The NFL playoffs get underway on Saturday when the Houston Texans host the Kansas City Chiefs at 2:35 pm MT. A couple former Utes will take the stage in the opening game, but there are others sprinkled throughout the other playoff team's rosters. Some former Utes will play a large factor in how far their team advances, while others will only play a supporting role. Here is a look at which former Utes will be playing for a chance at a Super Bowl ring in the coming weeks.
Half of the teams playing in the postseason have a former Ute on their team, those being the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos. The Kansas City Chiefs probably rely on their Utes the most of any of the teams mentioned. The Chiefs starting quarterback is maybe Utah football's most beloved alumni, Alex Smith.
Now in his eleventh year in the league, and third with the Chiefs, Smith is having one of the best seasons of his career, throwing for 20 touchdowns and 3,486 yards. Joining Smith as a former Ute on the Chiefs, is cornerback Sean Smith, also in his third season with Kansas City. The latter Smith missed the first three games of the season due to suspension, but has started every game since his return, finishing with 45 tackles, 12 passes defended and two interceptions.
Together the two former Utah players have helped lead Kansas City on a ten game win streak to close out the season. After getting off to a disastrous 1-5 start to the season, The Chiefs coaching staff began to rely more on Alex Smith, giving him more freedom. Smith responded by throwing 14 touchdowns and four interceptions in the final ten games, finishing with a passer rating over 100 five times and did it with out Jamal Charles in the backfield. The Chiefs have not won a playoff game since Joe Montana was quarterbacking for them in 1993. Alex Smith, another former 49er, has a chance to end the streak this year. Heading into the playoffs, Kansas City is one of the hottest teams and a threat to make a deep run thanks in part to two former Utes.
The AFC has two other teams with former Utah players with the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos. However, unlike with the Chiefs, you aren't likely to notice these former Utes at all. On Houston former Utah receiver Anthony Denham is a tight end, but is on injured reserve with a sprained shoulder, making him inactive for the season. In Denver, former Utah guard Sam Brenner is listed as a backup center. Brenner started his season with Miami, where he played in three games before being claimed off waivers by the Broncos at mid-season. Brenner has yet to see any field time in Denver.
Over in the NFC, Utah has four more players on playoff rosters. Matt Asiata is in his fourth season with the Minnesota Vikings. Asiata appeared in all 16 games this season as Adrian Peterson's backup, recording 29 carries for 129 yards and 19 receptions for 132 yards. Asiata proved his worth to the Vikings organization last year when Peterson was suspended much of the year, stepping in to rush for 570 yards and 9 touchdowns on 164 carries. This will be Asiata's second playoff appearence.
Down in Carolina, the Panthers have two former Utah standouts in Star Lotulelei and Brian Blechen. Lotulelei is now in his third season as a fixture on the Panthers defensive line. The defensive tackle finished the year with 22 tackles, two pass deflections a forced fumble and a sack. He also helped the Panther defense finish fifth in the NFL in rushing, giving up only 89.2 yards per game. This will be Lotulelei's third playoff appearance in as many seasons. Brian Blechen is also a member of the Carolina Panthers. The former safety turned linebacker is a member of the team's practice squad and won't see any playing time barring a disastrous array of injuries it would take to force his promotion.
Rounding out the former Utes in the playoffs is former Utah defensive tackle Sealver Siliga. When Siliga declared for the NFL draft in 2012, many thought it was a mistake, including myself. Now in his fourth year in the NFL, Siliga has proved himself, carving out a role as a regular rotational player on the defending champs defensive line. Siliga is the only Ute in this year's playoff to own a Super Bowl ring and played an instrumental role in last year's post season run for the Patriots. This season Siliga played in in thirteen games, starting four, and recorded 28 tackles, 11 of them solo. Siliga will play an important role for the Patriots in their quest to get back to the Super Bowl this month.