NFL Playoffs 2013: Projecting Unsung Heroes on Championship Sunday

Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IJanuary 15, 2013

Oct 21, 2012; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich (50) before the start of the game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Ray Lewis, Tom Brady, Tony Gonzalez and Colin Kaepernick will all be praised this weekend regardless of whether they play well and lead their respective team to victory. They are stars and their individual roles in their teams' success has been well-documented. 

But for the lesser-known players, the Easter Eggs of championship Sunday, making key plays will only buy them a few moments in the spotlight before the focus heads elsewhere.

It's time we give a few shout-outs to those with the potential to become unsung heroes for their teams this weekend. 


Corey Graham, Baltimore Ravens, CB

Lost in the never-ending Ray Lewis chatter this postseason has been the superb play of veteran cornerback Corey Graham. In his first season with the Baltimore Ravens, the former Chicago Bear broke up eight passes, picked off two more and forced two fumbles. 

In the playoffs however, Graham has been even better.

The 27-year-old recorded not one, but two interceptions against Peyton Manning in Baltimore's unforgettable double-overtime win over the No. 1-seeded Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Round last weekend. Graham returned his first pick for a Ravens' touchdown, while the second put Baltimore in position to kick the game-winning field goal.

A clutch, but underrated performer, Corey Graham is sure to make a number of key plays for the Ravens' secondary on Sunday in Foxborough.


Randy Moss, San Francisco 49ers, WR

There once was a time when Randy Moss was a superstar who demanded double coverage, but now Moss' numbers put NFL fans to sleep. He caught just 28 balls for 434 yards and three touchdowns during the regular season in 2012, but is primed to emerge as an unsung hero for the Niners in Atlanta on Sunday.

Moss caught just two passes for 25 yards in San Francisco's NFC Divisional Round win over the Green Bay Packers last Saturday night at Candlestick Park. But with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis both demanding plenty of attention from the Falcons' secondary this weekend, expect Moss to have an uncharacteristic outing.

Fans should anticipate Moss recording a few meaningful receptions that don't always result in instant points, but instead extend drives and keep the Niners' offense on schedule.


Rob Ninkovich, New England Patriots, LB

In a linebacker corps that includes names like Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower, Rob Ninkovich can sometimes go unnoticed.

The former Purdue Boilermaker has been around for four seasons with the Patriots now, and over the years has developed into a sensational do-it-all defender. He can stop the run and make plays in the passing game as well, evidenced by his interception of Matt Schaub in New England's 41-28 win over Houston in the AFC Divisional Round.

The Patriots will have their hands full defensively on Sunday, taking on a scorching-hot quarterback in the Ravens' Joe Flacco, and that's where Ninkovich's instinctual play comes in. If he can make one or two of those momentum-altering plays he's been known to make, perhaps New England's defense will stand up at home and lift the Pats into Super Bowl XLVII.


Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons, RB

Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers is in just his second NFL season, but has already proven to be a durable and reliable option for Atlanta in the backfield.

A fifth-round draft pick in 2011, Rodgers carried the ball 10 times for 64 yards in Atlanta's NFC Divisional Round win over the wild-card Seattle Seahawks last weekend. Although Michael Turner will likely see a bulk of the carries again vs. San Francisco on Sunday, Rodgers' ability to change the pace by providing quickness and a low center of gravity will be key.

Like Seattle, San Francisco boasts one of the league's top defensive units and is stout against the run, therefore making the underrated Rodgers that much more valuable as a runner this weekend for Atlanta.

If the 5'6", 200-pound playmaker can break free once or twice late in the game, he's poised to become the Falcons' unsung hero on Sunday.


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