NFL Playoffs 2014: X-Factors to Watch for in the Divisional Round

R. Cory SmithSenior Writer IJanuary 6, 2014

Oct 13, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert (35) celebrates his touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth quarter at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. Panthers win 35-10. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Every game in the NFL can hinge upon a handful of players breaking out on either offense or defense.

The playoffs are certainly no exception as players are looking to make a name for themselves on the biggest stage.

In the Wild Card Round, breakout players like T.Y. Hilton and Michael Crabtree were difference-makers for the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers, who both pulled out wins in close contests to advance.

With the Divisional Round Games starting on Saturday, there will be no shortage of players who might have been overlooked coming into the postseason making a difference for their teams.

Here are four players in each game that will break out for their teams to help try to swing the outcome.


Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks

Nov 17, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin (11) catches a pass during pre game warm ups prior to the game against the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Percy Harvin has been one of the most dynamic receivers and kick returners in the NFL for the past few seasons, but his health has kept him off the field for all but one game this year.

But with the playoffs officially beginning for the Seattle Seahawks this weekend, Pete Carroll tells the Seahawks' official site that Harvin is continuing to progress:

In just nine games during the 2012 season, Harvin compiled 62 receptions for 677 yards and three touchdowns.

While he only caught one pass for 17 yards in his lone game with the Seahawks this season, his presence on the field is enough to open up the passing game more for Russell Wilson.

With the New Orleans Saints having to account for Harvin, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, one of the three will likely get more open looks than they are used to. If Harvin has a big game for Seattle, he might be looking at having to repeat his success in the NFC Championship Game.


Coby Fleener, TE, Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 04:  Tight end Coby Fleener #80 of the Indianapolis Colts catches a touchdown pass in the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs during a Wild Card Playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 4, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indi
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Coby Fleener is not a play-making tight end like Jimmy Graham. He's also not as athletic as guys like Julius Thomas. But what he does provide for Andrew Luck is a familiar target that is not only reliable but has earned his trust from their days at Stanford that translated over to the NFL.

The second-year tight end hauled in five receptions on seven targets for Luck, including a touchdown to get the Indianapolis Colts back in the game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Dan Hanzus of officially started the Fleener playoff bandwagon after his performance in the Wild Card Round:

Though Fleener has been scarcely targeted in a few games during the regular season, he will be facing off against a New England Patriots defense that ranks 30th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game.

With the Colts needing to spread the ball around in order to pull off the upset in New England, Fleener will be the safety valve Luck will look to in dire situations.


Mike Tolbert, FB, Carolina Panthers


The man of many nicknames is one of many brute forces for the Carolina Panthers that can wear down opposing teams.

Whether he's referred to as the Toldozer, the Bowling Ball or any other choice of nickname, Mike Tolbert is bringing back the offensive fullback position to the NFL.

After his efforts this season, Tolbert was awarded with a place on the AP All-Pro first team, as the Panthers' official Twitter account reports:

In a game where neither team produced much offensively, Tolbert finished with two carries and two receptions against the San Francisco 49ers earlier this season for a total of 23 yards. While those numbers might not jump off the page, it's the physicality that he runs with that makes the difference.

With a running game that features DeAngelo Williams as the lead back, Tolbert typically isn't used as the workhorse. But in a game where every yard will count, expect the Toldozer to leave his mark in the Divisional Round against the 49ers.


Wes Welker, WR, Denver Broncos

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 15:  Wes Welker #83 of the Denver Broncos carries the ball during the first half against New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on September 15, 2013 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

After suffering a concussion against the Tennessee Titans back in Week 14 of the regular season, it appears Wes Welker is ready to play in the Divisional Round, according to the Denver Broncos' official Twitter account:

While his numbers slowed down the stretch for the Broncos—just one touchdown in his final five games of the season—Welker has been a reliable target for Peyton Manning all season.

The lone game that Welker played against the San Diego Chargers earlier this season, he finished with a tame three receptions for just 21 yards. But with a matchup against the worst AFC passing defense, Welker will likely be a huge part of the game plan.

If Welker can once again open up the passing game for Manning in the middle of the field as he did in his final game against the Titans before the injury, the Broncos will be eyeing either a matchup against Welker's former team or Manning's former team.