Every AFC Team’s Game-Changer Entering the 2019 NFL Playoffs
The 2019 NFL Playoffs are officially underway. The 2019 NFL playoff pool is as competitive a group of teams as we have ever seen. From an Indianapolis Colts team that’s won nine of its last ten games, to the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles managing to sneak into the playoffs, any team can take the title.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes joined the 50 touchdown club after a dominating Week 17 victory against the Oakland Raiders. Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers has also managed a great season as a field general. The Chargers’ quarterback has thrown an astounding 8.48 yards per attempt, second among playoff quarterbacks behind the aforementioned Mahomes.
However, being the most productive player on your team doesn’t necessarily correlate with being the most important player. The most important player is the player that will be most crucial to the success of each playoff team. Here are TSJ’s picks for the most important players for each AFC franchise entering the 2019 NFL Playoffs.
Most Important Players, By Team
Indianapolis Colts – Quenton Nelson, OG
The Indianapolis Colts offense is as intriguing as any offense we will see throughout the playoffs. The Colts’ backfield sports a three-headed monster, including second-year player Marlon Mack, who rushed for over 900 yards and nine touchdowns on the season. Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck is second in the league with 39 passing touchdowns, only trailing Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
While the Colts boast some incredible playmakers, none of their successes would’ve been possible without the resurgence of the Colts’ offensive line. The Colts’ offensive line gave up a league-high 3.5 sacks per game in the 2017 NFL season. Miraculously, this Colts offense’ is giving up a league-low 1.1 sacks per game just a year later.
What led to such a drastic turnaround? The Colts’ 2018 first-round draft pick: Quenton Nelson. Offensive guard Quenton Nelson is the first Colts’ rookie Pro Bowl offensive lineman since 1983. Nelson and this o-line unit will be vital in keeping Luck protected, as they have a matchup with the Texans’ dynamic defensive duo – defensive end J.J. Watt and edge rusher Jadaveon Clowney – in their playoff opener.
Los Angeles Chargers – Mike Williams, WR
After being limited to only 10 games and 11 receptions his rookie year, Clemson alumnus Mike Williams made it very clear that he needed to bounce back in 2018. If bouncing back was Williams intention, he definitely got the job done with his 2018 season.
Williams corralled a team-leading 10 touchdown receptions for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018. More impressively, Williams managed to do so on only 46 receptions — the least of any receiver with 10 or more touchdowns in 2018.
Baltimore Ravens – Marshal Yanda, OG
The Baltimore Ravens didn’t make it easy, but a 26-24 victory over the Cleveland Browns solidified their spot in the playoffs. The Ravens rushed for 296 yards in the victory. While it’s easy to overlook the offensive line and gawk at electric quarterback Lamar Jackson and bruising rusher Gus Edwards, the o-line has played a huge role in making this team second in the league in rushing yards per game.
Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda has mauled defenders throughout the 2018 season. In fact, the Baltimore Ravens have a league-leading 35 rushes of ten yards or more when running to the right. Baltimore will rely on Yanda’s dominant run-blocking, as well as his pass-blocking skills, to maximize Lamar Jackson’s production throughout the 2019 NFL playoffs.
Houston Texans – Zach Cunningham, LB
The Houston Texans’ defense is most notable for their dynamic pass-rushing duo of interior lineman J.J. Watt and edge rusher Jadaveon Clowney. The two have a combined 25 sacks on the year. While coaches gameplan for these two stars, players like linebacker Zach Cunningham fly under the radar.
The second-year linebacker leads the team in total tackles with 73 on the year. The Texans’ defense is most potent when the team is stuffing the run, which allows both Clowney and Watt to freely rush the passer. In fact, the Texans are 7-2 when allowing less than 100 yards per game. Zach Cunningham will be crucial in run support, as the Texans are set to face a dangerous Colts offense.
New England Patriots – Trey Flowers, DE
New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers netted a team-leading and career-high 7.5 sacks in 2018. The Patriots’ edge rusher has been the team’s only source of a pass rush, as the team ranked a horrid 30th in the league in sacks in 2018. The next leading pass rusher on the team is defensive end Deatrich Wise, who has a mere 4.5 sacks on the season.
While the Patriots’ offense ranks top five in points per game and yards per game, they will also need the defense to play an important role. The Patriots allow 359.1 yards per game, third-most among playoff teams.
Kansas City Chiefs – Dee Ford, LB
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford is having a career year for the team with 13 sacks, second only to defensive end Chris Jones. Ford also leads the team in forced fumbles, with seven on the season.
The Chiefs’ defense is giving up the most points and yards of any playoff defense, 26.3 and 405.5, respectively. The defense has been horrendous all season, which put continued pressure on Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense to win games. Thus, defensive playmakers like Dee Ford will have to force turnovers at the right time. While there is no question that the Chiefs’ offense can score with anyone, the Chiefs’ defense will need to get turnovers at the right times in what will likely be shootout-style games for the Chiefs throughout the 2019 NFL Playoffs.
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