Dirty Dozen: 12 Who Will Decide the Divisional Round
But you never know who might star in a playoff game, like Michael Adams, the Arizona nickel back -- burned all day by Aaron Rodgers, he forced the game-winning fumble in overtime (with or without grabbing Rodgers' facemask.)
Here are a dozen players (plus a couple more) who might decide the weekend's quarterfinals in the the Super Bowl tournament. In no particular order:
1. Darrelle Revis, New York Jets: Why all the complaining about Revis' second-place finish to Charles Woodson in defensive player of the year voting? It means he was the second-best defensive performer in the NFL this year -- first in the eyes of 14 voters (including this one). Probably reflects everyone's ability to tweet their vents in 140 characters (and Rex Ryan's platform to vent his). In any case, if the Jets are to upset San Diego, they'll have to do it with defense and running. Revis is the key to New York's defense, because he can shut down one receiver (probably Vincent Jackson), let his teammates double the likes of Antonio Gates and leave the shaky Lito Sheppard less exposed.
2. Darren Sproles, San Diego: This is the counter to Revis helping shut down San Diego. LaDainian Tomlinson is part of that effort, too, but at this point in their careers, Sproles is much more explosive. One big play negates a bunch of small plays, and this is the guy who can make it.
3. Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson, Indianapolis: Guys like Muir (312 pounds) and Johnson (310) were rare in Tony Dungy's quick but small defenses. Their presence in Jim Caldwell's (or Larry Coyer's) is one of the few changes in coaching styles between the regimes. If they can get a push on Baltimore's offensive line, it will limit Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain -- and more or less shut down an offense that probably can't win if it has to throw a lot.
4. Frank Walker, Baltimore: Strange guy to make a key player? Walker is the Ravens' nickel back and a good cover corner whose career with the Giants, Packers and Ravens has been marked by stupid penalties -- late hits, punches, etc. -- that make coaches sour on him. He played well in Foxborough last Sunday and somehow made it through without being flagged. If he does it again, Austin Collie or Pierre Garcon might be limited.
5. Bertrand Berry, Arizona: At 34, still probably the best pure pass rusher on the Cardinals. If he and another veteran, Chike Okeafor, can stay in Drew Brees' face ...
6. Bryant McKinnie, Minnesota: One of those fake Pro Bowlers, on the team because the Vikings were a winner and their fans stuffed ballot boxes. Benched during the Carolina game because he couldn't block Julius Peppers. If he can somehow block DeMarcus Ware on his own, Brett Favre will have time. He'll almost surely need help -- if he lasts.
6a. Flozell Adams, Dallas: Same as McKinnie at same left tackle position. Most notable accomplishment this season was tripping Giants' Justin Tuck, who incurred a shoulder injury that bothered him all year and limited his and team's pass rush. He gets Jared Allen this week, a matchup that might lead to problems for Walt Anderson and his zebras.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota: He could help McKinnie and Favre (and McKinnie could help him), if he gets out of his funk. Didn't rush for 100 yards in the last seven games and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry over that span. Really needs an Adrian Peterson-type game against a Dallas defense that's been its team's strength during the four-game season-ending winning streak.
8. Anthony Spencer, Dallas: Sometimes it takes a while. Spencer's spurt coincides with the Cowboys' spurt. Takes attention from Ware -- or, if Ware is double-teamed, he's in the opposing QBs face.
9. Jermon Bushrod, New Orleans. Held up well early at left tackle when Jammal Brown went down. Didn't hold up well late, one of the reasons that Brees and the Saints' offense stumbled. See Bertrand Berry, one of the Cardinals he'll have keep off his QB.
10. Reggie Bush, New Orleans. See Darren Sproles. If he can make a big play or two -- punt return, reception, whatever -- it will ease the load on Brees and his receivers. Or maybe it won't: the Cardinals-Saints game could be higher scoring than the 51-45 Packers-Cardinals epic. And, by the way, is Bush's career as good as the career of Sproles, who was the 130th pick in the 2005 draft? Bush was No. 2 overall in 2006.
11. Mike Scifres, San Diego: Just throwing him in. But when the Chargers beat the Colts in OT in the first round last season, Scifres' punting was the reason, constantly pinning back Manning and Indy inside the 10. Just a thought.
12. Beanie Wells, Arizona: Yes, Anquan Boldin should be back to augment Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and now Early Doucet. But if all Warner does is throw, throw, throw, at some point Darren Sharper will sit back and pick one off. And when Sharper picks one off, he often scores. So if Wells can run as he did last week (91 yards on 14 carries), Sharper will be less able to sit back and poach.