Throughout the regular season we tracked the ups and downs and ins and outs of individual form around the NFL in our monthly Stock Report feature. Now with the season reaching its crescendo we reach a point where the form of only two teams matters, with only one more chance to sustain it or turn it around and deliver the most important win of the season, if not of an entire career.
Usually we have looked at month long, usually four games worth, of form but in the sharper focus that is the NFL playoffs with these two No. 1 seeds advancing we only have the very short-term form of two games to look at heading into a one-off finale. How important was form carried into the Super Bowl last year? Well, Joe Flacco lit it up all playoffs long for the Ravens and carried that through with his best performance to lift the Lombardi Trophy for the Ravens in New Orleans. On the other side of the coin, injuries caught up with Justin Smith and his excellent form in run defense deserted him at the season’s critical juncture as Kelechi Osemele put in the game of his career to control their matchup.
Form isn’t a guarantee of performance on the biggest stage, there are two weeks to go over and fix things that have been troublesome in the run up even before we consider the mental aspect of performing in a Super Bowl, but carrying good form into the big game certainly can’t hurt your confidence and belief that you will perform to the highest level.
Stock Up: Kam Chancellor (+8.6, Playoffs; +2.5, Weeks 14-17)
Quite possibly the member of the Seahawks’ much feared secondary who gets the least notoriety, Chancellor has been on fire in the post season and thanks to the willingness to talk about the likes of Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman (only exacerbated by the latter’s recent post-game outburst) it has gone relatively unnoticed.
Chancellor didn’t exactly finished the regular season badly, but he has kicked it into a high gear in the Seahawks’ two home playoff victories with a spectacular display of run and pass defense against the Saints, notching a career-high +5.7 overall grade. A week later he didn’t have quite the same impact against the run but he made his presence felt in coverage and ended with a season-high five defensive stops in the process.
On 13 targets this post-season Chancellor has surrendered just six completions for 38 yards for a passer rating against of just 21.0 across the two games. Chancellor is red hot entering the Super Bowl and with the Broncos’ willingness to work on short and intermediate passing he figures to be busy again in New York.
Stock Up: Cliff Avril (+4.4; +0.9)
Returning to the stadium where he notched five pressures (1 Sk, 1 Ht, 3 Hu) in Week 15 against the Giants (his only game with more than two pressures in the final month of the season), Avril is riding a wave of momentum built on big, turnover-creating plays.
That knack for the big play will surely come in handy against a passing game that, through the consistently rapid release of their quarterback, surely won’t offer many opportunities for the Seahawks’ pass rushers to have a direct impact. Converting opportunities is what Avril has done in the postseason (a strip sack in each game) and all season long converting 22 of his 55 total pressures into hits and sacks, well above the league average in that regard.
He and Michael Bennett have worked off of each other sublimely in the playoffs, creating space for each other and ensuring that they can’t be double teamed. With the rest of the Seahawks’ pass rush not quite firing of late, can Avril and Bennett keep this going for one more game?
Stock Down: Tony McDaniel (-3.2; +3.6)
A terrific run defender all season long, finishing the season with seven stops in the Seahawks’ final two divisional home games McDaniel ended the season on a tear. As if to give forewarning to those riding a hot streak into the two week gap to the Super Bowl, McDaniel did not continue that re-discover that positive momentum after the two week gap when Seattle entertained the Saints.
Instead, struggling to cope with New Orleans’ Pro-Bowl guard pairing of Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans he turned in his worst run defense grade (-3.3) not only of this season but in the six years that PFF has been grading games. His one stop of the postseason — an area in which he has tended to impress (multiple stops nine times) — came unblocked against Frank Gore in another otherwise quiet performance in run defense.
If the first playoff bye week knocked McDaniel off his stride he will hope that the second one will see him re-discover it and make a positive impact against the Broncos.
Stock Down: Max Unger (-3.9; +1.1)
Don’t be fooled by Marshawn Lynch’s rushing stats and performances in the last two playoff games, they aren’t coming off the back of dominant and precise run blocking. There may be mitigating factors in Unger’s season, but he hasn’t lived up to prior performances as a run blocker, especially those from last season where he was consistently excellent.
Up against the physical defensive fronts that the Saints and 49ers offer, Unger turned in two of his worst performances of the season, though they have gone unnoticed thanks to Marshawn Lynch engaging ‘beast mode’ and refusing to be taken down on first, second or even at times, third contact.
After struggling with the likes of Brodrick Bunkley, John Jenkins and Glenn Dorsey over the nose in the first two playoff games, things don’t get any easier for Unger facing the bang in form Terrance Knighton in the Super Bowl. If Unger and the Seahawks’ offensive line can raise their game in New York (one of Unger’s better run blocking games this season came in New York in Week 15), imagine the damage Lynch could do.
Stock Up: Orlando Franklin (+7.0; +8.8)
His playoff grade may be lower than his grade for the final month of the season but just consider that his +7.0 for the post-season is from two games. The only real blip his last six games of the season was a three-penalty, five-pressure display against the Texans in Houston.
In the postseason, Franklin has surrendered only two pressures (one hurry in each game) on 79 snaps in pass protection. Though he hasn’t set the world on fire in the run game (though he earned one of his higher run block grades of the season against San Diego) he has been solid and enters the Super Bowl in his best form of the season.
Going up against Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, who we have already noted above are in terrific form, he’ll need to carry that forward if Peyton Manning isn’t to be throwing with Avril and Bennett in his face.
Stock Up: Jeremy Mincey (+2.3; -0.3)
Only making his Broncos’ debut in Week 16, Mincey made a splash against the Chargers with four pressures (1 Sk, 3 Hu) including taking full advantage of a blocking breakdown on the right side of the offensive line for a sack early in the first quarter. When D.J. Fluker released him, no one else picked him up and Mincey closed to take Rivers down for an early sack.
Mincey subsequently showed his strength working for a couple of bullrush pressures on King Dunlap in a strong outing in the divisional round. Only notching one hit against the Patriots in the conference title game, Mincey has only played 30 snaps in the postseason, but if the Broncos can establish a lead, he should get his chance to add another play to his short Denver career either from the outside or from an occasional inside rush.
Stock Down: Eric Decker (+2.0; +11.6)
There are only so many targets to go round, especially when you scale back your number of drives per game as the Broncos have in the postseason. Decker was undoubtedly the star receiver for the Broncos in the final month of the season with three 100-yard games and eight touchdowns in the final five weeks. After their playoff bye he hasn’t made the same impact, but falling away from eye watering numbers to displays like that the one he put in against the Patriots’ in the conference championship game is a drop in form that most can cope with.
His 13 targets make him the Broncos’ third most targeted receiver in the postseason after collecting 24 of 38 targets in the final four games of the regular season. Decker may not have had the chance to match his scintillating form of the final month, but just because he hasn’t matched that in the first two playoff games doesn’t mean he has suddenly hit poor form.
No, poor form would be how he started the season (-2.9 grade, six drops in the first four weeks) and with the wealth of options in the Broncos receiving corps, would you bet against Decker making a pivotal contribution? Even against the Seahawks’ ‘Legion of Boom’ secondary.
Aside from Decker not matching the pinnacles of his final month of the regular season, the Broncos have had a fairly smooth ride through their two rounds of the playoffs when it comes to players maintaining their form or even raising their game when it counts. The list of potential nominations for ‘Stock Up’ for the Broncos was twice as long as their list of potential nominees for ‘Stock Down’, so the question for the Broncos simply becomes maintaining that form, avoiding the drop off coming just when they can afford it least in the final game of the season.
Denver has momentum throughout their roster entering this game, how will the two-week break before the Super Bowl affect the positive form running through this team? We don’t have long to wait and see.
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