Falcons RB Michael Turner vs. Giants MLB Chase Blackburn
The Giants have been mediocre against the run this year (121 yds/game; 19th overall) and they will be tested early and often by one of the best in Turner. As a tuneup, Turner embarrassed the Bucs with a 172-yard first half Sunday before getting the rest of the day off. If Turner gets a head of steam, then it will open up the Falcons lethal passing game.
Saints RDE Will Smith vs. Lions LOT Jeff Backus
Smith is the poster-child for the Saints aggressive defence in that he had 6.5 sacks but this is really about defensive coordinator Gregg Williamsí tendency to blitz as much as 50% of the time. The Lions O-line gave Matt Stafford enough time to complete over 5,000 passing yards this year and theyíll need to continue to protect him if Detroit is to get its first playoff win since 1991.
Lions LDT Ndamukong Suh vs. Saints Guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nix
The Lions had 17 fumble-recoveries, 41 sacks and 17 picks for an overall plus-11 on the giveaway/takeaway chart and that nasty defence must start with Suh, who has been invisible the past few weeks since he returned from a two-game suspension. On the other side, Drew Brees broke a passing record that stood for 27 years and he didnít do it alone. His offensive line was as sturdy as it gets, including Pro Bowlers Evans and Nix.
Saints TE Jimmy Graham vs. Detroit defensive backfield
Guys like Graham and New Englandís Rob Gronkowski have revolutionized the tight end position. Graham caught 99 passes this year and averaged more than 13 yards per catch, stretching his influence well down the field. These are not block-first guys who are called on to bail out the QB on a broken play. They are skill players in linemanís clothing and pose a powerful dilemma for defenders.
Broncos OLB Von Miller vs. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben is hobbled by that high-ankle sprain and that could make the Broncos new sackmaster one of the most important players in this game. If the Steeler O-line is able to keep the Denver D away from Roethlisberger, then Pittsburgh should romp, even with a gimpy QB. If Miller and Elvis Dumervil are allowed to roam in the Pittsburgh backfield, the Broncos could pull what would have to be considered an upset.
Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. Texans CB Johnathon Joseph
Two emerging stars will square off in this game. Green, a rookie sensation will have his hands full with Joseph who, in his sixth year has become one of the better corners in the NFL. Bengals QB Andy Dalton has developed an easy chemistry with Green, who caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards and will no doubt be counting on him for a few more catches this weekend.
Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley vs. Broncos QB Tim Tebow
Other, lesser defensive units than Pittsburghís Steel Curtain have figured out how to neutralize Denverís novelty quarterback by cutting off his running lanes. This does not bode well for the Broncos. If Tebow is anywhere in the pocket, and itís pretty much certain thatís where the Steelers plan to keep him, then Woodley will find him and eat him for lunch.
Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Falcons QB Matt Ryan
Pierre-Paul has turned into a monster of a player for offensive units to deal with. He has length (a seven-foot wingspan) and he has bulk and he can block out the sun for an opposing quarterback. With 16.5 sacks this year and a Pro Bowl nomination, he could be the primary X-factor as the Giants try to duplicate their 2008 playoff run.
Texans WR Andre Johnson vs. Bengals CB Nate Clements
Johnson has been hobbled by a hamstring injury and the Bengals have to be praying the Texansí No. 1 deep threat isnít yet 100%. Without Johnson playing a prominent role, rookie QB T.J. Yates is going to have a tough time keeping the Bengals defence from keying solely on running back Arian Foster. If that happens, then Houstonís first-ever trip to the playoffs could be over quickly.
Steelers S Ryan Clark vs. Denverís thin air
Clark has a medical condition called sickel cell trait that can trigger serious reactions in high altitude. During a game in 2007 in Denver, Clark became seriously ill and, as a result, had his spleen and gall bladder removed. Clark led the Steelers with 100 tackles this year but thereís a good chance he will be ruled out of the game because of his condition and the threat Denverís air poses to his health.