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20 NFL Players Who Must Step Up During the Postseason Stretch Run

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20 Players Who Must Step Up for Their Team's Playoff Run

NFL
Stew-Milne-US-PRESSWIRE

Believe it or not, it's down to crunch time in the NFL for team's making playoff runs. There are many teams just merely trying to improve their position in the postseason, while others are just scrapping to make it in. Mathematically many teams are still alive, or in danger of missing the playoffs with a bad final few weeks.

This list of players includes mostly players from teams who are on the fence for the playoffs. You won't see players from the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, or Houston Texans on this list, because worst case scenario these teams will have to play a home playoff game.

Most of the players on this list are quarterbacks. I don't think there's any question that it's the most important position in football, so a lot of responsibility comes with that position. Most teams are only going as far as their quarterback takes them. Sure there are exceptions to that, but for the most part it's accurate.

If a quarterback can get on a big tear these last few weeks, he's going to greatly increase his team's chances of makings the playoffs, or it could make the difference between playing a home or away game.

This list really isn't really a countdown, because you could make an argument that all the players are equally important to the stretch run. However, I did list them in somewhat of an order, depending on their team's current position.

Here are 20 players who must step up during the playoff run:

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Josh Freeman

Kim-Klement-US-PRESSWIRE
Kim-Klement-US-PRESSWIRE

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sit just one game out of the NFC Playoffs at this point, and quarterback Josh Freeman can be the difference between making it in or not. It's pretty clear at this point what Doug Martin is going to bring to the table every game, so the Bucs' passing attack will probably decide the team's fate.

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Russell Wilson

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Robert-Mayer-US-PRESSWIRE

The rookie quarterback has raised many eyebrows across the league this season, and somehow he's got his team in contention to make a run in January. If the playoffs started today, the Seattle Seahawks would be in. If Wilson can continue to manage games, with a strong defense behind him, Seattle's chances look pretty good.

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Aaron Rodgers

Brad-Penner-US-PRESSWIRE
Brad-Penner-US-PRESSWIRE

I don't know how much more Rodgers can do for his team, but if any one player can will his team to the playoffs, it's him. The Green Bay Packers are not quite a lock for the postseason, but their chances look very good at this point. They're more than likely playing for seeding, and a few weeks of 'MVP caliber' Rodgers will likely increase their standing.

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Robert Griffin III

Tim-Heitman-US-PRESSWIRE
Tim-Heitman-US-PRESSWIRE

This is a 'carry a team on your back' situation with RG3. The Washington Redskins are most certainly only going as far as he takes them. This is why you have to at least consider RG3 and MVP candidate, because it's hard to argue that any one player means more to their team than him. The Redskins are a long shot, but still very much alive.

6 of 21

Reggie Bush

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Steve-Mitchell-US-PRESSWIRE

The Miami Dolphins are a pretty big long shot to make the playoffs, but they are still mathematically alive. If they have any chance of playing in January, they need their running back Reggie Bush to play like he did in the first half of the season. Bush has been dynamic at times this year, and other times, he's looked like the overrated draft pick many have called him.

7 of 21

Christian Ponder

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Bruce-Kluckhohn-US-PRESSWIRE

Ponder has been under a lot of criticism this season, and while some of it's fair, a lot of it is not. Ponder doesn't have a lot of play-makers at wide receiver outside of Percy Harvin, and without Harvin in the lineup, his options have been very limited. If the Minnesota Vikings have any chance of making the playoffs, Ponder must step up his game and make defenses respect the passing attack. He's got the best running back in the league behind him, who will only be more effective if the passing game can get better.

8 of 21

Marques Colston

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Kelley-L-Cox-US-PRESSWIRE

While Colston does have three touchdowns in the last four games, he only has a combined 15 catches. The New Orleans Saints are on the ropes, and will have to play close to perfect the rest of the way. If Colston can step up his game a little, the impact could put the Saints over the top and into the postseason.

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Percy Harvin

Brace-Hemmelgarn-US-PRESSWIRE
Brace-Hemmelgarn-US-PRESSWIRE

It's not a matter of Harvin's ability, it's a matter of getting him back on the field. With an ankle injury keeping him out of action the past two games, the Vikings' passing attack has been less than explosive. If Minnesota has any chance at making the playoffs, Harvin has to get back on the field and make an impact. Given the reports on his ankle, that seems like a long shot at this point. But if he can be the player he was through the first ten games, you never know...

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Eli Manning

Brad-Penner-US-PRESSWIRE
Brad-Penner-US-PRESSWIRE

I'm of the opinion that the New York Giants will definitely win the NFC East, and host a playoff game this January, but beyond that I'm not quite sure what their fate will be. Eli Manning has been up and down this season, but we all know that when he's up, so are the Giants. If Eli returns to his form from last year's playoff run, the sky is again the limit for the G-Men.

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Dez Bryant

Tim-Heitman-US-PRESSWIRE
Tim-Heitman-US-PRESSWIRE

Nobody ever knows which Dez Bryant will show up, but when the good Dez shows up, good things happen for the Dallas Cowboys. Tony Romo is being called upon to carry this team to the playoffs, but if he can get some help from Bryant, their chances will greatly increase.

12 of 21

Jay Cutler

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Jerry-Lai-US-PRESSWIRE

Last Sunday's victory cleared showed how important Jay Cutler is to the Chicago Bears. Sitting at 8-3, they are nearly a lock to make the playoffs, but a lot still could happen. Cutler is arguably just as important to the Bears as any one player is to their team across the league. Chicago is playing for a divisional title at this point, and potentially a first round bye. Cutler must continue to be on his 'A' game.

13 of 21

Clay Matthews

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Raj-Mehta-US-PRESSWIRE

Matthews has been battling a hamstring injury for the last couple weeks and is a long-shot to play this Sunday against the Vikings, but when he does return, he will be a vital part to the Packers' playoff run. The Green Bay defense hasn't been great in recent weeks, and Matthews' absence is a big reason why. A healthy Clay Matthews could be the difference between a division title or not.

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Jared Allen

Brace-Hemmelgarn-US-PRESSWIRE
Brace-Hemmelgarn-US-PRESSWIRE

By his standards, Allen is having a down season. Through 11 games he's only recorded 7 sacks, which is a far cry from his near record-breaking season a year ago. The Vikings need any shot in the arm they can get right now, and if Allen can start to reel off a couple multi-sack games in a row, it could go along ways towards their playoff chances.

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Alfred Morris

Tim-Heitman-US-PRESSWIRE
Tim-Heitman-US-PRESSWIRE

While RG3 is the main piece of the puzzle for the Redskins at their playoff run, Alfred Morris is a guy who can step up and greatly help out his fellow rookie. Morris had a strong outing last week, after three very average performances, and the team will need him to play like he did against Dallas the rest of the way to bolster their postseason chances.

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Greg Jennings

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Jeff-Hanisch-US-PRESSWIRE

The Packers' star wide receiver has been on the shelf for much of the season with a groin injury, but he looks to be making his return in week 13. It couldn't come at a better time for Green Bay, after they were just shellacked on Sunday Night Football. Jennings is again one of those guys who's good enough to take his team from just making it in, to divisional champion.

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Andy Dalton

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Denny-Medley-US-PRESSWIRE

The Cincinnati Bengals sit at 6-5, and one spot out of the AFC Playoffs. With lots of football left to be played, they have a very good chance of making the playoffs, especially with the downward trending Pittsburgh Steelers. While the entire season doesn't rest on the shoulders of Andy Dalton, much of it does. The second-year quarterback can get his team into the postseason with several weeks of good play, and with a few timely losses from Steelers or Colts.

18 of 21

Andrew Luck

David-Butler-II-US-PRESSWIRE
David-Butler-II-US-PRESSWIRE

This is another case of, how much more can you ask from a guy, but Luck is obviously the key player for the Indianapolis Colts coming down the stretch. He's had a tremendous rookie season, but he'll ultimately be judged by how he performs these final few weeks. He has a chance to firmly establish himself in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks, and lead a team that no one thought would contend, right into the playoffs.

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Colin Kaepernick

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Derick-E.-Hingle-US-PRESSWIRE

Holy-quarterback controversy. Well I guess it's not a full-on controversy yet, but if Kaepernick has a bad game, it will be. As long as he continues on his current pace, people will stay quiet, but if he can stay strong heading into the postseason, the San Francisco 49ers will likely lock up a first round bye.

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Tony Romo

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Matthew-Emmons-US-PRESSWIRE

Is there anyone more scrutinized in the NFL than Tony Romo? That's a tough question, but nothing is going to change in these last few weeks in regards to that. Romo is going to have to will the Dallas Cowboys into the playoffs, as he'll likely be called upon to throw it 60 times a game going forward. If 'good Romo' shows up, the Cowboys have a shot, if not, it will be yet another disappointing season in Big D.

21 of 21

Ben Rothlisberger

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Jason-Bridge-US-PRESSWIRE

If any team needs their superstar to come back and lead them to the playoffs, it's the Pittsburgh Steelers with Ben Rothlisberger. To say that this team is spiraling out of control without Big Ben, would be a huge understatement. His status is up in the air for this Sunday's big divisional game, and another loss will likely put them at least temporarily out of the playoffs. You hate to see a guy rush back too soon from injury, but Rothlisberger needs to get back on the field as soon as possible for the Steelers to have any chance.

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