons: Harry Douglas, WR

Harry Douglas hasn't recorded more than 83 yards receiving in a game this year. He's only fifth on the Atlanta Falcons in receiving.

Douglas won't be demanding a ton of attention from the San Francisco 49ers secondary. That's where he could come in handy.

The 49ers will try to blanket Roddy White and Julio Jones as much as they can. Matt Ryan will need third and fourth options when he has to check down.

It's not as if Douglas will break the century mark, but a couple of targets can give Atlanta a key first down or score. Their game with San Francisco looks to be a very close matchup, so the Falcons will need all of the offensive options possible.


Baltimore Ravens: Dennis Pitta, TE

Dennis Pitta doesn't strike fear in the heart of an opposing defense, but he has the ability to provide a security blanket for Joe Flacco, much like Owen Daniels did for the Houston Texans.

Daniels was the most targeted receiver for Matt Schaub. He caught nine passes for 81 yards.

Pitta is also a good threat in the red zone. Four of his seven touchdowns came inside the 20-yard line.

He's not a freak athlete who will break short passes for huge gains, but his reliability could prove vital for the Baltimore Ravens offense.


New England Patriots: Aaron Hernandez, TE

Mike Garafolo of USA Today reported that Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm against the Houston Texans and will miss the remainder of the postseason.

That means Aaron Hernandez will have to step up again. He had a very good game against the Texans, catching six passes for 85 yards. He was the second-leading receiver in the game behind Wes Welker.

New England doesn't have an elite receiving corps. Everybody knows how good Welker is, but he can't be the only option for Tom Brady.

Brady can hit Hernandez on a short crossing route, and the tight end has the ability to break it open for a big gain. It's going to be hard for the Ravens to match up with him.


San Francisco 49ers: Dashon Goldson, S

The key to getting past Atlanta is stopping its quarterback.

Denver showed in their loss to the Ravens how important safety help can be. The Broncos were constantly getting beat over the top, with Jacoby Jones' touchdown catch the biggest example of that.

Dashon Goldson is one of the anchors in the 49ers secondary.

Goldson also led the 49ers in interceptions, with three. He and Donte Whitner are going to be tasked with making sure the Falcons don't get that huge game-changing play.

San Francisco needs to keep Julio Jones and White in front of them. They can do major damage if given space in the defense.