Another year, another crazy season in the National Football League. After week 18 we’re now ready for playoff football, and with more Canadians playing down south than ever before, we were always bound to get a healthy contingent of Canadian players making it to the postseason. Six playoff teams have at least one Canadian on their roster, and it’s as good a time as any to take a look at what they bring to their teams and their chances of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy come February.
Chase Claypool, Wide Receiver – Pittsburgh Steelers
In week 14, Chase Claypool received criticism for over-celebrating a catch and wasting time the Steelers couldn’t afford to waste and it played a big part in their 36-28 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Fast forward to week 18, and the Abbotsford native caught a pass from Ben Roethlisberger near the endzone and ran it in for a touchdown to give the Steelers the lead over the Baltimore Ravens which proved to be crucial in them winning the game 16-13, and thanks to results elsewhere the Steelers sneaked into the playoffs as the AFC’s seventh seed.
Compared to his stunning breakout rookie season in 2020 Claypool put up almost identical numbers in most categories. In 2020 he had 62 receptions, 873 yards and a 14.1 yards per catch average, in 2021 he had 59 receptions, 860 yards and a 14.6 yards per catch average. Where Claypool had a big drop off however was in touchdowns, just two in 2021 compared to 11 in 2020. This is perhaps a good summary of the Steelers as a whole this season, who appeared to have stumbled into the playoffs with a less than impressive offence that put up just 34 touchdowns all season, by far the least of any team in the playoffs.
For Claypool and the Steelers to advance, they’ll need the T.J. Watt lead defence to carry the load. They delivered in the last two weeks with 12 sacks and a combined 271 passing yards allowed over the two games alongside four interceptions. They face a tough task on wildcard weekend, the Steelers head to Arrowhead to take on the Patrick Mahomes-led Kansas City Chiefs who torched Pittsburgh 36-10 when they met in week 16. Claypool and the entire Pittsburgh team will have to play their best game of football this season to give themselves a chance on Sunday.
Alex Singleton, Linebacker – Philadelphia Eagles
A familiar face to fans of the CFL, Alex Singleton won the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award in 2017 and followed it up with a Grey Cup win in 2018 with the Calgary Stampeders. The American-born Canadian citizen then decided to try his luck in the NFL, he was signed by the Eagles in 2019 and he hasn’t looked back since.
He had his breakout season in 2020 and since then has made 244 tackles and led the Eagles in tackles made for two seasons in a row. The Eagles have been a surprise package this season. Expected to struggle, the Eagles finished the season 9-8, made the playoffs with a game to spare and have three first-round draft picks to play with in next year’s draft. The future is bright for Nick Sirianni’s side, and being in the playoffs very much constitutes a good season in the City of Brotherly Love.
Philly will play the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, lead by a familiar playoff foe in Tom Brady, who is 1-1 in Super Bowls against the Eagles. The Bucs have a lot of weapons on offence, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski in particular are threats against any NFL defence. Singleton and the rest of the Eagles’ defence will have work cut out for them, but they have been doing their fair share to get the Eagles where they are. In the Eagles’ last ten games, they have held opponents to 220 passing yards per game and 3.9 rushing yards per carry, those stats are even more impressive when you consider they rested most of their starts in a 51-26 loss to Dallas in a meaningless week 18 game.
N’Keal Harry, Wide Receiver – New England Patriots
N’Keal Harry was a first-round pick for the reigning Super Bowl champions in 2019 and with Tom Brady throwing to him, he really couldn’t have asked for a better situation. It’s safe to say however it hasn’t exactly gone to plan for the Toronto native, in three seasons he has only put up just 531 yards, four touchdowns and has started just seventeen games.
Harry has requested to be traded in the past and it’s doubtful his future will be in New England long term, finishing 2021 with just eight receptions and 117 yards. Nevertheless, Harry’s team the New England Patriots is in the playoffs. The Pats have been up down this season, they had a slow start under rookie quarterback Mac Jones but rebounded to hold the AFC number one seed after week 14. But three losses in four games left them in a wildcard spot, and they’ll be facing off against AFC East Division rivals, the Buffalo Bills on Saturday.
The Bills and Pats split their two games this season, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the Pats pulled off the upset this weekend. It’s hard to know how big a role Harry will have this weekend, in week 16 he registered two catches for fifteen yards and in his career against Buffalo he has put up a combined five catches for 36 yards. Perhaps as unlikely as it is, you never know what Bill Belichick has planned any given Sunday, and who knows? Maybe this postseason can be the perfect opportunity for Harry to get his career back on track.
Alaric Jackson, Offensive Tackle & Michael Hoecht, Defensive Tackle – Los Angeles Rams
Lining up for the Rams on the opposites side of the line of scrimmage are Windsor-born rookie Alaric Jackson and Oakville native Michael Hoecht. While neither had massive contributions for the Rams, Jackson playing in four games while Hoecht started just three, (although he did see playing time in all 17 games the Rams played), it’s worth remembering that both players went undrafted, and have impressed when they got the chance.
Jackson notably played in relief of Andrew Whitworth against the Vikings and didn’t give up a sack in a 30-23 win to secure a playoff spot. Meanwhile, Hoecht recorded five tackles this season and can only continue to improve playing alongside stars such as Von Miller and Aaron Donald. The Rams won the NFC West this year, one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL and will have home-field advantage against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night.
Don’t be surprised if Hoecht gets game time on Monday, we might not see much game time for Alaric Jackson this weekend, but he’s barely put a foot wrong in the game time he’s been given this year and he would do all he can to keep Matthew Stafford upright. The Rams are a team with legitimate Super Bowl expectations, and if they play up to the form we know they can then there’s every chance they can play a home Super Bowl at So-Fi Stadium.
Eli Ankou, Nose Tackle – Buffalo Bills
Ankou has been in the NFL since 2017 and has already featured for nine teams, including multiple spells with the Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons and his current team, the Buffalo Bills. The Ottawa-born player has been mostly a practice squad player so far in his career but has seen playing time for the Bills this season.
Ankou has racked up seven tackles and a sack in five games this season since being signed in November, making 2021 his most productive season since his 2017 stint in Jacksonville. Ankou has impressed his coaches and Buffalo fans this season, and after bouncing around the league, Eli Ankou may now finally have a home in the NFL long term. But in the meantime, Ankou and the Bills defensive line will have to battle their old foe, the New England Patriots.
It’s going to be cold in Buffalo on Saturday, and being so close to Canada I imagine they’ll have a healthy contingent of fans from Southern Ontario making the trip over the border. Hopefully, the Canadian Bills mafia will see their fellow countryman Eli Anjou play well in his first career playoff game, and given the talent Buffalo has on their team, there’s a good chance it won’t be his last.
Brent Urban, Defensive Tackle & Neville Gallimore, Defensive Tackle – Dallas Cowboys
Rounding up our contingent of Canadians in the NFL playoffs are a pair of defensive tackles playing for ”America’s team”, the Dallas Cowboys. Brent Urban has been around the NFL longer, in 2014 he was the 26th Canadian player ever to be drafted in the NFL when the Baltimore Ravens signed him, after a spell in Tennessee he has now found himself on the Cowboys roster and has played in six games recording three tackles.
Urban’s season however has ended prematurely, he suffered a tricep injury in November that is forcing him to miss the rest of the season. While his stats weren’t earth-shattering, he was a productive player on the Dallas interior and was part of one of the NFL’s most surprising success stories, the Dallas defence. In his place, fellow Canadian Neville Gallimore returned from injury in December and in that he has put up twelve tackles and 1.5 sacks in a spell where Dallas went 4-1 and secured the NFC number three seed. Dallas is playing the San Francisco 49ers in the wildcard round, a run-heavy team that likes looks to control the line of scrimmage and set up play-action opportunities for their quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Limited playoff success has been an issue dragging Dallas down since 1996 but they are unbeaten in their last three wildcard playoff games, expectations are high in Dallas, and a strong defensive line helped by Gallimore will be key to Dallas trying to reach their first Super Bowl in over 25 years.