As the NFL season comes to a close, the biggest concerns on everyone's mind has to be about making a run deep into January.
In the AFC, the Patriots, Steelers, Jets, Ravens and Chiefs have all clinched playoff berths. The only undecided team is the AFC South champion, and that is up to the Colts and the Jaguars. The Colts need a victory or a Jaguars loss to clinch the fourth seed, and the Jaguars need a win and a Colts loss to do the same.
In the NFC, things are a bit shakier. The Bears, Falcons, Saints and Eagles all have a spot reserved for the postseason. The Packers will enter with a win over the Bears, and with a victory and a Packers loss things get complicated for the remaining two teams alive, the Giants and the Buccaneers.
As we all know by now, wide receivers make a big impact in the crowning of the Super Bowl champion. Just two years ago, Santonio Holmes caught the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII.
Through Week 16, 15 different receivers have at least 1,000 yards. Eight of them are on playoff-eligible teams. This shows how important they are to the game.
Using only playoff teams (and those who are still playoff-eligible) I am wondering as to which pass catchers can make the biggest differences when it comes to the postseason. There are some receivers that clearly rise against the rest and will make a difference come January (and in some cases, February).
Johnny Knox is probably the most unknown name on this list.
The second-year man from Abilene Christian, Knox has caught the long ball better than nearly every wide receiver you can name.
With 51 receptions and 960 yards, the only reason he is not higher up has to do with the fact that he averages just above three catches a game. This means that Jay Cutler only finds him on about 20 percent of his completions.
One-third of Knox's receptions have gone for more than 20 yards, and this proves he is emerging as a legitimate deep threat in the Windy City.
The Verdict: Knox can change the game in a flash. He proved this in Week 14 in Minneapolis against the Vikings. With the score 7-3 in favor of the home team, Knox outran Vikings' cornerback Antoine Winfield for a 67-yard touchdown and quickly changed the momentum of the game. The Bears took a three-point lead en route to a 40-14 victory that brought the NFC North title back to Chicago.
Wes Welker is everything you want in a short-yardage receiver. From 2007 to 2009, he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in each season. This year, he needs 158 yards in the final game of the season to make it four in a row.
Welker, despite an off year by his standards, is still the best slant receiver in the league. He still has 86 catches and seven touchdowns. He proved this season that New England doesn't need Randy Moss in order to have a successful receiving corps, as others are slowly standing up to the challenge. He also proved that he could come back from a horrific knee injury that ended his 2009 season last December and do well.
The Verdict: Wes Welker is undoubtedly a major reason why Tom Brady and his dirty flow should win MVP this season. He is a game-changer, and whenever a short-yardage completion is needed, he is going to catch it.
He is going to impact this postseason, and you better believe it.
In a year where Mario Manningham and Steve Smith were supposed to be the main targets, a new one has emerged.
Hakeem Nicks, a 22-year old product of Charlotte, is quietly turning into one of the best young receivers in the game.
With 79 receptions and 1,052 yards, Nicks is trailing DeSean Jackson by just four yards. Averaging more than five catches per contest, Nicks is easily Eli Manning's new number one in the Meadowlands.
Add ten touchdowns into the mix and you have a prime young receiver who is catch hungry.
The Verdict: Nicks has had a solid year, yes, but his standing on this would be higher on this list if the Giants were in a better position to make the postseason.
He isn't necessarily a long ball catcher, but at the same time he isn't a slant man. It is tough to decipher what exactly Nicks does especially well other than his hands.
With a Week 16 victory over the first-place Atlanta Falcons on ESPN, the Saints finally clinched a postseason berth.
One of the main reasons has been Marques Colston, a guy who is lost among a sea of deep ball receivers in New Orleans. With Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem going long and Lance Moore going short, Colston is easily the most consistent receiver of the bunch.
With 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns under his belt, "The Quiet Storm" is proving the nickname by getting the job done time and time again without Ocho Cinco-ing his way through the year.
The Verdict: Imagine if Colston was the number one receiver on a team like the Kansas City Chiefs or the St. Louis Rams. He'd be nearing 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns, but right now on a team with many viable options in the passing game it is difficult to stay positive, but Colston does. This is exactly why he will change the postseason, and if Brees can find him often things will be great in Drew Orleans.
The spot of number one receiver in Pittsburgh has for some time been reserved for Hines Ward. Ever since his first game at Heinz Field, Ward has been the man.
However, this year, a 24-year old out of Ole Miss has taken the new role and run with it, literally. Mike Wallace if fifth in the NFL with more than 1,150 yards through 15 games and has averaged over 20 yards per catch. His career will be skyrocketing in the coming years, and it is a great thing as the 34-year old Ward is on the decline.
With two Super Bowls over the last six years, the Steelers will be even hungrier to win because they know how with experience. Wallace, however, will want it the most because he has not experienced it (yet).
The Verdict: Wallace is turning into one of the best deep ball threats in all of football, and with Ben Roethlisberger throwing it anything is possible.
The black and yellow needs Mike Wallace, and in turn, Mike Wallace needs them to get him the ball.
The Kansas City Chiefs have clinched the AFC West crown at 10-5 thus far, and will be looking for their first postseason win in 18 years. One of the main reasons KC has been so effective thus far has to do with Dwayne Bowe.
A 26-year old out of LSU, Bowe has caught 67 balls for 1,094 yards in a solid 2010. Quarterback Matt Cassel has thrown for 27 scores, Bowe catching an NFL-high 15 of them in the process.
He had a very poor three-game stretch, however, in which he caught only three passes for 56 yards and zero touchdowns.
The Verdict: The thing it all comes to down to in Dwayne Bowe has to do with which Dwayne Bowe we will see. If we see the October and November one, it will be a long postseason run in Kansas City. If we see the Bowe we saw in early December, the stay will be short-lived.
It's simple math, really: Bowe touchdowns equal Chiefs wins, as they were 7-3 when he hit the paydirt.
So look for Bowe to score in the postseason and he will rise on this list.
Greg Jennings attended the same high school in Michigan (Kalamazoo Central) as Yankee legend Derek Jeter. Needless to say, Jennings is hungry to join Jeter in Central's winning community.
In order to so, my beloved Green Bay Packers need to continue to throw the ball Jennings' way. He has had three straight seasons with at least 1,100 yards and has become the hands down favorite of star (and now snubbed) quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He also has 12 touchdowns, good for a tie for second place in the NFL.
Jennings has been putting the team on his back all year, and I expect no changes in the postseason. That is, if they make it-- the Packers need to beat Chicago to get in; it is as simple as that.
The Verdict: Jennings is a legit long ball threat, averaging 16 yards per ball over his five-year career.
In order to win in the playoffs the Packers need to get the ball to Jennings, and I can't see them doing much without him. That is how important he is to Green Bay.
Reggie Wayne is becoming like Peyton Manning in the fact that they are both staples in the Colts' offense.
To get into the playoffs the Colts simply need to beat the Titans in Indianapolis on Sunday, and Wayne is a major key. I'm not sure what to think if they don't make it because a postseason without the Colts is like New Year's Eve without Dick Clark and champagne.
Wayne has overcome injuries this year and is still third in the league with 1,287 yards, revealing his prowess as he has overcome injuries in doing so.
The Verdict: Perhaps the most consistent receiver in the NFL, Wayne is poised to make a deep postseason run, and his hands may determine it.
DeSean Jackson over Greg Jennings and Reggie Wayne? Crazy, right? Wrong.
The Eagles' top receiver is far and away a better playmaker than those two. He is a better all-around player as well and changes the game like no one before.
Sure he only has 47 catches, but he has made the most of them with 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. He also is third in the league in catches over 20 yards, totalling 21.
Along with LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin catching the rest of the batch, the Eagles are looking like a dangerous passing team.
The Verdict: The only player in NFL history with a punt return to win on the game's final play, Jackson is a dynamic force that no one wants to mess with come January.
Michael Vick will, and I repeat will, find him this postseason.
I honestly believe that the punt return win over the Giants was not the last time this season that Jackson will affect the outcome of the game, and you heard it here first.
I'm sure you all saw this one coming, but Roddy White is the real deal.
The Matt Ryan-to-Roddy White train has had 109 landings this year alone to go with 1,327 yards and nine touchdowns. Additionally, White is second the league in catches of 20 yards or more, with a count of 23.
Matty Ice seems to throw to White (who needs a nickname by the way) at will, and these two have created a great combination for the best team in the NFC.
A deep threat, White knows that in order to go to Dallas (which is perhaps in the plan) Matty needs to find him on the regular.
The Verdict: He might be one of the best deep balls in all of football, if not the best. He is also quickly emerging as a top wide receiver, perhaps only trailing the almighty Andre Johnson in that department.
This season he has been scary consistent, as well as scary good. I would despise playing the Falcons (as a Packer fan) in the divisional round mostly because of their dynamic offense, and Roddy White is the main reason for my terror, with my sincerest apologies going to Michael Turner.
Can the Falcons make the Super Bowl? When it comes to the passing game, beware of Roddy White.