The standards are raised for the NFL playoffs, as the opposition gets better and the spotlight gets brighter. Some players struggle at this time of year, while others embrace the added pressure. Those are traits that can be the difference between a Super Bowl winner and a possible early exit.
This is the time of year when underperforming players need to shake that off, and unheralded players need to play their best. Here are five players who need to step it up in the playoffs for a better chance of team success.
5. Kendall Fuller, DB, Chiefs
The Chiefs lost Juan Thornhill to a torn ACL in the season’s final game, which is a brutal blow for a defense that always seems to have issues even when the team is winning. That brings up the question of how the Chiefs will replace him. Versatile defensive back Kendall Fuller is likely to get some run in Thornhill’s place. Fuller has been a bit of a disappointment since Kansas City traded for him, but this is a chance to step into a larger role and help the Chiefs when they need it the most.
4. Dallas Goedert, TE, Eagles
The Eagles still aren’t entirely sure who they’ll have available on offense when they host the Seattle Seahawks in their playoff opener. As they have the past few weeks, they’ll have to dig deep, especially if tight end Zach Ertz isn’t healthy enough to play yet. That would mean a bigger role for Goedert, whose 91 yards and one touchdown against Dallas two weeks ago were instrumental in the Eagles’ biggest win of the season. The Seahawks have had issues defending tight ends this year, meaning Goedert could be a huge part of the offense in this game and — if the Eagles win — beyond.
3. Emmanuel Moseley, CB, 49ers
With starting cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon looking bereft of confidence in Week 17, the Niners turned to Emmanuel Moseley late in the second half against Seattle. He rewarded them with a vital pass breakup. Richard Sherman has been locking down one side of the field, but the 49ers need a second corner who can defend capably and contain opposing No. 2 receivers. That could be Moseley, who looked solid against Seattle and may see an expanded role in the playoffs. If he can take advantage of the opportunity, the 49ers will be that much tougher defensively.
2. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
We know enough about Rodgers to know that he could snap out of a slump and go off at any given time. There are worries, though. His Week 17 performance broke a string of seven straight games with 250 yards passing or less, but that performance saw him miss a lot of throws and turn a potential blowout into a close game. Rodgers has been so hit and miss this year that it’s no guarantee he turns into the best version of himself in the playoffs. If he can, the Packers will be very tough to stop. Should he play like he has at his worst moments of 2019, however, Green Bay could be primed for a quick exit.
1. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
This is the time of year where Brady usually flips a switch and turns into a championship quarterback. That switch had better still work, because he did not look like one during the regular season. Lacking weapons on offense, Brady’s game has suffered, and his 24 touchdowns are his lowest tally in over a decade. Against AFC rivals Houston, Baltimore and Kansas City, New England’s offense struggled mightily. It’s far too soon to count Brady out, but he needs to elevate his game for the playoffs. He’s done it before, and the Patriots’ success could hinge on him doing it again.