NFL Playoff Picture: 20 Best Players Left in the Postseason

WesAnalyst IJanuary 12, 2012

NFL Playoff Picture: 20 Best Players Left in the Postseason

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    Tim Tebow was named the most popular active professional athlete according to a poll run by this month.

    Too bad the "Mile-High Messiah" won't crack the top-20 on this list and he probably wouldn't make the list if it was extended to the top-50 players remaining in the playoffs.

    Yes, he wins games. But, he's not in the same class as the rest of the players on this list. If you want him included, try to figure out who gets left out.

    Leaving him off the list has nothing to do with hate. If that was the case Eli Manning and the rest of the Giants wouldn't be found. It has everything to do with who I would want on my team in the playoffs.

    And don't get carried away about who is having the better year either or who the MVP is. One needs to consider past performance along with how well the player is performing right now. 

No.20: Victor Cruz

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    Victor Cruz was doing bupkus until the Giants were ravaged by injuries and traveled to Philadelphia.

    He lit up the Eagles for 110 yards and two touchdowns on three catches. Cruz proved it wasn't an aberration as he finished third in the NFL with 1,536 receiving yards, ninth in receptions with 82 and tied for sixth in touchdowns with nine.

    He's become a go-to target for Eli Manning in clutch situations and he consistently delivers.

    The best thing going for Cruz's stock is his increasing ability to open things up for the rest of the Giants offense.

No.19: Justin Smith

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    San Francisco's defense is arguably the best unit on either side of the ball in the NFL.

    The rules are designed to give offenses an advantage and yet the 49ers are dominating teams right now.

    It's only fitting a couple of their defensive players land on this list.

    First up is Justin Smith.

    Usually players on the d-line excel against the run or pass. Smith is one of the exceptions. He is a run-stuffing defensive tackle more than capable of applying pressure on the quarterback.


No.18: Jason Pierre-Paul

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    Michael Strahan led the New York Giants defense that shocked the world in the 2007 playoffs.

    I don't know how good Jason Pierre-Paul can be. But right now he seems like the kind of player who can carry the Giants past the Packers and into Indianapolis.

    I didn't say he would do, only that he can.

No.17: Wes Welker

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    No one can explain why Wes Welker is great or how he puts up league-leading stats on a consistent basis.

    The only thing everyone can agree on is his place among the best receivers in the game.

    He's tough enough to cross the middle, quick enough to make defenders miss and sure-handed enough to be a reliable target for Tom Brady.

    And when he's not getting his mitts on the ball he draws enough attention for another player on this list to shine.

No.16: Eli Manning

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    Here he is.

    It's tough for an Eagles fan to put him on any top-20 list that doesn't carry a negative connotation.

    Manning looked a little skittish early against Atlanta, but when he settled down he became the kind of player that can make big plays in key moments.

    Given how well he has played this year, especially in the fourth quarter, it's hard to ignore him.

    The only thing that scares me about putting Manning on the list is I know how quickly things can wrong for Manning.

No.15: Von Miller

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    New England's offense will spread out any defense and limit their abilities to make plays.

    It'll be interesting to see how well New England neutralizes the Broncos and Von Miller this time around.

    Miller was constantly wreaking havoc on Ben Roethlisberger last weekend and was a major reason the Pittsburgh offense sputtered in the first half of the game.

No.14: NaVorro Bowman

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    Get ready for the best linebacking combo not only in the playoffs, but the NFL.

    NaVorro Bowman leads the 49ers in tackles with 143 tackles and is arguably having the best season by any linebacker in the NFC.

    He isn't going to be in the backfield racking up sacks. He's going to plug holes and stop the run, which is why the Niners were able to go 14 games without allowing a rushing touchdown.

    His play can turn teams into a one-dimensional offense. Unfortunately for Niners fans, the Saints run that one dimension very well.

No.13: Patrick Willis

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    Patrick Willis' numbers dropped slightly this year, but his play isn't.

    Teams are avoiding Willis and it has led to a spike in Bowman's numbers and success this year. We always gush about quarterbacks who make receivers better.

    What about a linebacker who makes everyone on their defense better?

    That's what Willis does and will continue to do as long as San Francisco can stay alive in the playoffs.


No.12: Johnathan Joseph

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    Wade Phillips is working is magic in Houston this year as the defensive coordinator. He took the team's biggest flaw and turned it into one of the most reliable defensive units in the league.

    The one who deserves a lot more of the credit is Johnathan Joseph.

    He is a legitimate shutdown corner who can ruin Joe Flacco's day if the real Flacco shows up this weekend.

No.11: Ray Rice

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    Ray Rice won't allow the real Flacco to step onto the field though.

    He takes all of the pressure off the inconsistent quarterback and that cannot be valued enough.

    Without Rice on the field there is no way the Ravens hold the second seed in the AFC and there is a decent chance the Ravens would be one-and done in the playoffs.

    He is physical enough to run between the tackles, posses enough speed to gain the edge on the defense and is a reliable receiver out of the backfield. Oh, and he can block the snot out of anyone daring to blitz.

No.10: Charles Woodson

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    Charles Woodson comes up with picks, makes tackles and is the best cornerback in the NFL.

    He probably should be higher, but given the importance of offense I put more stock in other players.

No.9: Darren Sproles

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    Darren Sproles has added another dimension to the Saints' offense this year.

    He is the playmaker out of the backfield that New Orleans has been missing since "Ironhead" Craig Heyward? Sorry, but I needed an old-school Tecmo Super Bowl reference at some point.

    Sproles is an explosive runner who does not need a bunch of carries to get into a rhythm and he is a scoring threat out of the backfield as a receiver. It's the kind of combo that has the Saints offense playing better than any other offense in the NFL.

No.8: Jimmy Graham

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    Jimmy Graham is the new Antonio Gates.

    We hear about his ability to boxout defenders in the endzone and it has given Drew Brees yet another offensive weapon.

    It's scary to think about New Orleans gaining more firepower, but it happened. If the Saints can survive a trip to the west coast it would be fascinating to see how much of a payoff Graham is in the postseason. 

No.7: Rob Gronkowski

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    Tom Brady makes almost anybody look good. Rob Gronkowski is finding that out this year and so is the rest of the NFL.

    Gronkowski has emerged as the best tight end in the league and arguably the best red zone target.

No.6: Clay Matthews

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    If the Packers find a way to pull of the repeat it will be because Clay Matthews found a way to turn the Packers defense into a respectable unit.

    This may be the year where everyone realizes offenses win championships. But, for those who believe in defenses, Matthews is someone who can still prove you right.

No.5: Arian Foster

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    Arian Foster is the best running back in the NFL when he's healthy. And, with his health looking good, he is the best right now.

    Foster is making people forget that T.J. Yates is a major liability under center.

    He is making people forget that Houston is in unfamiliar territory.

    Foster does it because he is one of the few players in the NFL who can score whenever he gets his hands on the ball.

    The only downside for Foster is who he faces this weekend.

No.4: Terrell Suggs

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    Ray who?

    Terrell Suggs is without question the best defensive player in the NFL and will make Arian Foster look more like Steve Slaton when the Texans roll into Baltimore.

    He's physically intimidating and makes every play on the field.

    If there's a big play being made he is going to be emerging from the pile. If someone else comes up clutch you can bet it's because Suggs made it happen.

No.3: Drew Brees

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    There is nothing wrong with being third when there are clearly two other players than you.

    Such is the case for Drew Brees.

    I understand the numbers he puts up and the way he elevates everyone's game around him. We even witnessed his killer instinct against the Detroit Lions.

    But doubt still lingers about how well he can play outside of the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

    He has the chance to prove himself against the Niners this weekend and possibly Green Bay the next.

No.2: Aaron Rodgers

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    Aaron Rodgers won a Super Bowl last year, was a driving force in his team going 15-1 and put up numbers that should earn him the MVP.

    You know what he has to do to become No.1? Win at least one more Super Bowl.

    We can all agree that Rodgers looks like one of the best quarterbacks to play the game. But the way we judge the all-time greats is by winning Super Bowls. Yes, he has one. But he needs to validate it.

No.1: Tom Brady

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    Give me one quarterback to start one game and I'll take Tom Brady. The same holds true if I need a quarterback to engineer a late comeback.

    Brady can and has done everything.

    His defense blows and it doesn't matter.

    His offensive weapons are constantly changing and it doesn't matter.

    He makes everyone better and he has two rings to validate his first Super Bowl win.

    I'm not going that he is the MVP this season because he's not. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees had better seasons this year.But to ignore the past when considering who takes the top spot is foolish.