The NFL’s list of remaining teams in the Super Bowl hunt has substantially decreased following an exciting Super Wild Card Weekend. But while the number of contending teams has dwindled, the pressure facing each — and the players on the roster — has increased tenfold.
These are the five players Chris Broussard believes are under the largest microscope heading into the league’s divisional slate of games, as revealed on “First Things First.”
5. San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo
The outlook: Several analysts in the football world opined that San Francisco would have to win in spite of Jimmy G if it were going to make a deep run to the Lombardi Trophy. However, though his performance was not stellar vs. Dallas, he managed to do enough to win.
The Niners aren’t counting on Garoppolo to light up the stat sheet, and that wasn’t his role during their NFC Championship run a couple of years ago. But pressure remains on the QB to avoid an ailment that has hampered him of late: the turnover bug.
Broussard’s thoughts: “Nick constantly bashes this guy and criticizes him and says he’s no good. Nick is right: He almost threw the game away last week. That late interception was bad. The D-line, the running game, the receivers, everything else is checking positive for the 49ers.
Jimmy G just has to manage the game, play clean, and they’ve got a good chance of winning. Plus, it’s an audition for his next job ’cause we know he won’t be in San Francisco next year.”
4. Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen
The outlook: Allen had perhaps the performance of his life Sunday, with a flat-out masterpiece against his division-rival Patriots. He went 21-for-25 for 308 yards and five TDs — more than his four incompletions. It was a commendable showing by a QB who’s desperate for postseason recognition.
Perhaps his best shot to establish himself among the elites at his position comes this weekend, with a showdown with the man who has done so seamlessly through his short tenure as a professional: Patrick Mahomes. A little extra motivation for Allen: Mahomes defeated the Bills in the AFC Championship last season.
Broussard’s thoughts: “[He had] one of the greatest cold-weather performances we’ve ever seen. But you’ve got to follow it up. He’s had ups and downs and roller-coaster inconsistencies. If he comes out and plays poorly, that narrative will continue, and it will be a bad season by his standards.
Not a bad season overall, but not what we expected from him in the regular season. If he plays well, he’s got a lot of room to pass Patrick Mahomes.”
3. Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
The outlook: The beginning of the 2021 campaign was the worst Mahomes has had as a starter. In fact, the team had a losing record by Week 7, and Mahomes was near the top of the league’s interception ladder.
But he underwent a turnaround of magnificent proportions, leading his team on a furious winning streak and a reemergence into the division’s top spot. But that comeback clause will be incomplete if his team suffers a second-round exit at the hands of Buffalo, and in that case, Mahomes — barring a porous implosion by the defense — will likely shoulder most of the blame.
Broussard’s thoughts: “Mahomes has not only been known as the best young quarterback in the NFL. He has been viewed as the best quarterback — period. At this moment, it has been Mahomes.
If he loses this game, not only will he not be viewed as the best quarterback in the league, but some will say he’s not even the best young quarterback anymore. There are challengers to his throne as the greatest young quarterback. This weekend will be a referendum on that.”
2. Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew Stafford
The outlook: Stafford likely breathed a huge sigh of relief after collecting the first playoff victory of his extensive career. But the Rams’ goals heading into the playoffs were far loftier than amassing a singular postseason win.
McVay and the team are hungry for more, and after making a Super Bowl appearance a few years ago with the man they traded to acquire Stafford, the Rams’ mindset is Super Bowl or bust. Stafford is the central catalyst in that cause.
Broussard’s thoughts: “Great win. You got your first playoff win, and you played well. Now the real test begins. The Rams got this far last year with Jared Goff, so you have to come out and win to justify that trade. The defense looked stout last week.
The running game is back with Cam Akers and Sony Michel. We know the receiving corps is already one of the best in the league. It’s on you.”
1. Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
The outlook: No one quarterback’s season has been as enigmatic as Aaron Rodgers’. It was filled with controversy and injury, yet he managed to end the regular season as a top-two MVP candidate. And with Green Bay holding home-field advantage, it’s difficult to argue that this team has ever had an easier path to the Lombardi Trophy.
Rodgers’ regular season was as brilliant as they come: He threw 37 TDs with just four INTs, and the combination of his arm and Davante Adams’ hands was perhaps the most potent in football. But regular-season feats will be rendered moot if Rodgers & Co. are given an early boot come Saturday.
Broussard’s thoughts: “It’s going to be great for him to win his fourth MVP, his second straight and second all time to Peyton Manning. But the only way for him to really, truly enhance his legacy is to win a Super Bowl. He hasn’t even been to another one.
He has only been to one, and that was a decade ago. You’ve gone 13 wins three straight years and not a trip to the Super Bowl. If you lose to Jimmy G at home, when you’ve got some of your defensive players coming back and the best receiver in the league, we’re going to be looking at Rodgers like, ‘Awesome quarterback no doubt, but why couldn’t he win more in the postseason?'”