They raised their play when their teams needed them the most. Now, they’re in position to make a bigger impact in the postseason.
Here are four players primed for breakout performances during the NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
The 2020 No. 1 pick made major strides toward stardom in his second season, setting franchise records for most passing yards in a season (4,611) and in a single game (525 yards in a Week 17 win against the Ravens). His late-season surge generated MVP buzz and helped the Bengals win their last three games to capture their first AFC North title since 2015.
Burrow, who missed Cincinnati’s season-ending loss to the Browns to rest a sore knee, will make his playoff debut on Saturday against the Raiders. The Bengals beat Las Vegas 32-12 at home in Week 11 behind Joe Mixon’s 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Burrow was limited to 148 passing yards and one TD and was sacked three times.
Burrow’s pass protection will be tested by a Raiders pass rush featuring Pro Bowl defensive end Maxx Crosby, who’s coming off a dominant Week 18 performance with 10 QB pressure (eight in the fourth quarter) and two sacks in Las Vegas’ Week 18 win over the Chargers. In Week 11 against Cincinnati, Crosby only totaled three QB pressures.
If he’s given time to throw, Burrow will do damage against the Raiders defense. He led the NFL with a 70.4% completion percentage and has thrown 11 TD passes with no interceptions in his last four games.
Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys
The 2021 No. 12 pick has been the quarterback of the Cowboys’ defense, playing exceptionally well at linebacker and edge rusher. In 16 games, the 22-year-old logged 13 sacks, just two away from breaking Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse’s NFL rookie record of 14.5 sacks in 1999.
Sunday’s matchup against Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers will be another test for Dallas’ star rookie. Parsons plays at one speed the entire game — fast. However, he’ll be forced to slow down to handle the various looks of San Francisco’s offense, which thrives on misdirection plays and uses identical formations to run and pass.
The key for Parsons will come at the off-the-ball linebacker position on early downs, when he’ll try to stop Garoppolo from moving the ball down the field early and quickly.
Byron Pringle, Kansas City Chiefs
When you think of the Chiefs’ receiving weapons, wideout Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce come to mind first. So it’s easy to forget about Pringle, the undrafted free agent from Kansas State.
The third-year receiver could have a breakout playoffs, starting with Sunday’s game against the Steelers.
In the last three weeks, Pringle averaged 6.3 targets, 4.7 receptions and 55.3 yards per game. For the season, the 28-year-old nearly doubled his targets (60), receptions (42) and yards (568) from his first two years combined, and he caught five touchdown passes after managing just one TD each in 2019 and 2020.
The Chiefs embarrassed Pittsburgh in a 36-10 blowout win in Week 16. Pringle had six catches for 75 yards and two TDs — all season highs — while averaging 12.5 yards per reception. He finished the regular season strong with five catches for 56 yards in a 28-24 victory over the Broncos.
After a bumpy season, Pringle and the Chiefs enter the postseason with a lot to prove.
Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas Raiders
All eyes will be on quarterback Derek Carr on Saturday when the Raiders take on the Bengals. He is playing some of the best football of his career, holding the franchise together after a drama-filled season, but let’s not forget about the wide receiver who routinely makes Carr’s life easier on the field.
In his third year, Renfrow led the Raiders with 103 catches and 1,038 receiving yards. The 26-year-old is one of the most consistent performers in the Las Vegas offense, averaging 61.1 receiving yards per game, and it’s clear the Raiders have a lot of faith in Renfrow as he’s been on the receiving end of 29.9% of the team’s 77 red-zone pass attempts.
Renfrow hasn’t scored against Cincinnati in his two career matchups, but the potential to turn that around is high. He’s scored four touchdowns in his last three games, including two TDs last Sunday night in Las Vegas’ thrilling 35-32 overtime win over the Chargers.