Who's Hot, Who's Not Heading into Divisional Round of NFL Playoffs
With the first round of the NFL playoffs now in the record books, it's time to take a look at which advancing team's players are "Hot" and which ones are "Not" as we head into the divisional round of the postseason.
Even though the winning team managed to come out victorious in a hard-fought battle, it sure doesn't remove it from having some guys who just didn't cut it that week. In this slideshow, we will find out which advancing players were firing on all cylinders and which ones will likely need a pep talk at some point in the middle of the week.
After all, the NFL is a game of emotions and momentum. The players who can ride the wave of confidence into the next week often stand a good chance for repeat success, while the players who are struggling need to turn it around.
Hot: Anquan Boldin, Ravens
On Sunday, Anquan Boldin was playing at a level we haven't seen in what feels like years. But as they say, big players make big plays in big games, and that's exactly what Boldin did against the Colts.
Boldin made several big catches in this win-or-go-home playoff matchup, including an incredible catch between two defenders downfield.
On the day, he finished with five catches for a franchise-record 145 yards and a touchdown.
There is no questioning Boldin's positive momentum heading into Denver. While most experts had already written him off as a receiving threat downfield, he proved his critics wrong over the weekend. He even managed to get behind a defender and snag a beautiful lob that landed perfectly over his shoulder.
Not: Terrell Suggs, Ravens
"T-Sizzle" as he calls himself, didn't seem to bring his usual playoff intensity to the matchup against the Colts. It would seem reasonable to deduce he'd be licking his chops, considering he was going against a rookie quarterback with a struggling offensive line and no playoff experience. Unfortunately, this intensity didn't seem to be reflected in the actual game.
Terrell Suggs is a great player who is coming off a major injury that sidelined him for the first half of the season. Although it's good to have him back in a Ravens uniform, he really hasn't shown the level of destructive play he did a year ago while winning league Defensive MVP.
Hopefully Suggs can shake his negative momentum heading into the Denver game, because the Ravens are going to need every able body playing at a high level in order to pull off the upset.
Hot: Bernard Pierce, Ravens
Barnard Pierce went into the playoffs already carrying some impressive momentum that likely carried over into his fantastic game in Wild Card action.
He was able to tear up the Colts on Sunday with 103 yards on only 13 carries.
It will be interesting to see if head coach John Harbaugh increases his workload as the Ravens head into Denver for the divisional round.
Not: Ray Rice, Ravens
Not only was Ray Rice outperformed by his understudy on Sunday, he also lost two crucial fumbles to slip away from him, which gave the Colts a chance to keep this game close.
Rice ran the ball 15 times for 70 yards and no touchdowns, but it was the fumbles that really hurt his momentum heading into next week.
He may see his carries reduced next week, considering the way Pierce stepped up to the plate in a critical ballgame. Besides, coaches are forever wary putting the ball in the hands of a runner who has been coughing it up lately—especially during playoff time.
Hot: Paul Kruger, Ravens
When you're on fire, you're on fire, and that's exactly what Paul Kruger was in Sunday's game.
On the day, Kruger ended up with 2.5 sacks and relentless play all day long, including one forced fumble and consistent pressure on the quarterback.
It's been a productive year for Kruger thus far, so look for him to be a key for any possibility of a Ravens upset against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
Not: Ray Lewis, Ravens
Sure, it was nice to see Ray Lewis out on the field in uniform for what is likely the last time ever in Baltimore, but his actual effectiveness is clearly not what it used to be.
Lewis did make a few nice plays and even led the team in solo tackles with nine. However, his age limitations were very noticeable throughout the day. His physical strength in shedding blocks and ability to move in space were very compromised, as he was seen on the ground all day.
Lewis even did something I've never seen in his entire career: He actually dropped an easy interception that landed right in his bread basket like a gift from God.
Lewis' return is an inspiring story, and he does still have immense value as a defensive quarterback and overall team leader.
Hot: Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
One of the toughest tasks in the NFL is having to tackle Marshawn Lynch. Here is a guy who runs defenders over like a bowling ball every carry for four quarters straight. The Redskins had their hands full trying to stop Lynch, who was clearly in full "Beast Mode" on Sunday.
For the game, Marshawn accumulated 132 hard-fought yards on 20 carries, along with a touchdown. His ability to wear down an entire defense is a force to be reckoned with. The Falcons defense will have to strap up their helmets extra tight next week in preparation for four quarters of Lynchsanity.
Not: Sidney Rice, Seahawks
Sidney Rice was held to only one catch all game, and he dropped another big one late.
If the Seahawks are going to make a legitimate run at the Super Bowl, they'll have to get more production out of their receivers across the board, especially from Rice, who has the size and ability to make for a dynamic target.
Rice had difficulty separating from the Redskins secondary all night, but he might be the type of wideout who is better served being thrown open, where he is given the opportunity to fight for the ball with his big body.
Hot: Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Russell Wilson has been hot all season long, and things were no different on Sunday against Washington. Seattle has done a fantastic job utilizing his talents well in this offense, and his ability to be efficient in the red zone is extremely impressive. During the regular season, Wilson had thrown 18 touchdowns in the red zone and zero interceptions.
For the Wild Card Round, Russell produced marginal passing numbers, but he didn't throw a single interception and also managed a critical 67 yards on the ground. His ability to manage the game was impressive for a rookie quarterback, to say the least, and has his momentum running hot headed into the divisional round of the playoffs.
Hot: J.J. Watt, Texans
J.J. Watt is having arguably the most dominating season a defensive lineman has ever had in the history of the game. This guy has wreaked havoc on opposing offenses, and his most recent victims were the Cincinnati Bengals.
Watt's actual stats for the day were decent with five solo tackles and a sack, but his ability to be endlessly disruptive denotes his true value. J.J. is the clear defensive MVP of the the NFL and is only in his second year.
Not: Connor Barwin, Texans
Connor Barwin's impact against the Bengals was not exactly what it should've been. On the day, he had two solo tackles and one missed tackle. That ratio is not very impressive by anyone's standards. Clearly, Barwin is is going to have to step his game up moving forward.
On the season, Connor has only three sacks. With the emphasis teams are putting toward stopping Watt, Barwin will need to take better advantage of the one-on-one matchups and find a way to be more disruptive.
In a list of who is "Hot" and who is "Not," Barwin is definitely not.
Hot: Arian Foster, Texans
Houston went into the Wild Card Round with the plan to rely heavily on its most consistent offensive weapon. That man was Arian Foster, and he did more than live up to expectations. Foster ran for 140 yards on 32 carries with one rushing touchdown.
Foster's ability to see an opening in the defense and cut back into a hole before it closes is a rare gift for a back of his size. He possesses the vision and physical ability to make any defense worry. It is because of these reasons that Foster is heating up more than ever—and just at the right time of year.
Not: Kevin Walter, Texans
Houston's passing game has been looking rather anemic over the last month or so. This momentum continued into the Wild Card Round as Matt Schaub struggled to get the ball to targets down the field.
Kevin Walter had four catches for a meager 26 yards on the game, which is not what the team needs out of its No. 2 wideout. In order for things to heat up for Walter, he needs to produce at least 50 yards receiving, and a touchdown or even two would be a nice bonus.
Hot: Duane Brown, Texans
Duane Brown refused to give up a single sack all game long. As a matter of fact, from all accounts, he seemed to keep his defenders far from his quarterback all day. This is nothing new from the Pro Bowler.
Whoever Brown faces in New England will have a hard time getting anywhere against him, which has been the case all season long.
Not: Wade Smith, Texans
From the extreme of Duane Brown to almost the exact opposite, we transition to a guy who had his struggles consistently throughout the day. Wade Smith has been a decent addition to the offensive line for the most part this season, but last weekend wasn't one of his best outings.
Smith's biggest issue against Cincy was against the run. He failed consistently at locking up his assigned target and would often let his guy disrupt the effectiveness of the play.
Hot: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Aaron Rodgers typically plays some of his best ball around this time of year, so it should be no surprise that he looked extremely sharp and prepared in his matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.
Rodgers completed 23 of 33 passes for 274 yards and a touchdown, which ended up being more than enough to overcome the Joe Webb-led Vikings.
Perhaps the best stat of the night for Rodgers is that he didn't throw a single interception. His ability to move around the pocket and extend the play makes him one of the most dangerous weapons in the entire NFL.
After all, he wasn't named the MVP of the league for nothing last year.
Not: Ryan Grant, Packers
Ryan Grant has struggled to produce throughout most of the season. His momentum appears to be consistently caught in a negative realm.
Against the Vikings, Grant carried the ball seven times for a total of seven yards. Those numbers are hardly inspiring and only contribute to the ongoing struggles Green Bay has had in trying to establish the run. This may end up costing the Packers their season if they simply cannot generate production on the ground.
It will be up to Grant to try to reverse his current momentum and step his game up. This could be his last shot in the league if he doesn't show something soon.
Hot: Clay Matthews, Packers
Clay Matthews generated two sacks on the day, including a crucial sack-fumble where he also recovered the ball. That turnover essentially sealed the deal for Green Bay.
Matthews had to go against Matt Kalil for most of the day and still managed to have a strong impact.
These two young talents will presumably be seeing a whole lot more of each other, considering they reside within the same division and have many more years left in their careers. But on this particular weekend, Matthews definitely got the best of their head-to-head competition.
Not: A.J. Hawk, Packers
For an interior linebacker, A.J. Hawk struggled mightily to find his way to the ball against the Vikings. Usually, the team's middle linebacker will lead in tackles simply based on the opportunity to roam from sideline to sideline. But Hawk was only in on a couple tackles all game long.
Hawk is far from hot heading into the divisional round of the playoffs and could present himself as more of a liability than an asset if he doesn't take major strides moving forward.