Four X-Factors In This Week’s Conference Championship Games
Four X-Factors In This Weekend's Conference Championship Games
We've reached the NFL's version of the final four. Three of the four teams were in this position last year, with the only difference that the Atlanta Falcons are replacing the New York Giants. Will this Sunday's games. Everyone knows about Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Ray Lewis and Frank Gore, but this slideshow isn't about them. It's about the guys you may not think a whole lot of about, however, they are going to have an impact as to who wins or loses.
Star players in the NFL are obviously important, however, each and every person on the active roster is one play away from having their number called and making an impact. Every season, guys come out of no where to make an impact. Who thought the New York Giants had a great receiver on their hands in Victor Cruz two years ago? Who thought Russell Wilson would put up the numbers that he did this year? Who saw Shane Vereen having the impact that he did last week for the Patriots?
In playoff games, you need your star players to be on their games, however, it's the role players, the guys you don't think about that much, who can help you get to the Super Bowl and give you an opportunity. One big play could change the game, and sometimes, those plays are made by guys who you would least expect. Let's take a look at one guy to watch for each of these four teams.
San Francisco 49ers- Delanie Walker
This season has been frustrating for Vernon Davis. He went from 67 catches in 2011 to only 41 this season. Delanie Walker saw his yardage go up almost 200 yards this year. Without Mario Manningham, Walker has seen his targets increase. He might be Colin Kaepernick's secret weapon, especially if the Falcons get too focused on Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree. The way to beat the Falcons is going to be through the air and Walker might be a weapon for the 49ers, especially in the red zone.
Atlanta Falcons- Harry Douglas
Yes, the Falcons passing game consists of throwing to Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, but Douglas could find himself being an x-factor in Sunday's game. Why? The 49ers struggle against slot receivers. Why have the New York Giants beat the 49ers twice in the last three years? Victor Cruz in the slot destroyed their secondary. Douglas in another scheme would probably put up pretty good numbers, but the Falcons don't use him that much. Douglas only got above five targets in four games this season, however, Douglas could make an impact in this game.
Baltimore Ravens- Bernard Pollard
Let's play a game. Which injuries have Bernard Pollard been involved with the New England Patriots over the past few years? A. Tom Brady's knee B. Wes Welker's knee C. Rob Gronkowski's ankle D. All of the above. If you answered D you are correct and if you are a Patriots fan you're shouting expletives at the screen right now. Not only has Pollard been involved with that, he's a pretty good player. In their meeting this season, Pollard had six tackles. With Ed Reed playing more of a center field, Pollard may need to come up in the slot to help on Welker or Aaron Hernandez or maybe even Shane Vereen at this point.
New England Patriots- Devin McCourty
The former number one pick's move to safety has helped to stabilize New England's secondary. The Ravens are a better team when Joe Flacco can hit on the deep pass. If he's hitting it consistantly, the Ravens can put up a lot of points. If Flacco is forced to dink and dunk he's not as good. McCourty is going to be counted on to help give support deep to the rest of the secondary. If he doesn't this could be another shootout kind of game, like the Ravens Broncos game last weekend.