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2013 NFL Playoffs: Wild-Card Weekend X-Factors

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2013 NFL Playoffs X-Factors

2013 NFL Playoffs X-Factors
Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

As the 2013 NFL Playoffs are about to kick-off I wanted to take a look at some players who could provide important plays/sparks to their teams this weekend. The formula for any victory has to be that your best players are your best players, but the teams that will earn an extended playoff run are the teams that will get production from unexpected sources.

The New York Giants have had guys like David Tyree, Mario Manningham, Bear Pascoe, and Chase Blackburn step up in their recent Super Bowl wins, but I am talking about guys who will step up this weekend - wild-card weekend - to help their teams get a playoff win.

In the 2010 playoffs we saw Steve Breaston go off for 125 yards in a Arizona Cardinals victory over the Green Bay Packers. In the previous season the Cards went to the Super Bowl and Breaston had 148 total yards in their four playoff games, but he stepped up and helped AZ get the win in this wild-card upset.

In 2011 we saw Brandon Stokley have zero regular season touchdowns, but he got two in the playoffs including a big one in the Seattle Seahawks upset wild-card weekend victory over the defending champion New Orleans Saints.

Last season we saw seldom thrown to Denver Broncos tight end Daniel Fells catch a pair of passes for really big chunks of yards in the Broncos upset victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in wild-card weekend.

Who will step up and surprise this weekend? Let's take a look...

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans - Page 2

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers - Page 3

Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens - Page 4

Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins - Page 5

BONUS links to all four wild-card weekend game previews - Page 6

@craigballard77

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Bengals at Texans X-Factors

Bengals at Texans X-Factors
Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE

One month ago the Bengals lost their kicker, Mike Nugent, for the season. They brought in veteran Josh Brown, and he is my #RML x-factor for Cincy this weekend.

This is Brown's 10th NFL season. He had spent the previous nine seasons in the NFC West as the kicker for the Seattle Seahawks and the St. Louis Rams.

In his past two seasons Brown has not done much from 50+ yards, but in his career he does have a history of making long kicks way more often than he misses them.

Brown has been a Bengal for one month, but he is already an impressive 11 for 12 on field goals. Cincy is really bad on 3rd down conversions, and the Texans defense is outstanding on 3rd downs so I think that we could see Brown multiple times in this game.

Hitting long field goals and adding points is big when you are trying to pull the upset. Missing field goals is the next worst thing to turning the football over as it keeps you from adding points and gives your opponent the football with likely good field position.

The Texans kicker is Shayne Graham who is on his fifth team in the last three seasons. Graham is very good on kicks under 40 yards, but poor on longer kicks.

The thing here is that the Texans offense is scuffling these days so kicking field goals, even long ones, is not going to get momentum on Houston's side as much as Cincy can use field goals to get momentum on their sideline. Matt Schaub has not thrown a touchdown pass in 11 quarters so the Texans will see field goals as "settling" more than as something too positive.

@craigballard77

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Vikings at Packers X-Factors

Vikings at Packers X-Factors
Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

The Vikings have to be concerned with the mismatch that is Christian Ponder vs Aaron Rodgers. The Vikes will surely require a great game from Jared Allen who is their best pass-rusher, and he has dropped Rodgers 3.0 times this season.

Rodgers has been sacked a whopping 51 times this season, but only 17 times at Lambeau Field. Minny at Green Bay seems like a game that really favors Green Bay so not only will the Vikes need Allen, but I think they will need Brian Robison to have a huge game too.

Robison only has 2.0 of his 8.5 sacks on the road, and he has just 5.0 sacks against teams that are not the Arizona Cardinals (Cards allowed by far the most sacks this season) but the Vikings are an impressive 5-1 when Robison records a sack (including last weeks win over the Packers).

The Packers have used four different running backs this season. Their leading rusher is Alex Green (464 yards) who seems to be recovered from a concussion issue, but they seem to be intrigued by what DuJuan Harris can give them. Harris was only added to the NFL roster one month ago, but I anticipate he will get double-digit carries this weekend.

Harris scored a touchdown in his debut on December 9th vs the Detroit Lions, and on December 23rd he took one to the house again. Last weekend vs the Vikings he had 14 carries and he amassed 70 yards (5.0 yards per carry).

The Packers passing game is awesome, and if they can also get production from their running game then they can go on an extended playoff run.

@craigballard77

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Colts at Ravens X-Factors

Colts at Ravens X-Factors
David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

The Ravens are ranked #17 vs the pass, but they are good at containing one wide receiver. They struggle vs #2 and #3 wide receivers which is why I will have Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton as a tie to be Indy's x-factor.

Reggie Wayne is the clear #1 for the Colts, and the Ravens game-plan will be to stop/slow him. Wayne had just one touchdown on the road this season, while Avery and Hilton each took it to the house three times on the road.

This will be the first of many playoff games as a Colt for Hilton. He has burst on the scene this season, but Avery is a Colt on a one-year deal so he is playing for his next contract.

Avery has been targeted a whopping 125 times this season, but he caught less than half of the passes thrown to him (60 catches).

Andrew Luck has been poor on the road (11 touchdowns, but a whopping 13 interceptions...and a poor QB rating of 70.1 away from home). The Colts will want to rely on their passing game to try to score enough points to take Ray Rice out of the game and force the Ravens to beat them through the air.

The Ravens x-factor has to be Ray Lewis. He is surely the biggest name that I have ever listed as an x-factor, but his return to this team has a chance to provide on and off field benefits.

Lewis could dominate between the lines, and also have his teammates flying and pumped with his words/presence.

@craigballard77

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Seahawks at Redskins X-Factors

Seahawks at Redskins X-Factors
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

The Seahawks have an outstanding running game, and a defense in the top-10 vs the pass and also vs the run. Their passing game is ranked just 27th overall, but we know that Russell Wilson is on fire lately.

It is rare for teams to get momentum vs the Seahawks these days. Imagine you finally are able to put a drive together, or get a big play that leads to a score, then you kick off to Leon Washington. That is a scary scenario as Washington had another Pro Bowl season in 2012. He is a guy who is capable of switching momentum from your team to his team right away.

In the past six seasons Washington has a whopping eight kick return touchdowns. One of his touchdowns was vs the Redskins when he was the New York Jets kick returner.

The Redskins have an offense that gets a lot of pub, and I get why. Their running game with Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris is awesome. They also have a fairly deep wide receiver group that RG III spreads the football too.

Santana Moss is the top touchdown guy for RG III. Josh Morgan is the top target for RG III. Second year receiver Leonard Hankerson has been good this season too, but the x-factor on this offense has to be Pierre Garcon.

Garcon leads the team with 63 receiving yards per game. He also has (by far) their most yards after catch. He has been wonderful at taking short passes (usually from play-action) and making nice catches and turning it up-field for big plays.

Garcon has a touchdown in four games, and the Redskins won all of those games. In fact the Redskins are an incredible 9-1 when Garcon plays (1-5 without him).

@craigballard77

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Links to Wild-Card Weekend Game Previews

Links to Wild-Card Weekend Game Previews
Sam Sharpe-US PRESSWIRE

The road teams this weekend are underdogs, except the Seahawks are favored to beat the Redskins. I think there will be upwards of three upsets in wild-card weekend. For any playoff victory teams will need a player(s) to step up.

Did you agree with my x-factors? Who are yours? You can interact with me on twitter @craigballard77 and all of my articles as the 2013 NFL Playoffs Insider for Rant Sports are HERE.

For the game preview of Bengals at Texans CLICK HERE

For the game preview of Vikings at Packers CLICK HERE

For the game preview of Colts at Ravens CLICK HERE

For the game preview of Seahawks at Redskins CLICK HERE

I will have "aftermath" articles for all eight teams in action this weekend immediately following their wild-card games.

www.rantsports.com is one of the largest/fastest growing sports websites on planet earth!

@craigballard77