The Patriots are playing without a Pro Bowl defensive tackle ( Vince Wilfork) and a Pro Bowl linebacker ( Jerod Mayo), but Talib's presence has helped ensure that the back end of their defense hasn't been as big a liability as it was before his arrival. To understand his significance, just remember how quickly the momentum in last year's AFC Championship Game shifted when a thigh injury sidelined him early in that contest. Before that point, Talib had held Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin to no receptions. After that, Boldin had five catches and two touchdowns. Talib has the size (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) and athleticism to handle any receiver in the league (and he shut down Saints Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham earlier this year). Given the way Hilton just terrorized the Chiefs' secondary, Talib will have to be at the top of his game once again.
3. Can Andrew Luck keep rallying the Colts to comeback wins? Luck has been building quite the legacy when it comes to clutch play. After Saturday's 45-44 win over Kansas City -- when Indianapolis overcame a 28-point deficit -- he now has eight fourth-quarter comeback victories and 11 game-winning drives in just two NFL seasons. No young quarterback in the league is more comfortable with the pressure mounting and defeat all but certain.
It would even be more impressive if more of those comebacks actually came against good teams. The reality is that only four of those game-winning drives have occurred when Indianapolis was facing teams that made the playoffs (they pulled the feat against Minnesota and Green Bay in 2012 and Seattle and Kansas City this season). So, the odds of them falling behind and winning as this postseason continues seems less likely. It makes for great theater when those rallies occur. But quarterbacks such as Manning and Brady rarely let teams survive once they have leads that seem insurmountable.
4. What has gotten into the Chargers' defense? That is one of the best questions of the postseason. This unit had been awful against the pass all season (the Chargers ranked 29th in that category), and the secondary has been a big part of the problem. But ever since a 41-38 win at Kansas City on Nov. 24, the Chargers have been clamping down on opponents. Only two teams have scored at least 20 points against them over the past six games and Cincinnati looked downright feeble in attacking the Chargers' defense in San Diego's 27-10 wild-card win. The Chargers were especially dominant in the second half of that contest, as they forced Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton into three turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble) and sacked him three times.
Let's face it: This is a unit finding itself at just the right time, which doesn't bode well for Manning. He sustained a sprained ankle in his first meeting with San Diego and suffered a loss in the second. He better get ready for another long day.
5. How big a question will Wes Welker's health be? Welker has been cleared to play after sustaining concussions in Weeks 10 and 13 and missing the final four games of the regular season. That's good news for the Broncos because he had 73 receptions and 10 touchdowns this season.