Eight key players to watch in the NFL Divisional Round

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It’s the playoffs, where team matters more than individual players. But there are several key players that hold their team’s hopes in their hands this weekend and we’ve listed eight of them (one for each team) below.

In no particular order…

1. Terrell Suggs, Ravens
The Ravens have been waiting for this guy to return to form and he finally has. Suggs looks hungry, motivated and determined to get the Ravens to a Super Bowl. If Baltimore’s front seven is able to take away Rashard Mendenhall and force the Steelers to be one-dimensional this Saturday, then Suggs needs to get after Ben Roethlisberger. Mike Wallace is a true homerun threat and can score from anywhere on the field, so Suggs and Co. can’t give Big Ben time to throw. Getting pressure on the quarterback is always vital in football, especially in the postseason where one or two plays can decide the outcome of a game.

2. Troy Polamalu, Steelers
I realize this is an obvious one but I don’t care: Polamalu is the key to whether or not the Steelers will be playing in the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks. He’s vital to their defense because when he’s not on the field, it’s a completely different unit. When the Steelers and Ravens met in Pittsburgh late in the season, it was his forced fumble of Joe Flacco that set up Pittsburgh’s offense to score the eventual game-winning touchdown. He’s a playmaker in every sense of the word but he’s also been battling an Achilles/ankle injury so he’s not 100 percent. If he’s able to fly around the field and create havoc like he normally does, then Baltimore will have a tough time moving the ball this weekend.

3. James Starks (Packers)
The football world is now enamored with this young man – and for good reason. The past two games, Starks has given Green Bay something it’s been searching for all year: balance. The Packers have already proven that they can win when Aaron Rodgers has to throw the ball but it’s much tougher on a defense when they can’t sit back in coverage on most downs. In the first meeting between the Packers and Falcons, Atlanta didn’t have to respect the run. But after Starks rushed for 123 yards on 23 carries last weekend against the Eagles, the Falcons may not have the luxury of dropping extra defenders into coverage.

4. Michael Turner (Falcons)
While many people concentrate on the Matt Ryan vs. Aaron Rodgers matchup, the real key to the Falcons’ success this weekend is Turner. The Saints game proved that if Turner can’t get rolling, the Falcons’ offense is vulnerable. If Atlanta can’t put together a few long drives where it grinds out yards, chews up the clock and keeps Rodgers on the sidelines, they could be in trouble. The last thing the Falcons want is a shootout.

Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Raheem Brock ((98) and Chris Clemons (91) celebrates a sack and a fumble recovery on Arizona Cardinals Max Hall in the third quarter on Sunday October 24, 2010 at Qwest Field in Seattle. The Seahawks took advantage of five Arizona turnovers in a 22-10 win over the Cardinals on Sunday. (UPI Photo/Jim Bryant)

5. Raheem Brock, Seahawks
Brock continues to be one of the more underrated defensive linemen in the game. Last week against the Saints, he had four solo tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and one QB hit. The key to slowing Mike Martz’s offense is to rattle Jay Cutler. As everyone knows, when he’s constantly under duress he will make mistakes. He may take a sack or two at first, but it’s his nature to want to make a play by throwing the ball. A couple of turnovers could be the difference in whether or not the Hawks can pull off another upset. Brock and Chris Clemons need to be active all day and they must get to Cutler to disrupt his rhythm.

6. Brian Urlacher (Bears)
Urlacher is the key to Chicago’s success on most Sundays but he’ll especially be vital this Sunday against a veteran in Matt Hasselbeck who understands what it takes to beat the Tampa 2. Urlacher is by far the most important piece of the Tampa 2 scheme because of the position he plays. The middle linebacker is responsible not only for stopping the run, but for also dropping back into coverage and allowing his safeties to spread out in deep halves, and the outside linebackers to cover underneath. In the Bears’ first meeting with the Seahawks, Hasselbeck threw for 242 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. If he has that kind of success again, Seattle could pull off its second straight upset. He knows how to attack Chicago’s weaknesses, which is why Urlacher needs to play a perfect game so that those around him can be where they need to be and not give Hasselbeck easy passing windows.

7. LaDainian Tomlinson & Shonn Greene (Jets)
The Jets and Falcons have the same mission this weekend: run the ball and keep the opposing offense off the field. For the Jets, that’s where Tomlinson and Greene come in. The pair combined to rush for 152 yards on 35 carries last weekend against the Colts. They wore down Indy’s smallish front seven in the second half and frustrated Peyton Manning by leaving him on the sidelines. The Jets want to limit the times that Tom Brady can burn them and the only way they can do that is by keeping him off the field. They must grind the tempo of the game down and as usual, win an ugly game.

8. Danny Woodhead, Patriots
Woodhead is the ultimate weapon in New England’s offense because he’s so shifty that he often gets lost in the chaos. Then all of a sudden he’s running past you for a five or seven yard gain. Perhaps his biggest attribute is that he can be utilized as a runner or receiver. If the Jets account for him as a running back, then Tom Brady can motion him outside and then he becomes yet another receiving target to beat New York’s 3-4 outside linebacker coverage. If the Jets account for him as a receiver, then Brady can slide him into the backfield and force New York to make adjustments quickly. It’s no wonder why Rex Ryan is kicking himself for letting this lighting rod get away.

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