Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins)

GB 24 at WASH 42

Week 11’s top performing passer and the NFC Offensive Player of the Week was QB Kirk Cousins.  He completed 21 of 30 pass attempts for 375 yards, 3 TDs, 0 interceptions, 0 fumbles and a 145.8 passer rating against the Packers for the win at home.  After the game, Cousins marched to the sideline, shook the Redskins GM’s hand and yelled to him twice, “How do you like me now?!”  His response was probably due to pent up frustration after his struggles to earn a long-term contract with Washington during the last offseason. While Cousins performed well enough to help the team win the division last year after RG3 struggled with injuries, he was slapped with a 1-year franchise tag to be the Redskins starting QB on a trial run.  It’s safe to say that the 28-year-old QB has earned extra respect this season as the Redskins (thanks to his consistent & accurate play) have won 6 of their last 8 games and have a chance to win a playoff berth.  Coming up on Thanksgiving Day, Cousins must continue his excellent passing performance when the Skins take on the division leading Cowboys at home. And, while Vegas thinks Dallas is a 6.5-point favorite, I think the Redskins have a legit opportunity to upset due to Cousins’ inspired play and because the Cowboys’ secondary is struggling with injuries.

Le’Veon Bell, RB (Steelers)

PIT 24 at CLE 9

Bell posted 201 yards on offense last week which included 28 carries for 146 yards and 8 receptions for 55 yards.  He also scored a TD and had the ball 36 times total against the Browns.  Now on short rest, Bell must prepare for the Colts on the road Thanksgiving night.  This work horse is just one of the major offensive assets this 5-5 Pittsburgh team could call on to help score points.  Luckily for them, they have an easy schedule for the rest of the season and could surpass the 5-5 Ravens to win the division, which I think they will do.

Rishard Matthews, WR (Titans)

TEN 17 at IND 24

Obtained in the off-season as a free agent from Miami, Matthews has been a key piece for the success of the Titans, particularly during the last 7 weeks when he has really shined.  In Week 11, he had 9 receptions for 122 yards and averaged 13.6 yards per carry.  Matthews chocks up his success to his late brother Christopher Ruiz who was a Marine that served in Iraq and died in a plane crash in October 2015 while working as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan.  Even though Ruiz had football talent, he went the route of the military.  Matthews said recently of him: “I think he was one of my biggest fans… I talk to people now and they say he used to brag about me a lot.”  In tribute to his brother, Matthews salutes in the end zone after each touchdown to honor his biggest fan.

Xavier Rhodes, CB (Vikings)

ARI 24 at MIN 30

This 26-year-old cornerback has already set 2 Vikings franchise records.  The first came in 2013 when he defended the most passes by a rookie (23) and last week, Rhodes had a 100-yard interception return for a TD, the longest in Minnesota history.  He also only allowed a passer rating of 0.0 into his coverage last week which helped earn him the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.  It’s players like Rhodes that the Vikings are relying on to help keep the team afloat late in the season while the offense tries to bounce back from fielding the lowest-ranked rushing attack in the league. The good news is that RB Adrian Peterson is on a quicker than expected comeback and targets December for his return which could help shape this team back into a Super Bowl contender once more.

Roberto Aguayo, K (Buccaneers)

TB 19 at KC 17

It’s no secret why this particular kicker was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.  He hit 4 field goals and an extra point which accounted for 13 of Tampa Bay’s 19 winning points and with the game tied in the 4Q, he nailed a game-winning 38-yard field goal.  Perhaps more importantly, he did it during a week when (other) NFL Kickers missed a record-breaking 12 extra points.  Maybe the league was throwing a special kudos to Aguayo also for the fact that he has struggled early in the season hitting only 72% of his field goal attempts so far.  Whatever the reason, he was one of only a few kickers last week to do their job well which should give him some confidence going forward.

Kickers, league-wide

As mentioned above, kickers struggled during week 11 when they set a record for most missed PATs (Points After TDs) in one day (12 – Sunday).  That included 9 out of doors & 3 indoors.  In all of 2014, kickers missed only 8 PATs over the entire season.  So, the NFL decided to adopt a new rule and shifted the extra point attempts back 13 yards to the 15-yard line to make play less automatic.  Mission accomplished.   The problem is that some experts like John Gruden hate the new rule and want to see PATs become more routine again.  Gruden said on ESPN’s Mike & Mike recently: “I hate seeing the game come down to the kickers.  I saw Drew Brees execute a beautiful drive to try & beat the Broncos.  A $20 million QB at crunch time and the game is coming down to a kicker that signed in training camp.  I don’t like it.” (He referred to the Saints game last week that was lost in the last moments when a blocked extra point was returned for 2 points to help Denver win the game).  But, perhaps everyone should take a moment and calm down.  The stats suggest that despite all the misses last week, kickers are still converting PATs at a 93.9% conversion rate this season.  On Sunday when kickers had all those misses, they still completed 79% of attempts overall (most of them in outdoor November weather).



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