An X-Factor is defined as a variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome. Some players this postseason are going to have a bigger impact on the game than others. Often times it has to come from a player that we didn’t see coming to change the course of the game. Let’s take a look at the X-Factor for each playoff team that could change the fate of their postseason run.
New England Patriots (Michael Floyd):
Floyd is a new addition to the Patriots after being released by the Cardinals because of a DUI. After getting acquainted with his new time, Floyd caught a touchdown pass from Tom Brady in the season finale. New England realistically has never had a physical receiver quite like him before. All of the sudden with the emergence of Malcolm Mitchell, the Patriots have a really nice receiving core. If the Patriots didn’t look unbeatable before, they do now.
Kansas City Chiefs (Tyreek Hill):
How could it be anyone else? Hill affects the game not only on offense but on special teams as well. He has scored 12 touchdowns during his rookie campaign. 8 of those scores have been from 30 yards or more making him a legitimate home run threat on every play. Hill lead’s the NFL in every special team return category as well. We all know how important field position can be in postseason play.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Sean Davis)
Every Steeler fan will tell you how much they miss Troy Polamalu this time of year. In recent years the Steelers have had real problems in their secondary since the retirement of Polamalu. Rookie safety Sean Davis could be Pittsburgh’s most important player this postseason. Davis has risen from part-time corner to all pro safety in just a few weeks. Since he has found his niche as the team’s starting safety, Davis has averaged 6.7 tackles per game and made a positive impact on the Steelers run defense. Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi gashed this defense for 204 rushing yards in the previous meeting during the regular season. Stopping him will be priority number one if the Steelers hope to beat the Phins in round 1. Putting Davis in the box could be the perfect recipe.
Houston Texans (C.J. Fiedorowicz)
The tight ends are going to have to be Brock Osweiler’s best friends if the Texans have any plans of winning this postseason. We all know that Osweiler can’t throw the ball down the field. Checking the ball down to the reliable tight end in the middle of the field makes the most sense. Texans quarterbacks completed 63.8 percent of their throws when targeting either C.J. Fiedorowicz or Ryan Griffin. That’s better pretty darn good considering Brock Osweiler’s your quarterback. Fiedorowicz caught a touchdown via Osweiler in week 17.
Oakland Raiders (Connor Cook)
Cook will get his first career start in the playoffs. The rookie 4th round pick wasn’t very impressive in big games last year after his Michigan State team got pummeled by Alabama 30-0 in the playoff semi-final last season. This Raider team couldn’t even pick up first downs without Derek Carr. Now they are down to the third string quarterback. Connor Cook will have to prove me wrong if the Raiders have a chance this postseason, as I wrote this past combine that he wasn’t close to being a franchise quarterback.
Miami Dolphins (Tony Lippett)
The conversation from wide receiver to cornerback doesn’t happen very often but in this instance, Miami has found a stud. Lippett, a former Michigan State wide receiver, has successfully made the conversation to cornerback seem effortless. The 2nd year corner has 4 interceptions on the season and will be tasked with covering the infamous Antonio Brown. If Brown has himself a big day it probably ends Miami’s season. The Dolphins have suffered a lot of injuries in the secondary including Byron Maxwell who is expected to miss the game.
Dallas Cowboys (David Irving)
Irving has been one of the Cowboys unsung heroes on defense. The former undrafted free agent was plucked from the Chiefs practice squad last year and has been on of Dallas best players in 2016. Irving has 4 sacks on the season causing interior pressure on quarterbacks all year long. Another undrafted guy Benson Mayowa has 6 sacks as Dallas’ defense has gotten key contributions from unlikely players. Nobody coaches defensive lineman better than Rod Marinelli. Dallas needs Irving to continue his torrid pace heading into the playoffs.
Atlanta Falcons (Taylor Gabriel)
Gabriel began his NFL career as a member of the Cleveland Browns after going undrafted Abilene Christian. For whatever reason, the Browns cut him loose and the Falcons not only snagged him but made Gabriel one of the most explosive players in the league. Gabriel has only touched the ball 39 times all season but scored on 7 occasions (18% of his touches). Gabriel also averaged 16.5 yards per reception this year ranking 7th in the NFL. Teams have to double team Julio Jones which makes Gabriel’s ability to bust loose all the more important.
Seattle Seahawks (Alex Collins)
The days of Marshawn Lynch putting on the beast mode cape and willing Seattle to victory are over. Seattle could not have handled their running back situation worse in 2016. Christine Michael actually led the team in rushing yards and Seattle decided to release him for no reason. Since Michael has been a steady contributor for Green Bay. The Seahawks thought Thomas Rawls was their savior but it turns out that he really stinks too averaging only 3.2 yards per carry, well below league average. Rookie C.J. Prosise showed some promise as a receiving threat but he has since found himself on injured reserve. The one guy who may be able to resurrect this unit is a virtually unknown back named Alex Collins. Collins was one of my favorite prospects coming into the 2016 draft process and runs with the same ferocity that Marshawn Lynch did for so many years. Collins has only had 31 carries on the entire season. Seattle better recognize that the rookie from Arkansas gives them the best chance to establish a running game.
Green Bay Packers (Geronimo Allison)
Allison is a guy that first caught my eye during the East-West Shrine game during the draft process. I couldn’t believe that no one drafted this guy when it was all said and done. The Packers offense is in a groove as of late winning 6 straight games. If Allison can become a reliable 3rd option in the passing game, Green Bay is winning the Super Bowl. Allison has cught fire the past 2 weeks including a dominant performance against Detriot in a battle for the NFC North crown (4 catches, 91 yards, 1 touchdown week 17). With Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael in the backfield and addition of Jared Cook at tight end, the Packers look as deadly as ever.
New York Giants (Paul Perkins)
Giants fans know all too well what it takes to win a Super Bowl. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw were curcial parts of both championsip runs. This year there are huge questions in regards to the Giants rushing attack. Rashad Jennings hasn’t been great this year only averaging 3.3 yards per carry in 2016. Rookie 5th round pick from UCLA Paul Perkins could be exactly what the Giants need to establish the running game this postseason. You didn’t hear much from him earlier in the season but Perkins has been hot as of late averaging 4.8 yards per carry the past 3 games. Perkins is a slippery back who should Giants fans a lot of Bradshaw’s hayday with the team.
Detriot Lions (Zach Zenner)
I don’t think there is a coach in the NFL who hates running the ball more than Jim Caldwell. His Lions team ranks 30th in the NFL in rushing yards on the season. Not only that but the top 2 options Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are out for the season. Zach Zenner, the former jackrabbit from South Dakota State is the last guy standing. Quieting the Seattle crowd by running the ball will be key for the Lions to pull off the upset.