By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts strongest link
When you get to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, you've more or less proven that you're a team of quality, strong across the board.
You've probably won 10 or more regular season games, and you've knocked out another good team in the wild-card round – or better, played so well during the season that you received a bye.
But nobody's perfect. Everybody has a weakest link, and if it's attacked in the right way by the guys in the other jerseys ... well, it's goodbye dreams, hello offseason.
Here a look at which individual players shape up as their team's weakest links:
SEATTLE AT GREEN BAY
Seahawks: LG Rob Sims. Seattle fans still miss guard Steve Hutchinson terribly, and the play of Sims is one of the reasons. The Seahawks' offensive line was 23rd in our Hog Index this year, and running to the left isn't the sure thing it used to be in Shaun Alexander's glory days.
Since Walter Jones is a first-team All-Pro at left tackle, it seems that it's Sims who isn't living up to his end of the bargain as a full-time starter this year. Seattle was No. 22 in yards per carry to the left, and 23rd in yards per carry up the middle. Sims also allowed five sacks, a high number for an interior lineman.
Packers: LG Daryn Colledge. You have to search far and wide for anything remotely considering a weakness on this remarkably well-balanced football team. They finished in the top 7 in all of our Quality Stats, and were 4th in scoring offense and 6th in scoring defense. Their Offensive Hogs were excellent (No. 4 overall), but Colledge may be the one guy they're not 100 percent sold on.
The Packers started other players at left guard in Weeks 15-16, putting season-long starter Colledge back in for the Week 17 win over Detroit. They're set at both tackles and with Scott Wells at center, but the guard spots are a bit shaky. The Packers were last in the NFL at running up the middle (1.8 YPC), and Colledge allowed 3.5 sacks and was whistled for five penalties.
JACKSONVILLE AT NEW ENGLAND
Patriots: ILB Tedy Bruschi. Bruschi was playing a diminished role inside before OLB Rosevelt Colvin went down with injury, splitting time with Junior Seau and Adalius Thomas in New England's rotating LB corps. Bruschi did lead the team in both total tackles (92) and solo stops (64). But he has made none of the signature big plays that have endeared him to New England fans over the years (no INTs or FFs). Worse, since he's been playing full time over the past five weeks, the Patriots have allowed 4.89 YPA to opposing running backs.
Jaguars: DT Rob Meier. The Jaguars are known for their great defensive tackles, but the loss of Marcus Stroud (and the probable absence of John Henderson) has put a lot of pressure on longtime backup Meier. He is versatile, having started at end and tackle over his eight-year career in Jacksonville, but is a pass-rushing type (he registered a sack last week against Pittsburgh) more than a run stuffer – and he's never been a fulltime starter.
The Jaguars were just 12th on the Defensive Hog Index this year, and in Meier and Grady Jackson Jacksonville has two guys who would be better served in a rotation rather than on every down. The Jags were 17th in yards per carry allowed (4.12 per tote) this year.
SAN DIEGO AT INDIANAPOLIS
Chargers: QB Philip Rivers. Fiery and emotional, Rivers has been involved in more sideline stare downs this year than a security guard and that overly drunk fan in the front row. Rivers has benefitted from apt protection (22 sacks), has the best RB in the game behind him in LT, and the biggest, baddest TE target out there in Antonio Gates (although probably not for this game). The Chargers added a receiver with their No. 1 pick in the 2007 Draft (Buster Davis) and traded for WR Chris Chambers in October.
It's a dream setup, but Rivers responded with a very mediocre 82.5 passer rating this year – and terrible games against Quality Opponents. In six games against Quality Opponents, he only had two good starts of 80+ passer rating, and a TD/INT ratio of 7/8. But you did gotta give Rivers credit in one area: his career regular-season record of 25-7
(.781) is second only to Tom Brady (86-24; .782).
Colts: K Adam Vinatieri. The Colts are hoping the great clutch kicker of years past shows up for this postseason – not the guy who produced a brutal second half of 2007. Vinatieri missed five field goals from Weeks 9-11, then attempted only five more in the final six games, none from 40+. He didn't hit a single field goal over 40 yards all year, and ranked 31st in our kicker rankings. His kickoffs also took a noticeable dip in the second half, averaging 62.5 per boot since Week 9, after averaging 67.7 in the first half of the year.
NEW YORK AT DALLAS
Giants: QB Eli Manning
. We keep trying to remind everyone that Eli Manning has had a remarkably unproductive season
, but nobody wants to listen. In our 1st and 10 poll
this week, 58 percent of our readers picked the Giants to upset Dallas and 66 percent said the Cowboys were the team most likely to be upset this weekend.
These responses come despite the fact that Manning had a lower passer rating than Kyle Boller, Brian Griese and Damon Huard this year. Manning has the No. 6 Offensive Hogs in the business, so that's no excuse. Yet somehow, he's actually got an endorsement deal for high-end watches. Those watches have just got to suck. And remember, Manning is riding two great games in a row, but has only had three consecutive games with 80+ passer ratings twice over his four-year NFL career.
Cowboys: NT Jay Ratliff. The loss of NT Jason Ferguson in the first game of the season looked to be a real blow for the Cowboys, but obviously they soldiered on. Ratliff, who had never started in two years with Dallas, got the job but the Cowboys signed Tank Johnson shortly afterward in the hopes that he'd be the answer. He hasn't been, with 11 tackles in eight games off the bench (he started against Washington), but clearly the Cowboys aren't sold on Ratliff.
The Cowboys have been pretty strong across the board this year, and don't have any real statistical deficiencies (11th in yards per carry allowed, Ratliff's area of expertise), but the Giants' strong middle will look to pound Ratliff/Johnson. New York ran for over 100 yards in both regular-season games vs. Dallas.