The AFC and NFC divisional round of the 2012 NFL Playoffs is here and we have four games on tap this weekend. The Saints will travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers and the Patriots will host the Broncos on Saturday, while the Giants visit the Packers and the Ravens host the Texans on Sunday.
In every game there's always one player that's key: the illusive "X-factor". Someone who could change the outlook of the game himself. SB Nation's NFL playoffs roundtable aims to identify the biggest X-factor this weekend. We have a couple of pass rushers on the list as well as, who else, Tim Tebow.
David Fucillo: A significant X-factor this weekend is 49ers' outside linebacker/defensive end Aldon Smith. The 49ers rookie came up half a sack short of Jevon Kearse's rookie sack record as he put together a dominant rookie campaign while playing less than half the time. He spent the season operating primarily out of 49ers nickel defense where he was the starting right defensive end. He got some time in the 3-4, but mostly was used in a pass rush role.
If the 49ers are going to slow down Drew Brees and the potent Saints passing attack, they will need to establish their pass rush and get some sacks and hits on Drew Brees. Aldon Smith makes his first playoff start opposite Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod who gave up three sacks all season. Smith has shown a mix of power and athleticism and will need all his best moves on Saturday.
Jason Garrison: The X-factors this weekend are Broncos rookie linebacker Von Miller and veteran defensive end Elvis Dumervil. Most didn't think that Denver had much of a chance against Pittsburgh last week, and even less think they have a shot at beating the Patriots in Foxborough, but if they do, it will be because they constantly pressure Tom Brady.
If Brady is allowed to sit in the pocket and wait for one of his tight ends to get open, he'll pick the Broncos apart. The Broncos don't have much of a shot in a shootout with one of the best offenses in the league and to limit the Patriots' explosive offense, Miller and Dumervil need to be all over Brady. They did a good job pressuring Ben Roethlisberger last week, combining for two sacks, nine pressures and one quarterback hit. If they can do that, or be better, the Broncos defense could limit the Patriots' offense and give Tim Tebow another chance to shock the world.
Joel Thorman: I'm surprised no one picked the obvious -- Tim Tebow. The Broncos play the Patriots on Saturday night and, to me, Tebow is the biggest X-factor of the weekend. The Patriots No. 1 priority will be to stop the Broncos rushing attack but Tebow changes the landscape of this game if he can pass the ball as well as he did against Pittsburgh.
It was believed that the way to stop is to simply put eight or nine in the box and make him pass, but that 80-yard slant to Demaryius Thomas has to be on the Patriots' minds. The passes he made against Pittsburgh were not things we've seen on tape from him, at least not consistently. Tebow and his ability to threaten the Patriots secondary is the biggest x-factor this weekend.