49ers, Falcons, Patriots, Ravens: Best Unit at Every Position in NFL Playoffs
With only one day remaining until the NFL conference championships take place, everyone wants to know which teams have the advantage heading into Sunday's games.
We all know the New England Patriots have the best remaining quarterback and the San Francisco 49ers have the best remaining linebackers, but some positions aren't as clear. For example, which team has the best running backs or cornerbacks?
We'll answer those questions and more as we break down which team has the best remaining unit at every position in the NFL playoffs.
Quarterbacks: New England Patriots
Key Player: Tom Brady
This should really come as no surprise. Brady is likely going to be remembered as the greatest playoff quarterback of all time.
He already owns the the NFL record for most playoff wins for a quarterback with 17, and a win on Sunday would put him into his sixth Super Bowl, another NFL record for quarterbacks. It's almost as if Brady was born to excel in the playoffs.
With Colin Kaepernick, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco only combining for nine playoff wins, it is easy to see why the New England Patriots have the best quarterback still in the playoffs.
Running Backs: Baltimore Ravens
Key Players: Ray Rice, Vonta Leach and Bernard Pierce
This unit ultimately came down to the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. While Frank Gore and LaMichael James are extremely talented, the trio of Rice, Leach and Pierce is the best remaining unit.
Rice didn't quite have the regular season that many expected him to, but he still needs to be considered a dangerous threat in both the running and passing games. The same goes for the rookie Pierce, who has shown the ability to break off huge plays for the Ravens.
As for Leach, he continues to be one of the best fullbacks in the league. The combination of these three players and their abilities makes the Ravens running backs very difficult to stop.
Wide Receivers: Atlanta Falcons
Key Players: Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas
When you have two of the best receivers in the league on your roster, you probably have the best remaining receiving corps in the playoffs.
For the Atlanta Falcons, it is all about the abilities of White and Jones. They both have the ability to make plays all over the field and are truly threats to score each time they touch the ball.
Against the Seattle Seahawks, they combined for 11 receptions, 135 yards and a touchdown against two of the best cornerbacks in the league.
If these two can continue to produce at a high level against the San Francisco 49ers, the Falcons will have a great chance to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.
Tight Ends: San Francisco 49ers
Key Players: Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker
With Rob Gronkowski out with a broken forearm, the San Francisco 49ers have the best remaining tight ends in the playoffs. While Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson have been good, neither of them have the potential of Davis.
That is what really makes this unit so dangerous for the 49ers. There are times when Davis looks like the best tight end in the entire league. His rare combination of size and athleticism makes him a mismatch for nearly every defensive player in the league.
Unfortunately, Davis can also be overly frustrating, like when he only recorded one reception against the Green Bay Packers last Saturday. Sure, it was a 44-yard reception, but Davis is simply too talented to only catch one ball over the course of four quarters.
When you take Davis and add a quality backup like Walker, you have the best group of tight ends in the conference championships.
Offensive Line: San Francisco 49ers
Key Players: Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone and Anthony Davis
After watching the San Francisco 49ers offensive line completely manhandle the Green Bay Packers last week, it was pretty clear that this is the best offensive line left in the playoffs.
Staley and Iupati are two of the best offensive linemen in the league. Davis has been greatly improved this season, and Boone and Goodwin are both quality starters.
This unit has the ability to simply dominate opposing defenses. Should they have a repeat performance of high play against the Atlanta Falcons, the 49ers will have a great shot at winning on Sunday.
Defensive Line: New England Patriots
Key Players: Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich
The other three teams in the playoffs all have their stud defensive lineman. The San Francisco 49ers have Justin Smith, the Baltimore Ravens have Haloti Ngata and the Atlanta Falcons have an injured John Abraham.
However, the New England Patriots have the star power in Wilfork, but they also have two exceptional starters in Jones and Ninkovich. These two defensive ends combined for 14 sacks during the regular season and can consistently bring pressure off the edge.
While Jones and Ninkovich are certainly great, Wilfork is the one who really pushes this unit over the edge. He continues to be one of the best defensive tackles in the league, and he has the ability to completely take over games.
This unit should have some serious success against Baltimore and could be the reason why New England heads back to the Super Bowl.
Linebackers: San Francisco 49ers
Key Players: Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks and NaVorro Bowman
To be honest, no other team remaining in the playoffs can even come close to having as much talent as the San Francisco 49ers at the linebacker position.
In fact, Willis, Smith and Bowman would all be the best linebacker on any of the other teams in these conference championships. The fact that they are all on the same team is just ridiculously unfair.
This group of linebackers excel at every facet of the game. They can rush the quarterback, play the run and drop into coverage.
It'll never matter who San Francisco plays because chances are good that it'll have the best linebacker corps on the field.
Cornerbacks: Atlanta Falcons
Key Players: Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson
This was an extremely tough unit to decide who had the best, as all four teams have great cornerbacks. However, the Atlanta Falcons have one of the premier playoff cornerbacks in NFL history on their roster in Samuel.
As a member of the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, Samuel made big play after big play during the playoffs. His four interceptions returned for touchdowns in the playoffs is an NFL record.
With Robinson on the opposite side of Samuel, the Falcons have the best remaining cornerback duo in the conference championships.
Safeties: San Francisco 49ers
Key Players: Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner
There is no doubt that players like Ed Reed, William Moore and Devin McCourty are great, but none of them have a superb sidekick to play with. That's why the San Francisco 49ers have the best remaining safeties; both Goldson and Whitner are extremely talented.
Where these two excel is in the open field, where they can lay big hits on offensive players. There is no doubt that they'll make a huge hit when given the opportunity.
They'll certainly have their hands full in trying to slow down Tony Gonzalez on Sunday. Goldson and Whitner will need to be at their absolute best in coverage to contain the high-powered passing attack of the Atlanta Falcons.
Special Teams: San Francisco 49ers
Key Players: Andy Lee, David Akers and Ted Ginn Jr.
The Baltimore Ravens have the best remaining kick/punt returner in Jacoby Jones. The New England Patriots have the best remaining kicker in Stephen Gostkowski.
However, the San Francisco 49ers have the best combination of remaining special teams players in Ginn, Akers and Lee.
After last year's loss in the NFC Championship Game due to poor special teams play, San Francisco is hoping that it won't have a repeat performance this year.