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NFL Playoff Predictions 2011: Which Players Will Make an Impact For Their Team?

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2011

NFL Playoff Predictions 2011: Which Players Will Make an Impact For Their Team?

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    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    It's playoff time, and that means each and every NFL hot shot will be doing their best to get their name on every highlight reel in the next three to four weeks.

    But while it seems nearly impossible to look past the big names of this years postseason contenders, such as Peyton Manning, DeSean Jackson, Troy Polamalu and Tom Brady, behind the blanket of greatness actually stands a unique bunch of individuals, who are looking likely to benefit their team in the month of January.

    Are these players worth mentioning?

    To some, the thought of Matt Ryan failing in leading the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl is too much to bare.

    For those that can see the light at the end of the tunnel however, the following unnoticed impact players are worth watching this postseason, as they are certainly ready to bring some pop, crackle and fizz in the upcoming weeks.

Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 656 yards, 6 touchdowns.

     

    Reason Why He'll Make An Impact:

    Lets face it, it doesn't take a Vince Lombardi replica to work out that opposing teams will seriously target Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White all postseason long, considering his highly explosive regular season campaign.

    But as obvious as this seems to everyone, an even more blatant answer to Mike Smith's seemingly controversial problem is readily available should the Falcons play their cards right.

    His name is Tony Gonzalez.

    For years Gonzalez has been a force at the tight end spot, wracking up over 12,000 total career yards..  What we haven't seen from the 14 year veteran though, is a postseason appearance in quite some time, due to his famous yet drawn out years with the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Now Gonzalez gets his shot, and with a week off while the Wild Card round unfolds, No.88 will have step into the Divisional Round fresh, agile and ready to make a serious impact like he has all season long.

    Last but not least, Matt Ryan will also need that extra target to focus on.  Michael Turner should stand up nicely in the running game, but at the end of the day Roddy White can only do so much, and Gonzalez's short slant routes are a huge benefit against some of the NFC's best defenses.

    Opposing teams may have this strategy well thought out as well, but Gonzalez may surprise many in in two weeks time.

Baltimore Ravens: Anquan Boldin

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    Larry French/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 837 yards, 7 touchdowns.

     

    Reason Why He'll Make An Impact:

    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin is far from unnoticed under John Harbaugh's offensive scheme.  After posting some convincing stats in 2010,  Boldin is now on pace to have a successful postseason career, as he yet again finds himself with a winning team.

    Unlike Boldin's time as an Arizona Cardinal though, he can expect a lot more time under the spotlight depending on how far the Ravens travel in the next few weeks.

    The reason for this?

    In 2009 the Ravens postseason campaign was great.  Baltimore took control of the New England Patriots winning 33-14 in the Wild Card Round, and seeing as though the Ravens are in a familiar position this year, the odds are quite favorable.

    However, what Baltimore can't rely heavily on if they are to go further this year, is Ray Rice's run game.  Against New England last season Rice ran for 159 yards and 2 touchdowns, over a young yet forceful Patriots defense.

    This time around, Joe Flacco is expected to take control.

    Anquan Boldin pops up as the most suitable target for Flacco in the passing game, as the two have been skiing under the radar nicely all season long.  Expect Flacco to target Boldin this Sunday against the Chiefs, and if that fails, Derrick Mason should come into play.

    Ray Rice of course be a factor, but Flacco needs to prove to everyone that he has taken the team on his back.  There's simply no excuse for another Divisional Round knockout this year.

Chicago Bears: Julius Peppers

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions.

     

    Reason Why He'll Make An Impact:

    The Chicago Bears defense has taken a swing for the fences this past season, purely due to the significant signing of Julius Peppers in the offseason, that has added a much needed force to Lovie Smith's team.

    To be honest, you don't have to take a hard look at Pepper's stats to realize how devastating he has been.  Sacking quarterbacks has been Peppers forte, and even though he has had one or two off games, the Bears are looking likely to utilize their main man immensely in the course of the postseason.

    Like the Falcons, the Bears will sit back and watch the NFC Wild Card Round unfold, knowing full well that they may face a tough task depending on who goes through in the end.

    Currently Chicago are lucky enough to hold the ninth best defense in the league, a statistic that was on full display this past Sunday against Green Bay, even though the Bears lost 10-3.

    Still, the old adage of "Defense wins championships" isn't just for fun, and at the end of the day, this factor alone will carry the Bears far thanks to Peppers.

Green Bay Packers: Tramon Williams

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 6 interceptions.

     

    Reason Why He'll Make An Impact:

    A season ago cornerback Charles Woodson would have won the honors for Green Bay's impact player heading into the postseason.

    However, one year down the track the tides have changed, and forth year player Tramon Williams steps into the limelight.

    Disregarding all of Williams' defensive stats, the Packers new found talented cornerback possesses many other skills to his name that are likely to come in handy this postseason, some of which Green Bay have been in desperate need of in years past.

    The most noticeable skill for Williams though, is his kick returning ability.

    While no touchdowns have been recorded on Williams' part, this past weekend against the Chicago Bears, No. 38 portrayed some quick footed skills against a tough Lovie Smith special team, breaking off big time gains to grant the Packers some serious field position.

    In the postseason, expect Williams to continue along this path.

    His interceptions are of course the main threat overall, heck, he nearly brought one in last weekend.  At the same time, don't forget Williams' return abilities, that continue to go unnoticed as the Packers prepare for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Indianapolis Colts: Adam Vinatieri

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: Field Goals Attempted (28), Field Goals Made (26).

     

    Reason Why He'll Make An Impact:

    Yes, the Colts have Peyton Manning.  Yes, the Colts have Dwight Freeney.  But even these two sure to be Hall of Famers can't out muscle Indianapolis' clutch kicker, Adam Vinatieri, this postseason.  

    Forget what some experts say, having a big name kicker pays off when it comes to postseason football, especially when this years playoff scenario is so closely contested between teams with hot offenses and defenses throughout the entire scheme of things.

    In Week 17 against the Tennessee Titans Vinatieri won the game for the Colts, sending a wave of confidence through Jim Caldwell's team.  Better yet, the Colts can also rely on their 15 year veteran kicker much like they have in years past.

    It would be an exciting scenario if the Colts and Patriots were to meet up sometime soon, as Vinatieri would yet again go head to head with his former side. 

    In the mean time, the Colts can sleep easily knowing a close game would surely favor them, after all, they don't call him Mr. Clutch for nothing.

Kansas City Chiefs: Tony Moeaki

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Current Stats: 556 yards, 3 touchdowns.

     

    Reason Why He'll Make An Impact:

    Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel has improved immensely this season thanks to head coach Todd Haley, who has placed an enormous amount of talent and youth in his offensive game plan in the span of 12 months.

    One of Haley's model students comes from the likes of rookie tight end Tony Moeaki, who has quickly become Cassel's go to target in the Chiefs 10-6 regular season campaign.

    The key term here is "go to target", because Moeaki has finally offered Cassel that reliable option to throw to should Jamaal Charles fall flat in the running game, and Dwayne Bowe be caught in double coverage down field.

    The playoffs are deemed to be shortlived by many fans due to the Chiefs uphill battle starting this weekend against Baltimore.  Funnily enough though, it seems that when we all write the Chiefs off, they come back in impressive fashion and take over for a big time win.

    Kansas City are ranked 12th in passing yards this year, a relevant statistic in relation to Moeaki's season.  Cassel is likely to take full advantage of his new favorite receiver, so lets see if a case of rookie jitters springs to life this weekend.

New England Patriots: BenJarvus Green-Ellis

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 1,008 yards, 13 touchdowns.

     

    Reason Why He'll Make An Impact:

    Bill Belichick's scary defense is enough to torment any team this postseason.  Tom Brady is dead accurate, Deion Branch and the many talented Patriot receivers are red hot, and of course the defense can't go unmentioned ranked eighth in point scored.

    However, don't forget the running game.

    Since the trade of Laurence Maroney early in the season, BenJarvus Green-Ellis has excelled in his third year in New England, rushing for over 1000 yards for the first time in his career.

    Does this make him a serious threat in the playoffs?

    You can bet your house it does.

    For you see, opposing defenses will be occupied with the Patriots' many receiving options, leaving an abundance of chances for Green-Ellis to run right up the middle, or worse, outside, to utilize his 215 pound frame.

    We all know how this story ends.

    Finally, the Patriots will also need a run game when the AFC's big time defenses come to play.  Baltimore, Pittsburgh and New York all possess strong rush defenses, while at the same time Indianapolis and Kansas City can't be written off.

    A goal line situation favors Green-Ellis, and it's hard to argue with his 13 touchdowns on the year.

New Orleans Saints: Jonathan Vilma

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    Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 interception.

     

    Reason Why He'll Make An Impact:

    Similar to the Super Bowl runner up Indianapolis Colts, the New Orleans Saints main threat comes from an offensive standpoint, considering that Drew Brees and Marques Colston are having a brilliant year together.

    Call me crazy though, but the defense is just as important to the Saints if they are to win it all again in 2010.

    Firstly, the Saints really need to stop the run in the next few weeks.  New Orleans is ranked 16th in defensive rush yards, and with the likes of John Kuhn, Michael Turner, LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte possibly visiting, this isn't a favorable statistic.

    Secondly, Jonathan Vilma must ensure that he is the main cause for a turnaround in the Saints defensive questions.  Vilma has had a decent year at the middlle linebacker spot, but with many of the Saints defensive lineman injured, Vilma will become the main force for the Saints possible run stop.

    It remains to be seen whether or not Vilma can remain disciplined enough to take initiative and deliver in the long run.  In the past Vilma has been known to fall off a little when it counts, and in the playoffs last year, No.51 failed to record a single sack.

    Time will soon tell, but expect Sean Payton to send a loud and clear message to his main linebacker.

New York Jets: Santonio Holmes

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 746 yards, 6 touchdowns.

     

    Reason Why He'll Make An Impact:

    The Jets are many peoples sleeper pick to go far this postseason, simply due to how underrated New York is in comparison to their position last season as they journeyed far into playoff contention.

    If there's one big name player that could catch your attention though, it's wide receiver Santonio Holmes. 

    Some call him the sole reason for the Jets' midseason turnaround that saw Rex Ryan's team return to form, while others call him one of the more unnoticed receivers in the league, as he is still finding his mojo in green and white.

    Aside from where Holmes fits in with the Jets however, the month of January is Holmes' time to shine. 

    We all remember that fantastic Super Bowl catch Holmes recorded to gift the Steelers their sixth Super Bowl ring, and after such a heroic regular season, the next three weeks should be mighty interesting for the Jets star receiver.

    So why will he make an impact?

    Mark Sanchez needs a target, and Holmes provides that.  He also provides a quick pace that has been known to burn cornerbacks, a factor that should come into play if the Jets are to progress past the Wild Card round.

Philadelphia Eagles: Jeremy Maclin

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 964 yards, 10 touchdowns.

     

    Reason Why He'll Make An Impact:

    Michael Vick who?

    Okay, so in all reality the Eagles star quarterback is most likely going to be Philadelphia's main impact player.  In terms of unnoticed talent though, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin fits the mold perfectly.

    To say that DeSean Jackson will be closely monitored throughout the postseason would be the understatement of the year.  Three weeks ago Philadelphia's Terrell Owens replica squashed the New York Giants last minute comeback routine taking a punt return for a touchdown in the dying seconds of the forth quarter.

    What makes him a threat in January?

    His speed, his explosiveness, and the main factor of all -- Michael Vick just knows how to find him.

    Therefore, Jeremy Maclin will be the man to take over if Jackson is to have a quiet game or two.  This season Maclin has experienced his best year as a Philadelphia Eagle playing for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns, and is likely to post a few more points in the coming weeks.

    Green Bay's defense awaits the Eagles on Sunday afternoon, and with a huge cornerback presence, Dom Capers is likely to take serious care of Jackson.  Maclin may not be left wide open either, but he is big time option for Vick.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Lawrence Timmons

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions.

     

    Reason Why He'll Make An Impact:

    The defensive situation in Pittsburgh may seem bizarre to some.  On one hand you have Troy Polamalu, on the other James Harrison, and of course who could forget LaMarr Woodley, who has 9.5 sacks this season.

    Standing in front of all three of these men, is Lawrence Timmons, by far one of the most forgotten about defensive players in the NFL right now.

    As far as impressive stats go, Timmons has it down pat.  Three sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2010 are great statistics for a forth year inside linebacker, but Timmons' 135 tackles on the year absolutely take the cake.

    The AFC is full of scheming running backs this year, and with Ray Rice, LaDainian Tomlinson/Shonn Greene, Jamaal Charles and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Steelers 1st rank rush defense really needs to live up to the hype.

    That hype starts with Lawrence Timmons, and you get the feeling that he is hungry for the playoffs to begin.

Seattle Seahawks: Mike Williams

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 751 yards, 2 touchdowns.

     

    Reason Why He'll Make An Impact:

    Seattle snuck into the playoffs on Sunday night, knocking off an inexperienced Rams side at home 16-6, to make head coach Pete Carroll a very happy man.

    One of the main reasons the Seahawks pulled off the unthinkable though, was due to the play of Mike Williams, as Seattle's leading receiver caught a game altering touchdown from quarterback Charlie Whitehurst in the opening minutes of the first quarter.

    Speaking of Whitehurst, Williams must have a stellar game this weekend against the New Orleans Saints if the Seahawks are to continue the freight train for one more week.

    Williams signed a three year extension on Monday, making the Seahawks a very lucky team.  Possessing such a young talent looks promising for the Seahawks, even moreso now that Seattle has made the postseason. 

    A 7-9 record will be no easy task returning to Qwest Field to take on Sean Payton's men, so Whitehurst will need Williams to average more than 16 yards like he did this past Sunday.

    A go to target?

    Of course he is, Williams just needs to make sure he delivers.

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