NFL1000: Reviewing 2017 Divisional Playoffs

Doug Farrar@@BR_DougFarrar NFL Lead ScoutJanuary 17, 2017

NFL1000: Reviewing 2017 Divisional Playoffs

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Throughout the second half of the season and into the playoffs, the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan and the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers have been the NFL's two most efficient and productive quarterbacks

    It seems especially fitting that their teams will face off in the NFC Championship Game. Both quarterbacks made the top five in the NFL1000 divisional-round player rankings, of course, and both quarterbacks were the main reasons their teams advanced.

    No surprise there, and Cian Fahey, our NFL1000 quarterbacks scout, has great write-ups on both players later in this slideshow. But overall, the NFL1000 project is just as much about unearthing less-heralded players and letting you know why their performances are so crucial to the success of their teams.

    David Bakhtiari, Rodgers' left tackle, finished third overall in this week's player rankings, and he was one of the reasons Rodgers wasn't pressured too often. Rodgers was on the receiving end of two sacks, but he was pressured just 12 times on 66 snaps, and the Packers' pass-blocking is one of many reasons No. 12 has seen such a resurgence in the second half of the 2016 season.

    Falcons running back DeVonta Freeman was his team's second-highest ranked player behind Ryan, and for good reason—he riddled Seattle's defense with his versatility, carrying the ball 14 times for 45 yards and adding four catches for 80 yards. It was Freeman, not any of Atlanta's receivers, who led the team in that regard against the Seahawks. Freeman picked up just 35 yards on 11 carries when the Falcons barely beat the Packers in Week 8 of the regular season, and you can bet Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers will be sending his defensive line after Freeman as much as possible.

    Of course, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is in our top 10, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the offensive line that helped Bell to 170 yards on 30 carries.

    Guard David Decastro was the standout, mauling Kansas City Chiefs defenders throughout the game in Pittsburgh's 18-16 win and manhandling multiple defenders on more than one level several times.

    With Ben Roethlisberger's performances falling on the inconsistent side of late, one of the most important matchups in the Steelers AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots will be Bell and that line against New England's young, fierce and underrated defensive front.

    Steelers kicker Chris Boswell ranked 13th overall after setting an NFL postseason record with six field goals, but head coach Mike Tomlin has to know that if he settles for field goals in Foxborough, he'll be watching the Super Bowl at home. He'll also have to hope Big Ben is more on his game, because Bill Belichick's secondary—especially cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Devin McCourty—is ready for any test.

    Part of Bleacher Report's NFL1000 player rating methodology is the ability to look at our grades from week to week (as you, dear reader, can) and suss out which patterns are turning into trends and which are flukes in the relatively small sample size of an NFL season.

    There are many ways to dissect and learn from what the NFL presents on the field every week, and the NFL1000 goes as deep as any to tell you just what's going on out there.

    With a 17-person crew of experienced evaluators, we'll comb through the game tape each week to bring you concise, clear evaluations of every player in the NFL. We'll tell you which rookies are rising and which undrafted players are coming out of nowhere to make an impact. We'll tell you which players are rising and falling in performance and why.

    There is no predetermined narrative with these grades. No mysterious "clutch factor." No tweaked-out quarterback ratings that defy explanation. Our grades are based on pure scouting—and lots of it. We grade the key criteria for each position based on a series of attributes and add in a score for positional importance.

    In the case of a tie, our scouts ask, "Which player would I want on my team?" and adjust accordingly.

    Is it a subjective process? Of course—that's what scouting is, and as we like to say, ties are no fun.

    Each player is evaluated and graded by our crack team of scouts, who possess more than 100 combined years of experience in playing, front-office work, coaching and media. Cian Fahey, John Middlekauff, Marcus Mosher, Mark Schofield, Duke Manyweather, Ethan Young, Joe Goodberry, Justis Mosqueda, Charles McDonald, Zach Kruse, Derrik Klassen, Jerod Brown, Ian Wharton, Kyle Posey, Mark Bullock, Chuck Zodda and Doug Farrar have watched tape for months to bring you these grades based on the game action every week.

    Here are the NFL1000 player grades for the divisional round of the 2016 NFL season.

     

    All advanced stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

Methodology

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The NFL1000 scouts were given a series of important attributes to grade for every player in their positional reviews. Using a grading scale starting at 0 and going up to anywhere from 10 to 40 based on the position and the attribute, our scouts have graded each player based on their own expertise and countless hours of tape review over the years.

    Every NFL player with snaps in offensive and defensive roles is observed and graded based on a multitiered process that marks specific attributes per position. As we're combing through All-22 footage to assess each performance, there are additional factors to consider.

    We adjust for opponent based on the obvious notion that the cornerback we're grading is doing a better job if he's shutting down Antonio Brown than if he's negating the efforts of a seventh-round rookie receiver.

    We also adjust for players with multiple responsibilities in the course of a game and over the course of time. Think of guys like J.J. Watt and Michael Bennett on the defensive line—how they seamlessly switch from gap to gap. Or how cornerbacks such as Chris Harris and Tyrann Mathieu dominate outside and in the slot. Or how receivers such as Doug Baldwin and Larry Fitzgerald bedevil those cornerbacks from multiple field positions.

    That's more important than ever in today's NFL, and we pay attention to it.

    We do not adjust for injuries. If a player is underperforming because of an injury, that's part of his performance, fair or unfair, and it needs to be graded accordingly.

    Grading any player is a subjective process, but with a series of attributes per position and a specific direction as to what to grade and how, we work to make it as definitive as possible.

Top 25 Overall from Divisional Playoffs

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Although a small consolation after their impressive comeback and heartbreaking last-second loss to the Packers, the Cowboys had several players at the top of our divisional-round player rankings.

    Start with left tackle Tyron Smith, who continues to set the standard as an athletic, aggressive pass-blocker. Against Green Bay’s multiple fronts and rushers, Smith allowed just one quarterback hurry—no sacks or hits—in 68 snaps. Dallas’ interior line had a few uncharacteristic issues with the Packers' line games, but Smith was as solid as a rock, which is to be expected.

    It is no surprise that Ezekiel Elliott is near the top of the list this week—that’s been a regular occurrence since Elliott entered the league.

    But a real sign of encouragement for Cowboys fans going forward has to be how Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant hooked up on several deep passes during Dallas’ second-half comeback. That communication hasn’t always been there, but when it is, Dallas’ offense is a true nightmare for opposing defenses. Kudos also to kicker Dan Bailey, safety Byron Jones, center Travis Frederick and Prescott himself, all of whom made this week’s Top 25. The Cowboys’ season may be over, but after two decades of inconsistency, they appear to be a tough out for a long time.

    The worst-feeling NFL players in the state of Texas, however, have to be the guys on Houston’s defense. Especially pass-rushers Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney. Romeo Crennel’s defense gave Tom Brady all he could handle, but there’s no margin for error when your quarterback plays as horribly as Brock Osweiler does.

    Head coach Bill O’Brien and that front office have a major decision to make—the cap hit for cutting Osweiler after just one season into his contract would be severe, but at no time in the 2016 season did Osweiler display the attributes required at the position. The Texans are wasting a top-five defense at the altar of a putrid passing game, and given that the passing game is O’Brien’s expertise, that’s not a good look for anyone involved.

     

    Top 25 Overall from Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerPos.TeamNFL1000 Score
    1Aaron RodgersQBGB86
    2David BakhtiariLTGB83.5
    3Tyron SmithLTDAL83
    4Logan RyanCBNE82
    5Matt RyanQBATL82
    6Mason CrosbyKGB82
    7Dan BaileyKDAL81
    8Whitney Mercilus3-4 OLBHOU80
    9Le'Veon BellRBPIT80
    10Mitchell SchwartzRTKC80
    11Bryan BulagaRTGB79
    12Ezekiel ElliottRBDAL79
    13Chris BoswellKPIT79
    14Byron JonesFSDAL78
    15Dez BryantWRDAL78
    16David DeCastroOGPIT77
    17Jadeveon Clowney3-4 OLBHOU77
    18Travis FrederickCDAL77
    19Dak PrescottQBDAL77
    20Devonta FreemanRBATL77
    21Devin McCourtyFSNE77
    22Duane BrownLTHOU77
    23Nate SolderLTNE76
    24Julian EdelmanWRNE76
    25Marcus GilbertRTPIT76

Quarterbacks

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Save for a fumble early in the fourth quarter and a handful of missed open receivers, Matt Ryan had a great display against the Seattle Seahawks.

    He connected with Julio Jones for a touchdown on a packaged play when he recognized that Jones was given a natural screen because of the defense's alignment. His second touchdown was made easier by Kyle Shanahan's play call but required Ryan to move off his spot in the pocket before delivering a catchable pass to a wide-open receiver. Maybe Ryan's best play of the game came when he beat a blitz to find Devonta Freeman in the third quarter for a huge gain that led to a field goal.

    Russell Wilson was asked to do too much for the Seahawks playing behind an offensive line that was overwhelmed on almost every snap. Wilson showed off impressive mobility to keep plays alive behind the line of scrimmage and scrambled downfield for important plays at different times. Unfortunately, after the first drive, his play couldn't overcome his awful situation. 

    It didn't take Brock Osweiler long to outperform what he did when he last went to Foxborough. The problem is that first display was so horrific that anything would be better. Osweiler was lucky not to come away with multiple interceptions in the first half and limited the offense by missing open receivers downfield over and over again.

    The second half was much of the same before Osweiler compounded his game with an awful interception late in the fourth quarter. While Osweiler held the Texans offense back, Tom Brady helped out with an interception deep in his own territory. He overshot Michael Floyd on a slant route for the interception. A.J. Bouye caught that ball and nearly caught another in the third quarter when he jumped a slant route that Brady forced. The third quarter didn't pass without another interception opportunity, as Brady missed a linebacker in his passing lane for another turnover in Patriots territory.

    Aaron Rodgers set the Cowboys' field alight over the first half of their divisional-round matchup. Rodgers' precision and poise were on full display as he created time behind the line of scrimmage before hitting tight windows with perfect passes over and over again.

    Rodgers opened the second half with a phenomenal throw to Randall Cobb before finishing the drive off with another touchdown to Jared Cook. He followed up with a wayward interception on an inaccurate throw downfield toward Davante Adams. Besides that miss, Rodgers was his typical phenomenal self. The game-winning drive featured three beautiful downfield throws, two of which were dropped by Cook before he pulled in the final one.

    Dak Prescott was overshadowed by Rodgers throughout this game but had plenty of positive moments. Besides a third-quarter drive where he threw an interceptable pass before throwing an interception, he mostly played mistake-free football and showed off the variety in his skill set. Importantly, Prescott responded after the interception and even led a game-tying field-goal drive in the final minutes, only to have it wiped off by Rodgers' general ridiculousness.

     

    Grading Scale

    Acc: Accuracy (Graded out of 25)

    Arm: Arm Strength (Graded out of 25)

    Press: Pressure/run threat (Graded out of 20; pressure weighted at 15, run threat at 5)

    Dec: Decision-Making (Graded out of 20)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

     

    Quarterback Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamAccArmPressDecPosOvr
    1Aaron RodgersGB222515141086
    2Matt RyanATL192115171082
    3Dak PrescottDAL182116121077
    4Russell WilsonSEA152314131075
    5Tom BradyNE162014101070
    6Ben RoethlisbergerPIT151913131070
    7Alex SmithKC141812111065
    8Brock OsweilerHOU10191081057

     

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

Running Backs

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    If Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the NFL, there is a good chance Le’Veon Bell is the next guy in line. Bell has been the best running back for NFL1000 all season, and he proved it again by destroying the Chiefs Sunday at Arrowhead.

    He might be one of the most unique runners this league has ever seen. His patient style is borderline unstoppable, and it doesn’t matter if you have the gap contained, because he is still able to find a hole. Bell can see creases before they even open up. Though the Chiefs struggle at stopping the run, they literally had no chance to stop Bell Sunday. It was as good a performance a running back has had all year long. The Steelers will be underdogs against the Patriots, but it’s not hard to see them winning if Bell has a big game.

    Ezekiel Elliott added to one of the greatest rookie seasons in league history Sunday. He was physically dominant against the Packers, running through and by defenders all game long.

    Elliott’s ability to put his foot in the ground, get vertical and be on the second-level defenders quickly was on full display against Green Bay.

    Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman might be the best running back combo most casual fans in the NFL don’t know about. They combined for over 100 yards on the ground while also adding big plays in the passing game. Freeman is basically uncoverable for linebackers and safeties as a wide receiver. His 53-yard catch pretty much broke Seattle. Coleman is one of the better one-cut runners in the league. Their versatility has been a major reason Atlanta has the No. 1 offense in the NFL and why the Falcons are in position to win the NFC.

    Ty Montgomery was solid against the Cowboys and proved he is more than capable of carrying the load in big games. His ability to function as a wide receiver out of the backfield also is a game-changer for the Packers. If Green Bay makes the Super Bowl, moving Montgomery to running back will be a major reason why.

    Spencer Ware and Thomas Rawls both ran hard in losses but were neutralized because their teams were playing from behind, resulting in limited touches for them.

     

    Grading Scale

    In: Inside Running (Graded out of 25)

    Out: Outside Running (Graded out of 25)

    Rec: Receiving (Graded out of 20)

    Blk: Blocking (Graded out of 20)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

     

    Running Back Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamInOutRecBlkPosOvr
    1Le'Veon BellPIT22201517680
    2Ezekiel ElliottDAL20201617679
    3Devonta FreemanATL19171817677
    4Tevin ColemanATL17191716675
    5Ty MontgomeryGB18171715673
    6Thomas RawlsSEA18171516672
    7Jonathan GrimesHOU17161715671
    8Lamar MillerHOU17171615671
    9Dion LewisNE18161615671
    10Spencer WareKC18151516670
    11LeGarrette BlountNE17161516670
    12Alex CollinsSEA17151615669
    13Alfred BlueHOU15151615667
    14Charcandrick WestKC15141615666
    15James WhiteNE15151515666

     

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • DeAngelo Williams—insufficient snaps
    • Jamaal Charles—injury
    • C.J. Prosise—injury
    • James Starks—inactive

Fullbacks

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Aaron Ripkowski was fantastic again for the Packers in a massive win against the Cowboys. His versatility continues to elevate the Green Bay offense. He averaged six yards per carry and was fantastic in pass protection.

    It’s not easy to block for Aaron Rodgers because of how active he is in the pocket. But Ripkowski has been a hammer and consistent all year long against oncoming blitzers. If the Packers are going to advance to the Super Bowl, Ripkowski will have to continue being an offensive catalyst.

    Anthony Sherman had a solid season and was good against the Steelers. He had a huge first-down catch that put the Chiefs in position to tie the game before a holding penalty ultimately unraveled their season.

    James Develin led all the Patriots running backs with 33 snaps and was good against the Texans. While the Patriots' run game will have to be better next week against the Steelers, Develin will surely be up for the challenge. 

    Cowboys fullback Keith Smith was physical against the Packers Sunday. He didn't play much in 2016, but he played downhill Sunday and consistently located defenders in space. He helped Ezekiel Elliott have another big day in his fantastic rookie season.

     

    Grading Scale

    Blk: Blocking (Graded out of 50)

    Run: Running (Graded out of 25)

    Rec: Receiving (Graded out of 15)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

     

    Fullback Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamBlkRunRecPosOvr
    1Aaron RipkowskiGB441710475
    2Anthony ShermanKC431511473
    3James DevelinNE44159472
    4Keith SmithDAL44158471
    5Marcel ReeceSEA411510470
    6Patrick DiMarcoATL44148470
    7Jay ProschHOU43148469
    8Roosevelt NixPIT42148468

     

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

Wide Receivers

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Despite the heartbreaking loss, Dez Bryant played one of his best games in ages. Bryant caught nine passes for 132 yards and scored twice, but that wasn't all. He drew two different penalties on third downs that kept drives going. Bryant was in a zone in the second half that we haven't seen him reach in some time.

    On the other side of the field, the Packers receivers didn't play much different than they have all year. Davante Adams was open often but was only able to convert his 10 targets into five catches. Randall Cobb looked more explosive than he did earlier in the year, but the Packers receivers as a whole are an underwhelming unit.

    In the matchup in Atlanta, Julio Jones saw a lot of Richard Sherman and was able to beat him for most of the day. Jones' strength and deep speed had Sherman guessing all night.

    For Seattle, Paul Richardson had another fantastiic night. His ability to track the ball down the field with his speed makes for a dangerous deep threat.

    Julian Edelman turned in yet another strong performance for the Patriots Saturday night, catching eight passes for 137 yards. The veteran has a knack for finding space on routes all over the field and remains New England's biggest threat in the passing game. His night would have been even more impressive, but there were two passes that he could not haul in, including a drop on a shallow route in the fourth quarter that came on a third-down play.

    DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V were limited by the Patriots secondary, and perhaps the play of Brock Osweiler. Fuller had a chance for a big play but failed to make an over-the-shoulder catch on a deep route that would have been six points.

    Antonio Brown eclipsed the century mark, catching six passes for 108 yards. His two biggest plays—a vertical route early in the game and a crossing route to ice the game late in the fourth quarter—came with linebacker Justin Houston on him in coverage, an interesting scheme from the Chiefs.

    For Kansas City, the receivers were limited, although rookie Tyreek Hill was open a number of times downfield, and Jeremy Maclin did have a nice catch on a 3rd-and-long after Travis Kelce's personal foul penalty.

     

    Grading Scale

    Route: Route Running (Graded out of 25)

    Hands: Hands (Graded out of 25)

    YAC: Yards After Catch (Graded out of 20)

    Blk: Blocking (Graded out of 20)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

     

    Wide Receiver Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamRouteHandsYACBlkPosOvr
    1Dez BryantDAL21221511978
    2Julian EdelmanNE22211311976
    3Julio JonesATL19181512973
    4Antonio BrownPIT20191311972
    5Taylor GabrielATL18171511970
    6Randall CobbGB18171411969
    7Doug BaldwinSEA17171411968
    8Paul RichardsonSEA18181310968
    9Davante AdamsGB17171311967
    10Mohamed SanuATL17171211966
    11Chris HoganNE18171012966
    12Geronimo AllisonGB16161311965
    13Cole BeasleyDAL17171210965
    14DeAndre HopkinsHOU17171111965
    15Jeremy MaclinKC16171012964
    16Eli RogersPIT15161112963
    17Tyreek HillKC16161210963
    18Chris ConleyKC15151112962
    19Will Fuller VHOU17131111961
    20Jermaine KearseSEA14151211961
    21Terrance WilliamsDAL15151111961
    22Michael FloydNE15141013961
    23Albert WilsonKC15121013959
    24Justin HardyATL14141110958
    25Cobi HamiltonPIT13131013958
    26Brice ButlerDAL14141010957
    27Demarcus AyersPIT13131011956
    28Danny AmendolaNE13131011956
    29Darrius Heyward-BeyPIT12121012955
    30Keith MumpheryHOU13121011955
    31Tanner McEvoySEA12121011954
    32Aldrick RobinsonATL12121011954
    33Lucky WhiteheadDAL12121010953

     

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Wendall Williams—insufficient snaps
    • Sammie Coates—insufficient snaps
    • Braxton Miller—injury
    • Jaelen Strong—injury
    • Markus Wheaton—injury
    • Tyler Lockett—injury

Tight Ends

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Steeler Jesse James caught five passes for 83 yards, was able to find space on dig routes against zone coverage and ran a nice route to make a good play on a fake screen early in the contest.

    Travis Kelce, the top-rated tight end for the NFL1000 project this year, was limited by the Pittsburgh defense. The Steelers did a good job of rotating coverage toward Kelce and limiting his space to operate, and the TE also had a big drop on a vertical route that he followed up with a personal foul penalty. 

    On Saturday night, C.J. Fiedorowicz caught a touchdown for the Texans on a well-designed play-action pass where he was left alone in coverage. That was the biggest play from any of the tight ends in that game, as both Ryan Griffin and Martellus Bennett were limited in their involvement in the passing game for their teams.

    In the NFC, Jared Cook had the best performance of his career. Cook made numerous plays in the passing game, including the catch that will be remembered for years to come. Without Jordy Nelson, Cook became one of Aaron Rodgers' favorite targets. His size and speed in the middle of the field present major problems for defensive coordinators.

    For Dallas, Jason Witten caught his first career postseason touchdown. Although his explosiveness is gone, he still makes an impact in both the running and passing games. Multiple times, Witten found himself on the receiving end of a critical third-down pass from Dak Prescott. 

     

    Grading Scale

    Route: Route Running (Graded out of 20)

    Hands: Hands (Graded out of 25)

    YAC: Yards After Catch (Graded out of 20)

    Blk: Blocking (Graded out of 25)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

     

    Tight End Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamRouteHandsYACBlkPosOvr
    1Jared CookGB17191417673
    2Jason WittenDAL15181218669
    3Jesse JamesPIT15161219668
    4Richard RodgersGB15161317667
    5Jimmy GrahamSEA14171316666
    6Travis KelceKC15151218666
    7C.J. FiedorowiczHOU14151117663
    8Levine ToiloloATL13151117662
    9Martellus BennettNE14141018662
    10Austin HooperATL12151016659
    11Demetrius HarrisKC12121017657
    12Ryan GriffinHOU12121017657
    13David JohnsonPIT10121017655
    14Luke WillsonSEA10121016654
    15Matt LengelNE10121016654
    16Gavin EscobarDAL10121015653

     

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Xavier Grimble—insufficient snaps
    • James O'Shaughnessy—insufficient snaps
    • Stephen Anderson—insufficient snaps
    • Brandon Williams—insufficient snaps
    • Nick Vannett—insufficient snaps
    • Rico Gathers—insufficient snaps
    • Ladarius Green—injury
    • Ross Travis—injury
    • Rob Gronkowski—injury
    • Jacob Tamme—injury
    • Geoff Swaim—injury

Left Tackles

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Much like in Wild Card Weekend against the New York Giants, Green Bay's David Bakhtiari was outstanding against Dallas, which earned him NFL1000's top performer at left tackle for the NFC divisional playoffs.

    The Packers offense got off to an electric start against the Cowboys, and a big reason was the pass protection Bakhtiari and the rest of the offensive line gave Aaron Rodgers and the run blocking provided to keep the Cowboys off balance. At one point, Bakhtiari had to leave the game with what looked like a serious knee injury. But the fourth-year man out of Colorado returned and showed no ill effect of the injury. 

    There wasn't much that separated our top ranking from our second, but Dallas' Tyron Smith, who has battled weekly injuries, showed no sign of weakness Sunday and claimed No. 2. Smith was stellar as a pass protector, surrendering only one pressure in 68 plays, and as a run-blocker, where he helped pave the way for 138 yards on the ground.

    Houston's Duane Brown claimed our No. 3 ranking with his performance against New England. We talked about Brown's solid performance against Oakland in Wild Card Weekend, and it carried over into the AFC Divisional Round against the Patriots. Houston seemed to be its own worst enemy on offense, yet Brown was steady, surrendering two pressures in 69 plays, which is remarkable when you factor in all the obvious pass situations Houston found itself in.

     

    Grading Scale

    Pass: Pass Protection (Graded out of 25)

    Run: Run Blocking (Graded out of 25)

    Power: Power (Graded out of 20)

    Agl: Agility (Graded out of 20)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

     

    Left Tackle Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamPassRunPowerAglPosOvr
    1David BakhtiariGB22.5191519883.5
    2Tyron SmithDAL21201717883
    3Duane BrownHOU19191615877
    4Nate SolderNE20181416876
    5Alejandro VillanuevaPIT19191515876
    6Jake MatthewsATL18191515875
    7Eric FisherKC16181415871
    8George FantSEA13151313862

     

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

Right Tackles

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Kansas City's Mitchell Schwartz checks in as our top-ranked right tackle in the divisional round of the playoffs. He was faced with going head-to-head with Pittsburgh's Bud Dupree, who has come into his own down the stretch, but the second-team All-Pro Schwartz turned in a solid performance, keeping clean in pass protection, surrendering no pressures, sacks or quarterback hits and consistently finishing as a run-blocker. 

    What separated the top two players was that Schwartz consistently finished better than Bryan Bulaga as a run-blocker.

    Bulaga was our second-ranked right tackle and continued his outstanding play. Bulaga provided solid pass protection that seemingly lasted forever and also made impactful blocks in the running game that helped Green Bay average right around five yards per carry. Many believed Bulaga was a snub for the All-Pro team.

    Marcus Gilbert ranked No. 3 and Marcus Cannon No. 4. Both turned in solid performances for Pittsburgh and New England, respectively. We talked about Gilbert throughout the regular season, but Cannon hasn't gotten the mainstream shine he deserves for his performance all year long. Cannon tied with Schwartz as second-team All-Pro.

     

    Grading Scale

    Pass: Pass Protection (Graded out of 25)

    Run: Run Blocking (Graded out of 25)

    Power: Power (Graded out of 20)

    Agl: Agility (Graded out of 20)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

     

    Right Tackle Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamPassRunPowerAglPosOvr
    1Mitchell SchwartzKC22201615780
    2Bryan BulagaGB21191616779
    3Marcus GilbertPIT20191515776
    4Marcus CannonNE19191515775
    5Ryan SchraederATL18191515774
    6Doug FreeDAL16191413769
    7Garry GilliamSEA16161314766
    8Chris ClarkHOU14151413763

     

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

Offensive Guards

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The guard position group as a whole held up well yet again this week, with no grades coming in below 66. David DeCastro stood out among the eight teams and 17 guards that saw action, and his play was a huge factor in Pittsburgh's win.

    A lot is made of Le'Veon Bell's unique and patient running style, and for good reason, but it is made possible because DeCastro and his friends up front hold their blocks for so long. Not only that, but the Steelers offensive line has an incredible feel for how Bell likes to run, and the seamless anticipation between the runner and his blockers is a big reason why they have been so successful on the ground. 

     

    Grading Scale

    Pass: Pass Protection (Graded out of 25)

    Run: Run Blocking (Graded out of 25)

    Power: Power (Graded out of 20)

    Agl: Agility (Graded out of 20)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

     

    Offensive Guard Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamPassRunPowerAglPosOvr
    1David DeCastroPIT18191716777
    2Zack MartinDAL17191814775
    3Andy LevitreATL19161715774
    4Mark GlowinskiSEA18161616773
    5Ramon FosterPIT18161813772
    6Lane TaylorGB18161516772
    7Chris ChesterATL15181714771
    8Shaq MasonNE18161614771
    9Zach FultonKC17161714771
    10Joe ThuneyNE16161516770
    11T.J. LangGB16161714770
    12Germain IfediSEA15171713769
    13Xavier Su'a-FiloHOU14171714769
    14Laurent Duvernay-TardifKC15161416768
    15Oday AboushiHOU16161514768
    16Ronald LearyDAL15161613767
    17Rees OdhiamboSEA13161614766

     

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Jeff Allen—insufficient snaps

Centers

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    George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    Normally solid at center, both the Packers and Patriots overcame poor play at the position in divisional-round wins.

    Corey Linsley struggled to consistently get leverage on reach blocks against the Cowboys' quick interior penetrators, and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli put even more pressure on Linsley by shooting linebackers into interior gaps.

    David Andrews managed to play worse, though, especially in pass protection. Andrews was repeatedly beat off the snap, which is worrying considering the Patriots played at home this week. When Andrews sets a strong base, he is tough to get through, but the Houston front was able to drive off the ball before Andrews could get set. 

     

    Grading Scale:

    Pass: Pass Protection (Graded out of 25)

    Run: Run Blocking (Graded out of 25)

    Power: Power (Graded out of 20)

    Agl: Agility (Graded out of 20)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

     

    Center Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamPassRunPowerAglPosOvr
    1Travis FrederickDAL18201815677
    2Alex MackATL19171716675
    3Maurkice PounceyPIT17191715674
    4Justin BrittSEA18181616674
    5Greg ManczHOU16171714670
    6Mitch MorseKC18141516669
    7Corey LinsleyGB14151614665
    8David AndrewsNE13151613663

     

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

3-4 Defensive Ends

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    In the NFC, the only 3-4 defense left was that of the Packers, who refused to get out of their 4-2 nickel even when the Cowboys used multiple tight ends and extra offensive linemen in their formations. For the most part, Green Bay's defensive ends play more like traditional defensive tackles since they use just two interior linemen.

    Mike Daniels had a solid performance against what many consider to be the best offensive line in a decade-plus, while Dean Lowry held his own as a pass-rushing specialist on long and late downs. The two combined for just three tackles, while Dallas back Ezekiel Elliott had 125 yards, but they weren't the main part of the Packers' ground game issues.

    In the AFC, Kansas City couldn't touch Le'Veon Bell or Ben Roethlisberger all game, and it was its downfall on defense. Pittsburgh should get a good game from Stephon Tuitt this weekend in New England if it follows how Houston exploited the interior of the Patriots offensive line.

    Christian Covington impressed as the Texans kept bringing pressure inside. Covington has developed all season and was one of the positives for Houston as its season ended. 

        

    Grading Scale

    Snap: Snap Explosion (Graded out of 15)

    Rush: Pass Rush (Graded out of 25)

    Run: Run Defense (Graded out of 30)

    Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 20)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

        

    3-4 Defensive End Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamSnapRushRunTklPosOvr
    1Mike DanielsGB12182114772
    2Stephon TuittPIT12162013768
    3Chris JonesKC12161914768
    4Christian CovingtonHOU10181914768
    5Dean LowryGB10171914767
    6Kendall ReyesKC11131915765
    7Joel HeathHOU10131914763
    8L.T. WaltonPIT11121814762
    9Antonio SmithHOU10131713760
    10Jarvis JenkinsKC10141414759

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

4-3 Defensive Ends

13 of 22

    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    The Seahawks once again had the best pass-rushing unit in the NFC this week, though they fell short against the Falcons. The trio of Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark—which might be the best in the league—is out of the playoffs after Bennett and Clark's single sacks weren't enough to slow Atlanta offensively. The pass rush didn't do poorly—though it was slightly neutralized by a strong offensive line—but Seattle's banged-up secondary just couldn't keep the ball in Matt Ryan's hands long enough for Bennett and Co. to get home.

    The Falcons' Brooks Reed received a bump in snaps after Adrian Clayborn left the game with a biceps injury that ended his season. Against Green Bay, Atlanta will really have only a three-end rotation of Reed, Vic Beasley and Dwight Freeney—a 36-year-old on a limited snap count. That could be problematic down the stretch.

    The Cowboys defensive ends struggled against one of the best bookend pairings in the league in David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga of the Packers. David Irving flashed the most potential of the bunch, though DeMarcus Lawrence had moments when he looked like his 2015 self.

    In the AFC, the Patriots used a hybrid defense as they tried to get a pass rush on the edge with Chris Long  and Jabaal Sheard. Whatever they do on the edge hasn't worked, but Trey Flowers has been good on the inside. He's a tough matchup for guards because of his quickness and agility, and when he rushes on the edge, he can offer some power even if he's less effective out there. Flowers is a key piece for New England moving forward. 

        

    Grading Scale

    Rush: Pass Rush (Graded out of 25)

    Run: Run Defense (Graded out of 25)

    Snap: Snap Explosion (Graded out of 20)

    Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 20)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

        

    4-3 Defensive End Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamRushRunSnapTklPosOvr
    1Trey FlowersNE22141415873
    2Michael BennettSEA20151514872
    3Frank ClarkSEA20141614872
    4Vic BeasleyATL21121615872
    5Cliff AvrilSEA20131515871
    6Dwight FreeneyATL20131614871
    7David IrvingDAL20131515871
    8Brooks ReedATL19131515870
    9Jabaal SheardNE20131412867
    10Cassius MarshSEA19121414867
    11DeMarcus LawrenceDAL20121413867
    12Benson MayowaDAL19131314867
    13Tyrone CrawfordDAL19131313866
    14Jack CrawfordDAL18131314866
    15Chris LongNE19121313865

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Randy Gregory—suspension
    • Adrian Clayborn—insufficient snaps

Defensive Tackles

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The divisional round was filled with good play by young, talented defensive tackles. Out of the top 10 players this week, seven of them are either in their first or second year in the NFL. Javon Hargrave is developing into a force for the Steelers at nose tackle, as he continues to slow opposing teams' rushing attacks by commanding the A-gaps. Dontari Poe had his best performance of the season in a losing effort.

    If Saturday's contest against the Patriots was indeed Vince Wilfork's last game, then he should feel comfortable passing the torch to rookie nose tackle D.J. Reader. Reader finished the season strong, with dominating performances against the run and some freakish pass-rush ability for a 335-pound player. Reader teaming up with Joel Heath, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt gives the Texans arguably the most intimidating defensive front in the league.

    We'll have some fun pass-rush opportunities on Championship Weekend, as both games have the potential to be classic shootouts. Hargrave, Kenny Clark, Grady Jarrett and Malcom Brown are going to be forced to shine if their teams want a chance to play in the Super Bowl. 

        

    Grading Scale

    Snap: Snap Explosion (Graded out of 25)

    Rush: Pass Rush (Graded out of 25)

    Run: Run Defense (Graded out of 25)

    Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 15)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

        

    Defensive Tackle Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamSnapRushRunTklPosOvr
    1Javon HargravePIT17162012772
    2Jonathan BabineauxATL17171912772
    3Maliek CollinsDAL19181512771
    4Dontari PoeKC16152111770
    5Malcom BrownNE17151713769
    6Kenny ClarkGB17151614769
    7Jarran ReedSEA15141912767
    8Grady JarrettATL18161511767
    9Terrell McClainDAL15161811767
    10Rakeem Nunez-RochesKC17161610766
    11D.J. ReaderHOU16141712766
    12Alan BranchNE16141711765
    13Ra'Shede HagemanATL16121911765
    14Ahtyba RubinSEA16171410764
    15Tony McDanielSEA16141610763
    16Courtney UpshawATL15141510761
    17Letroy GuionGB15131511761
    18Daniel McCullersPIT13141610760
    19Vince WilforkHOU14131511760
    20Vincent ValentineNE14131411759
    21Tyson JacksonATL14131510759
    22Ben GarlandATL15131310758

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • T.J. Barnes—inactive
    • John Jenkins—inactive

3-4 Outside Linebackers

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney did everything in their power to help the Texans as they tried to upset Tom Brady and the Patriots, but their efforts weren't enough. Mercilus was once again dominant, tallying a sack and three quarterback hits while also helping to break up a deep pass to dangerous running back Dion Lewis. Clowney also had some splash plays—including a vicious hit on Brady—but he wasn't as consistently disruptive as he was against the Raiders in the previous round. 

    The rest of the position group lacked another clear standout. That said, Nick Perry had two quarterback hits—including a near sack—and a crucial pass deflection as the Packers held on in Dallas, while James Harrison and Bud Dupree combined for three tackles for losses and three quarterback hits during the Steelers' win in Kansas City.

    Justin Houston struggled to pressure Ben Roethlisberger, and the Chiefs consistently put him in no-win positions in pass coverage. He twice got beat by Antonio Brown—once on a deep pass on third down and once on the game's deciding play, when Brown snuck behind Houston's zone coverage for the game-sealing third-down conversion.

    Clay Matthews, who struggled to get pressure against Tyron Smith and also whiffed badly on a tackle attempt against Ezekiel Elliott, finished with the week's lowest grade at the position.

        

    Grading Scale

    Rush: Pass Rush (Graded out of 25)

    Run: Run Defense (Graded out of 25)

    Cvg: Coverage (Graded out of 15)

    Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 25)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

        

    3-4 Outside Linebacker Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamRushRunCvgTklPosOvr
    1Whitney MercilusHOU27141219880
    2Jadeveon ClowneyHOU23161020877
    3Nick PerryGB22131020873
    4James HarrisonPIT2312921873
    5Bud DupreePIT22121119872
    6Justin HoustonKC1814619865
    7Tamba HaliKC2111916865
    8Frank ZomboKC18121016864
    9Datone JonesGB1911917864
    10Julius PeppersGB1912717863
    11Akeem DentHOU1611918862
    12Dee FordKC1810916861
    13Clay MatthewsGB1810915860

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

4-3 Outside Linebackers

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The NFL will be without one of its best linebackers for the remainder of the postseason. With the Cowboys' loss to the Packers, Sean Lee headed for the offseason.

    Lee, who had been fantastic all season, especially down the stretch, finished the year well. His only blemish was the touchdown he gave up to tight end Richard Rodgers on a free play the Packers were awarded because Dallas was offside. More than likely, Lee was caught off guard by the broken play, then struggled to catch up to the athletic Rodgers.

    Lee rarely gets beat like that. For the rest of the game, he was fantastic, especially near the line of scrimmage. The veteran, who had finally made his first playoff appearance after missing 2014 because of injury, crashed the Green Bay offensive line like a wave on the shore during a hurricane.

    The Falcons' De'Vondre Campbell and the Patriots' Rob Ninkovich had impressive games as well. Campbell, one of the many rookies Atlanta starts on defense, did his part in minimizing big plays by the Seattle offense. Ninkovich did a little bit of everything for New England in its victory over Houston, including sacking Brock Osweiler on the third play of the game.

    Last but not least, Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright had a solid night, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. He made sound assignment plays and kept true to his job, though he didn't make many incredible plays to force the Falcons off schedule. Atlanta ripped Seattle apart, and Wright was unlucky enough to be caught in the middle.

        

    Grading Scale

    Cvg: Coverage (Graded out of 25)

    Run: Run Defense (Graded out of 25)

    Rush: Pass Rush (Graded out of 15)

    Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 25)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

        

    4-3 Outside Linebacker Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamCvgRunRushTklPosOvr
    1Sean LeeDAL1820820672
    2De'Vondre CampbellATL1818919670
    3Rob NinkovichNE18171018669
    4K.J. WrightSEA1917720669
    5Michael MorganSEA1717817665
    6Kyle Van NoyNE1616718663
    7Philip WheelerATL1716717663
    8Damien WilsonDAL1616717662
    9Andrew GachkarDAL1616717662
    10Shea McClellinNE1516716660

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

Inside Linebackers

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Seattle left Atlanta with a loss, and Bobby Wagner's play served as an example of how the day would go for the Seahawks defense. Wagner typically plays fast and aggressive, but against the Falcons he looked sluggish and a half-step slower than normal. Whether because of fatigue, injury or being outsmarted, Wagner—and Seattle's entire defense—seemed largely overmatched. 

    The Texans put up more of a fight than many expected, but the Patriots found their groove and had no trouble exposing Benardrick McKinney. New England has been the most difficult team for opposing inside linebackers to face this season, as its offensive personnel forces those defenders to excel against the run and in coverage against top-tier talent. Saturday night was no different, as McKinney gave up multiple catches in coverage and looked disinterested against the run.

    Sunday's early game featured the worst group of linebackers. Jake Ryan and Joe Thomas struggled to stop the Cowboys' run game, as many expected, and Anthony Hitchens lacks the athleticism or aggressiveness to be a long-term starter for Dallas. Green Bay moved on, but Ryan and Thomas will face another difficult task covering the Falcons running backs in the NFC Championship Game.

    The divisional round ended with the most lopsided pairing of the weekend with the Steelers' impressive Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons and the Chiefs' third- and fourth-string Ramik Wilson and Terrance Smith. Smith was a non-factor, and Wilson took too long to warm up. As has been the case all season for Kansas City, Pittsburgh had no trouble running the ball inside.

        

    Grading Scale

    Pass: Pass Defense (Graded out of 25)

    Run: Run Defense (Graded out of 35)

    Rush: Pass Rush (Graded out of 15)

    Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 15)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

        

    Inside Linebacker Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamPassRunRushTklPosOvr
    1Dont'a HightowerNE17271011673
    2Ryan ShazierPIT19261011672
    3Brian CushingHOU16281110671
    4Deion JonesATL1926910670
    5Elandon RobertsNE17251110669
    6Bobby WagnerSEA19231010668
    7Ramik WilsonKC1825910668
    8Lawrence TimmonsPIT17231011667
    9Benardrick McKinneyHOU1426109665
    10Joe ThomasGB17211010664
    11Jake RyanGB16201010662
    12Anthony HitchensDAL132499661
    13Terrance SmithKC1520910660

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Blake Martinez—injury

Cornerbacks

18 of 22

    Elsa/Getty Images

    New England's Logan Ryan had an impressive evening. He got off to a nice start with a sack on a blitz off the edge, and his strong play continued in coverage as he was targeted five times and gave up two catches for a measly seven yards. Ryan got his hands on two passes, making a great diving play in the slot on one. On the other, he was covering DeAndre Hopkins, and if the pass hadn't been low, he might have had an interception.

    Ryan was also the beneficiary of a deflected pass that he picked off. He will be important for the Patriots moving forward, as he's likely to face more speed Sunday. This weekend, however, was about as good as it gets.

    The slot corner on the other side didn't have as much luck. The Texans' Kareem Jackson gave up only three catches on six targets. The problem was the impact each catch had. All of them went for first downs, and each was over 20 yards.

    As for Sunday's night game, there wasn't much action for the corners. No player was targeted more than four times. In Ross Cockrell's case, he allowed four catches on his four targets to go for 56 yards and also had a big pass interference penalty. He'll have to face some precise route-runners next week, and he can't afford to be grabby in coverage.

    The Chiefs' trio of corners had an above-average day, allowing a combined 24 yards when targeted in man coverage. Led by Marcus Peters, who had a great play in the end zone when he recovered to break up a pass for Antonio Brown, Kansas City looks to be stable at corner moving forward. 

    Between the two NFC Championship Game representatives, only one of the seven cornerbacks who played had a standout game, and it was one of the more unlikely names. Packers slot cornerback Micah Hyde had his best game of the season on the biggest stage to date—even as the corners around him played quite poorly. Hyde allowed zero receptions on three targets in man coverage and also recorded an interception and pass breakup.

    LaDarius Gunter and Damarious Randall were disastrous again, though, and the Packers must get better play against the Falcons. Combined, the two allowed 11 receptions on 16 targets in man coverage, including three touchdowns, two penalties and five first downs. They were consistently out of position and therefore unable to affect passing lanes, which has been an issue all year.

    Atlanta needs more out of Robert Alford if he's going to continue shadowing receivers into the slot. Alford is an above-average boundary corner, and he didn't allow a reception on three targets against Seattle in that position, but he did give up four on five targets and a touchdown to Doug Baldwin out of the slot. That doesn't bode well with Davante Adams and perhaps Jordy Nelson on deck.

        

    Grading Scale

    Cvg: Coverage (Graded out of 30)

    React: Reaction/Recovery (Graded out of 30)

    Slot: Slot (Graded out of 20)

    Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 10)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

        

    Cornerback Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamCvgReactSlotTklPosOvr
    1Logan RyanNE2425177982
    2Micah HydeGB2020206975
    3Marcus PetersKC2224164975
    4Richard ShermanSEA2019178973
    5Steven NelsonKC2019176971
    6Malcolm ButlerNE2120165971
    7William GayPIT1919176970
    8Terrance MitchellKC1919164967
    9Brandon CarrDAL1817166966
    10Artie BurnsPIT1718166966
    11Jalen CollinsATL1718155964
    12Brian PooleATL1616176964
    13Orlando ScandrickDAL1516175962
    14Jeremy LaneSEA1616165962
    15Robert AlfordATL1716136961
    16Johnathan JosephHOU1616155961
    17DeAndre ElliottSEA1516155960
    18A.J. BouyeHOU1417154959
    19Morris ClaiborneDAL1415156959
    20Eric RoweNE1614145958
    21DeShawn SheadSEA1413148958
    22Josh HawkinsGB1314145955
    23LaDarius GunterGB1413154955
    24Ross CockrellPIT1413145955
    25Anthony BrownDAL1313145954
    26Kareem JacksonHOU1312135952
    27Damarious RandallGB1213124950

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

Free Safeties

19 of 22

    George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    After a poor weekend for free safeties during wild-card play, the group bounced back during the divisional round. Byron Jones led the way after an impressive display against the Packers. Jones often matched up in man coverage against tight end Jared Cook, and he did a great job jamming Cook at the line of scrimmage, disrupting the timing of his route on multiple occasions.

    Jones got a strong jam on Cook in the first quarter, which took Cook out of the play. In the second quarter, near the goal line, Cook and Jones faced off again. Cook engaged with Jones, getting away with a slight push-off, but Jones recovered to undercut the route and break up the pass, saving a potential touchdown. 

    Patriots safety Devin McCourty also had a strong outing this weekend. Early in the second quarter, McCourty did a great job staying with the Texans' C.J. Fiedorowicz in the back of the end zone. The ball was thrown his way, and McCourty stuck close to the tight end, contesting the catch point and breaking up the pass to save a touchdown. Had Fiedorowicz made the catch, it would've been called back for offensive holding, but it was still a great play on McCourty's part. In the third quarter, McCourty had deep half coverage responsibilities as part of a two-deep safety look. He read a corner route by DeAndre Hopkins perfectly, getting his eyes into the backfield and reading the throw the whole way. McCourty jumped the route and made the interception.

    Rookie Kentrell Brice impressed for the Packers against the Cowboys after starter Morgan Burnett went down with an injury early. He normally plays in the nickel and dime sub-packages, with Burnett shifting to dime linebacker, but Brice had to take over Burnett's responsibilities in the base defense. He's mostly played as a deep zone safety this year, but against Dallas, he was asked to do more.

    He did a great job filling in on a couple of run plays, making one standout tackle for no gain in the open field as Ezekiel Elliott looked to bounce his run outside. He also did a good job in man coverage against tight end Jason Witten, who couldn't shake him despite a couple of solid stick-and-nod double moves. Brice did miss his chance to get an interception, though. He stayed on top of a deep post route, read the throw, peeled off the receiver and played the ball in the air, but—having done all the hard work—he dropped the ball.

        

    Grading Scale

    Cvg: Coverage (Graded out of 30)

    Rec: Recovery (Graded out of 30)

    Slot: Slot/LB (Graded out of 10)

    Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 20)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

        

    Free Safety Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamCvgRecSlotTklPosOvr
    1Byron JonesDAL2524516878
    2Devin McCourtyNE2523615877
    3Ricardo AllenATL2322616875
    4Andre HalHOU2423515875
    5Jeff HeathDAL2421516874
    6Kentrell BriceGB2422416874
    7Ron ParkerKC2221515871
    8Mike MitchellPIT2221515871
    9Corey MooreHOU2120516870
    10Ha Ha Clinton-DixGB2120515869
    11Duron HarmonNE2019415866
    12Steven TerrellSEA1918413862

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

Strong Safeties

20 of 22

    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Falcons rookie Keanu Neal has often been compared to Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. He plays a similar role in Dan Quinn's defense that Chancellor plays for Seattle. This weekend, Neal outperformed the Seahawks star as Atlanta ousted Seattle.

    He had a bit of a rough start, though. The Seahawks isolated him outside against a tight end in the first quarter, and Neal was late to break on a slant route, giving up the catch and a first down. On Seattle's opening touchdown, Neal rounded off his break to Jimmy Graham's out route, taking too many steps backward and giving up too much depth near the goal line. Graham made an easy catch for the score. 

    Neal bounced back as the game went on. On one play, the Seahawks' Russell Wilson began to scramble. Neal had his eyes on the quarterback and identified the checkdown option in the flat. He worked down to the checkdown, taking it away and forcing Wilson to keep the ball and run himself. Neal then worked off the checkdown target to make a tackle on Wilson and keep him to a minimal gain.

    In the fourth quarter, Neal played a big part in Ricardo Allen's interception. Neal appeared to be spying Wilson, waiting for him to scramble. As the signal-caller stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush, Neal decided to go after Wilson and landed a big hit as Wilson threw. That hit caused the ball to lose velocity and sail away from its intended target and straight to Allen.

    Chancellor, on the other hand, didn't produce the tone-setting plays he's become known for. With free safety Earl Thomas out of the lineup, Chancellor was taken out of his normal role, often having to play as part of a two-deep coverage scheme or at times in man coverage against tight ends.

    That appeared to have a negative effect on the parts of his game in which he normally excels. He missed multiple tackles, which is uncharacteristic. He twice worked down to underneath routes—one a spot route and the other a flat route. Normally, Chancellor would make those tackles and limit yards after the catch, but against the Falcons, he missed them, allowing Atlanta to get extra yards.

        

    Grading Scale

    Cvg: Coverage (Graded out of 25)

    Rec: Recovery (Graded out of 25)

    Slot: Slot/LB (Graded out of 20)

    Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 20)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

        

    Strong Safety Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamCvgRecSlotTklPosOvr
    1Keanu NealATL18171616673
    2Eddie PleasantHOU17191416672
    3Patrick ChungNE17171516671
    4Eric BerryKC18161515670
    5Kam ChancellorSEA17181514670
    6Sean DavisPIT18171415670
    7Barry ChurchDAL16161615669
    8Daniel SorensenKC16161416668
    9Morgan BurnettGB16161415667
    10J.J. WilcoxDAL16151315665

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Quintin Demps—inactive
    • Robert Golden—insufficient snaps

Kickers

21 of 22

    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    While NFL kickers missed two extra points during the Wild Card Weekend games, they were perfect in all aspects during the divisional-round games.

    That's right. NFL kickers did not miss a single kick this week.

    Mason Crosby led the way with last-minute field goals from 56 and 51 yards, with the latter being the game-winner. Prior to those two kicks, Crosby was already perfect on four extra points, but those field goals—each one gave Green Bay the lead—were easily the most important kicks of his career. Crosby was highly touted for his huge leg coming out of Colorado but suffered through bouts of inaccuracy early in his career. This was a massive game for him, and he has proved to be a capable kicker over the last several years, though he still lacks the week-to-week consistency to be a top specialist in the NFL. 

    Dan Bailey and Chris Boswell filled the next two spots, with Bailey also making two kicks from 50-plus yards. Boswell went 6-of-6 on field goals and scored every point for the Steelers. Why did he not rank higher? The difficulty of his kicks was significantly lower than that of both Crosby and Bailey. While those kickers attempted and made multiple kicks from 50-plus yards, Boswell's longest kick came from just 45 yards. Thus, while his overall body of work was still incredibly impressive, it did not have the degree of difficulty necessary to elevate it to that next level.

    Bringing up the rear were Cairo Santos, Steven Hauschka and Nick Novak, though it really is more of a credit to the other kickers that they ended up in this part of the rankings. All three were perfect with at least one field goal, and they stand at the bottom because of either a lack of opportunities or lack of difficulty.

    This week featured the highest average score for kickers of any week this season, as all of these specialists did exactly what they were asked to do by their teams.

        

    Grading Scale

    Pwr: Kick Power (Graded out of 40)

    Acc: Kick Accuracy (Graded out of 40)

    Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 10)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

        

    Kicker Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamPwrAccTklPosOvr
    1Mason CrosbyGB35395382
    2Dan BaileyDAL35385381
    3Chris BoswellPIT32395379
    4Stephen GostkowskiNE31355374
    5Matt BryantATL31345373
    6Nick NovakHOU29355372
    7Steven HauschkaSEA32325372
    8Cairo SantosKC30305368

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

Punters

22 of 22

    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    At the top end of the punter rankings for the week are Ryan Allen and Jon Ryan, who struggled to find consistency this year after being top-10 punters in 2015. Their performances this week were indicative of the talent they possess, though Ryan's power was greater than what is to be expected of him on a regular basis.

    In Allen's case, his directional game—in particular, targeting the right sideline in pin-deep situations—is outstanding, but he simply will never have the hang time or power to be an elite punter. He still possesses above-average tools and used them thanks to New England's field position when he was deployed. If asked to punt from deep in his own end repeatedly, he may struggle somewhat, but in this type of game—when he is asked to pin a team deep in its end—he can be incredibly successful.

    Ryan showed more power than at any other point throughout this season. Seattle generally runs a fairly basic punt coverage operation, without a ton of variation in the directional game, but Ryan had previously executed this scheme with precision and consistency. He lost some of that this year, struggling at times, but still possesses the leg and accuracy, and I would give him the benefit of the doubt as far as having a bounce-back year next season.

    At the bottom of the rankings, Jordan Berry had only one punt, and it was a 35-yard shank to the left sideline from deep in his own territory that gave the Chiefs the ball on the Steelers' 46-yard line. While we do take into account the number of kicks as a way to smooth out short-term fluctuations, this boot in this situation was bad enough to warrant the worst grade of the week. Berry is likely to bounce back, as he rarely goes two games in a row at a low level.

    Just above Berry was Matt Bosher, who had one strong punt but then also a shank of his own that traveled just 33 yards and a touchback from the Seahawks' 40-yard line. Bosher has one of the strongest legs in the league, so this was an uncharacteristic performance, and I expect him to play at a higher level next week, as the Falcons remain at home against the Packers.

        

    Grading Scale

    Dist: Kick Distance (Graded out of 20)

    Hang: Kick Hang Time (Graded out of 20)

    Acc: Kick Accuracy (Graded out of 45)

    Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 5)

    Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)

    Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

        

    Punter Rankings Divisional Playoffs
    RankPlayerTeamDistHangAccTklPosOvr
    1Ryan AllenNE1612413375
    2Jon RyanSEA1917323374
    3Chris JonesDAL1616333371
    4Shane LechlerHOU1411393370
    5Jacob SchumGB1814293367
    6Dustin ColquittKC1313333365
    7Matt BosherATL1313293361
    8Jordan BerryPIT911283354

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None