USA TODAY Sports breaks down how the NFL playoffs would look if the regular season ended today.
USA TODAY Sports
Awards, observations and a quick review of Week 11 in the NFL …
Stud of the week: Kirk Cousins. In carving up Green Bay’s depleted defense for 375 yards and three TDs before a national audience on Sunday night, Washington’s quarterback not only extracted some payback from a playoff loss on the same FedEx Field in January, he also provided quite the reminder that Dancin’ Dan Snyder will have to cut a rather large check to keep him for the long haul. Talk about a negotiating strike. Washington has one of the most potent offenses in the NFL with a rather impressive cast of supporting actors. But it’s also potent because of the chemistry that flows with Cousins continuing to evolve as a big-time thrower. At the end of the game, Cousins – playing on a one-year franchise tag of $19.953 million – was caught on camera hugging GM Scot McCloughan with a variation on his signature “you like that” mantra: “How ya like me now?” Even better: How much will you pay for that?
Defensive player of the week: Xavier Rhodes. The big-play Vikings cornerback continued his splendid season against Arizona with a momentum-swinging, 100-yard interception return touchdown. It was one of Rhodes’ two picks of Carson Palmer, raising his second total to four, and the type of boost Minnesota needed to help its sluggish, depleted offense. The Vikings also got a 104-yard kickoff-return TD from Cordarrelle Patterson that when combined with Rhodes’ effort gave the Vikings the first duo to post 100-yard scores on kickoff and interception returns in a games since 1962.
Special teamer of the week: Roberto Aguayo. On an historic day of futility for NFL kickers (who missed 12 PAT conversions), the Bucs kicker was perfect on his four field goal tries and a PAT at Kansas City. This was significant because Aguayo missed five field goals and two PATs in his first nine games, drawing extreme heat and major questions about why the Bucs would draft a kicker in the second round. The kicks on Sunday were also significant because they helped Tampa Bay spring the biggest upset of the weekend by shocking the Chiefs.
Rookie of the week: Robert Kelley. The undrafted free agent running back has been Washington’s biggest surprise, and on the Sunday night stage against the Packers he complemented the red-hot passing of Kirk Cousins by rushing for 137 yards (including a 66-yard jaunt) and three TDs. Talk about cashing in on opportunity. Kelley made his move during the preseason when then-starter Matt Jones suffered a shoulder injury. Since then, he gained the confidence of the coaches because of his reliability with ball security and pass protection. And, of course, in averaging 5 yards per carry he knows how to read blocks and explode through the holes.
Comeback player of the week: Russell Wilson. This has been the most physically challenging season yet for the Seahawks quarterback, who has battled through ankle, knee and pec injuries to the extent that at one point a rehab specialist lived with him for a week to administer treatment in the middle of the night. But he’s back now. That much was evident during the win against the Eagles, when Wilson was spry enough to engage in a bit of trickery that resulted in the first receiver TD of his career – a 15-yard haul from wideout Doug Baldwin. With Wilson able to run again, the Seahawks are that much more dangerous as they seem poised to round into their typical late-season form with a legitimate shot to wear another crown.
This week’s genius: Jack Del Rio. The Raiders coach bucked conventional wisdom and took his team to Mexico City the day before the Monday night game – wanting to spend as little time as possible in the high altitude rather than banking on more time to get acclimated to the environment. His theory, which he’s also employed for games in Denver, is that the less time, the less effect on the body. It worked. The Raiders left Mexico as the top-seeded team in the AFC following the win against Houston. Chalk it up as another smooth move for the coach who started the season by going for an all-or-nothing two-point conversion to win the opener at New Orleans and has pretty much pushed all the right buttons since.
Boneheaded blunder: Jaguars defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book during the fourth quarter at Detroit, when he was drawn offside by a Matthew Stafford hard count on fourth-and-2 from the Jacksonville 46-yard line, with about three minutes remaining. Although the Lions were leading at the time, they were also expecting to punt. The penalty extended the clock-killing drive that resulted in a Matt Prater field goal and seven-point lead. By the time the Jaguars got the ball back, only 22 seconds were on the clock. The Lions (6-4) are the first team in NFL history to trail in the fourth quarter of their first 10 games. It also helps get an assist from an opponent, just in the nick of time.
How ya like me now? Ryan Tannehill. With his team carrying the AFC’s longest winning streak at five games, the narrative surrounding the Dolphins quarterback is changing. After so many questions about whether he would ever develop into the franchise quarterback worthy of the investments – a first-round pick after minimal college experience and a $77 million contract – Tannehill seemingly has finally found his groove under first-year coach Adam Gase. Tannehill passed for just 172 yards on Sunday, but he threw the scoring passes to cap Miami’s final two drives and comeback victory.