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NFL Playoff Preview: Five Players to Watch

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Without quarterback Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers would be a shell of their current form. With below average targets in the passing game, the 26-year-old has made big strides as a pure passer while remaining a dangerous running threat, as his 35 touchdown passes, 636 rushing yards and 10 touchdown runs attest.

Newton appears to be maturing in a metaphysical sense as well, and that bodes well in the playoffs, where mental fortitude matters just as much as physical fortitude. In the end, Carolina is a Super Bowl-caliber squad, but it all falls on Newton. He has to maintain his plus play on the field while remaining cool and collected. If not, it’ll be an early exit for Carolina.

QB Carson Palmer, Arizona: At 36-years-old, Palmer is having arguably the greatest season of his career. With 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns, Palmer has lit up the scoreboard against nearly every foe the Cards have faced. Not too shabby for someone coming off of a torn ACL. His experience and high level of play are irreplaceable, as Arizona’s 2-4 record post-Palmer injury last season indicated. This is quite possibly the best team he has ever played on.

WR Julian Edelman, New England: The narrative often paints Tom Brady as one who can win with anybody, but the truth of the matter is that the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer needs help if he hopes to help take the Patriots to another Super Bowl.

Edelman, who had been out since midseason after suffering a foot injury, is a dynamic presence in the slot. In just nine games, Edelman caught 61 passes for seven touchdowns. His return should give Brady and the offense a much-needed boost

QB Kirk Cousins, Washington: Many preseason power rankings and predictions picked the Redskins to finish near or directly at the bottom of the league this season. With Kirk Cousins officially surmounting former No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III as head coach Jay Gruden’s starting quarterback, it was supposed to be all doom and gloom in the Nation’s Capital. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Instead, Cousins and Gruden have proven to be strong partners, as the former has put together a 4,136-yard passing season with 34 combined touchdowns while keeping the turnovers down at a minimum. With Cousins at the helm, the Redskins won the NFC East and hosted a Wild Card game. The odds are against Washington, but they have surpassed the odds all season.

RB Eddie Lacy, Green Bay: The Packers’ offense has been a mess for most of 2015. Despite having possibly the best quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers, the unit has meandered in the bottom third of the league’s offensive rankings as Rodgers’ targets have posed little threat. Enter Lacy.

Despite his first sub-1,000 yard season and his lowest touchdown total, Lacy is still the key to any Pack playoff run. He is getting hot at the right time.

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