Top 20 Players in the NFL Divisional Playoffs
The Best Players Still Alive in the Playoffs
There are eight teams left in the playoffs after Wild Card weekend. In my opinion, the best teams are left and so are most of the players. There will always be the exceptions like Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson and Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, but they cannot control the players around them, so really, it's not their fault. The NFL, once again, will see Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning in the playoffs and that is something to be excited about.
Manning is truly one of the greatest players to ever step on any field and to have made it this far after so much doubt is nothing short of a miracle. He will not be the only great player to step on the field this weekend. We can't forget about New England Patriots QB Tom Brady and we will not down play rising stars like Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt. These players bring something special to the game. Something that nobody has been able to compete with consistently all season long. There is a reason these teams are still left. They are better than everyone else.
The top 20 players left in the divisional playoffs is a mix between defense and offense, but I'll admit it's a little heavy on my favorite part of the game, offense. I can appreciate the organized chaos of defense, but everything that goes into an offensive game plan from the first huddle to the final whistle is just a little more exciting. I think most people would agree.
From the rookies to the oldest veterans, every person on every team has something to add. For 18 weeks, we have watched every player on this list grow or get into a rythym worth talking about. These 20 players still left in the playoffs have the ability to bring their teams to a new level.
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20. Seattle Seahawks S Earl Thomas
Seattle Seahawks S Earl Thomas plays the position better than just about anybody in the league. Seahawks fans were especially impressed after he had a game changing interception on Wild Card Weekend. Late in the second quarter, Thomas came screaming out of nowhere to take a ball away Washington Redskins WR Pierre Garcon. Don't forget Thomas will also be a backup in the Pro Bowl this year. An accomplishment that is impressive on its own. Thomas finished the season with three interceptions and 42 solo tackles. These are not eye popping numbers, but considering how good the Seahawks were on defense this year, you have to recognize his skill.
19. San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore
San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore has rushed for over 1,000 yards in six out of the past seven seasons. He turns 30 this year, but is still one of the hardest rushers in the game. If the 49ers want to win against the Green Bay Packers, he should be a huge part of their game plan. Gore's production dropped in the last five games of the season, but you can expect him to go off in the first half on Saturday.
18. San Francisco 49ers LB Aldon Smith
49ers LB Aldon Smith would be a little higher on this list if DE Justin Smith did not go out the final two games of the season. Aldon showed just how much he needed Justin getting zero sacks over the final three games. He was exposed, but Aldon still had 19.5 sacks in the first 13 games. If the 49ers want to rattle Rodgers' cage, he will need to get going in a big way this weekend.
17. Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson inherited the best team of his rookie classmates. The Seahawks have a bruising defense, but Wilson has been more efficient with the football than anybody in the league since week 8. His rookie status knocks him down on this list a little, but come next season he will start getting the respect he deserves. Especially if he leads the Seahawks to victory on Sunday. The Seahawks are all about the team aspect of the game, but it will take a huge effort from Wilson to knock off the number one seed Atlanta Falcons.
16. New England Patriots WR Wes Welker
Patriots WR Wes Welker is one of those players that doesn't really make sense. He could be anybody. There are a lot of small and fast receivers in the game, but none of them caught 118 passes for almost 1,400 yards during the regular season. Welker might be a product of Brady, but he puts big numbers and nobody can take that away from him.
15. San Fransisco 49ers LB Patrick Willis
49ers LB Patrick Willis is one of the most feared players in the NFL. He hits hard, he is fast and he is smart. NaVorro Bowman may have led the team in tackles, but I still believe Willis is the heart and soul of this defense. For six years he has roamed the middle of the field and I don't expect him to slow down against the Packers.
14. Denver Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas
Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas found out just how good he could be this year. Teaming up with Peyton Manning he had over 1,400 yards receiving. He almost doubled his stats from the previous two years. Hopefully Manning can hold on for a few more years because Thomas got a first hand look at what it was like to go from the worst quarterback in the league to the best. He does not want to go back. Hopefully this week off does not throw off the rhythm between Thomas and Manning.
13. Atlanta Falcons WR Roddy White
Falcons WR Roddy White continues to impress in the shadow of a monster year by Calvin Johnson. The Falcons have a tough challenge this weekend against the Seahawks. CB Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are huge and will try to make life difficult as possible for Matt Ryan and the Falcons' passing game.
Honorable Mention: WR Julio Jones played opposite of White and had a great year, but I had to leave him off the list because there were better receivers available. He had 10 touchdowns (three more than White), but less receptions and receiving yards.
12. Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson
Here is a guy that started the year slow, but really picked it up and was second in the league in receiving yards. Andre Johnson had almost 1,600 yards receiving and because of that he he the highest of his kind (receiver) on this list. Johnson can have a monster game against a Patriots secondary that has been gashed all year long for big gains. Johnson's only downfall this season is that he was not much of a red zone threat. He caught just four balls all year in the end zone.
11. Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan
Falcons QB Matt Ryan was fifth in QB rating at the end of the year. He production saw a steep drop, but still had over 4,500 yards passing and threw 32 TDs compared to just 14 interceptions. Take out the game against the Arizona Cardinals and you have a passer rating that is third in the league and probably a little more faith from the fan base. Ryan does not have a playoff win and that could come into play against a tough Seattle defense.
10. Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman
You can say what you want about Seahawks CB Richard Sherman, but that fact is he is one of the most dominating corners in the league. He finished tied for second in the league in interceptions and he was first in pass defends. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III was almost afraid to throw the ball in that direction. He feeds of criticism good or bad. As most quarterbacks found out this year, if Matt Ryan throws the ball his way enough, he will take it away.
9. Denver Broncos CB Champ Bailey
The battle between Champ Bailey and Sherman was a tough decision, but I had to give it to Champ based on age and a sweet name. It was basically a tie. Bailey made the Pro Bowl this year for the 12th time in 14 seasons. Something Sherman failed to do, but that could be because people think he cheated. Bailey had just 9 pass defends, but people don't simply throw in Bailey's direction. His area of the field has become a no fly zone for many seasons.
8. Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice
Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice is the only player from the Ravens to make this list. He is their offense because he takes an enormous amount of pressure of QB Joe Flacco. Rice finished the year with over 1,600 yards from scrimmage. The 5'8" running back has defied logic for his entire NFL career. However, this weekend he could run into some trouble against a tough Broncos' defense.
7. Houston Texans RB Arian Foster
Texans RB Arian Foster carried his team into divisional round of the playoffs. During the regular season he rushed for over 1,400 yards and scored 15 TDs. The Texans will needs a boost from their passing game to have any chance this week against the Patriots, but 100 yards from Foster would not be so bad.
6. Denver Broncos LB Von Miller
Broncos LB Von Miller finished the season with 18.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and an interception. The combination of Miller and DE Elvis Dumervil combined for over 100 tackles, 12 forced fumbles, and 29.5 sacks. Those numbers are just unfair. Miller will get to work against Flacco and the Ravens offense this weekend. I think the Ray Lewis inspiration will run out and the Broncos will win.
5. Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch
"Beast mode" will get to work on Sunday against the Falcons. He finished with 131 yards against the Redskins and a TD. He did fumble the ball once, but Marshawn Lynch had just five of those the entire season and only lost two. I would not expect that in this game. The Falcons will have their hands full this weekend, especially because DE John Abraham will not be 100 percent. Lynch is the most physical back left in the playoffs.
4. Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
If the Packers win this weekend it will be because of QB Aaron Rodgers. He is deadly accurate and can use his legs to scramble for a first down when needed. If the Seahawks and Packers win it will set up a showdown at Lambeau Field that will be epic. The Packers have to get through the 49ers first and that will be no easy task especially because they are playing at Candlestick Park.
3. Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt
Texans DE J.J. Watt had one of the best seasons in NFL history. He finished with 20.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and 16 pass defends. Those are crazy numbers and if you don't think he deserves defensive player of the year you need to get your brain checked. He is the Texans' defense and if they are going to have any chance against the Patriots, he needs to have a monster game.
2. New England Patriots QB Tom Brady
Tom Brady everyone. Need I say more. Brady has played in five Super Bowls and has won three. If it wasn't for the luckiest quarterback in the league, New York Giants QB Eli Manning, He would have five. Brady strolled his way to a second seed and has already dominated his weekend opponent once this year. He will have all of the NFL in his corner because the Manning vs. Brady matchup would be legendary.
1. Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning
At this point, you had to know this was coming. Before his career is over, Peyton Manning will own almost every passing record there is to own. He does not want the interception record, Brett Favre can keep it. Manning took over for a terrible Tim Tebow and sent him packing to the New York Jets. We all know how that went. Peyton led his team to a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. He led the league in total QBR, threw 37 TDs and had almost 4,700 yards passing. I expect Manning to coast into the AFC Championship game.