The play-offs include many storied players, but inevitably an unlikely headliner emerges. The first weekend brought us two of them.
In Week 5 of the regular season, the Buffalo Bills traded Marshawn Lynch, the running back, to the Seattle Seahawks for the fire-sale price of two bottom-round draft picks. With Seattle, his average rush was an unremarkable 3.5 yards, his longest gain 39.
In Week 5, the Green Bay Packers had placed James Starks on the "physically unable to perform list" as he rehabilitated a hamstring strain. A rookie drafted in the next-to-last round, he did not enter a game until November 5. His only splash was a 73-yard game on December 5; it was followed by an eight-yard game.
Last weekend, Seattle were hanging on against New Orleans Saints, the defending champions, when Lynch was handed the ball 67 yards from the goalline. By the time he crossed it, he had broken eight tackles on an unreal run that had viewers again grateful for the invention of instant replay, DVRs and YouTube.
A day later, Starks's contributions were more incremental but hardly less stunning. Green Bay, who had only one individual 100-yard rushing game during the season, were saved against the Eagles by Starks's 123 yards on 23 carries.
Without them, the Seahawks and Packers would not have moved ahead for games at Chicago and Atlanta, respectively.
Lynch has the finer pedigree - college stand-out at California, first-round draft pick, uncle a retired 11-year pro - and broke in impressively with Buffalo. He outwore his welcome after accusations of domestic violence, a hit-and-run incident and a misdemeanour firearm charge that led to a three-game suspension imposed by the league, then a decline in on-the-field production.
Seattle, starved for a rushing game, were happy to help the Bills rid themselves of Lynch. The pay-off came on a run that rekindled memories of Barry Sanders a generation earlier.
"I'm sure that everybody will remember that run forever," the Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
"Maybe I got it a little overrated there, but it was one of the greatest runs I ever saw." To some of the Packers, Starks's break-out game was not unexpected. "We knew how good James was the first day he came in," the linebacker AJ Hawk said. "We weren't even wearing pads back in the spring and we knew he could do some great things."