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Niners' Hunter, Jets' Wilson among Week 4 X-factors

Ed Reinke/AP
Rookie RB Kendall Hunter had nine carries and scored a touchdown against the Bengals in Week 3.


Most of the attention going into games is on the stars, but lesser-known players often end up being the difference-makers. Here are a few players who could have a great impact in Week 4:

Kyle Wilson, Jets, CB: An injury to Antonio Cromartie could force Wilson into the starting lineup against a talented Ravens' receiving corps that features Anquan Boldin and an emerging Torrey Smith. Although Wilson has stepped up his game in his second season, the Ravens will test his mettle by targeting him frequently in the passing game. How well he fares not only will reveal a lot about his development, but also could determine the Jets' fate in this pivotal AFC matchup.

Gosder Cherilus, Lions, OT: The Cowboys' defense poses a serious challenge to the Lions' offensive line due to the presence of DeMarcus Ware. The perennial Pro Bowler has already collected five sacks, and the threat of him wreaking havoc off the edge puts the pressure squarely on the shoulders of Cherilus. If the Lions are unable to keep Ware under wraps, Matthew Stafford could spend most of his day on his back.

Tyvon Branch, Raiders, S: The task of slowing down Tom Brady and the Patriots' explosive aerial attack will test Branch's instincts, awareness and cover skills. Branch orchestrates traffic in the Raiders' secondary from his safety spot, while also dropping near the box to match up with tight ends and slot receivers in man coverage. With the majority of the Patriots' passing game directed between the hashes, Branch must have a big day for the Raiders to have a chance at disrupting Brady's rhythm.

Jonathan Scott, Steelers, LT: The Steelers must account for the Texans' Mario Williams to give Ben Roethlisberger a chance to attack a vulnerable Houston secondary. To accomplish this feat, Scott (or Trai Essex) must secure the backside by routinely winning isolated matchups with the talented rusher. Given Scott's inability to slow down the Colts' Dwight Freeney in Week 3, the Steelers are hoping he can step up his game against Williams.

Kendall Hunter, 49ers, RB: With Frank Gore ailing from an assortment of injuries, the 49ers' running game could hinge on the performance of Hunter. The rookie showed potential during a brief appearance against the Bengals, but Jim Harbaugh will need Hunter to be difference-maker to steal a tough win on the road.

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Others to watch

Scott Chandler, Bills, TE: Chandler has become Ryan Fitzpatrick's favorite weapon in the red zone. He has four touchdowns on only nine receptions, and could find room to work against a Bengals' defense that struggled containing Vernon Davis in Week 3.

Jonathan Stewart, Panthers, RB: Stewart has been stuck in a backup role despite outplaying DeAngelo Williams in the opening weeks of the season. Facing a Bears' defense that has been increasingly vulnerable to the run, this could be a perfect time for the coaches to turn to Stewart as the feature back.

Jared Cook, Titans, TE: The loss of Kenny Britt could prompt Matt Hasselbeck to utilize Cook as his favorite target over the middle. Cook's size and athleticism gives him a significant advantage over linebackers in space, and the Titans' coaching staff will look to exploit those favorable matchups against Cleveland.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks

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