Bringing their best efforts to the field
As the Divisional Round plays out this weekend, four teams will be eliminated from the race to the Super Bowl. With this being the case, multiple NFL players will be under pressure to bring their best efforts to the field.
Outside of playoff advancement, a solid performance this weekend could make all of the difference when it comes to players seeking new contracts or extensions.
We have therefore put the spotlight on 10 players facing the most pressure in the Divisional Round.
Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have not gotten past the Divisional Round of the playoffs since the 1995 season when Troy Aikman led the team to a Super Bowl victory. So yes, the pressure will be on Prescott not to blow it when the Cowboys head to Los Angeles to face the Rams. On top of attempting to advance to the NFC Championship Game, Prescott is playing to potentially ink a nice, juicy contract extension for 2019. Currently, he is slated to earn a mere $720,000 next season. The farther he can take the Cowboys in the postseason, the better the chances are that Prescott earns big-boy money in 2019.
Marcus Peters, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams
Peters has had his ups and downs this season on his new team. More than fans would like to have seen, Peters has been literally destroyed in coverage by some of the league’s top wideouts (like this). As such, the All-Pro corner will need to deliver his A-game when he faces Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper has made some tremendous plays this season and he is hot coming off of a Wild Card Weekend performance that saw him average 15 yards per catch. This ever-so-important playoff game for the Rams could easily get away from them if Peters does not mind his manners or keep a clear head in the game.
Mark Ingram, running back, New Orleans Saints
Ingram should be feeling a little hot under the collar heading into the Divisional Round. He is finishing his contract year with the Saints and would presumably enjoy signing in 2019 with one of the league’s top contenting franchises. Unfortunately, Ingram’s numbers took a bit of a dip overall this year and he has at times played second fiddle to sophomore running back Alvin Kamara. Ingram is also 29 years of age. A grand finish to his season, starting this Sunday, is a must.
Keenan Allen, wide receiver, Los Angeles Chargers
For the Chargers to pull off a victory against a talented New England Patriots team, Allen needs to be on the same page as quarterback Phillip Rivers. On top of this, Allen will need to beat the likes of cornerback Stephon Gilmore in coverage. Gilmore is coming off of a Pro-Bowl campaign after snagging two interceptions, defending a career-best 20 passes and tallying 45 combined tackles. Allen is sure to be an X-factor when neither he or fellow wideout Mike Williams can afford to drop the ball.
Nick Foles, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
Foles enters the Divisional Round with the pressure to beat a high-rolling Saints team playing in the Super Dome. This in itself is daunting task. Plus, Foles and the Eagles barely advanced in the playoffs and won by way of a Bears failed field goal. That game saw Foles throw two awful interceptions — including this one in the end zone — and complete 62.5 percent of his passes. Beyond the playoffs, Foles’ upcoming performance surely has some impact on his role with either the Eagles or another franchise in 2019. The 29-year-old quarterback has the choice to opt out of his contract in search of starting job in 2019.
Rob Gronkowski, tight end, New England Patriots
Gronk may be on his last legs this season. While he wants to restructure his current contract with the Patriots, retirement is likely on his mind as well. A fantastic turnout in this crucial playoff game for Gronk could see the tight end wanting to stick around next season. Plus, Gronkowski is a game-changer. If he has one of his signature ball-spiking performances, he could certainly help the Patriots advance. If anything, a big performance would help erase the fact that Gronkowski racked up only 45 yards and zero touchdowns over his last three games.
Jared Goff, quarterback, Los Angeles Rams
Every now and then Goff puts up a stinker which could potentially happen against a stout Cowboys defense. He will be under the spotlight in his home stadium when nearly 30 percent of the clamoring fan crowd will be Cowboys fans. This will mark Goff’s second career playoff game, and he will attempt to put on a better performance than he did when the Rams fell to the Atlanta Falcons last year. It is also worth noting that the Cowboys gave up only 20.3 points on average per tilt in 2018. Goff will have his work cut out.
Brandon Graham, defensive end, Philadelphia Eagles
As the Eagles fight to make the next round of playoffs, Graham will need to step up. Not only is the team trying to make it to another Super Bowl, but Graham is playing out his contract year. He is coming off a 2018 season in which he managed just four sacks compared to the 9.5 accomplished in his previous season. A splashy race to the finish for Graham — who could be playing his final postseason game against a heavily favored Saints — could make all the difference.
Sammy Watkins, wide receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs took an expensive flier when they signed this injury-prone receiver to a three-year, $48 million deal. Sure enough, Watkins missed six games due to various ailments. To rectify some buyer’s remorse his Chiefs may be feeling, Watkins showing up to game day this Saturday, healthy and ready to contribute to his fullest, is important. The 25-year-old receiver has averaged just 51.9 yards per game and has scored only three times.
Sony Michel, running back, New England Patriots
Michel has found the end zone only twice since Week 7. And he last rushed for just 3.6 yards per carry in his Week 17 performance against the New York Jets. Hopefully, the Michel who dominated early this season surfaces as the Patriots attempt to advance in the playoffs. The team is going to need to rely on the run game some as it attempts to dominate the clock against the Chargers. It’s important for the rookie to finish on a high note, considering he was a first-round pick.