In the NFL playoffs, great players step up and make a difference. Some are well-known and others can become well-known as the NFL playoffs are where the best players shine. Here are four players who could be the difference-makers for their franchises as we head closer to the Super Bowl.
Four Potential Difference Makers in the Divisional Round
With just four games in the divisional round of the playoffs, let’s look at one player from each game who could be a difference-maker for their team as they vie for a place in the Conference Championship game.
Kyle Hamilton, Safety, Baltimore Ravens.
Selected as the 14th overall pick from Notre Dame in 2022, Hamilton is now prepared to showcase his abilities on the grandest stage. During the final game of the season against the San Francisco 49ers, he managed to make two interceptions and demonstrated throughout the entire season that he was ready to elevate his performance to the level of an All-Pro player in the NFL.
In a Week 1 rematch, the Baltimore Ravens host the impressive Houston Texans led by sensational rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, who is arguably having the greatest rookie season ever at his position. In the season opener, the Ravens won handily 25-9 and Stroud did well to keep Hamilton quiet by avoiding throwing in his direction. It will be interesting to see how the rookie deals with a defensive unit under coordinator Mike MacDonald that’s studied a season’s worth of game film and is coming off a bye week to face a team they’ve already beat.
Hamilton can have a great game on Saturday as he continues his tremendous progression in a city where he’ll forever be compared to the great Ed Reed. But at six-foot-four and 220 pounds, he’s so much different than Reed and Mike MacDonald knows exactly how to utilize his skill set as he lines up at safety, in the Nickel, and at Linebacker. Hamilton is a special player and I think we’ll see that on the biggest stage.
Fred Warner, Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers.
No surprise here. Warner has been in elite form all season. In fact, since being drafted in the third round of the 2018 draft, Warner has had six consecutive 110-plus tackle seasons with this season being arguably his best. During this season’s campaign, he’s gotten career-highs in forced fumbles (four) and interceptions (four) and seems completely in tune and in complete control of the defensive unit.
With the red-hot, seventh-seeded Green Bay Packers coming into Levi’s Saturday after such an impressive offensive display against the Dallas Cowboys the emphasis this week in practice has been tackling. Warner and the defensive unit are aware of the danger Packers running back, Aaron Jones poses and he knows that first-time tackles will be vital on Saturday.
Warner has quietly become one of the best players in the league over the past few seasons and it’s so impressive to see him work in that great system in San Francisco. General Manager, John Lynch and Head Coach, Kyle Shanahan understand how vital Warner is for the 49ers and they know that they’ll need him at his best if they want to win the Lombardi trophy this season. He stands out on Saturday.
Jahmyr Gibbs, Running Back, Detroit Lions.
When the Detroit Lions traded up to select rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs with the 12th overall pick in this past draft, many people thought it was an overreach, considering the current value of the Running Back position. However, Lions General Manager Brad Holmes stated that he would have picked Gibbs before Bijan Robinson, who was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the eighth overall pick had he needed to.
The way Offensive Coordinator Ben Johnson utilizes both Gibbs and David Mongomery in the Detroit offense is incredible as he uses their skill sets to perfection. Both have been vital to the Lions’ success this season with both contributing almost evenly to just 40 yards shy of 2,000 yards rushing (Montgomery 1,015 yards, 13 touchdowns; Gibbs 945 yards, 10 touchdowns) with Gibbs being more effective in the passing game with 52 receptions for 316 yards and one touchdown.
With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quarterback Baker Mayfield coming into Ford Field after Dan Campbell and Detroit restored the roar last week, don’t be surprised if Johnson looks for ways to get Gibbs more opportunities because of his home run-hitting ability from anywhere on the field. If Detroit can get a score ahead early, then the crowd can get loud. Coach Campbell said that it was a different sound last week than he’s heard in the past and on the fast surface at home, Gibbs will pose a great threat with the talented receivers keeping the defensive backs away from the line of scrimmage.
Trent McDuffie, Cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs.
When Derek Stingley Jr. and Sauce Gardner were selected in the top five of last year’s draft, it felt almost certain that Trent McDuffie would be a top-10 pick after his incredible play at Washington University. So, seeing him slide to the 21st pick was a shock. McDuffie’s ability to play anywhere in the defensive backfield and his strength against the run at the line of scrimmage were qualities that would have propelled him into the top 10.
Nonetheless, it’s great to see him playing some incredible football in his first two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. McDuffie wears the number #22 in honor of his brother who passed away when Trent was in eighth grade. There’s something in his game that speaks to the love for his brother and it was as obvious in college at Washington as it is with the Chiefs.
McDuffie’s performance in the Wild Card round against Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle in the -27-degree wind chill at Arrowhead last week was outstanding. Both he and L’Jarius Sneed seem to have hit top form at the perfect time. McDuffie’s hit on Tyreek Hill at the line of scrimmage to prevent him from making a move was the statement play of the game. It highlighted the many facets of McDuffie’s game and how he’s continually raising the bar on his incredible start to his career.
It’s hard to believe that Patrick Mahomes has never played a playoff game away from Arrowhead Stadium but it’s true. For the Chiefs to go into Highmark Stadium, they’ll need to frustrate Stefon Diggs and McDuffie will have that opportunity. He’ll have a chance to make a few plays against the run and in particular a scrambling Josh Allan who loves to pick up extra yardage on his runs.
This could prove as a great opportunity for McDDuffie to be a difference-maker and give Mahomes the chance to stick to the script and make the road environment as easy as possible.
As we enter the Divisional round of the NFL season, it’s interesting to see how the remaining teams will perform under immense pressure this weekend. Will playoff-experienced teams like the San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, and Kansas City Chiefs come out on top? Or can one of the upstarts find top form and emerge as victors?
There are so many exciting storylines in the National Football League this weekend. From the rookie seasons of C.J Stroud and DeMeco Ryans leading the Texans to the Detroit Lions with their passionate Head Coach, Motor City Dan Campbell.
Can the youngest-ever playoff team, the Green Bay Packers, and their in-form quarterback, Jordan Love, shock the world, after being overshadowed by all the attention on Aaron Rodgers in the past few years? Can Baker Mayfield surprise everyone and lead the Buccaneers to victory against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field? That’s the beauty of the NFL – nobody knows how things will turn out.
Isn’t it just the greatest sport in the world?
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