3 NFL Quarterbacks Who Will Make or Break Their Teams' Playoff Runs

Jason MarcumCorrespondent IIIDecember 4, 2013

3 NFL Quarterbacks Who Will Make or Break Their Teams' Playoff Runs

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    The NFL playoffs are a month away from kicking off, and several teams are on the cusp of becoming Super Bowl contenders if their quarterbacks can perform in the postseason in a similar fashion as Joe Flacco did for the Baltimore Ravens last year.

    For much of the regular season, Flacco played like an above-average QB, but when the playoffs began, Flacco's play resembled that of an elite QB. He became "only the second quarterback to throw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions throughout one postseason in NFL history," according to Alex Welch of SBNation.

    That performance helped a 10-6 Ravens team win four playoff games, three of which were away from Baltimore.

    Here are three players who need a Flacco-like postseason for their teams to make a similar playoff run. 

Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton

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    Earlier this year, it looked like Dalton was ascending into the elite class of NFL QBs, as he won the AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October during the team's four-game winning streak. He completed 89 of his 131 pass attempts for 1,246 yards and 11 touchdowns to just three interceptions for a 116.8 passer rating.

    The past month, though, has seen Dalton regress to the point that he's completed 56.6 percent of his passes for 895 yards and only six touchdowns to nine interceptions. The Bengals have gone 2-2 in those four games.

    If the Dalton we saw in October shows up for the playoffs, this team is capable of winning the Super Bowl. If the Dalton of the past four weeks is what we see, however, the Bengals will lose in the first round for the third straight year, and an offseason of questioning if he's the long-term answer at QB will ensue. 

     

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford

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    The Lions' offense is heavily geared toward the passing game, and that means Stafford has to play like an elite QB if Detroit is to make a playoff run and get to the franchise's first Super Bowl. When Stafford's at his best, the Lions' offense is nearly unstoppable.

    But when he struggles, the offense often falters, and the defense isn't good enough to win game on their own. In the Lions' last three games, Stafford has completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes and has thrown six interceptions, and the Lions have gone 1-2 in those games after a 6-3 start.

    With Nate Burleson returning to go along with the emerging Kris Durham and Joseph Fauria, not to mention a pass-catching threat out of the backfield in Reggie Bush, there are enough weapons for Stafford to succeed when defenses are focused on shutting down All-Pro Calvin Johnson.

    The Lions will live and die by the arm of Stafford in the postseason.

San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick

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    The 49ers rode the legs and arm of Kaepernick to the Super Bowl last year. If they want to win it this year, he'll need to show he's made significant improvements as a passer while shedding the "running QB" label. 

    In his first 10 games this year, Kaepernick topped 200 yards passing just twice. The 49ers' offense was struggling to stay on the field while the defense couldn't carry the team as they've done in years past. 

    Kaepernick, though, has elevated his game in the past two games, completing more than 62 percent of his passes and topping 200-plus yards while throwing four touchdowns to zero interceptions. 

    ESPN dove further into his recent improvements

    When facing a non-blitzing situation during the first 11 games of the season, Kaepernick completed 57.9 percent of his passes, averaged 7.2 yards per attempt and threw six interceptions. Against a four-man rush Sunday, he completed 75 percent of his passes, averaged 11.7 yards per attempt and was not intercepted. 

    It comes as no surprise the 49ers won those games by a combined 50-19 score, and if Kaepernick has finally developed into a pure passer, then defenses will be unable to stop this offense in the postseason, and San Francisco will finally win the franchise's sixth Super Bowl.