The playoffs are shaking out with plenty of excitement and drama. We’re now down to 8 teams and the excitement is only going to grow. Each of these 8 teams has its own X factor(s) that can help them move on or cause them to crash and burn. Here’s the X factor(s) for each team.
SAINTS: ALVIN KAMARA AND MARSHON LATTIMORE
One of the few examples here that has two X factors. Alvin Kamara is the big game changer for this offense. Drew Brees will do what he has to do whether it’s manage the offense or light up the opposing defense. The real factor in offense is Kamara because he effects the run and the pass. He helps take pressure away from Ingram and helps open up the passing game for Brees by catching out of the backfield or the slot. Lattimore has been amazing on defense. He’s shut down opposing offenses and has helped bring the defense together. He’s a shutdown corner that also acts as a spark plug for the rest for the defense. If the Saints are going to have a shot at the Super Bowl, they need solid play out of Kamara and Lattimore.
EAGLES: NICK FOLES
This Eagles team was masterful with Wentz at the helm. Once Wentz went down and Foles stepped in, they showed some weakness. Foles is a decent QB, who can really help put up wins when he manages the game well. He is familiar with the offense and can manage well. Is he good enough to beat the other teams in the league though? In my opinion I don’t think so but it’s possible. If Foles can play anywhere similar to how Wentz played, they might have a shot. Foles must play dominate football to have a shot, but is he capable of doing that? We’ll find out.
VIKINGS: THE OFFENSIVE LINE
The Vikings have played masterfully this season. Keenum has played solid and managed the game well. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon have run well. This defense has played well led by Harrison Smith. The big factor that could mean the difference between Super Bowl run and an early playoff out is the offensive line. The games they’ve lost this season have primarily been a factor of poor run and pass blocking. When they give Keenum time and give some space to Murray, they’re a powerhouse. This offensive line is the key to the Vikings Super Bowl run.
FALCONS: RUNNING GAME
I say running game instead of Freeman because this is a balanced attack that needs various looks from the backfield to beat this solid competition. When they mix Coleman and Freeman into the game they are tough to beat. This two headed monster backfield is the difference for them. When they both combine for over 100 yards they just win games. They’re going to need a string of top-notch performances out of this strong backfield to keep this Cinderella story going.
We know the offense will do their thing as they always do. They have a top notch offense and the Killer B’s are always deadly. The game changer in this one will be the Steelers defense. They are missing Shazier which hurts a lot because he’s the leader and best player on this defense. They have struggled a bit without him. They have a very solid rush to stop this Sunday and Tom Brady or Derrick Henry to stop next week. They really need to lock down that front seven to make a big difference. They need to stop the run and pressure the passer. That’ll be their best bet to ensure a lengthy playoff run.
PATRIOTS: DEFENSIVE FRONT
The Patriots have a similar soft spot that the Steelers do. In their three losses they all struggled to stop the rush and get pressure on the QB. Tom Brady needs the ball to manage the game. If the opposing team isn’t getting off the field, he can’t win games for them. They need to stop the rush and get to the QB to have a shot at a long run. They’re playing some very tough rushing attacks coming up so they need to tighten up that front seven to stand a chance of playing in the big game. Brady and the offense can’t do their thing without the ball.
JAGUARS: BLAKE BORTLES
This strong defense will make stops and play ball and Fournette will help move the chains along with Yeldon and Ivory. However, if Bortles doesn’t manage the game and play smart, the defense will stay on the field and tire out. The running game also struggles of the Jags can’t establish more of a diverse offense. The whole team plays solid on both sides when Bortles plays decent. He doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards and 3 TDs, he just has to manage the clock, move the chains, and not make mistakes. Bortles is the key to the Jags’ Super Bowl chances.
TITANS: DERRICK HENRY
Mariota has played rough this season but they’ve done well enough to win because the running game has been solid and he has helped move the chains when it matters. So long as the defense stays decent and Mariota manages the game, Henry is the key factor. Henry is the back for the next game and he was masterful last week. They need him to run well and move the chains. He’s going to need to be the spark plug for this offense to keep the defense from getting tired. Henry has to show up and be a game changer to keep their hopes alive.With the Divisional around right around the corner, the drama continues. The wildcard was fun to watch and shook up the playoffs a bit. Hopefully we’ll see more of the same when these X factors either shows up or stays home.