NFL Playoffs 2017: Chris Simms' All-NFL Wild-Card Team

Chris SimmsNFL Lead AnalystJanuary 10, 2017

NFL Playoffs 2017: Chris Simms' All-NFL Wild-Card Team

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    If you didn't enjoy watching blowouts during Wild Card Weekend, you're not alone.

    But never fear! The top-seeded playoff teams are ready to suit up, and judging by the NFL's recent playoff history, they're more powerful than they have been in some time.

    Consider the last three Super Bowl matchups: Broncos-Panthers, Seahawks-Patriots and Seahawks-Broncos. All three pitted the AFC's No. 1 seed against the NFC's. There wasn't a wild-card team to be found when the dust settled in the playoff bracket.

    So the phrase we hear repeatedly during the postseason—"just find a way to get in and anything can happen"—hasn't been true in the last few years. I view it as a correction in the playoff market. Champions like the 2007 Giants, 2010 Packers and 2012 Ravens made us wear wild-card-colored glasses and believe they were the hottest teams during their respective runs. Momentum was a serious metric of playoff success for that era.

    It looks like we're in a different era now. As a former player, adding another bye week to the marathon season is so pivotal. The best NFL teams this time of year are the healthiest and freshest. Maybe that means the wild card is less of a wild card from this point on.

QB: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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    Simply unreal.

    We're now beyond the point of comprehension when it comes to Aaron Rodgers' play. He's performing football miracles. Notre Dame's "Touchdown Jesus" has nothing on No. 12.

    Case in point: Rodgers' Hail Mary mastery—a play named strictly for its steep improbability. But hey, this is Green Bay. Rodgers can fling a ball 60 yards in the air with seconds on the clock and erase an entire half of offensive struggles.

    The Giants were screwed from the moment that long bomb hit Randall Cobb's hands. Rodgers heaved four scoring throws in total. He toyed with Big Blue's secondary with his legendary pocket mobility. And he ended the game with 362 passing yards, despite facing New York's tough secondary and not accomplishing much for the first quarter-and-a-half.

    We're watching the greatest quarterback ever here, folks. Just sit back and believe in him.

RB: Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    You think Le'Veon Bell was revved up for his first playoff game ever?

    So did the Dolphins.

    The soon-to-be Steelers franchise player, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, speaking during NFL GameDay Morning interview, picked up right where his regular season left off. When offensive coordinator Todd Haley realized Miami was unable to stop him, he fed Bell even more.

    The end result? A 31-touch afternoon (29 carries, two catches), highlighted by a 10-play drive at the end of the first quarter and start of the second during which Bell carried the ball on every snap. Aside from one goal-line tackle, Bell's shortest (again, shortest) gain on that march was five yards.

    Bell averaged almost six yards a carry on Wild Card Weekend, thanks in large part to his otherworldly patience. On one second-half run, No. 26 came to a full stop before realizing his original path was about to open up. You don't see that from many other guys.

RB: Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks

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    Now available in all Seattle-area stores: It's Beast Mode Light!

    Thomas Rawls' impression of Marshawn Lynch secured him a spot on this week's All-22 team. He even got the most important part down: According to Pro Football Focus, more than half of Rawls' 161 total rushing yards came after the first Lions defender made contact with him (see: this second-quarter carry).

    That's an important stat for any successful running back. It's paramount for one who plays behind a run-blocking line in Seattle no scout would label as impressive. Like his predecessor, Rawls can make special things happen.

WR: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Name the only receivers in this century to post two receiving touchdowns of 50-plus yards in the same postseason game.

    You have Randy Moss in the 2000 playoffs. You have Antonio Brown in the 2016 playoffs. And that's it.

    Brown's Wild Card Weekend needs no further context. Like Moss, the Steelers star was physically dominant. His touchdowns looked easy because he made them look easy.

    Take Brown's second score: a 62-yard catch-and-run generated from a 10-yard slant. Only Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. have the speed and acceleration to turn that play into a touchdown. No. 84 hardly had to break stride as he broke free from a diving Tony Lippett and right by a safety.

WR: Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks

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    Consider the text message exchange between Doug Baldwin and Steve Smith a cellular passing of the torch—from one No. 89 to another.

    Seattle's top receiver is proving to be a menace in his own right. He's tough, physical and doesn't let balls touch the turf. Even if he has to pin them against his rear end, they're going down in the box score as a catch.

    There might not be a hotter receiver in the game (stop me if you heard that before) than Baldwin. He has at least 10 catches in two of his last three outings. He was a third-down machine for Russell Wilson. Hell, he even caught a touchdown intended for someone else.

WR: Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers

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    Go ahead and trust Aaron Rodgers on this one.

    The Packers offense does run better with No. 18 in the fold. And the NFL's history books back that up, as Randall Cobb is now tied for the most receiving touchdowns (three) in one playoff game.

    For years to come, we'll remember Cobb cashing in on Rodgers' latest Hail Mary heave. But we should also note the vicious downfield fake he put on Giants cornerback Trevin Wade at the end of the third quarter and his posterization of Eli Apple in the fourth. Both went for Packers scores.

    Packers receivers aren't known for their separation skills. But if Cobb can change that for a few more games, we'll see Green Bay separate itself from the rest of the NFC.

WR: Paul Richardson, Seattle Seahawks

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    Doug Baldwin can't be the only Seahawks receiver on this All-22 wild-card team. His teammate deserves a spot for catching everything thrown his way.

    Paul Richardson had a Chris Matthews-type coming-out party, including that amazing touchdown snag you've seen 60 times. Where was this in the regular season?

    Put that potentially-illegal-but-still-amazing catch off to the side for a moment. Richardson's other two catches were less acrobatic but even more impressive. From what I've seen on film, Russell Wilson trusts him to go up and make plays.

    Those plays couldn't have been more timely. The Seahawks needed outside help with Tyler Lockett down—and they got it in a big way from P-Rich.

OL: Duane Brown, Houston Texans

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    Duane Brown was in a very different situation one calendar year ago.

    Remember: Houston didn't have its prized left tackle available for the 2015 wild-card bout it hosted against the Kansas City Chiefs. That game ended up as a 30-0 blowout.

    Fast-forward to 2016. Was Khalil Mack dominant on Brown's side? What about Bruce Irvin on the other side? Brown was back on the blind side and didn't allow either Raiders linebacker to take down Brock Osweiler. That production spilled over to the Texans' other four blockers, as Osweiler wasn't sacked once.

OL: Justin Britt, Seattle Seahawks

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    Let's list all the positions Justin Britt has manned since he arrived in Seattle.

    He started off as a rookie right tackle. In 2015, the team moved him to guard. And now he’s Russell Wilson’s acting batterymate at center. He’s Pete Carroll’s most consistent blocking chess piece.

    And he might be better off for playing all three spots. Britt was a better and more mobile blocker than any other Seahawk last weekend—probably because he understands the assignment of every other lineman firsthand. He looked like a guard or tackle when he peeled off blocks and reached the second level on Thomas Rawls' runs.

OL: David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    You can stand slack-jawed at Le'Veon Bell's patient running all game long. I look at the blocking in front of him.

    More often than not, when No. 26 breaks off a long carry, it involves David DeCastro finding someone to block and staying on him until the whistle blows.

    Bell's patience is a byproduct of DeCastro's dominance. Against Miami and Ndamukong Suh, he acted as both a straight-up blocker and pulling guard. And because defenders find it so damn hard to shed him, it allows Bell to take his time to see opening holes. DeCastro is the guy who's opening them, though.

OL: Mark Glowinski, Seattle Seahawks

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    Not all Seahawks blockers are created equal.

    Mark Glowinski was the exception to Seattle's largely poor offensive line play. He was more than serviceable in pass protection against Detroit's big, strong interior linemen—blocking Haloti Ngata and A'Shawn Robinson is no walk in the park.

    I'm singling Glowinski out for his run blocking, though. Ngata and Robinson are both big dudes, but Seattle could trust in its starting guard. In almost every breakaway Thomas Rawls run, Glowinski either got to the second level in straight-zone runs or pulled successfully in counter-looks. Plus, he was nearly flawless in the double-team trade, hitting one Lions block-eater with Justin Britt before peeling off to the second level.

DL: Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans

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    It's time for the cameras to turn away from pompom-waving J.J. Watt.

    They should focus their attention solely on the true star of Houston's defense. His name is Jadeveon Clowney, and this is his show now.

    Just ask the Raiders, who didn't heed the warning signs when big No. 90 swatted Connor Cook's first pass out of the air. Cook tested Clowney's side two pass attempts later and—wouldn't you know it—Clowney tipped it, this time for a pick to set Houston up in point-blank range.

    Other statistics might not reflect his dominance. They rarely do. Clowney was the best defender on a field he shared with Khalil Mack.

DL: Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders

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    Khalil Mack's role in Wild Card Weekend was that of a trash collector.

    With laser vision. And superhuman strength. And a Terminator visor to show where Texans blocking schemes were vulnerable.

    Mack cleaned up after 10 other Raiders last weekend, but you won't find his impact simply by looking at a traditional box score. Trust me—he was a beast in two of his favorite categories: hurrying the quarterback and setting the edge.

    Houston tried and failed to block Mack with tight ends. So he was around Brock Osweiler all afternoon long, forcing quick and sometimes errant throws. When Osweiler decided to hand off, he took tackle Chris Clark for a ride Texans players will laugh about come film study.

    The true sign of a Mack attack? When receiver Will Fuller took a bubble screen on the outside and had to dodge No. 52 almost immediately, letting other Raiders swarm in for the tackle.

DL: Damon Harrison, New York Giants

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    There's a reason why Snacks is an All-Pro, people.

    Maybe Green Bay didn't get the memo. Because their fourth-down run right at Damon Harrison was downright disrespectful of his immense run-stuffing abilities. There's no one quite like him in football.

    For a quarter and change, Harrison led the way on what looked like a Giants upset bid. He was instrumental in providing the push needed to keep Aaron Rodgers retreating and not scrambling upfield. He deserves some recognition on a defense that ran out of gas and out of playmakers but had the right plan in place.

DL: Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions

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    Two words define Ezekiel Ansah's Wild Card Weekend: "What if?"

    After all, Ansah tallied two sacks, two tackles for loss, nine tackles and five hits on Russell Wilson. He was a nightmare against a Seahawks line that was lucky to have surrendered no more than what it did. But...what if the Lions had this kind of production from their sack artist for 16 regular-season games?

    We'll find the answer out soon. Ansah looked unfettered by the pesky shoulder and ankle injuries that held him to only two regular-season sacks. It should be his year in 2017.

LB: Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

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    The NFL's tackling king was at it again.

    Bobby Wagner led all players with 167 (167!) tackles through 16 games. Adding another 10 in Seattle's wild-card win is pretty much par for the course. And eight for those 10 were all by himself in the open field.

    So he was everywhere—including in Detroit's backfield with K.J. Wright when Detroit went for it on fourth down in the second quarter. A few plays later, his team scored its first of three touchdowns.

    That's no coincidence. The Seahawks defense might be known for its secondary play, but it runs through Wagner in the middle.

LB: Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Bud Dupree introduced himself to a national audience with a thud. Truth be told, he's been hunting quarterbacks like that since he returned from an early-season abdominal injury.

    No defense has more sacks since Week 11 than the Steelers do. Dupree, the best pass-rusher on the team, is at the center of that sacking renaissance. He can also cover and set the edge against a tight end like Dion Sims.

    That bone-crushing hit on Matt Moore was just the loudest play Dupree made. He also picked up a sack, a quarterback hit and a hurry on Wild Card Weekend, per PFF. Watch out for this guy moving forward.

LB: Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans

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    Houston's best postseason pass-rusher isn't named Clowney or Watt.

    His name is Mercilus—a fitting name for a guy who doesn't care about the well-being of the blockers in front of the Texans. This team's regular-season sack leader just finds a way to get after passers.

    He did it last postseason against Alex Smith (3.0 sacks). He did it again with two Connor Cook takedowns. He was also a vicious run defender, pulling back Raiders ball-carriers three times for a loss. And he did it against one of, if not, the best blocking group in football. You couldn't miss him on film.

    He'll get more opportunities if the Patriots shade to fellow All-22er Jadeveon Clowney's side, as the Raiders did in the third quarter of Wild Card Weekend. Mercilus can clean up against single blocks with no problem.

LB: James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    No 38-year-old should be able to do what James Harrison still does.

    But his age is not unlike his storied weightlifting routines. It keeps going up, and No. 92 keeps doing amazing things I wouldn't believe unless I saw them.

    Remember: Miami had a real chance to cut into Pittsburgh's lead on the 8-yard line right before halftime. Then it got Harrison'd. Pittsburgh's old man faked zone coverage, blew right by Miami's Branden Albert, slammed into Matt Moore and forced a drive-ending fumble that preserved Pittsburgh's two-score lead.

    Harrison's final stat line? Ten tackles, 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hits. No one told me the new year we were heading into was 2009.

DB: Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks

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    What Kam Chancellor does on any given snap is amazing. Wild Card Weekend was just more of the same.

    Seattle asked Chancellor to come down in the box and play as a de facto middle linebacker on first and second down. Then, when Detroit needed to pass, he trotted back out to safety and played coverage. How many catches did Eric Ebron have? Two?

    That's all because No. 31 is one of the NFL's rangiest and most versatile players. His coverage on the back end can decide how much of an impact Earl Thomas' loss makes. On Saturday, it was hardly a factor.

DB: A.J. Bouye, Houston Texans

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    The Texans better ensure every locker-room television is tuned to NFL Network next week in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

    A.J. Bouye got his motivation from a wild-card pregame show, as he told reporters after the game, and never looked back. He drew Amari Cooper—the receiver some talking heads said he couldn't cover—and held him to two catches for 10 yards. That's called blanket coverage, people.

    Bouye wasn't at a disadvantage against Michael Crabtree (33 yards on two catches), either. In fact, Oakland receivers might've had alligator arms because they were too busy calculating how to avoid Bouye next.

DB: Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks

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    Matthew Stafford tested his side of the field only once.

    The other times? Richard Sherman barely merited a glance; Detroit’s quarterback was going somewhere else with the football and not testing the leader of the Legion of Boom.

    Sherman was unreal in Seattle’s two favorite forms of coverage: man-to-man and Cover 3 Press Bail. He used both to single out former teammate Golden Tate, who had a quiet night as Stafford’s blanketed top receiver. Other teams might need to offer up their top receivers if it means avoiding a Sherman pick.

Full Wild Card Weekend All-22 Team

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    QB: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

    RB: Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

    RB: Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks

    WR: Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks

    WR: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

    WR: Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers

    WR: Paul Richardson, Seattle Seahawks

    OL: Justin Britt, Seattle Seahawks

    OL: Duane Brown, Houston Texans

    OL: David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers

    OL: Mark Glowinski, Seattle Seahawks

    DL: Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans

    DL: Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders

    DL: Damon Harrison, New York Giants

    DL: Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions

    LB: Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh Steelers

    LB: Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans

    LB: James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers

    LB: Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

    DB: A.J. Bouye, Houston Texans

    DB: Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks

    DB: Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks