Eli Manning, QB (Giants)

PHI 34 at NYG 29

The 36-year-old QB proved that he’s still very proficient under center during the Giants’ Week 15 loss to the playoff-bound Eagles.  Manning was the week’s passing leader as he completed 37 of 57 passes for 434 yards, had 3 TDs and a 98.1 rating.  He credited offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan for “mixing it up” and going up-tempo with a no-huddle attack that put the Eagles’ defense on their heels most of the game.  In fact, the fast play almost helped the beleaguered Giants beat Philadelphia when NY scored a TD on each of their first three possessions.  Unfortunately, a false start by the Right Tackle on a fourth-and-goal at the 6-yard line towards the end of the game closed NY’s upset window.  Still, Giants fans should be encouraged by their veteran QB’s excellent performance under the right plan of attack without Odell Beckham Jr.  It certainly was enough for the Giants’ new General Manager (Dave Gettleman) who plans to keep Manning around, at least for the time being.  Gettleman said at his introductory press conference on Friday, “Eli’s won a lot of games, and he’s a great competitor, he’s very intelligent, and he and I are gonna talk. And if what I saw (against) Philadelphia was not a mirage, and I don’t believe it was, then we’ll just keep moving.”

C.J. Anderson, RB (Broncos)

DEN 25 at IND 13

The (5-10) Broncos may have had a crummy season, but this 26-year-old has quietly put together the best of his 5-year career.  Through Week 15, Anderson sits at 858 yards on the season with the 1,000-yard mark near-at-hand. The closest he ever came to this number was 849 total yards in 2014.  After last Sunday’s game against the Colts, when he ran for 158 yards on 30 attempts, the 5-8, 224 lbs. running back put himself closer to attaining this goal which the Broncos’ star WR Demaryius Thomas is aiming for as well.  At the end of Sunday’s game, the 8-year wideout had 840 receiving yards on the season.  If he was to reach 1,000 yards on the season, it would be his sixth consecutive year which would tie Rod Smith for the longest streak in franchise history.  Anderson put it in perspective for both players after last week’s game, “I think it’s a good milestone for myself, but also for up front and our team as a whole… Same thing for D.T. (Demaryius Thomas) and keeping his streak going. Even though we’re not having the season we want to, it still feels good to have certain milestones reached, and hopefully we can reach that goal.”

Keelan Cole, WR (Jaguars)

HOU 7 at JAX 45

You may not have heard of this young wideout before, but keep his name in mind for your fantasy team.  He is a 24-year old who was picked up by the Jags this year as an undrafted free agent and has shown great promise when given the chance to fill in for the team’s injury-ravaged receiving corps.  He had his first breakout performance during Week 14 against the Seahawks with 7 receptions and 186 yards, but Cole had the best game of his season during Week 15’s blowout against the Texans with 7 receptions for 186 yards and a TD.  That makes three consecutive games he has had a TD, a rookie franchise record.  Word is, too, that Cole is a hard worker and has the respect of the locker room due to his unlikely path to the NFL.  Essentially, he was redshirted as a true freshman at a private college program with no NFL pedigree (Kentucky Wesleyan) and went from high school DB to college WR.  As for this season, Cole’s expectations with the Jaguars was to be an offensive reserve player, but not much more than that.  Going forward, it’ll be fun to watch this rookie’s development. Hopefully, the Jags will continue to give him more chances to prove his value.  So far, so good.

Aaron Donald, DE (Rams)

LA 42 at SEA 7

Before Week 15, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson said this 26-year old veteran Defensive End was, “the greatest defensive player I’ve ever played against [and] I’ve played against some really good guys.”  That sentiment was likely confirmed last Sunday by Wilson when the Seahawks offense was dismantled by the Rams at home. Doing much of the damage?  Donald, of course. He absolutely stifled Wilson by sacking him 3 times (2 for a loss), pressured him on several drop-backs, and also forced a fumble.  The 3 sacks by Donald brought his season number to 11, the same amount Raiders DE Khalil Mack had last year when he won 2016’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, an honor many think Donald is destined to own this season.  Just ask Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips who said, “I was thinking more like most valuable player in the league.” 

Darius Slay, CB (Lions)

CHI 10 at DET 20

During Week 15, Slay may have had one of the best games of his five-year NFL career when he intercepted 2 passes against Chicago (bringing his season total to 7; best in the league) and broke up 3 passes (T-1st with 20 on the season).  This performance helped the 26-year old Pro Bowler earn his 2nd career NFC Defensive Player of the Week award (Week 5 of the 2016 season).  By doing so, Slay became the 5th Lions player to earn the award multiple times and only the 2nd CB to do so.  He also earned a $550,000 bonus earlier in the week after he met 2 of the 3 escalators in his contract (a Pro Bowl selection and 5 interceptions).  Lions coach Jim Caldwell said of Slay, “He’s always had an inordinate amount of athletic ability.  I mean, you could see that when he first came in the league. I know I talked about that before in his old number. He can run. He’s quick. He’s competitive. He loves to mix it up, and now just through experience and seeing a lot of things throughout the years, he’s really coming into his own and playing extremely well.”  Next big accolade for “Big Play Slay” is to become a first-team All-Pro, a designation handed out to the best players in the league for their position, as selected by the AP.  I wonder what kind of bonus Slay would receive for that award?

Seattle Seahawks

LA 42 at SEA 7

It’s easy to take shots at Seattle after their lopsided loss to the Rams during Week 15.  On both sides of the football, the Seahawks just frankly got outplayed by LA.  At half-time, they fell behind 0-34 and only managed to score 1 TD in the entire game (3Q.)  The crux of the problem seemed to be that the Seahawks could not keep Rams WR Todd Gurley in check. He rushed for 152 yards and had 3 TDs, plus carried the ball 21 times, caught 3 passes and had another TD. His ability to continuously get yardage and extend plays helped the Rams’ Defense rest and attack Seattle’s offense without abandon. They sacked QB Russell Wilson 7 times for a loss of 71 total yards and limited him to 142 yards passing and only 39 rushing yards.  The team could also not beat the Rams’ Offensive Line which gave QB Jared Goff enough time to do damage and allow Todd Gurley to find all the holes he did…  Yet, after realizing how badly Seattle got their butts kicked during this game, I can’t just bash this team and think they’ll go away quietly.  They always had an ability to build up enough swagger to overcome any issues and I think they may continue to the playoffs this year that same way.  The question remains: will all the devastating injuries to key players undermine Seattle’s ability to overcome?  It will be interesting to see how far they can actually go.


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