With the NFL Divisional Round of the playoffs just a few days away, Jarhead and I have decided to join up for another article. We decided to go snake draft and each pick one impact player from each remaining team excluding QBs. My choice will be listed first, followed by Jarhead’s.
Logan Ryan, CB
I’m going with Ryan for a couple of reasons, he’s had a solid season notching 62 tackles and a forced fumble. He’s also one of the few players on a relatively young Tennessee team who has post-season experience. My main reason is that he’s playing his former team the New England Patriots, who feature a pass heavy offensive scheme. Out of all players that will face Tom Brady this post season, there’s an argument that he’s the most familiar with his game. I’m looking for a solid game and possibly an interception against the team that chose not to resign him last off-season.
Derrick Henry, RB All year the Titans went with the inferior runner as their bell cow, Murray’s injury is actually a blessing in disguise for the Titans. Derrick Henry is 6’3, 240 pounds and runs a 4.5 40. Literally nobody wants to tackle this dude. Whenever he was a freshmen at Alabama their D-Line coach literally begged to get him moved to DE. Last week he ran 23 times for 156 yards and a touchdown with 35 receiving yards to his name as well. He single handily was the reason Chiefs fans had their hearts ripped out of their chest. The only way the Titans make this a game is if they control the clock and keep the ball out of #12’s hand. Henry will be the key to the Titans offense.
New England Patriots:
Rob Gronkowski, TE
I didn’t want to go with the easy pick, but sometimes the easy choice is the right choice. Gronkowski is the best TE in NFL history already, at this point he’s just distancing himself from the competition. He’s Tom Brady’s favorite target since Julian Edelman was lost for the season. He’s hauled in 69 (NICE) catches on the season and broke the 1,000 yard mark that is usually reserved for receivers. New England has the fairly easy match-up of the Titans who only won last week based off of a once in a lifetime play by Mariota. Look for Gronk to be involved early and often after missing the post-season last year. My expectation is 9 catches for over 100 yards, a score and a frat boy end game quote against a Tennessee defense that ranked 25th against the pass.
Dion Lewis and Co. RB I kind of cheated on this one, Dion Lewis is the main guy but it’s hard not to talk about New England’s running backs as a committee. First lets start with Lewis, over the final eight games of 2017, Lewis tied with Marshawn Lynch for the most rushing yards with 625. Burkhead and White figure to be key in this match up because of their pass catching abilities. According to Football Outsiders, no team did it worse. The Titans were ranked dead last in coverage against running backs, as the defense allowed 967 receiving yards to them. The Patriots attack other teams weaknesses better than any other team in the NFL. I expect a heavy workload of carries to Lewis and around 12 catches combined for these running backs.
Telvin Smith, LB
Smith has turned in a productive season where he’s racked up 102 tackles, 1 sack, and 3 interceptions. He has exceptional athleticism that helps him match up with running backs in the passing game, this is going to come in handy during their trip to Pittsburgh who arguably have the best running back in the NFL with Le’Veon Bell. Look for his name to be called all game as he’s one of the tempo setters of this impressive Jacksonville defense.
Jalen Ramsey, CB Ramsey has easily the toughest assignment out of anyone. During their first matchup Ramsey played well recording one interception and four pass deflections. That was week five, this is the playoffs. Big Ben and AB are seasoned veterans going to the playoffs seemingly every year. Ramsey is only 23 years old and this is his first year in the playoffs. All eyes will be on Ramsey in this game. Its First Team All-Pro vs. First Team All-Pro, there is nothing better than that. AB is coming off an injury, but has had several weeks to heal up. In the first match up he didn’t cover him exclusively but the majority of the game. While realistically there is no “shutting down” AB I expect Ramsey to limit him enough to where AB will have to earn all of his yards and if the Steelers win it be because of other reasons and not because AB went crazy.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR
This might seem a little crazy, but just bear with me here. Jacksonville’s defense is fucking scary. Smith-Schuster burst onto the scene in his rookie year with 58 catches, 917 yards and 7 scores playing second fiddle to Antonio Brown in the Steelers high powered offense. Antonio Brown will more than likely draw Jalen Ramsey and Martavis Bryant will probably draw A.J. Bouye on the outside, this will leave JuJu facing Aaron Colvin in the slot. While Colvin is no slouch, it’s the closest thing to a favorable match-up you can ask for when you’re playing Jacksonville. I expect Smith-Schuster to have a game in the ball park of 7 catches for 80 yards and a score followed by one of his signature celebrations we’ve all come to expect.
Le’Veon Bell, RB Jacksonville’s defense is regarded as the best in the league and they have two All-Pro corners. They are ranked number one in the league against the pass, while being ranked 21st against the run. I think the Steelers remember the week five ass-kicking the Jags gave them which included five interceptions and Big Ben post-game saying ” Maybe I don’t have it anymore.” To be fair Ben has played much better since that game and looks like the vintage Ben everyone remembers. I believe the Steelers are a smart franchise and will realize they only gave Le’Veon 15 carries that game and they lost 30-9. So I believe they will look to utilize arguably the best RB in the game and attack Jacksonville’s one weakness. If the Steelers are going to win this game look for Le’Veon to have 22+ carries.
New Orleans Saints:
Michael Thomas, WR
Since coming into the NFL all Thomas has done is produce, following his game last week no player in NFL history has caught as many passes as Thomas in their first two seasons with 196. Since the trade of Brandin Cooks he has become the unquestioned number one option in the passing game. The Saints feature the most talented backfield in the NFL with the duo of Kamara and Ingram, which will keep defenses honest during play action. Thomas will more than likely draw Xavier Rhodes who is an elite CB, I still fully expect Thomas to produce because that’s all he knows how to do. My prediction is 6 catches, 60 yards and two scores.
Cameron Jordan, DE Case Keenum has had a phenomenal year surrounded by an abundance of weapons at his disposal. In order for the Saints to win this game they will need to get pressure on Keenum and force him to make mistakes. Cam Jordan had 62 tackles and 13 sacks during the season so he is the most likely to give the Vikings offensive line fits. Last week he was able to get a sack on Newton and bat two balls down. He will need similar production this week if he wants to advance to the NFC Championship.
Eric Kendricks, LB
I really wanted to go with Xavier Rhodes here, but Kendricks draws the task of setting the defense and matching up with the Saints prolific backfield tandem. He has a team leading 113 tackles, the next closest player has 80. He’s an absolute tackling machine with above average athleticism for the MLB position. Long story short, if Kendricks struggles the Vikings will lose this match-up. Look for him to rack up 10 tackles and a pass break up.
Harrison Smith, FS Smith is a do-it-all type player who is First Team All-Pro. He had 78 tackles on the year and led the team with five interceptions. According to the Vikings coaching stats, his 12 quarterback hits were the most by a Vikings defensive back and his 10 tackles for loss ranked third on the team. This Vikings defense is ranked first in points and yards and he has been one of the main reasons. On Sunday he will be asked to do a variety of things, such as keeping Ted Ginn Jr from catching a deep ball, to flying up to slow down Ingram and Kamara and occasionally blitzing. I expect Smith to have his imprint all over this game and potentially have an interception on Brees.
Fletcher Cox, DT
Cox trails only Aaron Donald as the most dominant DT in the league, and he’ll be facing an Atlanta Falcons offensive line that has Ben Garland starting in place of injured guard Andy Levitre. Garland is fresh off of a game against Donald and the Rams where he was completely dominated for the majority of the game. I expect the same outcome when he lines up in front of Cox. The Eagles own the number 1 defense in the league against the run, so look for Atlanta to try and pass early and often. For the Eagles to have a shot at winning this ball game they’ll need Cox to provide consistent pressure on Matt Ryan. Look for him to have 1.5 sacks and 2 TFL.
Jay Ajayi, RB The key for the Eagles offense in this game is running the ball. The Eagles cannot rely on Nick Foles to win this game for them like they relied on Carson Wentz for much of the season. The best chance the Eagles have is leaning on the rushing attack, spearheaded by the Jay-Train. Ever since joining the Eagles he has averaged 5.8 YPC in a limited role, the thought process this whole time has been in saving him for the playoffs. Knowing that Ajayi is well rested and that he has already rushed for 130 yards on this defense earlier in the year (as a Dolphin) I expect a heavy workload for him. If the Eagles want to win this game they will have to rely on Blounts and Jays like Cheech and Chong.
Grady Jarrett, DT
Outside of Aaron Donald and Fletcher Cox, Jarrett might be the most dominant DT in all of football. He puts consistent pressure on the quarterback (4 sacks) and is a physical presence in the running game (15 TFL). In Atlanta’s match-up against the Eagles keeping Nick Foles from getting into rhythm will be a key factor, as Foles doesn’t have Carson Wentz’s athletic gifts or ability to create plays on the run. Also a key factor is who starts at LG for the Eagles, usual starter Steven Wisniewski has been hampered with injuries lately. If Jarrett draws Isaac Seumalo or Chance Warmack he will have the benefit of an extreme mismatch. Look for him to have at least one sack and multiple QB pressures.
Deion Jones, MLB Jones is the key to the Falcons defense stopping the Eagles on Saturday. He leads the team in tackles (138) and interceptions (3). With Wentz out the Eagles must rely on their rushing attack to win this game. Jones will be flying from sideline to sideline wreaking havoc all afternoon. If Jones can slow down the Eagles rushing attack it gives the Falcons a huge advantage. I expect Jones to have double-digit tackles and with Foles behind center the opportunity to have a game changing interception isn’t out of the realm of possibility.