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.
These are the guys that will play the biggest roles in their teams' success on Wild Card Weekend.
Oakland Raiders LB Khalil Mack
Given the Raiders' misfortunes at quarterback late in the season, the onus of carrying the team is going to fall on Khalil Mack. While Derek Carr pulled the offense to some late comebacks, it was Mack coming up with the game-sealing plays on defense. A season ago we saw Von Miller spearhead a defense that dragged bad quarterback play to a Super Bowl victory, Mack is good enough to pull off a similar feat, and it will have to start and end in Houston.
Houston Texans QB Brock Osweiler
Houston threw all of the money at Brock Osweiler for this exact moment. This will be the Texans' fourth playoff appearance in six seasons, but they've yet to advance past the divisional round. Osweiler's road to this point has been rocky at best. He played poorly all year, got benched in Week 15, and now will only start in the playoffs because his replacement, Tom Savage, suffered a concussion in Week 17. It was a simple formula for the Texans this year – when Osweiler played well, they won. When he played poorly, they lost. That trend will surely continue on Sunday.
Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell
There's a reason Le'Veon Bell is making his way into MVP discussions. When Bell rushed for more than 90 yards this season, the Steelers were 7-0. When he didn't go for over 90 they were 1-4. Just as Bell got hot to end the year, so did Pittsburgh. The Steelers won their final six games with Bell averaging 139.2 yards-per-game and scoring six touchdowns. If Bell stays hot in the postseason, so will the Steelers.
Miami Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi
The Dolphins put a 30-15 beatdown on the Steelers in Week 6. It turns out that game was the coming out party for Jay Ajayi and Miami. Prior to Ajayi becoming the team's feature back, the Dolphins were 1-4. He became the starter for the Steelers game and put up a light 204 yards on 25 carries with a pair of touchdowns. The Dolphins went on to win six in a row and nine of their final 11 with Ajayi starting at running back. He averaged 105 yards-per-game in that stretch and a whopping 5.02 yards-per-carry to help buoy an offense that lost its starting quarterback in Week 14. If Miami is going to upset the heavily-favored Steelers at Heinz Field on Saturday, it's going to have to be the Jay Ajayi show.
Experiment 626. Coffee drinker and cat enthusiast. Pro-avocado. Anti-sac bunt. Habitual bat flipper. Alex Smith apologist. Yoenis Cespedes fanboy.