Expect some unknown players to shine during NFL playoffs

The Associated Press
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New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola catches a touchdown pass against the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 6, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass.

Fitzgerald Toussaint, Jordan Todman, Knile Davis and Mike Neal were a few of the stars during wild-card weekend.

It's OK if you didn't know them. The NFL playoffs often bring out unlikely heroes.

Toussaint and Todman filled in nicely for the injured DeAngelo Williams in Pittsburgh's 18-16 win at Cincinnati. Toussaint had 58 yards rushing and 60 receiving. Todman had 65 yards rushing.

Davis got Kansas City on its way to a 30-0 win at Houston by returning the opening kickoff 106 yards for a score.

Neal had two sacks, a forced fumble and his first career fumble recovery in Green Bay's 35-18 win at Washington.

Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning will do their thing this weekend, but expect some lesser-known players to shine.

Here are potential unsung heroes for each team in the divisional round.


Wide receiver Chris Conley. If Jeremy Maclin can't play because of an ankle injury, Conley has to step up the same way he did last week when he caught a touchdown pass. The rookie had only one TD catch in the regular season, but found the end zone on his only reception vs. the Texans.


Wide receiver Danny Amendola. Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman are Tom Brady's top two targets. But Amendola is a do-it-all player who can make a tough catch in an important spot or even throw a nice pass to a wide-open quarterback like he did against Philadelphia when he connected with Brady for 36 yards.


Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. An injury to Davante Adams gave Abbrederis a chance to play more last week and he caught a two-point conversion. James Jones and Randall Cobb will draw most of the attention, so Rodgers will get the ball to Abbrederis if he beats someone one-on-one.


Pass rusher Jason Babin. He was unemployed a week ago, but the Cardinals signed him after linebacker Alex Okafor got hurt during the team's bye week. Babin is a one-dimensional player who specializes in going after the quarterback. He'll probably play a limited role, but he'll be turned loose to go after Rodgers.


Running back Christine Michael. With Marshawn Lynch out, Michael ran for 70 yards at Minnesota. Lynch is expected to play this week, but it's unknown how long he'll be able to go. Michael isn't going to stand on the sideline the entire game and could get a few carries in big spots.


Cornerback Robert McClain. Injuries to Carolina's secondary gave McClain a chance to play and he responded with an interception in his first action on defence in Week 17. Now he gets an opportunity on a bigger stage to show he belongs.

STEELERS: Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. The former Army ranger has to protect Ben Roethlisberger more than ever because Big Ben is already nursing a shoulder injury. The Broncos led the league in sacks, including 18 1/2 from Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Villanueva will have his hands full. Given his background, he's handled far more pressure.


Tight end Owen Daniels. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders get most of the passes, but Manning has always valued his tight ends. Daniels had a big game in Week 9 against Indianapolis and could turn into Manning's go-to guy with so much focus on the wideouts.

Organizations: NFL, CARDINALS

Geographic location: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Kansas City Houston Green Bay Washington Philadelphia Minnesota Big Ben Indianapolis

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