15 Players Playing For Their Lives This NFL Playoffs

Everywhere you look there are narratives left, right and center throughout this NFL playoffs series. The Patriots seemingly had this Super Bowl in the bag, but fast forward 4 losses in 6 and all of a sudden the other contenders smell blood in the water. No one rates Carolina or Kansas despite the fact they’re winning games for fun. The Steelers and Seahawks are dangerous opposition and the Redskins and Vikings will see this as a chance to shock football.

But put all of that aside. This game is about the players. Some of them may have a Super Bowl to look back on, some might even have multiple Super Bowls. Once you have a taste for it, that is all you want. Don’t think for a moment Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski won’t have a point to prove post Deflategate. How does Russell Wilson and Seattle respond after that finish to last season? How does AJ McCarron fill the sizeable boots of Andy Dalton? The pressure is immense because this is life and death for pro footballers.

We’ve seen how ruthless team owners are when it comes to falling short of the playoff barrier. From the Dolphins to Buccaneers, Giants, Browns, 49ers, Eagles and whoever else is about to get the chop before post season is over, the expectation to make your NFL side a winning brand is paramount. When we boil down the collective pressure, the weight ultimately falls on the key players of every franchise.

32 teams started 2015 and only 12 remain. Not all of them had visions of a Super Bowl win, they weren’t naïve enough to think they could get to the big dance. But all of them had the hope of competing for a playoff berth and once you’re there, anything can happen. So this is it guys – careers and reputations are on the line because this is what they practice for, this is what they get up for every day.

Here are the top 15 players playing for their lives this NFL playoff series in 2016.

15 Cam Newton

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

14 Carson Palmer

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

13 Eddie Lacy

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

12 Alex Smith

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

11 Aqib Talib

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

10 Larry Fitzgerald

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

9 Rob Gronkowski

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

8 Adrian Peterson

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

7 Russell Wilson

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

6 DeAngelo Williams

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

5 Kirk Cousins

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

4 JJ Watt

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

3 AJ McCarron

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

2 Tom Brady

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

1 Peyton Manning

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The word is in – Peyton Manning is starting at quarterback for the Denver Broncos for the divisional round next weekend. The will-he won’t-he choice between him and Brock Osweiler is apparently settled, at least in the short term. But considering where Peyton is at, written off by many in sundry as a has-been and recovering from a public accusation over a drug scandal, then the picture for Manning is a complicated one. At 39 he appears stubborn to go on so this might not be the last time we see him. Given the history of football though, this looks like Peyton’s final chance at glory.

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15 Players Playing For Their Lives This NFL Playoffs