X-Factors  

 

Crabtree, Umenyiora among X-Factors in divisional round

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Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers, WR: The 49ers have relied on their ground attack to keep games close, but the Saints' potent offense could trigger a shootout. Crabtree has shown explosive potential when given opportunities, so Alex Smith could turn to him early and often to get the 49ers off to a good start. With Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams willing to dial up the blitzes, don't be surprised if Crabtree has a monster day on the outside against man coverage.

Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants, DE: The Giants' imposing defensive line presents a serious problem for the Packers with their deep and talented stable of pass rushers. The unit sacked Aaron Rodgers twice in their Week 13 matchup, and their constant harassment disrupted his rhythm within the pocket. Umenyiora didn't play in the first outing, but figures to be a pivotal player in the rematch due to his superior athleticism against the Packers' edge blockers, Chad Clifton and Marshall Newhouse. With turnovers valued at a premium in the postseason, Umenyiora's ability to produce a pivotal strip-sack fumble could be a difference-maker in this contest.

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Brian Cushing, Houston Texans, LB: The Ravens are at their best when Ray Rice is the primary option, so stopping the run is the Texans' top priority. Cushing, who led the team in tackles, is an integral part of the plan with his ability to run and chase from his inside linebacker spot. He must attack Rice in the hole and limit his opportunity to find cutback lanes against the Texans' swarming defense. Cushing must also crowd Rice in the passing game to prevent the Ravens from finding their top option on screens and checkdowns. If the Texans can limit Rice's touches and force the Ravens to rely on Joe Flacco's right arm, Houston could spring a surprising upset on the road.

Lance Ball, Denver Broncos, RB: The Broncos' top-rated running game is driven by Tim Tebow and Willis McGahee, but Ball is the change of pace back that provides explosive runs on zone-option plays. His combination of speed and quickness is enhanced by their deceptive misdirection running game, which poses a serious problem for the Patriots' defense. If Mike McCoy is able to slip Ball into the game to execute a few successful gadget plays, the Broncos' dynamic rush attack could pave the way for another playoff victory for John Fox and Co.

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