NFL Playoff Predictions 2013: Young Guns Who Will Star in Championship Games

Ryan DavenportContributor IJanuary 14, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 13:  Shane Vereen #34 of the New England Patriots reacts after scoing a touchdown in the second quarter against the Houston Texans during the 2013 AFC Divisional Playoffs game at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

This is the time of year when legends are born.

Sure, the Super Bowl is the grandest stage of all, and the divisional round is important as well, but virtually every football fan can name both teams in every recent Super Bowl, which is indicative of how truly significant it is for a coach and his players to earn the opportunity to play for the Super Bowl.

With the stakes so high, for an up-and-coming player, there's no better way to announce your arrival to the football world than to have a big day in a conference championship, and by Monday, there will be yet another young standout who will have etched his name in the minds of fans across the country.

Heading into this weekend's Ravens-Patriots and 49ers-Falcons games, here's a look at some of the young stars who appear poised to be gamebreakers and do everything that they can to will their teams to victory.

Shane Vereen

On Sunday against Houston, second-year back Shane Vereen broke out in a big way with a handful of New England's top offensive weapons out of the lineup, as he picked up 83 yards and two touchdowns through the air in addition to another 41 yards and a score on the ground.

Vereen, the Patriots' third-string back, will presumably see his fair share of action against Baltimore, as Rob Gronkowski's injury will keep him off the field.

If his postseason debut was any indication, Vereen will need to come up with a big performance to help the Patriots make their way back to the Super Bowl, but he has all of the tools to do just that.

Colin Kaepernick

This one's obvious.

That's because after Colin Kaepernick's record-setting performance against the Packers, the secret's out: Kaepernick is an absolute stud.

He threw the ball when the opportunities presented themselves, but more importantly, he demonstrated an ability to decide when to hang onto the ball and use his deceptively explosive speed to pick up over 180 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

Against the Falcons, who have had trouble all season against dual-threat quarterbacks, Kaepernick will have a perfect opportunity to once again make Jim Harbaugh look like a genius for going with the first-year starter over former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith from Week 10 on.

Torrey Smith

As one of Baltimore's top options in a very solid receiving corps that features both Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones, Torrey Smith has talent around him to distract opposing defenses.

So far, the second-year receiver has been a revelation during the postseason for the Ravens, as Smith racked up 98 yards on just three receptions and found the end zone twice in Baltimore's double-overtime win over the Broncos.

Now, with Smith and the Ravens set to take on a perennial contender in the Patriots, one of the keys to the game for Baltimore will be for Joe Flacco to continue to find Smith on big-yardage plays, because not only do they put points on the board, but they take pressure off of Ray Rice, who will undoubtedly have to be at his best on Sunday.