2014 NFL Playoffs: The Top 25 Players of the Postseason
2014 NFL Playoffs: The Top 25 Players of the Postseason
What a week 17 it was. There were some fairly improbable scenarios for a team or two to make it into the playoffs that actually happened, and as fans, it could not have gotten any better. Out in the AFC West, we have three of the six playoff teams thanks to an unlikely berth by the San Diego Chargers, having come all the way back to beat the Kansas City Chiefs on a couple of lucky breaks and what they are calling fate.
Over in the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers got a big boost from their quarterback after missing seven games and took out the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field to claim the division title and send their rival packing. After a tumultuous season, it all came down to this last week and Green Bay proved the better team.
How about the New Orleans Saints having to fight for their lives and win to get in? Sure, they made it happen, but did anyone expect them to be fighting for the sixth and final playoff seed in the NFC? I sure did not. Nonetheless, the Saints are in and the season is anew.
The Cincinnati Bengals stayed perfect at home with a flawless 8-0 record to end the year as they wrapped up their playoff position while winning the AFC North, of course. Even though Andy Dalton tossed four picks, those Bengals were able to muster up a win against the reigning Super Bowl champs.
As we head into the playoffs this upcoming weekend, the style of play changes. Not only that, but the stakes are raised and there are a certain group of players that will shine brighter than ever. Like we have done previously with our player rankings prior to the season, we've compiled a list of players yet again. This time, we rank the top 25 players in the postseason. Enjoy.
25. Vernon Davis: TE, San Francisco 49ers
With everything on the line in the postseason, you need athletes to step up and be just that -- an athlete. Vernon Davis may be one of the very top, pure athletes in all of football. For the San Francisco 49ers to put points on the board, he has to be heavily involved. I think it's safe to say that's going to happen.
24. Cameron Jordan: DE, New Orleans Saints
Cameron Jordan was a huge reason why the 2013 Saints defense turned things in the opposite direction. Having the best year he's had as a pro, Jordan racked up 12.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries on his way to the Pro Bowl. For New Orleans to stop those top-ranked offenses in the NFC, Jordan is going to need to be at his best.
23. DeMaryius Thomas: WR, Denver Broncos
With Wes Welker banged up, DeMaryius Thomas has become all that much more important to the Denver Broncos' offense -- and boy, has he stepped up. Ending the season with a two touchdown, 113-yard performance will give one of the AFC's best wideouts even more confidence heading into the playoffs as his Broncos look to go deep into this postseason.
22. Earl Thomas: S, Seattle Seahawks
Earl Thomas has been one of the primary reasons the Seattle Seahawks' secondary, and defense as a whole, has not fallen off without two key defensive backs. He may be the top safety in football at the moment, and deserves defensive player of the year recognition without a doubt. Thomas is the field general of that secondary and will continue to be as the Seahawks look to hoist that Lombardi trophy come February.
21. Tamba Hali: LB, Kansas City Chiefs
I think it is safe to say that Tamba Hali is one of the two most important players on the Kansas City Chiefs defense and, without him, they would not be close to where they are at the moment on that side of the ball. His 11 sacks this year were incredibly important to the defense maintaining one of the top spots in football, and as we enter the playoffs, he'll need a couple more to keep his team alive.
20. Eddie Lacy: RB, Green Bay Packers
There not be a more underrated running back in the game right now than the Packers' Eddie Lacy. I would even go as far as to say that Lacy is the primary reason the Packers are in the playoffs at the moment. After going through three more quarterbacks in effort to stay alive in the race, Lacy has been the constant as he's racked up yard after hard-fought yard and ended the season with 11 all-important touchdowns.
19. Jimmy Graham: TE, New Orleans Saints
Going back to the conversation about athletes when talking about the 49ers' Davis, we can throw Jimmy Graham at the top of that list as well. At the moment, there is not a better tight end in the game and Graham continues to look like a wide receiver trapped in a tight end's body. The guy is virtually unstoppable and one of the most difficult players to cover there is. Graham will be key to the Saints' Super Bowl hopes.
18. NaVorro Bowman: LB, San Francisco 49ers
It is incredibly tough to keep all three of the 49ers' linebackers out of this list, so NaVorro Bowman gets the love. While Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks are crucially important in their own way, Bowman has been everywhere this year. Wherever the ball is, you'll find Bowman close by. There is a reason he was yet again a clear-cut Pro Bowl selection.
17. Greg Hardy: DE, Carolina Panthers
The most important player on this dominating Carolina Panthers' defensive front has, without a doubt, been Greg Hardy. Having his best season as a pro, Hardy racked up 15.0 sacks in 2013 and has absolutely thrashed offensive linemen all year long as he's made it a nightmare on opposing quarterbacks. For the Panthers to continue their unbelievable run, Hardy is going to need his best games yet.
16. Nick Foles: QB, Philadelphia Eagles
The only reason Nick Foles is not higher on this list is because he is in a completely different ball game now. The playoffs are a different animal, and there are signal-callers that have been to this dance before -- many times in fact -- that I give the nod over Foles. Having an amazing regular season, Foles only threw two interceptions and ended with 27 touchdowns in 10 starts. Can he continue his top-notch play entering the postseason?
15. Justin Houston: LB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs' defense looked like a totally different group during Justin Houston's absence, and I think it isn't too far off to say that he'll need to be at his best for Kansas City to advance past the first round. Just above Hali, Houston is by far the Chiefs' most valuable player on defense. He has gotten to quarterbacks almost at will at times. He'll need to make it look easy for the Chiefs to move on.
14. Vontaze Burfict: LB, Cincinnati Bengals
When you lead the NFL in tackles, chances are you will make a list like this. Vontaze Burfict has been a ball-hawking monster this season. I think his goal this year was to be in on, or close to, every single tackle for the Bengals defense. OK, maybe that's not true. But, the way he has played in 2013 I wouldn't be surprised whatsoever if he had that kind of mindset.
13. Philip Rivers: QB, San Diego Chargers
The Chargers can thank one person, and one person only, for their playoff berth. Other than having lots of help in week 17 to be at this point, Philip Rivers is the sole reason this team is in the position it's in. He's had one of the best years of his career and on an offense with a lack of big names -- outside of veteran Antonio Gates -- he has made plays time and time again to propel this team to new heights. Now with a clean slate, Rivers is more dangerous than ever.
12. Marshawn Lynch: RB, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks' offense doesn't look like it has in 2013 without Marshawn Lynch, plain and simple. The NFL's 6th-leading rusher, Lynch was yet again a constant for Seattle offensively. He can do it all. He's a force in the passing game and lethal with the ball in his hands, regardless of how he gets it. Having the ability to shed tacklers better than just about anybody, Lynch will be incredibly important to a Super Bowl run.
11. Cam Newton: QB, Carolina Panthers
Speaking of guys whose teams wouldn't be close to where they are right now without them, enter Cam Newton stage right. The Panthers' run to end the year atop the NFC South was undoubtedly propelled by a top-notch defense, but without Newton, I don't think they're anywhere close to the postseason. Newton has been efficient and hungrier than ever in his third season, and the Panthers are a force because of him.
10. Drew Brees: QB, New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees laid to rest any doubt that his Saints are having a tough time putting up points down the stretch when he helped New Orleans to a 42-point explosion on Sunday in a playoff berth-clinching victory. Throwing for over 5,000 yards again, Brees continues to make his way through the history books. During the playoffs, the Saints will go as Brees and the offense goes.
9. Luke Kuechly: LB, Carolina Panthers
Was there a better all-around linebacker in football this season than Luke Kuechly? It's unbelievable to watch this kid in only his second year, it really is. He can do anything asked of him. Drop back into coverage? No problem. Rush the passer? Of course. Oh, and he wraps up. Kuechly is quickly becoming one of the most dominating defensive players in the game today, and the Panthers' defense would not be the same without him.
8. Russell Wilson: QB, Seattle Seahawks
How far has Russell Wilson come in just two short years? Going from a third-round pick and probable backup to a Pro Bowl quarterback of the top team in the NFC, Wilson is flat out one of the best players in the game today, regardless of position. He's a guy these Seahawks stand behind, believe in and will follow off of a cliff if need be. Wilson is ready to go for the postseason and his Seahawks have a Super Bowl-or-bust mentality.
7. Jamaal Charles: RB, Kansas City Chiefs
The single most important part of the Chiefs' turnaround this year has been the way head coach Andy Reid has run the offense. It's simple: Give the ball to Jamaal Charles and see what happens. Charles has had an incredible season, finishing 3rd in the NFL in rushing but also catching 70 passes for nearly 700 yards. He has been the catalyst for an offense that struggled mightily a year ago, and a big reason why they are in the postseason in 2013.
6. A.J. Green: WR, Cincinnati Bengals
There is no doubt about it, A.J. Green is the best wide receiver in the postseason. When the Bengals need a big play, Dalton goes to this guy. Green seems impossible to cover at times, having such a large radius where the ball can be thrown at him and still being able to come down with it. With over 1,400 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns, Green is yet again an obvious Pro Bowl choice and heads into the playoffs as one of the best players in the game.
5. Richard Sherman: CB, Seattle Seahawks
Once more, let me bring you back to the conversation about the top, pure athletes in this game today. Richard Sherman is so good at what he does that he can cover anybody in the league without blinking. He is so good, that he automatically changes how an opposing offense and opposing quarterback execute their game plan. There aren't many guys in the game today that quarterbacks think twice about before letting go of the football. Sherman is without question atop that list, though.
4. LeSean McCoy: RB, Philadelphia Eagles
And the rushing title goes to… LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles. What a season it was for McCoy, who ran for 1,607 yards and also caught 52 passes for 539 yards, giving him a total of 2,146 total yards on the year. In Chip Kelly's offense, McCoy was the ideal back. Giving him the ball in any way possible, Kelly made sure McCoy was the focal point and it showed time and time again. He's as important to this offense as some of the top quarterbacks are to their respective teams.
3. Aaron Rodgers: QB, Green Bay Packers
There is not a single team you should be more afraid of playing right now than the Packers. They know they got into the postseason by the skin of their teeth. They understand that they could be sitting on their couch for the next seven months. But, then there's this guy that comes along and saves the day at the last moment. Aaron Rodgers is one of the most feared players in the game when healthy, and thankfully for the Packers, he's healthy. Look out NFC, he's back and ready to lay it all on the line.
2. Tom Brady: QB, New England Patriots
I don't care what kind of so-called "weapons" the New England Patriots are missing on offense. In the playoffs, it doesn't matter if you have Tom Brady under center. This guy has been there and done that. He's been to this rodeo several times, and regardless of who's lining up next to him, Brady will always have a chance to win in the postseason. Always.
1. Peyton Manning: QB, Denver Broncos
When you break enough records at the quarterback position to where you'd think they are making some of them up, you get to take the top spot on a list like this one. Peyton Manning should run away with the MVP award this year and is unquestionably the best player in football right now.