This is it! This is “The Final One.” Bernard Hopkins, all jokes...
BASN NFL Playoff Preview: NFC Players To Watch
By Tony McClean
Updated: January 3, 2007
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — With the NFL playoffs set to begin in earnest this weekend, BASN takes another brief look at the 12 remaining teams. We’ll put our spotlight on the player (or players) on each team that will be vital to his team’s playoff life.
Most times, it won’t be the most obvious choice. As is with any and every postseason, some playoff heroes can come from out of nowhere. What we’ll try and do is pick out someone we feel that can and should rise from out of the pack and emerge as a force.
Yesterday, we focused on the AFC. Today, our series ends with a peek at the NFC.
HEAD COACH LOVIE SMITH, BEARS
He’s won back-to-back NFC North division crowns, arguably has the NFC’s best team, but because of inconsistent quarterback play and a defense which has recently been up-and-down as well, Mr. Smith is again under the microscope. After losing their playoff opener last year, the man they call Lovie is trying his best not to repeat last year’s disappointment. His Bears have gone from Super Bowl contenders to the biggest question marks in football in just a few weeks time. He’ll have to right the ship quickly if Chi-Town hope to get to Miami next month.
WR MARQUES COLSTON, SAINTS
With the status of Pro Bowl WR Joe Horn up in the air and teams keying on offensive weapons Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, this rookie phenom (70 catches, 1,038 yards, and 8 TDs) will become a marked man in the postseason. In many ways, the Hofstra standout may be more important to New Orleans’ offense then his aforementioned backfield mates. Look for teams to start keying on him and for Drew Brees to lean on him a little more in the Saints’ opener.
FS BRIAN DAWKINS, EAGLES
Yes we know the Jeff Garcia story has been one of the feel good stories in the NFL this season, but if Philly truly has a shot at the Super Bowl, their latter day “Wolverine” will be have to be a big reason why. Coming off another Pro Bowl campaign with a career-high 155 tackles, Dawkins and his defensive mates have rebounded from a bad start and are playing on all cylinders now. Don’t be surprised if “Dawk” is right in the middle of a game-saving play this postseason.
LB JULIAN PETERSON, SEAHAWKS
The former 49er was one of the more quieter free agent signings last summer, but he may have paid the most dividends. He led the team in sacks with 10 and finished the year with 89 tackles. Most importantly, he was one of the few Seattle defensive players that stayed relatively healthy for the entire season. With corner backs Kelly Herndon and Marcus Trufant both nursing injuries, Peterson and the rest of the Seahawk defense will need to regain their 2005 form for them to advance.
RB JULIUS JONES, COWBOYS
Despite the constant whining of a certain wide out, it appears that Mr. Jones has become the invisible man on the Cowboys offense. In the last three games, J.J. has 91 yards in 23 carries (3.9 ypc) and no touchdowns. Most folks would say because Dallas has been playing from behind during the majority of that stretch. But given the fact that Tony Romo has come down to earth during that time as well, it may incumbent on the Tuna Helpers to lean on Julius if they (and he) has anything left in the tank.
RB TIKI BARBER, GIANTS
Last year, it was Jerome Bettis trying to go out with a ring. This year, Tiki will try to rewrite that same script. So much for No. 21′s pending retirement being a “distraction” for Big Blue. A club record 234 yards in a do-or-die game at Washington should be enough to quiet some of his critics. With Jeremy Shockey’s status still up in the air and the inconsistency of Lil’ Eli, look for the Giants to try and ride Tiki’s back as far as he can carry them.