Each Playoff Teams' Offensive Game Changer

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2014

Each Playoff Teams' Offensive Game Changer

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    The NFL playoffs loom, including teams with all sorts of different offensive prowess. There are the record-breaking Broncos and underwhelming Panthers, the snakebitten Patriots and perplexing 49ers.

    There is a common thread among most of these playoff teams, however—they all have good-to-otherwordly quarterbacks at the helm. But which players on each offenses can turn the balance of the game?

    Here is each teams' offensive game-changer.

Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    2013 Statistics: 259 carries, 1,287 yards, 12 touchdowns—70 receptions, 693 yards, 7 touchdowns

     

    Kansas City's ballyhooed defense buoyed the Chiefs to a 9-0 start, but it has been the offense that has kept the team afloat the rest of the way.

    The defense has been hit by injuries and uppercuts from the likes of the Broncos, Colts and Chargers in recent weeks. Were it not for running back Jamaal Charles, Kansas City might be worse than 2-5 in their past seven.

    Charles has been fantastic all season long, to be sure, as evidenced by his gaudy statistics above. He turned it up to 11 in his last five games, however, scoring 11 touchdowns as the Chiefs offense came to life.

    Opposing defenses are going to have to keep Charles in check if they want to limit Kansas Cities offense. Good luck.

Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots

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    2013 Statistics: 105 receptions, 1,056 yards, 6 touchdowns—2 carries, 11 yards

     

    In a year that has seen injury after injury tear apart the Patriots offense, one man has served as super glue.

    His name is Julian Edelman, and the diminutive receiver has been an unlikely hero in New England. Of course, it helps that future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady is at the controls, but that offense might have been sunk were it not for Edelman.

    Receiver Wes Welker left for greener pastures in Denver, so the Patriots signed Danny Amendola. He promptly—and predictably—got injured in Week 1 and hasn't quite been the replacement Patriots fans were hoping for this year.

    More daunting was the fact tight end Rob Gronkowski was out for the first six weeks of the year, then suffered a devastating knee injury in Week 14. 

    Rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins have made a few big contributions, and running back Shane Vereen returned from a 10-week absence to provide a spark in the passing game.

    But it is Edelman that has been there producing week after week as the offense stayed in flux around him.

     

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

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    2013 Statistics: 63.1 percent passing, 3,357 yards, 26 touchdowns, 9 interceptions—96 carries, 539 yards, 1 touchdown

     

    Sometimes your quarterback just puts the offense on his back.

    Have you ever seen or heard the phrase "All Russell Wilson Everything?" There is a good reason it exists.

    The dynamic running back has transformed the Seahawks offense into something lethal. Sure, running back Marshawn Lynch is a dangerous beast, but Wilson is something else.

    How else would you explain his fantastic season despite his top receivers being Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin? Nothing against those two, but they're not exactly Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker.

    Percy Harvin was supposed to upgrade that offense, but he has been out most of the season. He could be back for the playoff run, but who knows how much he will be able to contribute coming back from that injury.

    Seattle's vaunted defense is going to give opponents fits, but the Seahawks will have to score points to win. Wilson will gladly oblige.

Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers

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    2013 Statistics: 19 receptions, 284 yards, 1 touchdown

     

    The 49ers opened up the 2013 season with an offensive explosion, beating the Packers 34-28 while quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for over 400 yards. After that, it seemed like they'd used all the gunpowder, mustering 10 total points against the Seahawks and Colts.

    For much of the first 10 weeks or so, it seemed like Kaepernick and Co. were stuck in third gear, unable to recapture the lost magic. Then receiver Michael Crabtree was activated, and a veil was lifted.

    To be sure, Crabtree's personal statistics weren't exactly eye-popping in his return. But the 49ers have averaged 1.5 more points per game since his return, and that includes games against the tough Seahawks and Cardinals defenses.

    Correlation isn't causation, but Crabtree's presence in that offense takes the pressure off fellow receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis

Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    2013 Statistics: 170 carries, 695 yards, 5 touchdowns—56 receptions, 514 yards, 3 touchdowns

     

    Receiver A.J. Green is arguably the second-best receiver in the game, behind Detroit's Calvin Johnson. So he is no doubt prepared for a playoff run.

    Green and Dalton have been here before, though, and they haven't been able to crack the wild-card round. The Bengals offense has totaled just 23 points in their past two playoff appearances. Something else had to help.

    That is why running back Giovani Bernard is the team's biggest game-changer, at least as it relates to previous years. Opposing defenses will certainly give Green his due attention, but Bernard can be the dynamic difference the Bengals have needed.

    Bernard has to share playing time with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but he has proven to be quite dangerous when he is on the field. The rookie has more than a little of that LeSean McCoy shimmy shake, and he adds an explosive pass-catching element out of the backfield.

    With Bernard taking some of the pressure off Dalton and Green, the Bengals might finally be able to break loose offensively and make some noise in the playoffs.

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

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    2013 Statistics: 61.7 percent passing, 3,379 yards, 24 touchdowns, 13 interceptions—111 carries, 585 yards, 6 touchdowns

     

    Carolina finds itself in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

    Quarterback Cam Newton took the league by storm as a rookie, scoring a record 14 rushing touchdowns and winning the Rookie of the Year award in the process. He followed it up with another strong—though somewhat of a letdown—campaign in his sophomore year.

    But the Panthers won a combined 13 games thanks largely to a porous defense, a unit that has seen a dramatic improvement this year.

    By comparison to his first two seasons, this has been a down year for Newton and that offense. Part of that has to do with the departure of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. It also helps that the Panthers boasted one of the top defenses in the league, thus reducing the need for the offense to put up big points.

    But just because the offense hasn't been lights out doesn't mean it can't turn on the jets in the playoffs. If that happens, Newton would be the jetfuel.

    Newton is as dangerous as ever on the ground, he has simply been asked to run less this season. He still managed 585 yards and six touchdowns. Ho hum, right?

    Where he has grown is as a passer, despite seeing little improvement in the personnel around him. Aging Steve Smith is his No. 1 receiver, with inconsistent options elsewhere at receiver. Tight end Greg Olsen has been solid as well, but that's about it for Newton's arsenal.

    If the Panthers are going to light it up offensively in the playoffs, it will be because of Newton.

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos

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    2013 Statistics: 92 receptions, 1,430 yards, 14 touchdowns

     

    Picking an offensive game changer in Denver is like picking your favorite One Direction band member. Side note: what are their names again?

    Of course, quarterback Peyton Manning is the maestro, the head chef, el presidente. 

    The record-breaking quarterback is most certainly the reason the Broncos broke the single-season scoring record this season. But he is a known quantity. We have seen this from Manning for years, though not quite at balefire levels like this season.

    What got him to this insane offensive output? His arsenal, which has never been better. In stark contrast to New England's injury-riddled squad, Denver boasts a great wide receiver corps featuring Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker

    Tight end Julius Thomas and running back Knowshon Moreno have also been huge contributors.

    But none has the potential to alter the game with one play more than Thomas, who has game-breaking speed and ability. 

LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    2013 Statistics: 314 carries, 1,607 yards, 9 touchdowns—52 receptions, 539 yards, 2 touchdowns

     

    Human joystick. Barry Sanders 2.0. Amazing.

    These are all things that can describe Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. He is a joy to watch, objectively speaking of course.

    McCoy is arguably the best all-around running back in the league, which naturally makes him Philadelphia's X-factor. As McCoy goes, so does the offense.

    Actually, that's not entirely true—if opposing defenses key on McCoy that much, quarterback Nick Foles and the rest of that offense should be humming.

Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

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    2013 Statistics: 60.2 percent passing, 3,822 yards, 23 touchdowns, 9 interceptions—63 carries, 377 yards, 4 touchdowns

     

    The debate over Andrew Luck's performance in Indianapolis has quietly raged this season.

    The former first-overall draft pick has not taken that huge second-year leap, and the Colts offense has stagnated at times this year. Make no mistake, however—Luck is the reason for that offense's success.

    Consider the fact 33-year-old receiver Reggie Wayne—Luck's best weapon—went down for the count in Week 7, leaving second-year man T.Y. Hilton as the top receiver. Hilton has explosive ability, but he is not a prototypical No. 1.

    Guys named Darrius Heyward-Bey, Lavon Brazill, Griff Whalen and Da'Rick Rogers got on the field alongside Hilton this season. Sound like an inspiring bunch?

    That is not to mention the Ambiguously Lame Duo that is comprised of running backs Trent Richardson and Donald Brown, though Richardson has improved to "just average" in recent weeks.

    Despite all this, the Colts managed to rank 14th in scoring and 15th in total offense. They have Luck to thank for that.

Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints

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    2013 Statistics: 86 receptions, 1,215 yards, 16 touchdowns 

     

    As good as Drew Brees is, the biggest game-changer on that offense is a wee bit bigger than the diminutive quarterback.

    At 6'7" and 265 pounds with freakish athletic ability, tight end Jimmy Graham is simply a matchup nightmare for opposing defense.

    Graham commands attention in the passing game like no other tight end, save perhaps a healthy Rob Gronkowski in New England.

    The Saints will likely be on the road for the duration of the playoffs. If that New Orleans offense is going to break the narrative that it can't score points on the road, Graham is going to be the biggest reason why—both literally and figuratively speaking.

Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers

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    2013 Statistics: 285 carries, 1,255 yards, 6 touchdowns—26 receptions, 189 yards, 1 touchdown

     

    San Diego - perhaps the least likely team to make the playoffs this season, though Philadelphia and Kansas City have stakes in that claim, too.

    With quarterback Philip Rivers seemingly on the decline and a roster badly in need of an overhaul, head coach Mike McCoy looked like he was in for a rough rookie season.

    Rivers has certainly led his team to unexpected success, but the biggest offensive game changer on that offense might play running back.

    Ryan Mathews has seen a resurgent season himself, beating conventional wisdom by staying healthy all year and coming in seventh overall in rushing this season.

Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers

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    2013 Statistics: 284 carries, 1,178 yards, 11 touchdowns—35 receptions, 257 yards

     

    Make no mistake, quarterback Aaron Rodgers makes this Green Bay offense go. 

    The Packers averaged 30.6 points per game with him and just 21.5 without him, after all. As with many of the other quarterbacks in the playoffs, Rodgers is a proven commodity.

    What makes this Packers offense different than in recent years is a bona fide running game, and that comes courtesy of rookie running back Eddie Lacy.

    The former Alabama star is rolling this season, adding a dangerous element to a dangerous offense. Opposing defenses will have to pick their poison—let Rodgers shred them, or give Lacy room to do his thing?

    Lacy is no LeSean McCoy or Jamaal Charles, but his contributions to the offense could be a spark to the Packers offense.