Von Miller’s stellar defensive effort earned him Super Bowl 50 MVP honors, but the spectacular showing also solidified his place as the best player from the 2015 NFL playoffs.
While a few more stars assembled a memorable postseason, others can hardly block out the memories (or turnovers) of a disappointing end to a once-promising campaign.
The list highlights five of the best and four of the worst players. Consistency was valued for anyone whose teams advanced multiple rounds.
Best: Jeff Janis, WR, Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers didn’t have his best receiver Jordy Nelson all season. Davante Adams was also sidelined against the Arizona Cardinals due to injury and Randall Cobb exited the game early because of one.
Green Bay relied on its Nos. 4, 5 and 6 wideouts to challenge the NFC’s best secondary. And thanks to Jeff Janis, the offense survived.
Janis pulled in seven catches for 145 yards and two scores, including a 60-yard reception on fourth-and-20 and a 41-yard grab on a desperation heave as time expired to help force overtime. The Packers ended up losing during the extra frame, but Janis accounted for both Green Bay touchdowns.
What a weird game.
Worst: Brian Hoyer, QB, Houston Texans
If you didn’t believe the Texans reached the playoffs in spite of Brian Hoyer, hopefully the 30-0 shutout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs during the Wild Card Round swung your mindset.
Hoyer tossed three interceptions and lost a fumble before halftime, which seemed to lead star receiver DeAndre Hopkins to say “take that [erm, person] outta the game.”
Unfortunately for Hopkins, Houston kept Hoyer in. The veteran quarterback tossed another pick, and he finished the game 15-of-34 for 136 yards. In addition to the five turnovers, Hoyer also took three sacks.
We can hear Roger Goodell already: “With the 22nd pick in the 2016 NFL draft, the Houston Texans select quarterback…”
Best: Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
When in doubt, Tom Brady almost always targeted Rob Gronkowski. Seems like a tremendous philosophy.
The Patriots tight end gashed Kansas City for seven receptions, 83 yards and two touchdowns. Gronkowski followed up that dominant outing with an even better one, smashing the Broncos for eight catches, 144 yards and a score.
Trailing by eight points with less than two minutes remaining, he twice beat double-coverage for critical grabs. Gronk snared a 40-yarder on fourth-and-10, then a four-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal.
But what Brady might regret is not looking toward his monster tight end for the critical two-point conversion.
Worst: Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati’s loss in the Wild Card Round was truly a microcosm of Jeremy Hill’s season. He managed one great run, scored on a short touchdown run and lost a fumble.
Yes, you can point to Vontaze Burfict’s hit or Adam Jones’ personal foul as bigger factors in the loss, and there’s no use arguing against those points. Hill’s fumble and those two plays can be described as awful, awful and awful.
Nevertheless, the Bengals needed their rushing attack to carry the offense since Andy Dalton wasn’t healthy enough to play. Instead, Cincinnati received a 38-yard scamper from Hill that ultimately led to zero points and 12 total yards on 11 other carries.
Pittsburgh would’ve stopped the clock after each run anyway, but Hill literally dropping the ball on first down late in the fourth quarter gave Ben Roethlisberger 83 seconds and a full complement of timeouts to engineer a game-winning drive.
Best: C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos
Defense carried the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers, but C.J. Anderson — with a nod to Emmanuel Sanders — was Denver’s best player on the other side of the ball.
The offense relied on the ground game because Peyton Manning was a shell of his former self. However, Ronnie Hillman trudged his way to 54 yards on 32 carries throughout the postseason, so the Broncos desperately needed Anderson to be effective. He was.
Anderson tallied a playoff-best 234 yards, recording 72 against both the Steelers and Patriots then 90 against the Panthers. For good measure, he added nine total receptions.
Fantasy football enthusiasts will remember Anderson for a bust of a regular season, but the record books will show consistently strong efforts when it mattered most.
Worst: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
When the Seattle Seahawks smashed the Vikings during the regular season, Adrian Peterson said he didn’t get enough touches. In the playoff matchup, Minnesota gave him too many.
First off, credit Michael Bennett and the Seattle defensive line for an outstanding game up front. They regularly closed the intended running lane, forcing Peterson to bounce around looking for holes that didn’t exist.
Peterson logged 23 carries. He averaged a fractional shade under two yards per carry, ending with 45. He also lost a fumble that set up the game-winning field goal for the Seahawks.
Blair Walsh should’ve later made his short kick, yes, but Peterson’s turnover allowed Seattle to travel just 12 yards and take a 10-9 lead.
Best: Luke Kuechly, MLB, Carolina Panthers
Behind only Miller, Luke Kuechly assembled the most impressive defensive display.
The Panthers linebacker racked up a playoff-high 29 tackles, which towered over Danny Trevathan’s second-best mark of 22. Kuechly had a pick-six opposite both the Seahawks and Cardinals, recovered a fumble vs. Arizona and notched a sack against Denver.
Perhaps most impressively, Kuechly successfully matched wits with Manning at the line of scrimmage. Carolina limited Denver to 194 offensive yards and a 1-of-14 mark on third down.
Kuechly is a flat-out stud, both physically and mentally. The playoffs simply reinforced that sentiment.
Worst: Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer’s comeback story fell short because his passes did. The divisional round was not kind to the 36-year-old quarterback.
Arizona opened the game with three straight drives that didn’t cross midfield. Following a touchdown drive, Palmer lost two fumbles, threw an interception in the end zone and tossed three other picks. That’s a lot of turnovers, you guys.
He also tossed a red-zone interception against the Packers. The veteran took advantage of a blown coverage and Larry Fitzgerald’s run after the catch in overtime to advance, but Palmer hadn’t performed at the level he did during the regular season.
Palmer exited the 2015 playoffs with four touchdowns and nine turnovers.
Best: Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos
It’s only right to save the best for last.
Prior to the AFC Championship, we interpreted a particular comment from Miller as humor. When asked how the Broncos would manage to pressure Brady despite a snappy release, per CSN New England, Miller said: “You said two seconds? Sometimes I only need like one.”
What a funny guy, right? Well, Denver’s defense hit Brady a stunning 20 times, and Miller recorded 2.5 sacks. He also dropped into coverage and snatched his first interception since December 2012.
Then on the biggest stage, Miller forced two critical fumbles. Malik Jackson recovered one for a touchdown, and the second helped seal the Broncos win. Once again, Miller registered 2.5 sacks. This time, he hoisted a trophy after the game.
Miller will remember that hardware forever, and he earned himself a pretty penny for his efforts with free agency looming.