The Green Bay Packers entered into last year's playoffs with a tough path to the big game. As a sixth seed with no help from home field advantage and an injury report longer than the dictionary, the Pack took one game at a time as they hit the road.
The journey began in Philadelphia and the defense was forced to focus in on Michael Vick and his speedy receiver, DeSean Jackson. As Vick was leading the Eagles on a potential game-winning drive in the final minutes, CB Tramon Williams picked off an errant throw and punched the Pack's ticket to Atlanta.
After handling the Falcons at the Georgia Dome, the Packers traveled to Soldier Field to battle a familiar Bears team in the NFC Championship game. When on offense, the Pack had to constantly be aware of the presence of linebacker Brian Urlacher. On defense, the game plan was to pressure Jay Cutler and create turnovers.
Despite all his preparation and knowledge of the situation, Aaron Rodgers still did not see Urlacher in the redzone and was forced to make a touchdown-saving tackle after the veteran picked off one of his pass attempts. On the other side of the ball, the team was able to shut down the Bears offense and knocked Cutler out of the game on their way to the Super Bowl.
The Steelers brought a slew of star players on defense to Dallas that Green Bay had to account for on every down, including the Defensive Player of the Year, Troy Polamalu. However, Rodgers and the Pack managed to pick apart the Steel Curtain on the way to their thirteenth NFL Championship.
The point is, while football is a team sport, there are always impact players that teams are forced to game plan around and watch out for during the course of a game. Just like in the 2010 postseason, the Packers will have several of these game-changing stars to control during their upcoming quest for a repeat.
Here are 18 players that Green Bay must keep in check to return to the playoffs in 2011. Many of them revolve around protecting Aaron Rodgers, the undeniable leader of the Pack. Feel free to comment if I've missed any.
Sources: Stats gathered from ESPN.com.