There’s a lot of excitement about the rookie quarterback battles taking place this weekend. However, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson have occupied enough headlines this year that anyone watching Wild Card Weekend should know to look out for them.
The NFL playoffs are where stars and villains are made, so going into the playoffs as a star doesn’t guarantee success for anyone. Nevertheless, there are players who have turned in stellar performances all year and should command attention in the postseason.
Leon Washington, KR, Seattle Seahawks
With eight touchdowns from kick returns this year, Washington has given the Seahawks that extra edge that has helped them to dominate teams in the regular season.
Redskins kicker Kai Forbath has been exceptional on field goals, but his kickoffs have sometimes fallen short. The stage is set for a big return from Washington, and the onus will be on Redskins special teams Pro Bowler Lorenzo Alexander to stop him.
This game is definitely the one to watch, and the battle of the quarterbacks is just the start. The two teams play a similar brand of football, and are two of the most exciting in the league.
It promises to be a close game, so special teams could be a deciding factor. The sight of Washington breaking off a big return has been great to see all year, and the fans at FedEx Field will be watching just for that.
J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
Watt has been immense along the Texans defensive line this year, and there’s no evidence to suggest that the game against the Bengals will be any different.
Watt has 81 tackles, 20.5 sacks and 42 QB hits for the regular season, and the Bengals have allowed 46 sacks (via ProFootballWeekly.com).
These sorts of numbers means that Watt is expected to dominate the game—in fact it could even be considered a disappointing performance if he doesn’t—and Bengals QB Andy Dalton could be in for a long day.
The Bengals pass-protection has been lacking at times, and Watt will hope to expose this. If the Texans are to make a run in the postseason, they just need Watt to live up to his own standards.
Trent Williams, OT, Washington Redskins
Williams earned his first Pro bowl nod this year, which capped off a great return from a 4-game suspension at the end of last season for repeatedly failing drug tests.
Williams needed to protect the team’s franchise quarterback this year, and he has done an outstanding job. Griffin can have complete confidence in his blindside protector, despite the fact that Williams has been playing injured since Thanksgiving.
Seahawks rush end Chris Clemons will be looking to get through Williams and bring down Griffin, especially with the recent doubts about the rookie quarterback’s mobility.
It won’t be easy, however, as Williams has already kept the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul at bay and is eager to prove himself as one of the best tackles in the game.
If Griffin is granted the time to make his reads and find his receivers, the game could swing Washington’s way. The play of Williams is crucial to this, so look for him to assert himself early.