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NFL Africa Zone: The Underdog Edition

Al Bello/Getty Images

Four teams were weeded out over the weekend, with a few surprising exits, and now the Patriots, Jaguars, Eagles, and Vikings will battle it out on Sunday in the conference championship games.

The sharp end of the season has seen players and fans speak their minds, sometimes with controversial consequences (watch what you tweet...), but the important action has been on the field.

So how did African players perform in their divisional round wins and losses?

Player of the week

Yannick Ngakoue (Jacksonville Jaguars #91) - Defensive End

There have been two certainties for the Jacksonville Jaguars pass rush this season. One: If Yannick Ngakoue has a quiet game one week he will make an impact the following week. And two: If Ngakoue gets to the opposing quarterback, a strip sack or forced fumble are likely to occur.

The second-year defensive end, coming off another brilliant season, had himself a game on Sunday against the favoured Pittsburgh Steelers. In the Jaguars' win, Ngakoue had three tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits, a pass deflected and one forced fumble.

Next up for the Jaguars will be a trip to Foxboro, Massachusetts to take on the defending champion Patriots. Cameroon's Ngakoue will again be essential to a Jaguars victory in New England as he and his teammates on the defensive line will be key to disrupting legendary quarterback Tom Brady.

Notable performances

Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints #41) - Running Back

Coming off a hard-fought victory against the Carolina Panthers, in which Alvin Kamara and his backfield running mate Mark Ingram were held to 45 combined yards on the ground, the rookie found Minnesota to be slightly more amenable.

Kamara got the ball 11 times on the ground and rushed for 43 yards but was even more vital in the passing game. The Liberian-American caught four passes for 62 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter to help the Saints take their first lead of the game.

Unfortunately for Kamara and the Saints, the Vikings came back to win in one of the most memorable last-minute plays in the NFL to end the Saints season.

Kamara can look back on his debut season with pride as the third round pick had an excellent season and will be the frontrunner for the offensive rookie of the year award.

Tevin Coleman (Atlanta Falcons #26) - Running Back

Another Liberian-American running back to have a good performance over the weekend, Coleman was the more effective of the Atlanta Falcons running backs in their loss to Philadelphia.

The 24-year-old from Illinois got 10 carries and ran for 79 yards against the Eagles. Coleman also added a reception for 14 yards (in which he broke several tackles).

Coleman, according to Pro Football Focus, averaged 4.7 yards after contact when running the ball as he got 47 of his 79 yards after contact, and gained at least five yards on seven of his 10 rushing attempts.

Coleman had a productive game to cap off another season in which he put himself on the radar for a big contract after next season. The hope for Coleman is that next season will see the Falcons offensive coordinator provide him with more opportunities.

Players to watch in the Conference Championships

Patrick Omameh (Jacksonville Jaguars #77) - Left Guard

As the Jaguars defence gets a ton of plaudits following their impressive season, it's easy to overlook the impressive play of their offensive line.

Featuring Nigerian-American Patrick Omameh at left guard, the Jags offensive line allowed just two sacks and helped lead the way for 155 total rushing yards in the wildcard game against the Buffalo Bills.

In the victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Omameh and his O-linemates were even better. They allowed no sacks on quarterback Blake Bortles and paved the way for 164 rushing yards with 109 of those by rookie running back Leonard Fournette.

If the Jaguars are to leave Gillette stadium with a win over the Pats, they will need the aforementioned Ngakoue and the defensive line to get to QB Brady quickly and often, but they will also need Omameh and his offensive line to stop the Patriots from getting to Bortles.

Nelson Agholor (Philadelphia Eagles #13) - Wide Receiver

The Eagles slot receiver had a relatively quiet game (by his standards this season) against Atlanta over the weekend. "Swaghalor" only received three targets but to his credit he did the most with them, going for 24 yards and an 8.0 yard per catch average to go with two touches on backfield running plays.

The Eagles will be going up against a Minnesota Vikings team which has a pass defence second only to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Lagos-born Agholor will find himself lining up against nickel cornerback Mackensie Alexander (if veteran corner Terence Newman is out injured for the second playoff game in a row).

Both will be tough but winnable matchups for Agholor and it's necessary for him to do so in order for QB Nick Foles to pick at the Vikings secondary and open up the running game for the Eagles.