­­Russell Wilson, QB (Seahawks)

HOU 38 at SEA 41

After Wilson put on a show during Week 8’s shootout between the 6th year QB and the young Texans rookie QB (Deshaun Watson), he is on many early lists of candidates for league MVP and has proven that he is the best player on Seattle.  On Sunday, he threw for 452 yards, rushed for 30 more, had 4 TDs and finished with a 123.2 passer rate.  His 482 combined yards accounted for almost all of Seattle’s total offensive yards against Houston. These numbers are the reason he was picked as the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.  While he was fighting to stay upright behind his struggling offensive line and the Legion of Boom had trouble holding back the talented Watson (402 yards, 4 TDs), Wilson’s performance on Sunday was the reason they squeaked out the win and sit tied for first place in the NFC West (5-2).  Actually, all season long, Wilson’s ability to “do more with less” and evolve into a pocket passer (instead of relying on a running game as in year’s past) shows his maturity and mastery of the QB position.  I’ve always respected his abilities, but he’s really coming into his own now.  It’d be fun for me to watch, if I wasn’t a 49ers fan…

LeSean McCoy, RB (Bills)

OAK 14 at BUF 34

The player they call “Shady” is almost 30 years old, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference to the seemingly ageless 9-year NFL veteran. So far this season, only 2 teams have held the 5 time Pro Bowler to less than 85 yards from the line of scrimmage (Carolina and Denver).  And since the team’s bye week (Week 6), McCoy has gotten even better as Buffalo’s run offense has really jelled. During Week 7, McCoy had a 23 carry, 91 rushing yards and 2 TD performance against Tampa Bay followed by Week 8, when he had 27 carries (season high), rushed for 151 yards (season high), and had a 48-yard TD run against Oakland.  Buffalo’s running offense will likely continue its upward trend as next up are the Jets on Thursday Night.  NY allowed McCoy to run for 110 yards on opening day and the team ranks 28th in run defense heading into Week 8, allowing 126.6 yards-per-game.

DeAndre Hopkins, WR (Texans)

HOU 38 at SEA 41

While the 2 QBs were in the limelight during last week’s tight game between Seattle and Houston, this 25-year old out of Clemson was quietly setting records at CenturyLink field.  On 8 of 11 receptions, Hopkins caught for 224 yards, which was the most receiving yards in a game by any NFL player this season and the most ever by a player in a road game at Seattle.  Hopkins also scored a TD on a 72-yard catch & run screen play to give the Texans the lead in the 4Q before his team was overcome by Russell Wilson’s heroics.  Through Week 8, Hopkins has accumulated 606 yards on 45 catches, averaging 13.5 yards per play and 7 TDs, good for 3rd best WR in the league (statistically speaking).  The pro bowler has benefitted from the quick rise of his QB who he said recently about: “You want a quarterback that’s a general on the field and off the field as well. And that’s what [Deshaun Watson] is.”  These two former Clemson stars seem to be forming a great chemistry that could carry this hopeful franchise towards the post season.  [UPDATE: Earlier today (Nov 2), the Texans reported that DeShaun Watson sustained a non-contact torn ACL during practice and will miss the remainder of the season.] 

Frank Clark, DE (Seahawks)

HOU 38 at SEA 41

This 3rd year player was Week 8’s sack leader with 2, plus 5 tackles (4 solo) on just 49 snaps (69%).  He was also instrumental in keeping Watson from scoring on Houston’s final possession to win the game.  According to Pro Football Focus, Clark’s performance earned him a game grade of 87.0, the fifth-highest on the week among edge defenders.  They also thought he was “the league’s most productive pass-rusher this week”, as he “put up a pass-rush productivity of 26.9, racked up 9 total pressures on 27 pass-rush snaps, 2 of which were sacks”. These numbers add to a marked improvement of his last 4 games performance which seems to mirror the tendency of this team to gain ground as the season wears on.  But, Clark’s success isn’t a surprise to those in the know, as the 24-year old is considered to be one of the best young players on the roster now.  His contributions will be key for this Seahawks team who has some tough challenges ahead.  Namely: they will face several top tier offenses like the Falcons, Eagles, Rams and Cowboys before year’s end.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR (Steelers)

PIT 20 at DET 15

John Sherman “JuJu” Smith-Schuster won the league’s AFC Offensive Player of the Week award after he had 7 catches, 193 yards and a TD, including a 97-yard catch-and-run that helped lift the Steelers over the Lions in Detroit.  JuJu’s 97-yard effort also tied for the longest play in Steelers franchise history.  The 20-year old rookie also became the first player in the NFL to score 4 TDs before his 21st birthday.  Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger recently gushed about the young rising star, “This kid just has fun playing football. It’s so innocent. I don’t want to say it’s just youthful innocence, but he really enjoys just going out and playing football… Sometimes I tell [the team], ‘Hey guys, remember back when you guys were kids, when you were playing in the street or playing in the backyard or you were playing midget football or whatever it was, and it was just football, and you went out and you had fun doing it. Remember those times when we go out there today’.” It’s very good for Ben to witness (and acknowledge) that youthful enthusiasm since he recently indicated that he may have lost his own passion for the game.  Perhaps it will rub off on the veteran QB and help him take his very talented team to the playoffs where they belong.

Jameis Winston, QB (Buccaneers)

CAR 17 at TB 3

I was surprised to look at the standings of the NFC South and see Tampa Bay at the bottom with a 2-5 record through Week 8.  They’ve lost 4 straight and word is that their QB Jameis Winston is dealing with a bad shoulder from an injury sustained during Week 6’s game.  Perhaps that explains why he was awful this past Sunday when he completed only 21 of 38 passes for 210 yards with 2 interceptions, 1 fumble and 0 TDs.  It also could have been that the Panthers defense blitzed the heck out of him and stopped him from making any forward progress.  But, the 3rd-year QB’s 5.5 yards per attempt were his lowest since Week 4 of the 2016 season and it is a rare occurrence for him not to throw for a TD in a game.   The season hasn’t been a total loss, as Winston performed well during Week 4 against the Giants when he threw for 332 yards, had 3 TDs, 0 Interceptions, & a 113.0 passer rating.  During Week 7 against the Bills, Winston also looked decent throwing for 384 yards and 3 TDs, with a 112.3 passer rating.  So, it appears inconsistency could be marring Winston’s year and hurting the Bucs offense.  With the 3rd worst defense in the league, Tampa Bay needs Winston to keep the train on the tracks to set the tone.  But, if he misses this Sunday’s game versus the surging Saints due to that shoulder and the Bucs go 2-6, any hopes of this team making the playoffs will likely be over.


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