In the last decade, Bill Belichick has gone from a Cleveland goat to a New England hero. Adam Vinatieri has become the greatest clutch kicker of all time, and Tom Brady put himself into the same breath as the game’s greatest within five years of being a fourth-string quarterback. Former New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo basically turned one Super Bowl masterpiece into a head-coaching gig, and this was just a few months after a slow start nearly got the team’s head coach terminated.
The playoffs have also taken the careers of Brett Favre and Peyton Manning through so many twists and turns that they’ve been labeled “the best ever” and “historic choke artists” in alternating paragraphs.
Last year, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald made the leap from very good to great, while Steelers wideout Santonio Holmes transformed from a first-round disappointment into a Super Bowl stud.
A number of coaches, coordinators and players have seen a similarly drastic change in their stock during the current postseason. Let’s take a gander around the league to see who has a pay spike coming up and who needs a public relations staff to clean up his image.
1. Saints running back Reggie Bush has often been called a bust since being the No. 2 pick in the 2006 draft, but he’s been a monster in the playoffs. Bush has 258 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in the Saints’ two postseason victories.
2. New York’s Shonn Greene emerged as the team’s primary running back in the playoffs, carrying the ball 54 times for 304 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Greene was so important to the Jets’ offense that once he got hurt against the Colts, their offense went down the drain. The rookie’s performance might spell the end of Thomas Jones’ days in New York.
3. Colts wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie have combined for 27 catches, 360 yards and three touchdowns in two playoff games, and they were especially big against the Jets. They needed to play well against New York since the whole world knew cornerback Darrelle Revis would have his way with Reggie Wayne.
4. It’s tough to talk when you don’t have much to say. Well, it might just be time for Rex Ryan’s haters to invest in some ultra-durable Rex Ryan-sized earplugs. Now that the Jets have established themselves as a credible AFC force, Ryan has no reason to lose his shtick.
5. Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier probably would have gotten a head coaching job somewhere had the Vikings lost earlier in the playoffs, which is a cruel fate for a guy who helped keep them alive. Frazier’s defense held the Cowboys to three points in the divisional round before making some solid adjustments against the Saints.
6. Minnesota wide receiver Sidney Rice finally realized his potential once the Vikings hired a quarterback who knew what he was doing. Rice kept it going in the postseason, catching 10 passes for 184 yards and four touchdowns.
7. It’s tough for a guy like Ray Edwards to get noticed when he plays alongside Jared Allen and the defensive tackle tandem of Kevin and Pat Williams, who might be the two largest human masses to ever walk the earth. Edwards registered four sacks in the playoffs and made teams pay for double teaming the other three linemen.
8. After Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker went down with a knee injury, Julian Edelman’s reps took a natural increase. The rookie surely delivered by catching six passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns against the Ravens, and the Patriots will need him to be even better next season. If Edelman can avoid the injuries that plagued him in 2009, he should see a statistical explosion.
1. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson might be the best pure running back in the game, and his excellence at carrying the load has dwarfed his curious fumbling issues. However, when he put the ball on the ground three times and his team lost the NFC Championship in overtime, Peterson’s 122 rushing yards and three touchdowns suddenly became fairly irrelevant. Another playoff performance like that, and Peterson will earn goat status.
2. San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding missed all three of his field-goal attempts (from 36, 57 and 40 yards) in a three-point loss to the Jets, and he is 8-of-15 in eight career playoff games, despite converting 150 of 172 (87.2 percent) in his regular-season career. Kaeding and Chargers head coach Norv Turner are a match made in playoff heaven.
3. Cowboys running back Marion Barber signed a seven-year, $45 million contract in 2008, but he hasn’t always been the dominant performer he was paid to be. Whether it’s due to injuries, Wade Phillips’ curious distribution of carries or Felix Jones’ home-run ability, Barber disappears all too often. Barber only had 11 carries for 18 yards in the Cowboys’ two playoff games.
4. Bengals wideout Chad Ochocinco came back to life this season, but he couldn’t escape from Revis Island. It was bad enough that he injured himself in pregame warmups prior to Cincinnati’s Week 17 loss to the Jets, but then Ochocinco said he’d change his name back to Chad Johnson if he didn’t perform against Revis in the playoffs. Well, Ochocinco was held to two catches for 28 yards. It’s time to head to City Hall.
1. If Peyton Manning can claim his second Super Bowl title, many will make the argument that he’s the best quarterback of all time. There is no doubt he’ll go down as one of the premier statistical quarterbacks in league history, and a second ring will give him the postseason legitimacy he needs to be in the same class as players like Joe Montana and Tom Brady.
2. If the Saints contain the Colts’ offense and win the Super Bowl, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will be in the mix for his second head coaching job. He was a disastrous 17-31 in Buffalo from 2001-03 and has since been relegated to coordinating duty — of which Williams has mastered — but a ring will make him too hard for owners to ignore.
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