Here’s a look at 25 potential unsung heroes that could shine during the 2017 NFL Divisional Playoffs.
The 2017 NFL Divisional Playoffs are only a few days away, and with four exciting matchups in store, here’s a look at 25 potential unsung heroes that could shine on Saturday and Sunday for their beloved teams.
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After an exciting first weekend of playoff football, one can only imagine what’s in store for the Divisional Round as teams like the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots will be playing for the first time. While the Patriots have plenty of experience when it comes to playing this time of year, all eyes will be on the star rookie of the Cowboys in Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott to see how they handle their first trip to the NFL Playoffs.
With that being said, Dallas may face the toughest challenge of all since they’re lucky enough to host arguably the hottest team in football right now with the Green Bay Packers. Even if Jordy Nelson is unable to suit up, the Packers still have plenty of other players ready to step up in the wide receiver’s absence, with one player that comes to mind being tight end Jared Cook.
Speaking of players stepping it up for their team, this is the time of year where stars emerge out of nowhere when their team needs them the most as everyone has the same intention of reaching the ultimate goal of a trip to the Super Bowl. After looking at the remaining eight teams, it’s safe to say there are plenty of players that seem ready for the challenge of becoming the next unsung hero.
So without wasting anymore time, here’s a look at the top 25 potential unsung heroes for the remaining teams heading into the Divisional Round of the 2017 NFL Playoffs.
January 1, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Willson (82) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter at Levi
25. Luke Willson, TE – Seahawks
When it comes to pass-catching tight ends on the Seattle Seahawks, Jimmy Graham is always going to be the first player that comes to mind, and rightfully so when looking at some of the numbers he’s displayed throughout his career. Russell Wilson is going to need all of the help he can get from his teammates in the passing game against the Atlanta Falcons, and while all signs point to Graham being a heavy target, this seems like the perfect opportunity for Luke Willson to shine.
The numbers don’t lie as Willson seems like the last player the Falcons would expect to emerge as a dangerous threat on offense after only catching 15 passes all season, which is why he makes for such an interesting option. If Atlanta’s defense is focusing most of their attention on key stars like Graham and Doug Baldwin, Willson may be in position to see more passes thrown his way from the other Wilson at quarterback.
He may not have been used as much during the team’s first playoff game against the Detroit Lions, but Willson has been effective in January for Seattle numerous times in previous years. In what has the potential to be a high-scoring game between these two NFC contenders, be sure to keep an eye on Willson in this one.
Aug 19, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Alfred Morris (46) in action during the game against the Miami Dolphins at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys defeat the Dolphins 41-14. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
24. Alfred Morris, RB – Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys turned out to be one of the biggest surprises from the 2016 season after going from last in the NFC East during the previous year to finishing with the best record in the NFC at 13-3. Once again, the offensive line of the Cowboys showed why they deserve consideration for being the best in the league after helping Ezekiel Elliott emerge as one of the league’s top players in the backfield, but that doesn’t mean another running back can’t be successful as well against the Green Bay Packers.
That’s where Alfred Morris comes into play as the backup has adjusted to his new role with Dallas after spending the first four years of his career as the starter with the Washington Redskins. On the season, Morris saw action in 14 games for the Cowboys, but only finished with 243 rushing yards to go along with two touchdowns.
These types of numbers may not stick out like Elliott’s, but having a former No. 1 running back as a backup gives Dallas an advantage when compared to other other teams in the playoffs. After failing to record a playoff win during two opportunities with the Redskins, Morris hopes his luck will be much different this time around.
Jan 1, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Alex Collins (36) rushes with the football during the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levis Stadium Seahawks defeated the 49ers 25-23. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
23. Alex Collins, RB – Seahawks
Replacing Marshawn Lynch wasn’t going to be an easy task after the running back decided to call it a career following the 2015 season, but the Seattle Seahawks still felt confident enough the transition process would be easier with Thomas Rawls leading the way in the backfield. Unfortunately, the injuries surrounding Rawls along with the struggles on the offensive line prevented the ground game for the Seahawks living up to the hype during the regular season.
With that being said, if there was anything to takeaway from last weekend’s performance against the Detroit Lions, it would be Rawls and the ground game appear to be just fine after the running back rushed for 161 yards with a touchdown. Rawls hopes to find similar success against the Atlanta Falcons this weekend with their defense ranking near the bottom of the league when it comes to stopping the run.
Not only does Seattle hope to see another strong performance from Rawls, but the team would love to see a productive game from Alex Collins as well. Even if the rookie has yet to receive double-digit carries in a game, the Seahawks were trying to get Collins more involved towards the end of the regular season.
Nov 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (15) runs after the catch against the San Diego Chargers at NRG Stadium. San Diego Chargers won 21 to 13. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
22. Will Fuller, WR – Texans
At the beginning of the season, Will Fuller seemed like an early favorite to finish as one of the top rookies from the 2016 class after recording back-to-back 100-yard games to begin his career. Unfortunately, that second game against the Kansas City Chiefs marked the last time the former Notre Dame star broke the 100-yard mark, as the Houston Texans would love nothing more than to see Fuller step it up on offense against the New England Patriots.
No disrespect to the Texans, but everybody expects this Divisional Round matchup to end up being a blowout by the Patriots when seeing how the two teams compare on paper. Instead of being the answer at quarterback to take the offense to the next level, Brock Osweiler ended up being one of the biggest busts from 2016 after finishing the regular season with more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (15).
All signs point to Osweiler being in for a long game against New England when considering how dominant the defense was during their 27-0 victory against Houston back in Week 3. The only way Osweiler is going to even have the slightest chance at leading the Texans to a win is by receiving all of the extra help he can get on offense, including Fuller.
Nov 20, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James (81) during the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
21. Jesse James, TE – Steelers
With Ladrius Green out, Jesse James was originally considered a sleeper to keep an eye on for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their first playoff game against the Miami Dolphins. However, the tight end wasn’t needed as much in the passing game after jumping out to an early lead. This time around, the Steelers will face a much tougher matchup on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs, and with Green’s status still uncertain, Ben Roethlisberger may need more this time around from James in the passing game.
In his second season with Pittsburgh, James caught 39 passes for 338 yards to go along with three touchdowns, although the last time he found the end zone came in Week 5 against the New York Jets. Still, James managed to start 13 of 16 games for the Steelers during the regular season, and only went two games without a single catch.
Between Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh’s offense is certainly filled with more reliable options than James, but that doesn’t mean Big Ben can’t figure out a way to get his tight end more involved. After finding the end zone against the Chiefs in Week 4, let’s hope James can figure out a way to do the same on Sunday.
Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Aldrick Robinson (19) celebrates a score in the second half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Falcons defeated the Broncos 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
20. Aldrick Robinson, WR – Falcons
After a controversial ending from their regular-season matchup, the Atlanta Falcons can’t wait for another opportunity against the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round as this has the potential to turn into an offensive shootout. Over the years, the Seahawks defense has established a reputation for being one of the best in the league, but the argument can be made they’ve taken a step back in 2016.
Even if that is the case, that doesn’t mean Seattle won’t be well prepared for what should be an intense battle against Atlanta with a trip to the NFC Championship on the line. When these two teams met back in Week 6, it was the Seahawks that came through for the thrilling 26-24 victory, but the circumstances will be much different this time.
Not only will the Falcons have the advantage of playing at home, but Matt Ryan looks to continue his MVP campaign by leading the league’s top high-powered offense. While Julio Jones will most likely be Ryan’s top target, Atlanta hopes for some help from some of their other weapons on offense if they’re going to knock off Seattle.
Aldrick Robinson may have only caught 20 passes during the regular season, but this is the perfect opportunity for the wideout to shine with Richard Sherman and company focusing most of their attention on containing Jones.
Dec 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan (15) during the second half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
19. Chris Hogan, WR – Patriots
Tom Brady has proven throughout his career he’s capable of making any player around him better, and 2016 was no different when seeing the level of production he received from numerous teammates. Just look at wide receiver Chris Hogan as the former Buffalo Bills wideout wasted no time becoming a reliable target for Brady and hopes continue that success in the postseason.
Hogan has been a solid addition for the Patriots in the passing game after starting 14 of the 15 games he played in while catching 38 passes for 680 yards with four touchdowns. Hogan’s numbers may not be that consistent on a weekly basis, but when seeing how much Brady tends to spread the football around on offense, these numbers really aren’t that surprising.
If anything, this makes Hogan the perfect candidate to have a breakout performance during his first career playoff game against the Houston Texans. Plus, Hogan finds himself at an advantage for more passes thrown his way with the Texans defense expected to have their hands full by keeping up with Julian Edelman.
With New England entering this game as heavy favorites, don’t be surprised if Hogan figures out a way to make an impact right away against Houston to help make this contest seem like it’s over by halftime.
Nov 27, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) forces a fumble against Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) in the second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
18. Justin Houston, LB – Chiefs
As of now, all signs point to Justin Houston being good to go to suit up for the Kansas City Chiefs when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL Divisional Playoffs. Hopefully, the extra week of rest pays off for Houston as his presence only makes the Chiefs that much better on defense, which is scary to think about.
The Kansas City linebacker unfortunately only appeared in five games after missing a majority of the year to recover from knee surgery that took place in the offseason. And if that wasn’t tough enough to deal with, Houston also missed the final three games of the regular season, but luckily the Chiefs were able to lock up a first-round bye in the postseason to avoid rushing back their beloved linebacker.
If the first meeting between Kansas City and Pittsburgh is any indication of what to expect, Andy Reid is going to need all of the help he can from the defensive side of the football. It doesn’t take much to see why the Steelers have one of the best offenses in the NFL when seeing how badly they won against the Chiefs back in Week 4, but these are two completely different teams now.
For the sake of Kansas City fans, here’s to hoping there’s no setbacks on Houston’s end so he’s healthy enough to suit up for what is expected to be the biggest test of the year for the defense.
Dec 18, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans tight end Ryan Griffin (84) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
17. Ryan Griffin, TE – Texans
As mentioned before, the Houston Texans find themselves at a major disadvantage facing the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, but it would be unfair to say they had zero chance of pulling off an upset. Obviously, the Texans figuring out a way to escape Foxborough would arguably go down as one of the biggest upsets in NFL playoff history, but winning these kind of games is always easier said than done.
In order for Houston to have any sort of chance against New England, Brock Osweiler is going to need just about everyone on offense to step it up, or this game has the potential to turn into an easy blowout. Despite the Texans failing to score a single point during the first meeting between these two back in Week 3, tight end Ryan Griffin still found a way to display one of his best performances from the 2016 season.
In that game, Griffin tied a season highs of eight catches on 10 targets, all while finishing with 52 receiving yards. New England knows the key to stopping Houston on offense is figuring out a way to shutdown DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller, making Griffin one of the perfect candidates to step it up when needed the most.
Jan 1, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison (81) scores a touchdown while Detroit Lions middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead (59) applies pressures during the fourth quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
16. Geronimo Allison, WR – Packers
There’s nothing more frustrating for a sports team than seeing a key player suffer an injury at the worst possible time, which is exactly what happened to the Green Bay Packers against the New York Giants during Wild Card Weekend with Jordy Nelson. The Packers wideout was forced to leave Sunday’s game after suffering cracked ribs following a questionable tackle, and as of now, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Nelson was forced to sit when the rest of his teammates take on the Dallas Cowboys.
To see Nelson and the Packers deal with this crushing news after working so hard to be in this position when all hope seemed lost in the middle of the season is certainly one tough pill to swallow. With that being said, if Green Bay managed to defeat New York’s defense without Nelson for most of the game, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to do the same against Dallas.
Just like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers has always been the type of quarterback who makes the players around him better, and even without Nelson, the Packers are still capable of rolling on offense. Randall Cobb and Davante Adams will have to step up in Nelson’s absence, but don’t be surprised if Rodgers take advantage of a sneaky target in Geronimo Allison.
When Cobb was dealing with an ankle injury towards the end of the regular season, it was Allison that was targeted 13 times over the final two games while caching eight passes for 157 yards with a touchdown. If Nelson does end up missing Sunday’s game, at least the Packers will be in good hands with Allison as a replacement. However, we’ll see if his recent arrest for marijuana possession affects his availability on Sunday.
Dec 1, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrance Williams (83) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29) during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Cowboys defeated the Vikings 17-15. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
15. Terrance Williams, WR – Cowboys
Terrance Williams finds himself in an interesting situation for the Dallas Cowboys when considering how dangerous he can be with the football, yet he doesn’t receive as many targets due to all of the weapons on offense. Either way, the most important factor is the Cowboys will officially get their postseason underway as the top seed in the NFC when they host the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Divisional Playoffs.
Only time will tell when it comes to how much of an impact Williams makes against the Cowboys, but it should be noted how successful the wideout was in the playoffs for his team two years ago. Back in 2014, Williams came up big for Dallas against the Detroit Lions in the Wild Card Round in which he caught three passes for 92 yards, two of which resulted in touchdowns.
Dez Bryant and Jason Witten will always be considered two of Dak Prescott‘s favorite targets, but as this past season has shown, the rookie quarterback always seems to be doing everything he can to get Williams involved on offense. The Packers defense is certainly feeling confident after keeping the New York Giants in check. If Bryant or Witten struggle to get open, Prescott will hopefully try to get Williams going on offense like he has all season.
November 20, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New England Patriots running back James White (28) before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi
14. James White, RB – Patriots
Even though LeGarrette Blount has become the main go-to guy in the backfield for the New England Patriots this season, Bill Belichick has proven over the years that he’s always willing to go with the hot hand at running back. From a fantasy football perspective, selecting a running back on the Patriots has always been one of the most difficult tasks since owners never know who may end up being the top running back that week, which is why James White makes an interesting selection.
Even if he’s officially listed as a running back, New England has used White more for his receiving skills over the last two seasons since he’s capable of turning any short pass into a big play. The fact that White has more receptions (100) than rushing attempts (61) over the last two years shows the Patriots barely even use him as a running back.
After seeing how successful he was during the regular season by catching 60 passes for 551 yards with five touchdowns, expect Belichick and Tom Brady to lean on White against the Houston Texans to make it easier on offense. Then again, knowing Belichick’s history of keeping opponents guessing, would it be a surprise if White received more carries instead?
Nov 28, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Green Bay Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski (22) reacts with tight end Richard Rodgers (82) and wide receiver Jordy Nelson (87) after his touchdown run against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half at Lincoln Financial Field. The Green Bay Packers won 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
13. Aaron Ripkowski, FB – Packers
It’s remarkable to see the Green Bay Packers not only end the regular season the way they did, but handle the New York Giants during the first round of the playoffs with all of the issues in the running game. With Eddie Lacy and James Starks dealing with injuries in the second half of the season, it’s been an interesting situation in the backfield for the Packers, but the most important factor is the team is still finding ways to win games.
Of course, there’s only so much a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers can do on his own without the proper support in the backfield, even if he does seem like Superman at times. Ty Montgomery has looked impressive at times filling in at running back, but consistency for big gains has been an issue at times, with the latest example coming last Sunday against the Giants after he rushed for only 27 yards on 11 carries. Moreover, Montgomery was injured in the Wild Card win.
If Green Bay were smart, they would focus on Aaron Ripkowski getting more involved on offense against the Dallas Cowboys when seeing the type of results the running back displayed in the regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions. After rushing for 61 yards on nine carries against a defense like the Lions, what makes the Packers believe Ripkowski couldn’t do the same when facing the Cowboys?
Oct 30, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney (55) before the game against the Detroit Lions at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
12. Benardrick McKinney, LB – Texans
It’s only been two seasons, but Benardrick McKinney has wasted no time showing the Houston Texans he has a bright future in the NFL when it comes to being one of the top linebackers in the league. Even if he still has plenty to prove, the former Mississippi State star seems like the type of player that’s only going to get better with experience, and the Texans should consider themselves lucky for landing a linebacker like McKinney when they did in 2015.
As for the team’s upcoming Divisional Round game against the New England Patriots, McKinney and the rest of Houston’s defense could be in for a long day facing one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game in Tom Brady. It would be one thing if this was another regular season game, but everybody knows Brady always elevates his game to a whole new level when the postseason rolls around.
Defense is going to be the only way the Texans are going to have any shot at keeping this game close against the Patriots, and hopefully McKinney can find a way to apply plenty of pressure to Brady to make things more difficult for the Future Hall of Famer.
Dec 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman (26) carries the ball against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
11. Tevin Coleman, RB – Falcons
Most NFL teams struggle to find one consistent running back to rely on in the backfield, but the Atlanta Falcons are lucky enough to have two between Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Thanks to these two running backs, the Falcons’ offense finished at the top of the league during the regular season, and while Freeman receives a good amount of credit for the success, Coleman deserves the recognition as well.
Even though he didn’t start a single game for Atlanta during his second season, Coleman still found a way to make 11 total trips into the end zone while recording 941 yards from the line of scrimmage. For a backup playing behind a talented player like Freeman, the Falcons should consider themselves lucky for having someone like Coleman to rely on.
No matter who ends up receiving a majority of the carries on Saturday, Atlanta is going to need all of the help they can get from their two running backs as the Seattle Seahawks certainly won’t make this an easy contest. At least if Freeman struggles to get rolling on offense, Coleman can hopefully step in to provide the necessary spark to help the Falcons earn a trip to the NFC Championship.
Dec 8, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oakland Raiders cornerback David Amerson (29) tackles Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (19) during a NFL football game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
10. Jeremy Maclin, WR – Chiefs
Before anyone freaks out about how a player like Jeremy Maclin even made this list since he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs two years ago to be the No. 1 wideout, keep in mind the lack of production he had in the 2016 season. Not only was Maclin limited to playing in just 12 games, but he failed to record a single 100-yard game and only found the end zone two times.
When looking at all of the money Maclin is making from the Chiefs, it’s easy to see why the team may feel frustration towards their wideout. However, the playoffs are a completely different season as this would be the perfect opportunity for Maclin to redeem himself and earn every bit of that contract.
Kansas City has never been known as a team with a high-powered offense, but they started to show improvement towards the end of the season. In order to defeat a high-powered offense like the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Chiefs will need all of the points they can get. Therefore, it would certainly be nice to see Maclin part of the scoring contribution, assuming his ankle injury doesn’t prevent him from suiting up on Sunday.
Jan 1, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Eli Rogers (17) runs with the ball after a catch as Cleveland Browns inside linebacker Christian Kirksey (58) defends during the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 27-24 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
9. Eli Rogers, WR – Steelers
At the beginning of the year, the Pittsburgh Steelers had the potential to have one of the league’s top offenses, and while it certainly didn’t look like it at times during the regular season, they’re certainly living up to the hype now. The performance by the Steelers against the Miami Dolphins during Wild Card Weekend is the perfect example of just how dangerous this offense can be when they begin to start clicking.
The Kansas City Chiefs realize they’re going to have their hands full when it comes to covering Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, but that doesn’t mean Pittsburgh doesn’t have other players willing to step up if needed. He may have only been targeted one time against the Dolphins, Eli Rogers has proven he can be relied on in the passing game as another weapon for Big Ben to take advantage of.
Plus, if last weekend’s contest against Miami was closer, Pittsburgh probably wouldn’t have run the football with Bell as much, meaning Rogers could have seen more passes thrown his way. Keep in mind the young wideout did manage to record 15 catches during the final three games of the regular season, and could easily become a headache for Kansas City’s defense.
Dec 18, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Christine Michael (32) scores a touchdown during the second half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Green Bay won 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
8. Christine Michael, RB – Packers
Who doesn’t love watching a player face his former team in the NFL? Even if it was only for a short period of time (five games to be exact), there’s nothing Christine Michael would love more than to show the Dallas Cowboys what a terrible mistake they made last year by giving up on him at running back.
Obviously, everything seemed to work out pretty well for the Cowboys since they eventually snagged arguably the best rookie from this year’s draft class in Ezekiel Elliott, but that’s not how Michael views the situation. After all of the issues the Green Bay Packers have been dealing with this year at running back, Michael has been taking advantage of the situation, and is coming off a strong performance against the New York Giants (47 rushing yards on 10 carries).
Assuming all goes well, there’s a good chance the Packers will provide Michael with plenty of opportunities to stick it to his former team to help take some of the pressure off Aaron Rodgers in the passing game. Michael’s NFL journey has certainly been an interesting one over the last couple of years when seeing how much he’s bounced around from team-to-team. But who knows what a strong playoff outing could lead too for the running back in the long run.
January 7, 2017; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Paul Richardson (10) catches a pass against the Detroit Lions during the second half in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
7. Paul Richardson, WR – Seahawks
Paul Richardson made a name for himself during Wild Card Weekend when he caught a miraculous touchdown on a fourth down in the second quarter in what could easily go down as the catch of the year, even if it was controversial. Besides Doug Baldwin, the Seattle Seahawks never seem to know which other wide receivers are going to show up that week as it seems to be a different one each time.
Luckily, Richardson has found a way to make an impact for the Seahawks in the passing game over the last couple weeks after catching 11 passes over the previous three games along with two touchdowns. Nobody could have predicted a few months ago that it would be Richardson coming up big for Seattle, but the wide receiver seems to be providing a spark the offense has been looking for.
As for the team’s upcoming playoff matchup, the Atlanta Falcons may have earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC, but that doesn’t mean their defense is anything to brag about. After seeing the type of success he had against the Detroit Lions, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Richardson continue his recent hot streak against the Falcons in what should be an extremely fun game to follow.
Oct 2, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay (22) and defensive end Stephon Tuitt (91) celebrate a missed field goal by Kansas City Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos (5) after Santos slipped during the kick during the first half at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
6. Stephon Tuitt, DE – Steelers
Over the last two seasons, Stephon Tuitt has managed to start 28 of 32 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers as the former Notre Dame star has made quite the name for himself on the defensive line. Even though they struggled at times during the beginning of the season, the Steelers defense has stepped it up big time in the second half of the year, and has played a big role in helping the team win their last eight games.
The defense will need to come up big once again if they have any intention of keeping that streak alive this weekend as they face a difficult matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. Pittsburgh may have crushed Kansas City when these two teams met earlier in the season, but there’s a lot more on the line this time around.
To see Tuitt overcome a knee injury suffered against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15 to recover in time before the team’s first playoff game against the Miami Dolphins. If Tuitt was that motivated for the Wild Card game, just imagine the intensity level he could be playing on in front of a very hostile Kansas City environment looking for revenge on Pittsburgh.
Jan 1, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Charcandrick West (35) scores a touchdown during the second half of the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chiefs won 37-27. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
5. Charcandrick West, RB – Chiefs
Andy Reid claims that Spencer Ware should be good to go against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but that doesn’t mean the running back is going to be as effective for the Kansas City Chiefs. Even if he’s had an extra week of rest thanks to the Chiefs earning a first-round bye, there’s still some reason for concern over Ware’s ribs heading into the NFL Divisional Playoffs.
The good news for Kansas City is even if Ware struggles, the team will still be in good hands with Charcandrick West in the backfield. The third-year running back has proven to be reliable for the Chiefs over the last two years when he’s been called on to be the starter, and West has even made a great receiver for Alex Smith to dump passes off to when needed.
Only time will tell when it comes to how much playing time West will actually receive depending on Ware’s situation, but hopefully everything works out for Kansas City when it comes to some of their key players being at full strength. As much as West would prefer to earn the extra carries, deep down the running back knows having a healthy Ware gives the team a much better chance of taking Pittsburgh down.
Oct 9, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Houston Texans tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (87) catches a pass as Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway (52) tackles him in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings win 31-13. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
4. C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE – Texans
C.J. Fiedorowicz seems like the type of tight end that is just waiting to explode with a strong offensive performance, and if the Houston Texans had it their way, that big game would come this weekend against the New England Patriots. When seeing how the Texans are entering the contest as major underdogs, there’s a good chance Brock Osweiler and company will be playing from behind for a majority of the game, which means Fiedorowicz should see plenty of extra passes thrown his way.
There’s no question the Texans tight end took a major leap this year when it comes to being an effective pass-catching tight end after finishing the regular season with 54 catches for 559 yards with four touchdowns. What’s even more impressive is how often Fiedorowicz has been receiving targets each week after seeing at least seven passes thrown in his direction in five of the final six regular season games.
Fiedorowicz will most likely see this trend continue against the Patriots since the offense has already seen plenty of struggles with Osweiler under center, meaning the tight end may turn out to be the team’s best option for finding the end zone during the Divisional Round.
Nov 6, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams (34) catches a pass prior to the start of the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
3. DeAngelo Williams, RB – Steelers
It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins when the Pittsburgh Steelers finally decided to give DeAngelo Williams some action, but it wasn’t anything against the veteran running back. Williams has always been the type of player that is willing to do whatever necessary to help his team win, and when seeing how unstoppable Le’Veon Bell was, there was no need for the Steelers to make a change.
With this in mind, the good news for Pittsburgh is if Williams is needed for Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, he will be extra rested since he only received two carries against Miami. After spending the first nine years of his career as a member of the Carolina Panthers, Williams has been a solid addition for the Steelers in the backfield as it’s amazing to see a running back his age still capable of gaining yardage when needed.
Bell may have received 29 carries against Miami, but this is the same running back that recoded 38 carries against the Buffalo Bills earlier in the season. Then again, this is also the playoffs, and the last thing Pittsburgh wants to do is overuse their running back during their Super Bowl run.
Luckily, Williams will be there waiting if Bell’s high amount of carries does end up becoming an issue.
Nov 24, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Cole Beasley (11) makes a first down against the Washington Redskins during the game at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys defeat the Redskins 31-26. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
2. Cole Beasley, WR – Cowboys
There’s a reason why the Dallas Cowboys rewarded Cole Beasley with an extension during the 2015 offseason as the wideout has proven to be one of the quickest players in the game who can burn by any defender. In quiet fashion, Beasley had the best year of his career with the Cowboys after catching 75 passes for 833 yards (both career highs) to go along with five touchdowns, as the wideout has benefitted from playing with Dak Prescott.
These numbers may not make Beasley seem like a candidate for an unsung hero, but when looking at all of the weapons Dallas favors over the wideout, it’s easy to understand why he’s part of the list. If anything, the Green Bay Packers could end up being so concerned over the whereabouts of Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant, Beasley could easily take advantage of slipping away from coverage.
It’s amazing to see the numbers displayed by Beasley during the regular season, and realize he hasn’t even recorded a single 100-yard game. Even if that is the case, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that Beasley was still a nightmare for the Packers back in Week 6 when he found his way into the end zone not one, but two times.
Jan 8, 2017; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Jared Cook (89) runs past New York Giants outside linebacker Jonathan Casillas (52) in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent via USA TODAY Sports
1. Jared Cook, TE – Packers
It was mentioned before how the Green Bay Packers could be the unfortunate victims of playing this weekend without one of the league’s top wide receivers in Jordy Nelson, who suffered fractured ribs against the New York Giants during their first playoff game. If that turns out to be the case, at least Aaron Rodgers will feel confident enough knowing his team still has a solid chance to defeat the Dallas Cowboys thanks to some of his other reliable weapons.
Form the perspective of the Cowboys, the defense is going to be most concerned over the whereabouts of Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, as the two wideouts have a reputation for always being dangerous end zone threats. But as much as Rodgers loves to work with Cobb and Adams, Jared Cook could end up being the difference maker for the Packers on offense.
Cook was arguably one of the best free agent decisions by Green Bay in the offseason, especially down the stretch as Rodgers has targeted his tight end at least eight times in three of the last four games. The Packers may arguably be the hottest team in the NFL at the moment, but Sunday’s game against the Cowboys will be their toughest battle yet.
If Rodgers has been targeting Cook as much as he has over the last few games, just imagine how many extra passes the tight end will see if Nelson is unable to play.