INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 22: T.J. Yates #13 of the Houston Texans runs with the ball during the NFL against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 22, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Who are the difference makers on Wild Card weekend? SB Nation's NFL playoffs roundtable takes a look at the x-factors heading into the first round of playoff games.
SB Nation's NFL playoffs roundtable moves away from upset watch and looks to the x-factors on Wild Card weekend.
Which player is the biggest x-factor this weekend? By that we mean, a team will win or lose largely due to which player. In this roundtable we have the Texans' Arian Foster represented along with Ben Roethlisberger and T.J. Yates.
David Fucillo: My x-factor player is Texans running back Arian Foster. Although the Texans get a home playoff game as a division winner, they will be sending out QB T.J. Yates when they host the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday. While Yates has proven he can make some plays and do some good things as the Texans quarterback, this team is only going as far as Arian Foster can take them.
Foster becomes even more important because of the health of wide receiver Andre Johnson. He is a full participant in practice this week, but 2011 has been a season of hamstring issues for the Texans star receiver. He would seem to be healthy now, but if this season is any indication, he could go down at any minute. Foster has proven to be an elite rushing and receiving weapon and could be call upon in both areas again.
Jason Garrison: My x-factor is Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. While I don't believe that there's enough Tim Tebow magic to allow the Broncos to score many points on the Steelers top-ranked defense on Sunday afternoon, I do think the Steelers offense could struggle. Without Rashard Mendenhall, most of the weight of a Steelers win is going to fall on the shoulders (and ankle) of Roethlisberger.
The Steelers have only averaged 14.25 points per game in the last four games of the season, which includes two games against the lowly Browns. The Broncos defense isn't ranked among the top in the league but they have been playing solid football and they know how to pressure the quarterback. If Ben Roethlisberger doesn't have a good game and doesn't avoid pressure in the pocket, the Broncos defense could put Tebow in a position to win this game in front of a home crowd.
Joel Thorman: As a spin-off of the Arian Foster pick, I'm going with T.J. Yates. The Houston Texans are rolling with Yates, their fifth round pick rookie quarterback who replaced Matt Leinart (who replaced Matt Schaub). He's going up against another rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton but Yates and the Texans have lost three straight games. He has no touchdown passes and two picks in that stretch so I think the Texans need a little more than that from Yates to beat the Bengals. They'll rely heavily on Foster and the running game but they need Yates to make the occasional play. The Bengals defense is underrated and they can capitalize if Yates is going to make mistakes. He just needs to keep his team in the game.
Previous NFL Playoffs Roundtables: Which Team Playing On Wild Card Weekend Can Run The Table? | Dark Horse Super Bowl Candidates | Which Teams Are On Upset Watch?