The NFL playoffs begin this weekend with four wild-card games, and a couple of players with central San Joaquin Valley ties – as well as a coach in the booth – will serve as local rooting interests.
Pittsburgh, with former Edison High standout Robert Golden playing strong safety for the Steelers, hosts the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Golden started three straight games to open the season but was hampered by a hamstring injury that forced him to miss two. Golden started the next four games but is now in a reserve role. He finished the regular season with 34 tackles and a pass deflection. His career high for tackles is 40, set while playing 16 games with three starts a year ago.
The Dolphins’ offensive coordinator, meanwhile, is former Fresno City College standout Clyde Christiansen.
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The Green Bay Packers, featuring ex-Fresno State star Davante Adams as their second-leading wide receiver, on Sunday host the New York Giants.
Adams finished the regular season, his third since being taken in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, with career highs of 12 touchdowns (two in the Packers’ NFC North-clinching win over Detroit in the season finale), 75 catches and 997 yards.
One other player with local ties will wait a week before beginning his postseason run. Kansas City cornerback Steven Nelson (College of the Sequoias) and the AFC West champion Chiefs have a first-round bye. Nelson started 15 games and finished with 65 tackles.
Final totals – Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (Fresno State) finished the season with 3,937 yards and 28 touchdowns against six interceptions. Recovering from surgery on the broken right fibula he suffered against the Indianapolis Colts, Carr will watch as the Raiders face the Houston Texans in a wild-card game Saturday.
▪ Cincinnati Bengals safety Derron Smith (Fresno State) played in 12 games, finishing with eight tackles and a pass deflection.
▪ Minnesota Vikings middle linebacker Eric Kendricks (Hoover) led the team with 109 tackles. He also had 2.5 sacks, nine pass deflections, a forced fumble and an interception for a touchdown.
▪ Philadelphia Eagles running back Ryan Mathews (Fresno State) started eight games, appearing in 13 overall and had 155 carries for 661 yards and eight touchdowns. He also had 13 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown.
▪ Eagles linebacker Mychael Kendricks (Hoover) started eight games and had 32 tackles and a pass deflection.
▪ Los Angeles Rams safety T.J. McDonald (Edison) started all 16 games and totaled 64 tackles. He picked up a sack and also had six pass deflections and two interceptions. He will be an unrestricted free agent.
▪ Rams guard Cody Wichmann (Fresno State) played in 12 games and started 11.
▪ San Diego Chargers specialist Isaiah Burse (Fresno State) had nine kick returns for 188 yards. He appeared in nine games and started in the season finale against the Chiefs. Burse is a restricted free agent.
▪ Chargers offensive lineman Kenny Wiggins (Fresno State) started one game and played in 13. He is a restricted free agent.
▪ New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson (College of the Sequoias) started 14 games and registered 62 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He also had two pass deflections and a forced fumble.
▪ Tennessee Titans cornerback Curtis Riley (Fresno State) played in four games but didn’t record a tackle.
▪ Denver Broncos tight end Virgil Green (Tulare) started 11 games, played in 12 and had 22 receptions for 237 yards and a touchdown.
▪ Chicago Bears wide receiver Marquess Wilson (Tulare) played in three games – starting one – and had nine receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown. He is an unrestricted free agent.
▪ Indianapolis Colts linebacker Chris Carter (Fresno State) appeared in nine games and totaled six tackles. He is an unrestricted free agent.