Skip to main content

Four players who could surprise in divisional round

Playoff games are often decided by players who don't dominate the headlines during the regular season. Here are four X-factors who could do the unexpected on Divisional Round Weekend.

LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots running back

Did you dismiss Blount at the beginning of the year?

GMC Never Say Never Moment

Tom Brady and the Patriots overcame a 24-point halftime deficit against the Broncos to prevail in Week 12. Was it the best moment of 2013?

If so, don't feel too bad -- you're far from alone. Blount wasn't even a lock to make the Patriots' roster after being acquired in a low profile draft-day trade last April, but he's turned into a vital player for Bill Belichick.

His high point came against the Buffalo Bills in the season finale, when the bulldozing running back helped lock up a playoff bye with a team-record 344 all-purpose yards, including a career-high 189 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Again, this is LeGarrette Blount.

It was a performance that guaranteed Blount more touches when the Patriots meet the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday at Foxborough. In fact, a study of the snap count in the final two weeks of the regular season suggest Blount already has taken the primary backfield duties away from Stevan Ridley.

The Colts were ranked seventh against the run during the regular season, but they were ripped up for 150 yards on the ground last Saturday against a Chiefs team that played nearly the entire game without star Jamaal Charles.

The stage is set for more LaGarrette Blount dominance. I can't believe I just typed that sentence.

-- Dan Hanzus

Khiry Robinson, New Orleans Saints running back

Robinson supplemented Mark Ingramlast week, rushing eight times for 45 yards. If Pierre Thomas can't play again this week due to a chest injury, Robinson could play an even bigger role.

FedEx Air & Ground Players of Year

Drew Brees became the first quarterback in NFL history with three consecutive 5,000-yard seasons. Was it the best performance for a quarterback in 2013?

The Saints began the Week 13 matchup against the Seahawks going with big sets before the game got out of hand. Couple that with the success of the running game last week, and we can expect Sean Payton to employ the ground game liberally.

The free-agent rookie runs with power and attitude, almost as if he is trying to prove his worth with every touch. Comparisons between the 24-year-old Robinson and former Saints running back Chris Ivory are apt in that each runs angry.

Most of the games the Seahawks have struggled in this season have come against power-running attacks. We could see a breakout performance Sunday, especially if the Saints are to upset the NFC's No. 1 seed.

*-- Kevin Patra *

Captain Munnerlyn, Carolina Panthers cornerback

GMC Never Say Never Moment

A stingy Panthers defense led by linebacker Luke Kuechly aided in a huge down-to-the-wire road win over the 49ers in Week 10. Was it the best moment of 2013?

Just nine defensive backs across the league registered at least three sacks this season. Three of those players were Munnerlyn, Mike Mitchell and Quintin Mikell of Carolina. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott doesn't have to blitz much, thanks to a quarterback-crashing defensive line. When he does dial up the heat, it often comes as a surprise from the defensive backfield.

Best suited for the slot, Munnerlyn does get beat by big-bodied wide receivers on occasion. Where the former punt returner excels, though, is as a playmaker on the backside blitz or running with the ball in his hands. No NFL defensive back has more than Munnerlyn's combined five sacks and touchdowns this season. After five years in Charlotte, he already holds the franchise record for most career pick sixes (five). No cornerback in NFL history has returned a greater percentage (71.4) of interceptions for touchdowns.

If Munnerlyn gets his hands on the ball Sunday, don't be surprised if he takes it to the house.

-- Chris Wesseling

Trindon Holliday, Denver Broncos return man

FedEx Air & Ground Players of Year

Peyton Manning set new NFL single-season records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55). Was it the best performance for a quarterback in 2013?

If Sunday goes according to script, the high-flying Denver Broncos won't need much help from Trindon Holliday. If things get weird, the team's electric kick returner looms as a difference maker.

Denver freaked out when the Broncos fell to Baltimore in double overtime last January, but there wouldn't have been a first overtime had Holliday not scorched the Ravens with a 90-yard punt return and 104-yard kick return for scores.

Holliday notched another two touchdowns this season and his 27.7 kick return average was tied with Devin Hester for fifth-best in the league. After accounting for six touchdowns between Week 9 of last season and Week 8 of this campaign, Holliday has gone dry. "We've been overdue," he said last month.

If it happens Sunday, bank on the Chargers taking a permanent holiday.

-- Marc Sessler

The "Around The League Podcast" is now available on iTunes! Click here to listen and subscribe.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.