AFC Divisional Round’s Four Most Important Players

Come playoff time, all 53 players on every roster are going to be important and play some role. However, not all players are of equal importance. Some guys are going to do minor things to help a team win, while others are going to play major roles. Here are four guys that will play the biggest roles in their teams’ success in the AFC Divisional Round.

New England Patriots WR Julian Edelman

Edelman has become Tom Brady’s new favorite receiver. His emergence as one of the league’s most productive pass catchers has been what’s allowed the Patriots to so seamlessly withstand the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski. With Brady under center, Edelman’s caught seven balls for 76 yards per game. His ability to work underneath the secondary and make catches in tight windows, beating linebackers and corners alike, make him dangerous against a team like the Texans who wreak so much havoc with their pass rush. All New England needs to do on Saturday is play a sound football game, and Edelman will play a huge role in them doing that.

Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins

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After a breakout 2015 campaign, Hopkins’ 2016 season left a lot to be desired as he caught just four touchdowns and averaged 59.6 yards per game. Granted, the quarterback play in Houston has been subpar, but in general Hopkins just hasn’t quite looked like the same player he was a season ago. If Houston is going to pull off arguably the biggest playoff upset of all-time, they’ll need the 2015 version of Hopkins, who averaged 95.1 yards per game with 11 touchdowns. Houston’s defense is stout and should hold their own against Tom Brady and Co. The question is whether the Texans can score enough to back up their defense. In order to do that, they’ll need Hopkins’s best performance of the year on the biggest stage.

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

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An ill-advised pass attempt late in the Steelers’ Wild Card trouncing of the Dolphins led to an injury that had Roethlisberger in a walking boot after the game. Roethlisberger’s bum leg suddenly makes him the player to watch in Sunday’s showdown with Kansas City. The Chiefs’ defense is excellent. They get after the passer and make even the best quarterbacks uncomfortable. If Roethlisberger is already hobbled, the additional discomfort applied by the Kansas City defense could stall the Pittsburgh offense that effortlessly racked up 30 points and 367 yards last week. Le’Veon Bell is not a bad player to have to lean on, but if Roethlisberger can’t make plays with his arm and the Steelers are forced to be to one-dimensional, it’ll spell the end of Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl run.

Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith

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The Chiefs are going to live and die by the right arm of Alex Smith. With Smith at the helm, the Chiefs have been to the playoffs twice and haven’t advanced past the divisional round. Really, Kansas City’s woes start and end with their quarterback. The book on Smith has been the same since his coming out party in 2011. His inability to take the top off the defense will bog the team’s offense down against a good defensive unit. There are gaping weaknesses in Smith’s game that good teams like Pittsburgh have and will exploit. If the Chiefs are going to get over the hump on Sunday, Smith is going to have to get him there with his arm. He hasn’t been able to do it yet, but like the great 21st century philosopher Justin Bieber said, “never say never.”

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