A wild Wild Card Weekend has just finished with the Cleveland Browns sending out shockwaves with a 48-37 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers – their first playoff victory in 27 years.
With the divisional round slate now confirmed and the Super Bowl betting odds beginning to heat up, we take a look back on the top performers in the NFL thus far this season.
Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers
Let’s start with the most recent clash in the NFL in which the Cleveland Browns upset the apple cart in beating the Pittsburgh Steelers. What made the Browns victory all the more impressive was the performance of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The 38-year-old was in imperious form, throwing for over 500 yards with a record 47 completions in his side’s defeat. Despite that performance from Big Ben, the Steelers still had no reply to the full throttle Browns.
For NFL purists, it’s a shame to see a quarterback of the quality of Big Ben eliminated before the divisional round. Roethlisberger has been in great form throughout the campaign so far and it was a record-breaking season for him on a personal level too.
Pittsburgh’s 8-0 start to the season ensured that the Steelers had not had a losing season since 2003. It also ensured that Big Ben has the record for seasons played without being on a sub-.500 team. In the end though, his heroics this campaign meant nothing as he was left to reflect on what could have been against the Browns.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Pain <a href=”https://t.co/WQR8FfLT0O”>pic.twitter.com/WQR8FfLT0O</a></p>— ProFootballTeamCommenter(3rd best 7-9 team ever) (@PFTCommenter) <a href=”https://twitter.com/PFTCommenter/status/1348490323551522817?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 11, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
Ben Roethlisberger sits in quiet contemplation after his side were dumped out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Browns
Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
It’s hard to call who has been the best quarterback in the NFL season this far but what can be agreed on is the fact that Aaron Rodgers has been right up there. Just a couple of days ago the AP named Rodgers as their All-Pro Quarterback thanks to his dazzling displays for the Packers this season.
Every year 50 AP NFL experts nominate one player for each position and this year, 46 of the 50 voted for Aaron Rodgers in quarterback. This season Rodgers has put the heartbreak of last year’s playoffs behind him to put in some dazzling performances.
He has looked right at home in Matt LaFleur’s revamped offense and has gone on to nurture an almost telepathic relationship with Davante Adams.
By all measures and according to every media outlet, Rodgers is the standout QB in the NFL right now and one of the main reasons that the Packers are so heavily backed to win the Super Bowl.
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(At times this season Rodgers has turned football into an art form.)
Patrick Mahomes – Kansas City Chiefs
At the midpoint of the season the talk around Rodgers and Tom Brady was so loud that most of us forgot about the supreme individual talent of Patrick Mahomes. The 25-year-old started and ended the regular season in okay form, but in between he was back to his previous best.
At the time of writing he has racked up 4,740 passing yards, thrown for 38 touchdowns and completed two rushing touchdowns. The on/off nature of his performances this season have given rise to a belief that he is saving his best for the playoffs.
If that turns out to be the case, the Browns are going to have a hell of a fight on their hands next weekend in the Divisional Round.
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(Mahomes’ performances tailed-off somewhat toward the end of the regular season so Chiefs fans will be hoping he can up his game in the Divisional Round.)
Travis Kelce – Kansas City Chiefs
Staying in Kansas this time for unstoppable tight end Travis Kelce who has excelled every time he’s stepped out onto the football field this season.
Back in December Kelce took a 36-yard catch with 4 minutes left on the clock to surpass George Kittle’s 2018 record for receiving yards for a tight end. In the same game, Kelce also caught his 100th reception of the season to become the first tight end in history to have numerous 100-catch seasons.
It helps of course that Kelce has the flair of Patrick Mahomes to bring the best out in himself, but according to coaches and peers, Kelce’s success all boils down to hard work. Several of the Chiefs roster have gone on record as saying how hard the robust tight end works to keep himself at the top of his game.
Expect the Browns to find a top level Mahomes and Kelce too much to handle in the Divisional Round.
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(Kelce is the other reason that the Chiefs are so heavily backed going into this year’s playoffs.)
Aaron Donald – Los Angeles Rams
The game against the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round will be tough for the Rams, but they can at least go into the encounter safe in the knowledge that Aaron Donald will be back, fit and ready to play.
The defensive tackle – who was the unanimous choice for the All-Pro team – recently had an x-ray on his injured ribs, but coach Sean McVay confirmed last week that Donald would be fit and ready to face the Packers.
Donald’s sack game has been on point thus far this season, seeing him named NFC Defensive Play of the Week for his four sacks in the 30-10 win over the Washington Football Team. The Rams are the big underdogs to beat the Packers next weekend, but if Donald can put in one of his signature defensive masterclass performances then anything could happen.