When Kam Chancellor jumped the O-line during the Seahawks neutering of the Panthers on Sunday, he looked every bit the mutant he’s always been. At 6’3’’, 232 pounds with a pogo-stick vertical, hydraulic arms, and the fastest eyes – yes, eyes – in the game, Chancellor was an action figure even back when Pete Carroll was plucking him out of the fifth-round bargain bin in 2010. What he became on Sunday was something far grander: a meme. But will that meme have the staying power of, say, a Philosoraptor or an alarmed Shiba Inu? Looks like it. He didn’t just leap into gif-dom, Kam Chancellor became the most important player in the NFL playoffs.
The defending champ’s next opponent will be the
, an excellent team with an excellent quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, a bruising runner in Eddie Lacy, and the only wide receiver in the league who’s more of a Wes
. The key obstacle facing
and the boys will be Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” and, specifically, it's quietest charter member. And don’t think they don’t know it. Lacy spent Wednesday talking about Chancellor and the hurt he put on him in Week One. “Definitely one of the hardest hitters I ever ran into,” Lacy told reporters. “We stalemated. Pretty cool.” It will be Chancellor’s job to make sure that Lacy, the slowest looking fast guy in the NFL, doesn’t take off with a screen pass. That’s no small thing: “Circle Button" has hands. If the Seattle safety can shut that down, he’ll force Rodgers, who only threw five interceptions this year but is playing injured, to try to slip something past Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas and take some painful sacks. That’s not a great game plan.
But Chancellor’s importance doesn’t end there. The Patriots are favored against the Colts to the tune of almost seven points (roughly .5 fewer than the Seahawks over the Packers), which means Americans may get the ultimate showdown in the Super Bowl: Kam Chancellor vs.
. Gronk has spent the last month physically dominating defenses like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man dominated midtown Manhattan in
. He is a player without weaknesses, which means there’s nothing to exploit. The only way to play Gronk is to meet strength with strength. Kam Chancellor is that strength and – even so – the outcome is far from guaranteed. The only thing that’s for sure is that, given half a chance, a feral Gronk will tear the wings off the Seahawks. And if Kam can’t do the job alone, Brady will find the open man, whichever former college QB that happens to be.
And speaking of
, Chancellor could have been one. He spent high school under center and worked out in that role for Virginia Tech. He decided to be Sean Taylor instead of John
and that worked out just fine for everyone who doesn’t currently work as a professional football quarterback. Chancellor watches plays develop with the opportunism of a sexually predatory
and jumps all over them with the same ferocity (if different intent). He’s one of the few defensive players in the league who can keep pace with the machinations of a Rodgers or a Brady – and most of the other ones are on his team.
What does this all mean for
Chancellor? Not much. He’s not a big talker, he’s already got a big contract, and he’s never let a big stage go to his head. The only thing that’s changing is the nature of the conversation. Talking heads used to speculate about what Chancellor would do to shut down offenses; now we’re all wondering what, if anything, offenses can do to shut down Chancellor.