NFL Playoff Predictions: Top 15 Statistical Performers This Weekend
The fantasy football season may be over, but that doesn't mean we've stopped caring about numbers. These 15 players can make or break their team's chances of advancing to a conference championship based on the way they play this weekend in an intriguing slate of games.
Chicago vs. Seattle
Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh
Atlanta vs. Green Bay
New England vs. New York
Whatever your poison may be, there are a lot of players that merit watching. Here are those players and what you can expect from them.
15. Devin Hester, Chicago Bears
The best return man in NFL history will be up to his old tricks against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Chicago lost to Seattle, 23-20, early in the season, but Hester still managed to return a punt 89 yards for a touchdown late in the game. The Seahawks punted 10 times in that game and Hester got to return two of them.
The Seahawks are not a good offensive team—despite putting up 41 points against New Orleans, so it would not be a surprise to see Hester get three or four touches. He scored three touchdowns in the regular season on 33 punt returns, meaning there's a good chance he gets into the end zone against Seattle.
14. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
The Steelers have the best rush defense in the NFL and they've stopped the Ravens running back right in his tracks. The first time out against Pittsburgh, Rice could only manage 20 rushing yards on eight carries. He followed that up by rushing for 32 yards on nine carries in the rematch later in the season.
Rice is one of the best all-around backs in the NFL and a threat on the ground as well as out of the backfield. But the Steelers seem to have him figured out—Rice's two worst performances this season have come against Pittsburgh.
Rice only had six total touchdowns in the regular season, so he's not likely to score on Saturday. He'd be lucky to crack 50 all-purpose yards, but will get enough touches to get at least a chance to earn some yards.
13. Deion Branch, New England Patriots
Wes Welker will draw Darrelle Revis and that should be good news for Branch, who has been Brady's favorite target since joining the team midseason.
Last time out against the Jets, Branch was targeted seven times and caught three passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. He should put up similar numbers in the rematch as he is New England's only legitimate deep threat.
12. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Ravens do a pretty good job of stopping the run. They have the fifth ranked rush defense in the NFL and last week they held Jamaal Charles and the Kansas City Chiefs—the No. 1 rush offense, to only 108 yards on the ground.
But Mendenhall is one of the few players the Steelers have who can move the chains and he will get enough touches to have a big impact in this game. He rushed for 45 yards in Pittsburgh's 13-10 win over Baltimore in Week 13, and collected 79 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Pittsburgh's 17-14 loss in Week 4—playing without Ben Roethlisberger.
He probably won't get more than about 60 yards rushing in the rematch against the Ravens, but if the Steelers are going to score in this game it's likely going to be with the ball in Mendenhall's hands.
11. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Big Ben missed Pittsburgh's first go-around with the Ravens because of his suspension, but he returned in Week 13 to lead his team to a 13-10 victory.
Playing with a sprained right foot and a broken nose, Roethlisberger throught for 253 yards on 22 of 38 passing. He had one touchdown and one interception.
Roethlisberger's had a good year, but the Steelers don't have enough offensive weapons to make their passing attacking really dangerous. A repeat performance of 250 yards and a touchdown sounds about right.
10. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England Patriots
Green-Ellis erupted for 72 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the Patriots 45-3 romp of the New York Jets in Week 13. The Patriots have the ninth ranked rushing offense in the NFL thanks to the 1,000-yard rusher.
The Jets do have the third ranked rush defense, but they'll be so busy trying to stop Tom Brady that Green-Ellis will have holes to run through. Don't underestimate the importance of left guard Logan Mankins to New England's running game—who wasn't around in Week 2 when the Jets beat the Patriots, 28-14.
The Patriots probably won't score 45 points against New York again, but Green-Ellis will get enough touches to be a major factor. A rushing touchdown and maybe 80 rushing yards would be about par for the third-year back.
9. Santonio Holmes, New York Jets
Holmes was the lone brightspot in the Jets last game against the Patriots. He collected seven receptions for 72 yards and was targeted an outrageous 12 times.
Braylon Edwards will likely draw stud rookie corner Devin McCourty, freeing up space for Holmes who had just one less reception than Edwards in the regular season despite playing in four fewer games.
The Jets will need to utilize the passing game if they're going to keep up with the Patriots attack and it wouldn't be a surprise to see quarterback Mark Sanchez target Holmes at least a dozen times on Sunday. With that kind of attention Holmes could surpass 100 receiving yards, with maybe a touchdown.
8. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
The Seahawks have the 21st rush defense in the NFL, but against New Orleans they only surrendered 77 rushing yards. Then again, the Saints were missing their two leading rushers and were always a pass-first team anyway.
Forte is one of the best all-around backs in the game. He struggled in his first match-up against Seattle, rushing for just 11 yards on eight carries and catching three passes for 40 yards. But he did score a touchdown and is the key to the Bears offense.
Chicago will lean heavily on their rushing attack in the playoffs, and as long as Forte gets touches he'll put up big numbers. Look for him to get about 150 all-purpose yards and a touchdown or two.
7. Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers
The Packers have the fifth best passing offense in the NFL and Jennings is a huge part of that. The wide receiver collected 76 receptions for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season.
The Falcons, meanwhile, have the 22nd ranked pass defense and no real impact players in their secondary. Jennings was a non-factor in Green Bay's playoff victory over Philadelphia, but then again he was being covered by All-Pro corner Asante Samuel. In Atlanta he'll likely face off against Dunta Robinson.
Jennings has caught at least 4 passes in each of the past 11 games, and with his 16.6 average yards per reception he's always a big deep threat. He should be able to collect close to 100 receiving yards and a touchdown against Atlanta.
6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan is a terrific quarterback but he probably would've rather faced the Saints pass defense than the Packers pass defense, which is ranked as the fifth best in the NFL.
The Packers haven't given up more than two touchdowns to any team not named the New England Patriots since Week 7 against Minnesota. When Green Bay faced off against the Falcons, Ryan was held to 197 yards passing and a touchdown.
Ryan did manage to complete 24 of 28 passes in that win against the Packers, but he did most of his damage with short throws to his tight end. He'll look to do more of the same against Green Bay this weekend and should finish with a similar stat line of 200 yards passing and a touchdown.
5. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Joe Flacco has entered his name into the discussion of the best quarterbacks in the NFL with his performance this season. He's thrown for 3,622 yards and 25 touchdowns while improving his QB rating to a career-high 93.6
Against the Steelers Flacco has had two very similar performances. In Week 4 he threw for 256 yards and a touchdown in a Ravens win. Then in Week 13 he threw for 266 yards and a touchdown in a Steelers win.
The Steelers have an outstanding defense but if there's a weakness then it's in the secondary. Flacco is a good bet for another 250 passing yards and a touchdown in round three of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry this season.
4. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Cutler got sacked six times the last time he played the Seahawks, but the Bears offensive line, and Cutler, have been playing much better of late.
Seattle has the 27th ranked pass defense in the NFL and last week Drew Brees carved them up for 404 yards and two touchdowns while throwing 60 passes. The Bears don't have as prolific of a passing game, and Jay Cutler is no Drew Brees, but the Seahawks have an obvious weakness in their secondary.
Cutler threw for 290 yards on 17 of 39 passing last time out against Seattle even though he received no protection. If he manages to stay on his feet, then he should be good for about 300 yards passing and a couple of touchdowns.
3. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
One thing the Falcons have always done very well is run the ball. They have 12th ranked rush offense in the NFL and their feature back Turner rushed for 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns during the regular season.
Against the Packers in Week 12 Turner was extra impressive. He gained 110 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, his sixth 100-yard game of the season.
The Packers rush defense is only 18th in the league and they've given up big days to running backs who are worse than Turner. Look for Turner to run wild again and get his 100-plus yards and a touchdown.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and he has some experience making Swiss cheese out of the Falcons defense. In Week 12 he played the Falcons in a home game and threw for 344 yards and a touchdown. He also added 51 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown.
It wasn't enough to earn the win, but Rodgers still had a huge game. He threw three touchdowns against the Eagles last week on 66.7 percent passing and threw at least that many touchdowns five separate times during the regular season.
The Falcons defense will look to play more conservative and take away Rodgers' deep throws, but that won't stop him from putting up huge numbers. He's a solid bet for about 300 passing yards and two or three touchdowns.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Brady tore up the Jets pass defense in Week 13 to the tune of 326 yards and four touchdowns. The absence of Randy Moss didn't affect Brady at all as he completed 21 of 29 passes in a near-perfect effort.
Brady's been unstoppable all year long and hasn't thrown an interception since Week 6. He hasn't thrown for less than two touchdowns since Week 8. He hasn't loss since Week 9. No reason any of that should change against the Jets.
He's the best quarterback in the league and he's one of the best playoff performers in NFL history. Anything short of 300 passing yards and two or three touchdowns would be considered a disappointment for the probable NFL MVP.