With Wild Card Weekend in the books, it is time to look at the best performers at each position from last week. It should be a mix of usual suspects and random one-game wonders. If a player is not on the list, it does not mean that the individual did not have a great game. Not all positions are created equal. Prior performance has no bearing on this list. With that said, let’s look at the best 11 offensive players and best 11 defensive players from the opening round of the playoffs.
You can find the NFL Week 18 Team of the Week here.
Quarterback: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Previously Appeared: Week 3
What a week for quarterbacks! Patrick Mahomes had one of the best playoff games in NFL history, becoming just the second quarterback to have five touchdowns and 400 passing yards in the playoffs. It took just 11 minutes of game time for Mahomes to throw his five touchdowns; the quickest in NFL history. Still, Mahomes was a distant second place this week.
Allen had the single greatest quarterback performance in playoff history, and it is on the shortlist of greatest games ever. He had a 98.5 QBR, the highest single-game QBR in playoff history (since 2006). As a whole, the Bills had a perfect offensive performance. In seven meaningful drives, they scored seven consecutive touchdowns, becoming the first team in NFL history to have such a game.
Running Back: Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
Singletary finished third this week in rushing behind Elijah Mitchell and Josh Jacobs, but he scored twice en route to the Bills’ 30-point win. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry, and he had the highest PFF rushing grade. He also caught three passes for 13 yards. While Allen was the superstar of the day, Singletary excelled in a complimentary role to Allen’s greatness.
Wide Receiver: Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Previously Appeared: Week 7
Evans led all pass-catchers with 117 yards while also tacking on a touchdown. He hauled in nine of his 10 targets, averaging 13 yards per catch. Ironically, his lone incompletion came on a contested target, but he forced a pair of missed tackles. He contributed to five first downs. Tom Brady had a 148.8 passer rating when targeting Evans on Sunday.
Wide Receiver: Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals
Chase fell one yard short of Evans’ tally, taking his nine catches for 116 yards. He did have a pair of drops, but the raw numbers speak for themselves. He went two-for-four on contested catches, and he contributed to seven first downs. Among players with six or more targets, Chase had the highest yards per route run, edging out Brandon Aiyuk, Evans, and Cooper Kupp.
Wide Receiver: Kendrick Bourne, New England Patriots
Bourne was one of three pass-catchers to catch a pair of touchdowns, joining Dawson Knox and Byron Pringle. Bourne gets the nod here with his 77 yards on seven catches. He contributed to the third-longest passing play of the week with a 43-yard catch. He hauled in his only contested opportunity, and he helped the Patriots to five first downs. Mac Jones had a 146.4 passer rating when targeting Bourne.
Tight End: Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce finished third in receiving yards this week with 108 yards on five catches. He added a receiving touchdown, but also threw for a touchdown, equaling Knox’s pair of scores. Like a true superstar, Kelce had a higher passing grade than Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray, Jimmy Garoppolo, Ben Roethlisberger, and Jalen Hurts. Only Allen, Mahomes, and Matthew Stafford had a higher passer rating than Kelce.
Left Tackle: Kolton Miller, Las Vegas Raiders
Previously Appeared: Week 7
It was a tough battle between Miller and Dion Dawkins, but Miller gets the nod with his slightly better pass-blocking. On 62 pass-blocking reps, Miller allowed just one pressure while Dawkins allowed two on 31 snaps. Miller was also solid in the run game, paving the way for Jacobs en route to a 79.3 run-blocking grade. His season may be over, but Miller should be regarded as an elite left tackle.
The Joel Bitonio Award for Best Left Guard: Joe Thuney, Kansas City Chiefs
Thuney earned the highest pass-blocking grade of any offensive lineman on the week. On 47 pass-blocking reps, he did not surrender any pressure. He finished second among left guards in grade to Landon Dickerson, but Dickerson allowed a pair of pressures. Thuney is the second of many Chiefs, so be prepared for “Kansas City Chiefs” to be ingrained in your mind by the end of the article.
Center: Creed Humphrey, Kansas City Chiefs
Speaking of the Chiefs, Humphrey was the top-graded lineman regardless of position during the week. He was the No.1 run-blocker as well. He had a mediocre pass-blocking grade of 61.3, allowing one pressure (a sack) on 47 pass-blocking snaps. Only David Andrews graded within 20 points of Humphrey’s 90.5 mark. It was Humphrey’s fourth 90.0 or better PFF grade. As an aside, Humphrey was the biggest whiff in the All-Pro team selections.
The Zack Martin Award for Best Right Guard: Trey Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Smith makes it three Chiefs in a row. While all 12 starting right guards allowed a pressure, Smith was one of five to just allow one. No right guard earned a pass-blocking grade above 70.0, so Smith’s 57.7 was surprisingly average for the week. His run-blocking grade of 83.3 was excellent. In the end, Smith takes the honor over Shaq Mason because he did not surrender a sack.
Right Tackle: Spencer Brown, Buffalo Bills
Similar to right guard, right tackle had a weak cast. Only one (Josh Wells) had a run-blocking grade above 70.0, and Brown was the only right tackle to have a pass-blocking grade above 70.0 on at least 50 snaps. Lane Johnson was the top-graded right tackle, but he played 43 snaps compared to Brown’s 56. Either way, Brown makes up for Dawkins not making the left tackle spot.
Interior Defensive Line: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
For those counting, this marks Donald’s ninth appearance, breaking the tie with Bitonio for most this season. While Donald gets the benefit of making the playoffs, he deserved each selection. Monday night was Donald’s seventh 90.0 PFF grade on the season, and his 10th game with at least an 89.4. He notched four pressures and a sack, bringing his total number of pressures on the season to 90.
Interior Defensive Line: Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers
While the Steelers’ defense eventually unraveled, Heyward made the play of the day by forcing a fumble that was eventually taken back for a touchdown. Heyward was the only interior player to force a fumble on the week. While he did not register a pressure, he did have a solid day of run defense, highlighted by the forced fumble. Heyward ends his season with an overall 90.8 PFF grade, the second-highest mark for a season in his career.
Edge Defender: Maxx Crosby, Las Vegas Raiders*
Crosby’s Raiders may have lost, but it was not Crosby’s fault. He led the week with seven pressures, finishing with one sack and one hit of Joe Burrow. He was PFF’s top-graded edge defender, narrowly edging Trey Hendrickson. He finished the season with 108 pressures, more than he had in his first two seasons combined. His 89.4 grade on Saturday was his fifth-best of the season.
Edge Defender: T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
Watt returned Heyward’s forced fumble for a touchdown, giving the Steelers a 7-0 lead over the Chiefs. Watt also had a sack and a pair of quarterback hits, totaling five pressures on 36 pass-rush snaps. He finished just short of a 90.0 grade for the season, and he ended with 67 total pressures. The likely Defensive Player of the Year finished with 23.5 sacks including playoffs.
Linebacker: Willie Gay, Kansas City Chiefs
Gay only played 17 snaps on Sunday night, but he forced a fumble and was PFF’s highest-graded defensive player. He earned a ridiculous 93.3 grade in coverage. He registered a quarterback hit on his only pass-rush snap, and he posted a pair of defensive stops. He allowed two catches on three targets, but those completions went for a total of two yards.
Linebacker: Germaine Pratt, Cincinnati Bengals
Previously Appeared: Week 13
Pratt sealed the Bengals’ first playoff win since the 1990 Wild Card round, intercepting Derek Carr’s final pass. Pratt earned a solid 79.1 overall grade with a stellar 83.5 run-defense grade. Per PFF, he notched eight tackles and four defensive stops. He was targeted nine times, and while only two of those passes fell incomplete, he allowed just a 56.3 rating in coverage.
Cornerback: David Long, Los Angeles Rams
Long was the beneficiary of Murray’s self-destruction, pouncing on a poorly-thrown interception for a pick-six. On five targets, Long allowed two catches and 11 yards. He allowed just an 8.3 passer rating. Long did not grade out well, earning just a 55.4 overall grade, but the pick-six clinched his spot. He will have to shore up his tackling as the Rams head to Tampa Bay.
Cornerback: K’Waun Williams, San Francisco 49ers
One issue with writing these articles into the playoffs is the lack of true options. Williams allowed a touchdown, but he got a spot with a clutch interception of Prescott. He earned a reasonable 67.9 grade with a strong tackling performance (also known as not missing a tackle). Williams even notched a quarterback hit on his only pressure. Williams and the 49ers will next play in Green Bay.
Safety: Micah Hyde, Buffalo Bills
Hyde was PFF’s No.1 safety during the week, and he had perhaps the best play when he intercepted a Jones deep ball. Hyde rolled over from his free safety position and made an Ed Reed-caliber play to suck any momentum from the Patriots. The Bills cruised to a win, but Hyde did his job in demoralizing the Patriots with his stellar interception.
Safety: Jessie Bates, Cincinnati Bengals
It took until the 19th week of the season, but Bates finally looked like his 2019 form. He had his highest grade of the season, a strong 85.6 effort with an 83.5 coverage grade. He was six-for-six on tackles, and he had his third and fourth pass deflections of the season. For the second game in a row, Bates surrendered a 39.6 rating when in coverage.
Defensive Back: Antoine Winfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Previously Appeared: Week 4
This fifth defensive back spot will be slim pickings over the next three weeks, but Winfield is a deserving candidate here. He had four pressures from his safety position, notching one sack, one hit, and a pair of hurries. He racked up four defensive stops, and he allowed just 10 yards on four catches while in coverage. He allowed a solid 79.2 passer rating.
Be sure to check out our NFL Team of the Week every week for the playoffs.
Follow Ryan Potts on Twitter @MrSplashMan19
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