The NFL Playoffs are moving past Wild Card weekend and into the Divisional round, where things start to get even more serious.
Here are the remaining Fighting Illini NFL playoff players, in alphabetical order of their teams:
Jihad Ward, defensive end/defensive tackle: Jihad Ward has bounced around from team to team in his short NFL career that started back in 2016.
With Baltimore, his playing time comes and goes — he plays about 50% of the defensive snaps, but he does have two fumble recoveries in the Ravens’ last four games, so he is making an impact for a loaded defense.
Ward was named a captain in Baltimore’s second to last game vs. the Cleveland Browns.
Green Bay Packers
Geronimo Allison, wide receiver: Some may find it hard to root for the Green Bay Packers. It’s impossible to not root for Geronimo Allison, the player responsible for one of the greatest Illini moments of the last decade.
Allison has two touchdown catches on the year — the last one was way back in September against the Philadelphia Eagles. With Aaron Rodgers more than capable of throwing darts especially come playoff time, perhaps Allison can give Illini fans a reason to shout “Geronimooooo” once again.
Whitney Mercilus, outside linebacker/defensive end: The AFC South champions beat the Buffalo Bills last Saturday in a home game in which the Texans found themselves down 16-0. Mercilus was a big part of the comeback — he had 4 tackles, 3 quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a sack. The Texans pass rush with JJ Watt, Mercilus and DJ Reader (a 330-pound nose tackle who lines up right in front of the center) is no joke.
This caps off a monster couple of weeks for the former Fighting Illini star — the Saturday before the Bills win, on December 28, Mercilus signed a four-year extension with Houston worth $54 million, including $24.5 million guaranteed.
Kansas City Chiefs
Nick Allegretti, center/guard: Who wouldn’t sign up to block for quarterback Pat Mahomes and an Andy Reid coached offense? Allegretti was a seventh-round pick less than a year ago, and he finds himself in a great situation playing for a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Allegretti serves as a key reserve/backup for the Chiefs. He has not started any games this year but has made appearances in seven of KC’s 16 games. The Chiefs O-line is a bit banged up, so Allegretti is capable of playing center or either guard spot should his team need him.
Malik Turner, wide receiver: Undrafted and under-recruited (he was only a 3-star with just one Power Five offer, Illinois) from Springfield, Malik Turner is on the Seahawks roster, having caught 15 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown in 2019.
Turner did not record any stats in Seattle’s last two games — their road Wild Card game at the Philadelphia Eagles and the nail-biter season finale against the San Francisco 49ers. He is in the concussion protocol, causing him to be inactive for both games.
Turner was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday and his status for Sunday is up in the air.
If he is able to play, he could make an impact. Rookie wide receiver D.K. Metcalf is coming off of a career game, and Tyler Lockett is always going be Russell Wilson’s top target, so there could be some extra space for a third wide receiver like Turner to be open down the field.
Which remaining Illini-in-the-NFL is most likely to WIN the Super Bowl?
This poll is closed
Jihad Ward w/Baltimore Ravens
Geronimo Allison w/Green Bay Packers
Whitney Mercilus w/Houston Texans
Nick Allegretti w/Kansas City Chiefs
Malik Turner w/Seattle Seahawks