Playoffs  

 

Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady headline star-studded playoff field

"Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games."

There is no more tired adage in sports. NFL players (and analysts) love regurgitating that cliché during this time of the year.

Wild Card Weekend

The playoffs are finally here. Take a closer look at the wild-card matchups that will kick off the action:

» Bengals at Texans
» Vikings at Packers
» Colts at Ravens
» Seahawks at Redskins

» NFL.com's analysts' picks.

On Twitter: #NFLPlayoffs

But while it might be cheesy, it also is 100 percent accurate. We've seen numerous examples of individual players carrying their squads with impressive postseason performances.

Larry Fitzgerald almost single-handedly delivered a Super Bowl victory to the Arizona Cardinals with an amazing postseason run. Over four games in the 2008 playoffs, Fitzgerald produced 547 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. The last of those scores gave the Cardinals a lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIII. That game, and championship, was snatched away from Fitzgerald and the Cards by the clutch play of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger -- another player who has produced dominant postseason performances.

Let's take a look at the 10 most dominant players in this postseason:

1) Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers: Rodgers doesn't garner quite the same attention as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but he is the NFL's most talented quarterback. He finished the regular season with 4,295 passing yards, 39 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He dominated the 2010 postseason, throwing nine touchdown passes against only two interceptions while leading the Packers to a Super Bowl victory.

2) Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: Brady has been consistently dominant in the postseason. He has led the Patriots to five Super Bowl appearances (winning three titles) and is unflappable in late-game, high-pressure situations. Last postseason, he tossed a career-best eight touchdown passes during New England's run to Super Bowl XLVI.

3) Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Peterson proved this season that he is fully capable of carrying both an offense and an entire team. Despite undergoing a major knee surgery in December 2011, he rushed for over 2,000 yards while playing with an anemic passing attack. He will need to carry an enormous load in order for the Vikings to advance in the postseason.

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4) Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos: Manning's regular-season dominance is well documented. However, earlier in his career, there wasn't quite the same consistency during the postseason. That has changed in recent years. He has thrown 11 touchdown passes and only four interceptions over his past four postseason runs. Despite his improved play, though, the Colts were one-and-done in three of those four playoff appearances.

5) J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans: Watt is the NFL's most dominant defender. He creates negative plays against the run and also is the premier pass rusher in the league. He racked up 20.5 sacks as an interior defensive lineman. That's insane! In two postseason games last year, he collected 3.5 sacks and returned an interception for a touchdown. He is fully capable of taking over a game and delivering a postseason win to the Texans.

6) Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos: Miller is the most explosive edge rusher in the league. He has tallied 30 sacks in his first two seasons and he's also forced eight fumbles. If Manning can produce an early lead for the Broncos, Miller is capable of playing the role of closer.

7) Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots: It's hard to dominate a football game from the tight end position, but that is exactly what Gronkowski does. He is a matchup nightmare for defenses and he's proven his dominance in his first three NFL seasons. Despite missing five games this season, he's caught 38 touchdown passes during his career.

8) Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks: Sherman has quickly established himself as a dominant defensive player. The second-year cornerback picked off eight passes this season and also led the league with 24 pass breakups. His size (6-foot-3) and physical play allow him to match up with the NFL's elite wide receivers. That is a huge advantage for the Seattle defense and a main reason why the Seahawks are built to succeed in the postseason.

9) A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: Green is the NFL's best receiver not named Calvin Johnson. His combination of size and ball skills is very rare -- and nearly impossible to defend. He's been voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two NFL seasons, having already hauled in 18 touchdown grabs. He didn't have a huge game in his only postseason appearance -- last season's 31-10 loss to the Texans -- but I expect that to change in his second opportunity.

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10) Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks: There are several impact running backs in this year's postseason. Arian Foster and Ray Rice are proven performers in the postseason, but Lynch gets the nod for the 10th spot. He racked up 1,590 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns during the regular season. He is a true workhorse running back and the Seahawks will try and ride him to success in the postseason.

Honorable mention: Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings; Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals; NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers; Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers; Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans; Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers; Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins; Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans; Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons; Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts; Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers; Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins; Ed Reed, FS, Baltimore Ravens; Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens; Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons; Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers; Justin Smith, DL, San Francisco 49ers; Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos; Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts; Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons; Vince Wilfork, DT, New England Patriots; Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers.

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

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