Week 12 was one of the most entertaining so far of the NFL season, beginning with a complete collapse of the Chip Kelly experiment in Philadelphia on Thanksgiving, and ending on with one of the most unexpected plays of the year on MNF with the Ravens’ ‘kick-six‘. Along the way we saw the Bears spoiling Brett Favre’s jersey retirement, Washington knocking the Giants off the top spot in the NFC East, and Brock Osweiler and the Broncos’ D delivering the Patriots their first loss of the year. For all that drama, we can’t ignore some of the great performances we saw on the field in Week 12 – so which were the best NFL players that made up our Team of the Week?
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
It’s been a tough year for Russ. He used to be able to lean on the run game and pick his moments to beat defenses but this year that ground attack has all but vanished. But on Sunday, Wilson looked far more like his old self, rolling away from pressure with ease, frustrating edge defenders with his read options and then firing bullets downfield. Wilson completed 21 of 30 passes for 345 yards and 5 touchdowns as he continuously punished the Steelers defense for any small mistake.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings CJ Anderson, Denver Broncos
Peterson has been busy reminding everyone why he’s the best running back the NFL has seen since Ladanian Tomlinson’s peak. This week it was painfully obvious that once again he’s the only reason this Vikings offense works at all as he had 158 yards and found his way into the endzone twice on 29 carries – that’s more pass attempts than Teddy Bridgewater had. Peterson’s blend of speed, power and fearlessness is why Minnesota look prime for a playoff run. In difficult conditions CJ Anderson finally found his 2014 form, picking up 113 yards on the ground and another 40 in the air. Anderson was surefooted in the snow, impressively direct when he had to be but more than happy to hit the edge of the defense, taking the ball to the endzone twice on sweeps, including for the game-winner in overtime. The move to Osweiler has allowed the Broncos to play from under center much more and allowed Anderson to play his natural game.
Marcus Wheaton, Pittsburgh Steelers Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
While Antonio Brown was getting smothered by Richard Sherman, Wheaton was absolutely destroying anyone who tried to cover him. He repeatedly beat double coverage deep, hauling in 9 catches for a crazy 201 yards and a touchdown. His ability to get behind the Seahawks’ secondary kept the Steelers in this shootout and also created space for underneath routes from Heath Miller and DeAngelo Williams. It was a clinic in the importance of being able to take the top off a defense. 6 catches for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns doesn’t really do Sammy Watkins’ performance justice. After being kept quiet last week against New England, Watkins took his frustration out on a good Chiefs secondary, beating Sean Smith deep multiple times, maintaining fantastic body control to reel in catches on the sideline, snagging the football between a corner and safety. It was everything you could want from someone you paid two first round picks for.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
It always feels like Kelce could be used more in the passing game. He’s a match-up nightmare for defenses with good, occasionally great, hands. But the Chiefs are routed in Andy Reid’s system that doesn’t use the tight end much. With that in mind, Kelce’s day of 4 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown is good, but it was his blocking that helped him make the Team of the Week. Blocking is often an overlooked part of the game for modern tight ends, but having a player who is deadly with the ball in his hands and can block is a tough combo to beat. It’s what separated Gronk from Jimmy Graham at the height of his powers, it’s why Tony Gonzalez is considered the greatest tight end by a wide margin. This week Kelce was a key part of Spencer Ware’s big day on the ground, he was kept in to protect Alex Smith from a good Bills pass rush and was a big reason why Alex Smith could make downfield throws against Buffalo.
T: Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns G: Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens C: Josh LeRibeus, Washington Redskins G: Max Garcia, Denver Broncos T: Marcus Gilbert, Pittsburgh Steelers
The only reason to watch Cleveland these days is #73 at left tackle. He makes dealing with 270lb fast, angry men look simple. While the rest of the Ravens defense was having its way with Cleveland’s offensive line Thomas absolutely locked down his side in pass protection and made good blocks in the run game. It’s not his fault the backs couldn’t take advantage of it. Just another day at the office for the league’s best guard. Yanda was dominant in run blocking, busting open lanes for Buck Allen and Terrance West pretty regularly and keeping Matt Schaub clean all day. Josh LeRibeus lead a great day for the Washington offensive line. They held the Giants pass rush to just one hit of Kirk Cousins and almost no pressure. The leader was LeRibeus who aced the protection calls and kept the top of the pocket super clean for Cousins. They had a good day on the ground as well, opening lanes and preventing any tackle for loss in the middle. Rookie guard Max Garcia leapt off the tape on sunday. Starting briefly at left guard before moving over to the right side Garcia played a huge part in opening up lanes for Ronnie Hillman and CJ Anderson against a stout New England front. His day was made a little easier with Dont’a Hightower leaving early with a knee injury, making his second level blocks simpler, but he was a force against a deep defensive tackle rotation for New England and did enough to warrant a long-term job for the Broncos. Gilbert had one of the toughest jobs in the NFL on Sunday, trying to stop the Seahawks pass rushers in the hurricane of noise that is CenturyLink Field. It turned out to be a very successful day for Gilbert as he handled Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett well.
DE: JJ Watt, Houston Texans DT: Chris Canty, Baltimore Ravens DT: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals DE: Derek Wolfe, Denver Broncos
JJ Watt is making another run at Defensive Player of the Year. He already has two to his name in just 4 years in the NFL and would equal Lawrence Taylor’s record with a third, and really, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve it. Watt added another 2 sacks on Sunday to take his season total up to an NFL leading 13.5. He hit Drew Brees SEVEN times, making it 41 QB hits in 11 games. To get an idea of Watt’s dominance, the next highest total is 24…. Chris Canty will be in the nightmares of rookie Cameron Erving all week after he spent Monday night abusing the guard. Canty’s consistent pressure against both the run and pass kept Cleveland’s offense off balance all night. It’s been a long road back to form for Geno Atkins since his ACL tear, but on Sunday he looked like his old self as he picked up 3 tackles for loss, one sack and 3 QB hits. Atkins is a joy to watch at his best, his hands are among the best as an interior pass rusher, creating separation from the blocker and then ruining the life of the ball carrier. Having him back to form makes the Bengals even more deadly than they already were. Wolfe has come back fired-up from his 4 game suspension. He picked up a sack on Tom Brady early on but his main contribution came against the run where he dominated Josh Kline and made a series of crushing tackles and hits behind the line of scrimmage. New England’s offense quickly became one dimensional thanks to Wolfe’s superb run defense.
OLB: Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins MLB: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers OLB: Anthony Barr, Minnesota Vikings
Kerrigan had a very good day on the edge for the Redskins, maintaining contain against the run well and then terrorizing Eli Manning with his pass rush. Kerrigan finished up with a pair of sacks and 3 more hits as well as a pass deflection in coverage. Kuechly is putting together his best season in coverage. He was everywhere against Dallas on Thanksgiving, intercepting two passes, breaking up two more and making 7 tackles the rest of the time. If JJ Watt didn’t exist Kuechly would be a shoe-in for Defensive Player of the Year. In a closely fought game, Barr was a difference maker as he made the hustle play of the day – chasing Tevin Coleman back across the field to not only save a touchdown after a 46 yard run but also force the fumble. Barr backed that play up with 6 further solo tackles and a late sack & fumble on Matt Ryan to help ice the game up. Barr is one of the hottest up-and-coming linebackers in the NFL on a defense that does a great job at keeping their backers clean to go and make plays.
Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks Tracy Porter, Chicago Bears
Sherman was giving the difficult task on shadowing Antonio Brown for most of the day. It was a rarity for him but he did it extremely well. Ben Roethlisberger had a 0.0 QB Rating when throwing at Sherman thanks to an interception and 2 pass defenses. Sherman got away with a lot of physical play, including on the interception when Brown ended up on the ground, but when the referees are going to call the game that way he’d be a fool not to take advantage of it. Porter’s performance on Thursday was crucial to Chicago’s upset win over Green Bay. One interception, another called back for a very soft penalty, and then 2 vital knock aways in the last minute to preserve the win. He blanketed his receiver well and a good day from his partner left Aaron Rodgers with some of his worst numbers of the year.
Kurt Coleman, Carolina Panthers Landon Collins, New York Giants
Another great performance from Coleman who has been one of the most improved players of this season. He made a beautiful read on Romo in the opening drive and jumped a pass to Jason Witten on a deep in, taking it back to the house to start what would be a landslide win for the Panthers. On top of that interception he broke up one more pass and helped keep Dez Bryant in check all game. Collins is starting to prove his draft day detractors wrong as he makes play after play in coverage. He was only targeted once and made a nice open field tackle on that play. But his true value comes against the run as he picked up 2 tackles for loss and was a constant menace as he shot gaps in the middle, finishing the day with a team-leading 8 solo tackles.