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NFL teams that are going to make a deep run in the playoffs need to fill voids and eliminate weaknesses.That’s where the supporting cast comes in.
These are the unheralded players that will need to have their presences felt for their teams to avoid elimination.
We take a look at the players that have shown an ability to counteract one of their team’s weaknesses or need to step up in the season’s biggest stages.
Atlanta has one of the more potent offenses of all of the playoff teams, averaging 26.2 points per game. But one area where they've struggled all season is in the secondary.
DeCoud has been a ball hawk for the Falcons, coming up with six interceptions on the year. If he can help prevent the big play in the passing game, Atlanta is more likely to find success in the playoffs.
The Bengals rely on their defence more than people realise, allowing 20 points per game (eighth in the NFL), while their offence has looked merely average at times late in the season.
Burfict may be an undrafted rookie, but he led the team in tackles with 127 and was one of the most valuable players on the Bengals defence. According to ESPN, Cincinnati gave up 2.4 yards more per play when Burfict was out of the game.
The Denver Broncos are arguably the most balanced team in the playoffs this season, ranked in the top 5 in passing offence, defence and rushing defence. Rushing offence is the one area where they can improve.
Moreno would help immensely if he's able to produce and keep defenses on their heels. He's been productive since filling in six weeks ago, rushing for more than 77 yards four times and scoring three touchdowns.
The Packers have struggled mightily against the run this season and were torched for 409 yards in two contests against Adrian Peterson.
The NFC is filled with superstar running backs, and the Packers will need to contain them if they hope to make a run in the playoffs. Raji will be a vital piece in helping to try and clog up the running lanes. The task starts on Saturday with another matchup against AP.
New England enters the playoffs as the worst AFC playoff team at defending the pass, yielding 271 yards through the air per game. They acquired Aqib Talib to try and fix the problem, but the results have been mixed.
It won't be as easy to outscore opponents in the playoffs, so it'll be up to the secondary to make some stops. McCourty has been the most effective of doing that, picking off five passes and forcing incompletions on 52 per cent of passes thrown his way, according to Pro Football Focus.
Ellerbe has been the single most important and impressive player in keeping the Ravens defence together with Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis both sidelined extensively with injuries this year. He had 4.5 sacks and 92 tackles as the Ravens' most well-rounded linebacker.
Ray Lewis returns to sure up the linebacking corps this weekend, and if the Ravens defence is able to return to form, it will take some pressure off their middling offence. Ellerbe will be a critical piece in that equation.
Davis will be lined up against team's No. 1 receiver for the length of the Colts' playoff run. He had two interceptions against Andre Johnson and Houston last week, but still yielded 12 catches to the star receiver.
The Colts have been atrocious on defence all season long, but if Davis can help neutralize at least one phase of the opposing team's offence, Andrew Luck might be able to bail them out.
The Texans enter the playoffs on a serious skid and one of the major reasons for that has been the play of quarterback Matt Schaub. In Houston's last three losses over the past four weeks, Matt Schaub hasn't thrown a single touchdown and never more than 275 yards.
They've come away with just two touchdowns in their last nine trips, and it'll be up to Schaub to spread the ball around a little more to find success. Daniels is his second favourite target.
The Seahawks defence gets it done in all facets in the game, so it'll be up to Russell Wilson to put up the points to guide them to victory.
Defenses will be keying in on stopping Marshawn Lynch, so it'll be up to some of the smaller names in the passing game, such as Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate to ease the pressure for Wilson.
San Francisco's success in the secondary is aided by a sensational pass rush. With defensive lineman Justin Smith limited, the heat on the opposing quarterback could suffer and more pressure will be on the shoulders of the 49ers secondary.
When the Niners have faced elite quarterbacks this season, things have gotten chippy. It'll be up to Carlos Rogers and the rest of the secondary to stand up to the potent passing attacks of the NFC.
The Vikings face Aaron Rodgers this weekend and if they survive, Matt Ryan the following week. How they defend the aerial assault will be paramount as to whether they can hang around.
Minnesota has been able to pressure the quarterback and defend the run all season long, but they've been shoddy in the secondary, giving up 244 yards per game, which is third-worst among playoff teams.
Fletcher is the Redskins' most valuable player on defence, a stalwart against the pass and the run. He led the team in tackles (139) and interceptions (5) and added three sacks.
The Redskins face a difficult test in Marshawn Lynch and dual-threat quarterback Russell Wilson this week, and Fletcher will have to be the driving force in stopping that multi-faceted attack.
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