Philip Rivers, QB (Chargers)

OAK 10 at LAC 30

Despite the 36-year-old QB’s excellent performance during Week 17 when he threw for 387 yards, landed 28 of 37 passes, had 3 TDs, 0 Interceptions and a 135.8 passer rating, a win or loss at home would not have helped the Chargers playoff chances once the Titans won against the Jags and took a wild card spot.  Still, the 14-year veteran and newly crowned AFC Player of the Week should have high hopes for next year, particularly since the Chargers won 9 of their last 12, and finished 2nd in the division at 9-7 after starting the year 0-4.  It was LA’s best team record in 3 years.  Going forward, at least the Chargers will have much of their transition distractions moving from San Diego to L.A. behind them.  Rivers is looking forward to it.  He said recently, “I think that next year, we’re going to be a team that is still playing into January and we’ve at least set the groundwork to kind of, you know, keep moving things forward to make the transition.” So now that Rivers can sit back and watch the post season unfold, who does he think will go to the Super Bowl? Last year, he predicted that Atlanta would represent the NFC in Super Bowl 51.  “Something tells me Minnesota”, he said this week.

Orleans Darkwa, RB (Giants)

WAS 10 at NYG 18

NY had one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL this season.  So, I never thought I’d see a Giants running back make this list before year’s end.  After 16 games, they ranked 26th in Rushing Yards; 28th in Rushing TDs; 25th in Attempts; 31st in Total Rushing Pts; and 31st in Rushing Points Per Game.  But, this fourth-year back had a career day last Sunday with 154 rushing yards on 20 attempts and a scored a 75-yard TD to become the leading rusher of the week.  He also was honored as the FedEx Ground Player of the Week.  That 75-yarder was the longest TD run of Darkwa’s career and the game became his second career 100-yard rushing game.  Just speculating here, but the Giants likely knew that the Nashville native needed just 153 yards in the last game of the season to cash in on a $200,000 bonus incentive built into his contract.  That is, he needed to reach at least 750 rushing yards and 4.0 yards per carry, which he did.  Earlier in the season, the 25-year-old hit his first $200,000 bonus for reaching the 500 yards rushing milestone.  All told, Darkwa finished the season with 751 yards, 4.4 yards per carry and 5 TDs.   Interesting to note that he only had 3 games this season in which he got more than 20+ carries, but the Giants won all 3 of those games.  Will NY see the potential here and retain Darkwa after his one-year contract expires?  Even if they don’t, we should keep him on the radar for fantasy teams.  When he stays healthy, this undrafted free agent has proven that he can make a real difference.

Albert Wilson, WR (Chiefs)

KC 27 at DEN 24

Most of the Chiefs regulars rested during the last game of the season in preparation for the playoffs, including starting QB Alex Smith.  In his place, rookie backup Patrick Mahomes got the start under center and targeted this 25-year-old receiver out of Georgia State more times than any other.  Being Mahomes favorite bulls-eye all day paid off for Wilson, as he had the best game of his four-year career with 10 receptions on 11 targets for 147 yards.  He also finished the game as Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated wide receiver in the league during Week 17.  PFF also noted that Wilson could be “an underrated weapon” for KC in the post season. But, unfortunately, the Chiefs listed Wilson as “questionable” on their final injury report before Saturday’s wild card game against the Titans and held him out of practice on Tuesday due to a hamstring injury sustained last Sunday.  It has been noticed that when Wilson was out 3 mid-season games due to injury, the Chiefs lost those games and missed his presence.  He is considered vital to Head Coach Andy Reid’s “system” behind TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreek Hill.  And, with other wide receivers out on IR and the corps already thin, Kansas City would have to rely upon rookie WR Jehu Chesson and pull Marcus Kemp from the practice squad if Wilson were indeed to stay out of the WC game.  I have a feeling that even if he isn’t 100%, Wilson will play.  He becomes an unrestricted free agent this year and all the world will be watching.

Ezekiel Ansah, DE (Lions)

GB 11 at DET 35

Ansah made this list last week (Wk 16) when he was the sack leader with 3 against Bengals QB Andy Dalton.  Here he is again with another incredible 3 sack game versus Green Bay for 31 sack yards, 2 hurries, 2 QB hits and 3 other tackles.  For his efforts, he became the NFC Defensive Player of the Week while also becoming the first player in Lions history with at least 3 sacks in back to back games.  With the addition of his 3-sack performance during Week 2 against the Giants, Ansah is the first player in franchise history to have 3 sacks in 3 games in a season.  Pro Football Focus also gave the 5-year veteran the top overall grade (85.0) for Detroit this week.  The former Pro Bowler’s future with the team is still up in the air, but with his strong finish after an injury-prone season, it is likely the team will slap a franchise tag on him for next year.  As for the Lions future without Head Coach Jim Caldwell who was fired this week, word is that Patriots Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia, 43, interviewed with the team on Friday and is the “presumptive favorite” to become the Lions next head coach.  He is known for his untiring passion for the sport and according to The Detroit News, only sleeps about 4 hours a night to study film and prepare game plans.  Patricia said in a 2015 interview, “I like that word (relentless).  I think for me, it’s all about work ethic and just trying to get in there and make sure that I do everything that I can to help those guys be productive on the field. That’s really my biggest – I don’t want to say panic – but that’s the thing that drives me the most, is just making sure that I’ve given those guys all the information they need to be prepared to win. That’s what keeps me up at night.”

Jordan Poyer, S (Bills)

BUF 22 at MIA 16

One of the standouts for Buffalo this season has been this 26-year old free agent signed by the Bills in the off-season.  He was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for December for his outstanding performance including 30 tackles and 3 interceptions (1 returned for a TD against the Patriots during Week 16).  Unfortunately, the gloves he was wearing when he intercepted Tom Brady last week were among possessions stolen from his car in Buffalo on New Year’s Eve.  But, whether or not they are recovered, Poyer still has a job to do this Sunday when the Bills take on the Jaguars for the first AFC Wild Card Game.  The team certainly has a chance to upset Jacksonville, particularly with that stacked secondary including Poyer and fellow safety Micah Hyde.  He was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for October, making Hyde and Poyer the first safety tandem in NFL history to each earn such honors in the same season.  The unit has only allowed 14 passing TDs all season and with rookie Tre’Davious White who has forced 5 turnovers in the 4Q this year and finished the season tied for the most passes defended (18) and second in Interceptions (5) among all rookies, they could give QB Blake Bortles a lot of trouble in the back field.  It is likely this game will be a low scoring one led by rushing attacks given the strength of both teams’ secondaries.

Baltimore Ravens

CIN 31 at BAL 27

All the Ravens had to do was beat the Bengals during their last regular season game at home to get into the playoffs. Cincinnati was a divisional opponent that sat at 6-9, had the worst offense in the league and struggled to score points.  Sounds simple, since the Ravens defense was better than average and the offense did a decent job of scoring points itself during the season, albeit inconsistently.  In fact, according to ESPN Analytics, Baltimore had a 93.4% chance of winning. But the Ravens’ Week 17 game against Cincinnati was anything but a cinch.  With less than a minute left and a 3-point lead, Baltimore’s defense allowed a 49-yard Bengals TD to a relatively unknown WR (Tyler Boyd) on a 4th-down play and with it, their chance to snag an AFC wild card slot went up in smoke.

Now, I’m not totally surprised by this outcome.  I doubted that a team which lacked key personnel, had an erratic QB, and predicted to finish the season near .500 would be poised to take advantage of a wonderful opportunity like this.  And, I understood that the Bengals were gunning to be spoilers after their disappointing season.  But, really?!

The game may have come down to the last play and so with it, the Ravens season.  However, passionate teams with real leadership and legitimate coaches do not let games like this slip away. They find a way to put the pieces together by scratching and clawing for every down, every point, and make crucial stops.  They don’t let a subpar team with nothing to lose take them down and ruin their season.  You could bet that Coach Belichick would never have allowed the possibility of losing to the Bengals even enter his players’ minds in this situation. Yet, it happened on Coach John Harbaugh’s watch.  And, this hasn’t been the first time.

Last season, Week 16 – Baltimore had a chance to win the division and make it to the playoffs.  First, they had to take care of business and beat Pittsburgh on Christmas Day.  They actually led the Steelers through most of the 2nd half and even had a 10-point lead in the 4Q.  But, in the last few seconds of the game, Pittsburgh scored a TD to beat the Ravens which knocked Baltimore out of the post season…

If I were a Ravens fan, I would want accountability.  Their defensive coordinator (Dean Pees) plans to retire after this season, but this goes deeper than him.  It’s not just that Baltimore isn’t going the distance for the 3rd straight year, it’s the way they aren’t getting there.  It’s inexcusable, and that falls on Harbaugh.


Source : NFL Wk 17 Leaders

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