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 big impact in Week 16:
Plaxico Burress, New York Jets, WR:The opportunity to knock his former team out of playoff contention undoubtedly will lead to an inspired effort from Burress. While redemption will certainly serve as motivation, it is the Giants' beleaguered secondary that could help Burress have a field day. Corey Webster and Aaron Ross lack the size to neutralize Burress in the red zone, and that could prompt Mark Sanchez to target his top playmaker repeatedly in critical situations. With eight touchdowns in 38 receptions, it is very likely that Burress will be on the receiving end on a pivotal score.
Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles, OT: Lost in the Eagles' 34-7 rout of the Cowboys in Week 8 was the sensational four-sack performance of DeMarcus Ware. The perennial Pro Bowler relentlessly harassed Michael Vick in the first outing, and a repeat performance could allow the Cowboys to tighten their grasp on the NFC East. For Eagles to win, Peters must control Ware without help to allow the rest of the offensive line to handle Rob Ryan's exotic pressures. If Peters wins his matchup with Ware, the Eagles could produce more offensive fireworks against a vulnerable Cowboys' secondary.
Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers, WR: It's not a coincidence that the Chargers' offense suddenly has found its stride again with Floyd back in the lineup. The rangy pass catcher is a legitimate vertical threat capable of blowing the top off coverages, which creates more opportunities for Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. With Philip Rivers regaining his touch, each of the Chargers' top weapons are capable of exploding for big games. Given the Lions' injuries and struggles in the secondary, this could be the game that Floyd acts as the Chargers No. 1 option in the passing game.
Sean Weatherspoon, Atlanta Falcons, OLB: Most defensive coordinators focus extensively on slowing down Drew Brees and the Saints' dynamic aerial attack, but the key to defeating New Orleans is corralling its underrated running game. The four-man rotation of Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory excels at grinding out tough yardage between the tackles on early downs to set up deep shots off run-action fakes. Weatherspoon must team with Curtis Lofton to stuff the gaps in the middle to limit the Saints' effectiveness on the ground and force Brees to throw in long-yardage situations. By forcing the Saints into a one-dimensional game, the Falcons can keep the score down and make this NFC South battle a fourth-quarter affair.
Just as important as X-factors are unsung heroes. Check out the man who got it done for the Pats defense last week. **More ...**
Mark Anderson, New England Patriots, DE: The season-ending loss of Andre Carter robs the Patriots of their top pass rusher, but Anderson has shown flashes of being effective off the edge. He has recorded nine sacks in limited action and is coming off a two-sack effort against the Denver Broncos. With Jake Long nursing an injury and Marc Colombo struggling against speed rushers, Anderson could be poised for a big day against the Dolphins.
Jared Valdheer, Oakland Raiders, OT: Protecting Carson Palmer is a priority for the Raiders, but neutralizing Tamba Hali poses a tremendous challenge. The Chiefs' top rusher is coming off a three-sack effort against the Packers, and his remarkable first-step quickness gives blockers problems off the edge. Valdheer certainly possesses the strength and athleticism to neutralize Hali, but the prospect of facing a tremendous rusher aided by the deafening crowd noise in Arrowhead Stadium could make the task insurmountable.