NFL Playoffs 2014: Biggest Playmakers to Watch in Divisional Round

Jasper SchererAnalyst IIJanuary 6, 2014

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28: Earl Thomas #29 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates after the 14-9 victory over the the St. Louis Rams at Edward Jones Dome on October 28, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The 2014 NFL playoffs are in full swing, and we've already seen some monster performances, despite being just one round in.

There was Andrew Luck, who had 443 passing yards and four touchdowns to help the Indianapolis Colts pull off a miracle comeback Saturday. Or perhaps you'd prefer Colin Kaepernick and his 98 rushing yards (325 total) against the Green Bay Packers. And don't forget Mark Ingram's 114 total yards and a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Now that the first round is in the books, it's time to look ahead to the divisional round. Here are four playmakers poised to make a difference in their respective matchups.


Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 22:  Running back Ryan Mathews #24 of the San Diego Chargers carries the ball against the Oakland Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium on December 22, 2013 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Ryan Mathews came into the playoffs red-hot, with 473 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the final four weeks of the season. He was understandably slowed against the Cincinnati Bengals' top-notch defense, with 52 yards on 13 carries, but that also had to do with an ankle injury that bothered him throughout the second half.

But Mathews expects to play Sunday against the Denver Broncos, per Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego, and his team will certainly need him. The only offensive player on the Chargers who has been hotter lately is quarterback Philip Rivers, who will likely see plenty of increased coverage considering how well he's been playing

It's also worth noting that Mathews put up 127 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Broncos during their last meeting. Look for another big performance from the San Diego running back.


Earl Thomas, FS, Seattle Seahawks

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 22:  Cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates with free safety Earl Thomas #29 after making an interception against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field on December 22, 2013 in Seattle, Washington.  (P
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

After a breakout season that including the honor of being a first-team All-Pro, Thomas will receive his biggest test of the season against the New Orleans Saints Saturday.

With Drew Brees throwing passes and the task of limiting the Saints' plethora of receiving weapons (Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Darren Sproles, etc.), he will certainly have his hands full.

The Seahawks will certainly rely on Thomas, perhaps the NFL's best safety, to use his incredible closing speed and ability to make quick reads to stop Brees and the Saints offense. Judging by Week 13's results, when Brees was held to 147 passing yards on 38 attempts, Thomas and the Seahawks should be just fine.


Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 04:  Running back Donald Brown #31 of the Indianapolis Colts carries the ball against the Kansas City Chiefs during a Wild Card Playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 4, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

With the addition of Trent Richardson proving to be an unmitigated disaster for the Colts, they've since turned to Donald Brown to carry the load at running back.

The New England Patriots will likely load up on stopping the Colts' passing attack in light of Andrew Luck's 443 passing yards and four touchdowns on Saturday. That means Indianapolis will rely on Brown to carry a lot of the load.

Additionally, the Patriots rank 30th in the NFL at stopping the run, which means Brown should have an exceptionally easy time rushing the ball.

It all points toward a breakout game for Brown in the divisional round against the Patriots.


Anquan Boldin, WR, San Francisco 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 23:  Wide receiver Anquan Boldin #81 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates against the Atlanta Falcons during a game at Candlestick Park on December 23, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Despite the return of Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin hasn't seen much of a decrease in his targets. In fact, Crabtree's return should actually help Boldin's numbers because the attention now shifts to the Niners' No. 1 receiver. Just look at Week 17 when Boldin had nine catches and 149 yards. In total, he posted 549 receiving yards in the final six games of the season. 

While his production tapered off a bit in Sunday's game against the Packers (three catches, 38 yards), look for Boldin to have another big performance in the divisional round against the Carolina Panthers.

Most importantly, Boldin can put up serious numbers in the playoffs. The Niners know that from experience, as they lost the Super Bowl last year in large part due to his 104 yards and a touchdown. Now, he'll have a chance to do it again with the team he helped beat.

“Anquan Boldin is a football player,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, via Kevin Patra of “Let me say it again, Anquan Boldin is a football player. And, that sums up everything. That’s the highest compliment you could give somebody that plays the game of football.”

Harbaugh might not have added much insight with his quote, but it showed he has confidence in his receiver to once again lead his team deep in the playoffs. This time, Harbaugh certainly hopes Boldin can help the 49ers win instead of proving to be a thorn in their side.


Statistics courtesy of ESPN.