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Giants' Manningham, Eagles' Avant among Week 9 X-factors

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 9:

Mario Manningham, Giants, WR: The potential absence of Hakeem Nicks combined with the vulnerability of the Patriots' secondary could make Manningham the top option in the Giants' passing game. He has become a bigger factor in the game plan in recent weeks (16 receptions in the past three games), and Eli Manning will likely target him frequently to tap into his big-play ability. If he can produce a few explosive plays early in the contest, the Giants will be in position to match the Patriots point for point in a shootout.

Jason Avant, Eagles, WR: The Bears' Tampa-2 defense will make it difficult for the Eagles to get the ball outside to Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. Michael Vick will look to exploit the middle of the field with pinpoint strikes between the hashes to Jason Avant and Brent Celek. Last year, Avant routinely found room to operate between Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs on the way to an eight-catch, 83-yard effort in Soldier Field. With the game plan unlikely to change in this pivotal NFC battle, the onus could fall on Avant to carry the Eagles' passing game.

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Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, Ravens, TEs: The Ravens enjoyed tremendous success against the Cardinals last week when they opened up the offense and allowed Joe Flacco to throw it all over the field. While Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith made plays on vertical routes, it was the steady production of their tight ends duo of Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson that helped the Ravens sustain drives in the second half. With the Steelers' defense banged up at linebacker, Pitta and Dickson certainly will get plenty of opportunities to snag passes over the middle of the field.

Marcus Gilchrist, Chargers, CB: Gilchrist replaced the struggling Antoine Cason in the lineup, but was ineffective in his debut performance against the Chiefs (seven receptions allowed for 125 yards on 10 targets). He is in the unenviable position of having to bounce back against Aaron Rodgers and the top receiving corps in the NFL. With Mike McCarthy certain to target the young corner frequently in the game's early stages, the Chargers' chances of staying in the game could hinge on Gilchrist's play.

Aaron Maybin, Jets, OLB: Fans of the Bills will snicker at the notion of the first-round draft pick emerging as a difference maker following his disappointing tenure in Western New York, but he has become an impact player as a situational rusher for the Jets. Maybin has recorded three sacks in four games and leads the team with three forced fumbles. As a relentless pass rusher with speed and quickness, he has become the Jets' top threat off the edge and allowed Rex Ryan to drop seven defenders into coverage. Against a Bills' offense that relies on precision and timing, his ability to collapse the pocket could force Ryan Fitzpatrick into hurried throws.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks

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