The game management of Kansas City’s Alex Smith. Andy Dalton’s attempt to win his first playoff game with the Cincinnati Bengals. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his collarbone. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s effort to erase memories of his previous postseason failures. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s first playoff appearance.
Yes, quarterbacks will grab most headlines as the playoffs begin on Saturday. They are the easiest people to blame when things go wrong. They typically receive all the credit when things go right.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of other important players to watch during the postseason.
In fact, here are the top 10 non-QBs to keep an eye on this postseason:
1. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay, – This is Rodgers’ team, but Lacy is the key to Green Bay’s postseason success. Lacy had 284 carries for 1,178 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, all franchise rookie records, during the regular season. He forces opposing defenses to play honestly, a weapon Rodgers will use to his advantage.
2. Aqib Talib, CB, New England – Remember when Talib was a renegade in Tampa Bay? Now Talib is a Pro Bowl cornerback and reliable. Talib is starting to play like the cornerback who dominated earlier this season. He was hampered for several weeks with a hip injury, but could slow down Manning in the AFC Championship game.
3. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City – Okay, the Oakland Raiders are not in the playoffs, so Charles probably will not have five touchdowns in a game anytime soon. However, the threat is always there. Nobody expects Smith to throw five touchdowns in a playoff game, which makes Charles the most important offensive player in Kansas City.
4. Robert Mathis, LB, Indianapolis – Forget about Andrew Luck or T.Y. Hilton for a moment. Indianapolis has not allowed more than 15 points in four of its past five games. Mathis has recorded five sacks during that time span. The Colts’ defense is real, and Mathis is the reason why.
5. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati – He had 1,426 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns during the regular season. That is the good news. Unfortunately, for Green, Dalton has not played well in the playoffs. Green has 10 receptions for 127 yards in two playoff games, but could breakthrough if Dalton plays consistently.
6. Cameron Jordan, DE, New Orleans – Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham are the obvious choices, but Jordan had a Pro Bowl season in 2013. He currently ranks fifth in the NFL with 12 1/2 sacks, which is the first time Jordan has compiled double-digit sacks since he was drafted in 2011. Jordan also has 47 total tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and leads the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense.
7. Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco – Davis had a touchdown reception in six of San Francisco’s past seven games. San Francisco had only one loss during that stretch. Davis is Colin Kaepernick’s most reliable receiver, and the biggest matchup problem for opposing defenses.
8. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver – Manning likes to spread the wealth, but Thomas always finds a way to have an impact. With Wes Welker still recovering from his concussion injury, Thomas is the guy to watch in Denver’s offense. He had 14 touchdowns in the regular season and should have great success in the playoffs.
9. Greg Hardy, DE, Carolina – It is easy to understand why linebacker Luke Kuechly gets all the attention on this defense, but Hardy had 15 sacks during the regular season. Charles Johnson had 11 sacks, but Hardy is arguably just as important as Kuechly. He also dominates breakfast.
10. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Bengals – He led the league in tackles (171), but the average NFL fan has never heard of him. Burfict has a chance to become well-known name with a strong postseason performance. Cincinnati’s defense is ranked third in the NFL. Burfict is good enough to lead his team to the Super Bowl.
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