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

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NFL Players Who Can Help Their Team Make the Playoffs

20 NFL Players Who Will Shine to End the Season
Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

The NFL season has reached the point where teams have been mathematically eliminated from the 2012 NFL Playoffs. The season is also at a point where 5-6 and 6-5 teams need to play harder to close out games to move up the standings and hope for some luck from other teams to secure a playoff spot. Other teams that already have eight or nine wins needs to make sure they do not fall off the map and prove their deserving high seeds in the playoffs. Teams with a losing record still have a chance at qualifying for the playoffs as a 5-6 team can easily get hot and go 10-6 or 9-7 to end the season.

Each year, every NFL team plays 16 games. Some teams make the playoffs and others don’t. Every team plays every game to create a playoff bracket that ends with the Super Bowl. The Wild Card race in the AFC and NFC normally comes down to the last game of the season. The NFL recognized this and made sure that NFL teams play division rivals in Week 17. This provides a little extra incentive for players and brings extra excitement for NFL fans.

Each year, teams count on certain players who are stars or role players, to help them solidify a playoff spot. The usual suspects are the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Kickers and defensive players can also play vital at this time to help win close battles. Here is a look at NFL players on potential playoff teams that need to step up and make sure they help their team during this stretch run to end the NFL season.

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David Akers: San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers Kicker David Akers
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San Francisco 49ers kicker David Akers should be taking some extra kicks in practice as the team gears for a deep playoff run. The 49ers kicker has not had a great season statistically. Akers is perfect in field goal attempts under 30 yards. Akers is also six for seven in field goals in the 30-39 yard range. After 39 yards is where Akers struggles and the 49ers have lost some close games. In field goals of more than 40 yards, Akers is seven for 13. In fact, in the 49ers losses this year, Akers has made only one of four field goals attempted over 40 yards.

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Charlie Batch: Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Charlie Batch
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The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking for a win in Ben Roethlisberger’s absence in Week 12. The Steelers are 0-2 since without Roethlisberger and looking for a win against AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens. In last week’s game against the Cleveland Browns, Charlie Batch got the start at quarterback. Batch’s three interceptions contributed to the Steelers 20-14 loss. If Batch gets only one more start this season before Big Ben returns, he needs to get a win and make his game count.

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Ahmad Bradshaw: New York Giants

New York Giants Running Back Ahmad Bradshaw
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Ahmad Bradshaw needs to step up his play as the New York Giants are now without running back Andrew Brown. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin recently said, “Ahmad’s got it all. He’s had the experience, he’s been the pass protector, he’s caught the ball out of the backfield, he’s running the ball.” Back in 2010, the Giants running back rushed for 1235 yards. In the 2012 season, Bradshaw has 733 yards and five touchdowns. The running back has only rushed for more than 100 yards on two occasions and needs to get his job done on the ground to take some pressure off of Eli Manning and the Giants passing game.

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Tom Brady: New England Patriots

New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady
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New England Patriots quarterback and team leader Tom Brady has his team sitting with an 8-3 record. He also has an amazing 24 touchdown to 3 interception ratio. In the Patriots three losses, Brady has four touchdowns and three interceptions. The team is counting on Brady to be accurate and throw few interceptions. For the Patriots to make the playoffs, Brady needs to be in top form the rest of the season.

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Michael Bush: Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears Running Back Michael Bush
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With Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte’s continued injuries, Michael Bush needs to be ready to help the Bears on the ground. The Bears backup running back is averaging 3.5 yards per carry when called upon as a starter or as a backup. Most of Bush’s games as a starter see him averaging around 3.0 yards per carry. However, in games when Bush rushes less than 10 times, his statistics are all over the place. Averages of 6.5, 6.0, 1.7, 11.3, and 1.8 are hard to help the team.

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Mason Crosby: Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers Kicker Mason Crosby
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Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby has had his struggles in the 2012 season. The kicker is hitting 60% of his attempted field goals, but has missed some key kicks. In the team’s last four games, the kicker has hit less than 50% of kicks each game. His one for three performance against the Detroit Lions almost cost the team a win. If the Packers are to close in on a playoff spot, Crosby will need to make field goals.

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Jay Cutler: Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler
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After returning from an injury that saw Jay Cutler miss two weeks with an injury, the Chicago Bears quarterback needs to come back strong to help the Bears make the 2012 NFL Playoffs. In the two games missed by Cutler, the Bears lost both games and dropped to an 8-3 record. The Bears currently rank 32nd in the NFL, averaging 177.2 passing yards per game. Cutler has a poor touchdown to interception ratio with 13 tds and 11 picks thrown. In fact, Cutler has only thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in five of the ten games he has played this season. The Bears, who rely on their defense to win games, need more from their quarterback to ensure a good seed in the playoffs.

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Jonathan Dwyer: Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Jonathan Dwyer
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have used a shuffle of different running backs this season. Jonathan Dwyer appears to be the newest number one running back and needs to step up to help the Steelers make the NFL Playoffs. Dwyer has rushed for over 100 yards twice this year, resulting in two wins for the Steelers. In games when Dwyer has 10 or more rushing attempts, the team has a 4-1 record.

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Josh Freeman: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterback Josh Freeman
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The 6-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a chance to make the NFL Playoffs for the first time since 2007. The team needs improved play from quarterback Josh Freeman. The Buccaneers quarterback has 2761 passing yards and 21 touchdowns on the season. Some of Tampa Bay’s biggest wins have come when Freeman was at his best. The young gunslinger had over 299 passing yards three weeks in a row. Last week, Freeman failed to throw a passing touchdown for the first game of the season and the Buccaneers lost 24-23 to the Atlanta Falcons.

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Aaron Hernandez: New England Patriots

New England Patriots Tight End Aaron Hernandez
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The New England Patriots were dealt a blow when they lost starting tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots starting tight end had 748 yards and was leading the team with 10 receiving touchdowns. Backup tight end Aaron Hernandez has an opportunity to step up and help the Patriots get a spot in the 2012 NFL Playoffs. Hernandez has 179 receiving yards and has found the end zone twice. Look for him to step up and help Tom Brady’s Patriots.

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Colin Kaepernick: San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick
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Colin Kaepernick has been named the starting quarterback for the 8-2-1 San Francisco 49ers. The former University of Nevada-Reno has pushed Alex Smith from the starting role and looks ready to lead the 49ers to the 2012 NFL Playoffs. Kaepernick has an unbeaten 2-0-1 record since Smith was hurt. The team ranks 27th in passing yards and is looking for the young quarterback to provide a spark. Kaepernick is completing more than 65% of his passes and has three touchdown passes with one interception thrown. Collin has also rushed for two touchdowns. Kaepernick has been given a huge opportunity to play until he has a bad game.

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Andrew Luck: Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck
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Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck has the Indianapolis Colts in the hunt for a spot for the NFL Playoffs. If Luck’s continued play can improve, the Colts can make the playoffs. In the Colts four losses, Luck has only five touchdowns to go with nine interceptions thrown. In those losses, Luck is only completing 51% of pass attempts. If the Colts are to make the playoffs, Luck needs to be more consistent and make sure he is throwing to the right team.

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Marshawn Lynch: Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks Running Back Marshawn Lynch
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Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has been relied on by the team to win games. With the team in the playoff picture, Lynch will need to improved to help the team clinch a spot in the 2012 NFL Playoffs. The Seahawks rank eight in rushing yards and currently sit second to last in passing yards at 31st. Lynch rushed for less than 100 yards on five occasions this season and will need better output to close out the season. The Seahawks hold a 3-3 record when Lynch does not score a rushing touchdown.

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Eli Manning: New York Giants

New York Giants Quarterback Eli Manning
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The 7-4 New York Giants are leading the NFC East, but are facing stiff competition from the 5-6 Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. Eli Manning sits with 2890 passing yards on the season and is completing 60.7% of his passes. Despite this strong effort, Manning will likely fall short of his last three season which he has passed for at least 4000 yards. If Manning throws for 110 yards against the Redskins, he will have thrown for 3000 yards for the eighth straight season. Manning did throw for less than 200 yards in weeks 6, 8, and 9. The Giants lost both week 9 and week 10, when Manning failed to throw a passing touchdown. The Giants quarterback needs to step up to help his team win the NFC East and earn a playoff spot.

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Doug Martin: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Back Doug Martin
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Rookie running back Doug Martin has turned into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter. The former Boise State University star has over 1000 yards on the season with nine rushing touchdowns. Despite this high yardage, Martin has only rushed for more than 100 yards in three weeks and saw over a quarter of that production in a four touchdown 251 yard effort against the Oakland Raisers. The Buccaneers running back needs to perform well as Tampa Bay closes out the season to help his team clinch a playoff spot.

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Aaron Rodgers: Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has 2838 passing yards on the 2012 NFL season. Rodgers numbers are actually down from last season and the quarterback needs to step up to help the Packers get into the NFL Playoffs. Rodgers has thrown under 300 passing yards already in seven games. Last season Rodgers failed to hit the 300 mark in seven contests, but two of those were 299 and 297 yards. Rodgers touchdown tally of 28 this season is also off of his 2011 pace that saw him finish with 48. Rodgers needs to put up bigger numbers in the last five weeks of the season for the Packers.

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Ben Roethlisberger: Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
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With Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a 6-3 record. However, when Big Ben is inactive for the Steelers, the team is 0-2 and beginning to fall out of the NFL Playoff picture. Roethlisberger is putting up great numbers and could face the difficult challenge of winning every game when he returns.

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Mohamed Sanu: Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receiver Mohamed Sanu
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A.J. Green has been the number one receiver for Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals since he got drafted. In the 2012 NFL Draft, the Bengals drafted Mohamed Sanu. The newest Bengals receiver is slowly turning into a key target of Dalton. In the last five games, Sanu has at least 20 yards in each game. Last week against the Oakland Raiders, Sanu was thrown to nine times, catching six passes for 29 yards and two touchdowns.

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Mike Williams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wide Receiver Mike Williams
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Two seasons ago, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams was closing in on 1000 yards in his rookie season. After a down 2011 season which saw Williams catch 65 passes for 771 yards, Williams is back in form. The Buccaneers receiver has 625 receiving yards. In the last two weeks, Williams has only caught three passes each contest and ended the games with 28 and 29 yards. Williams needs to step up to help take the pressure off of number one receiving target Vincent Jackson.

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Russell Wilson: Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson
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Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card hunt for a NFL Playoff spot. On the season, Wilson has 2051 yards and 17 touchdowns. The former University of Wisconsin Badger is completing 64% of his passes in 2012. With 11 games played, Wilson has thrown for less than 200 yards in seven contests. The 6-5 Seahawks need more consistent play from Wilson. While the team relies heavily on the running of Marshawn Lynch, Wilson has a huge impact and is the key player that will determine if the team makes the playoffs.

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