The NFL postseason couldn’t come at a better time for teams like the Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers or Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose offenses are performing at incredibly high levels. The Cleveland Browns were close to being in the same boat before another obstacle struck the team ahead of Super Wild Card Weekend.
On Tuesday, the Browns announced that head coach Kevin Stefanski was one of five members (three coaches, two players) of the organization who tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss Sunday’s wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that the two players are guard Joel Bitonio and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge. Losing this group — and a full week of practice, no less — is a huge setback for the offense. Not having Bitonio, a three-time Pro Bowler, on the line will surely have an effect on both the passing and run games, while offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will step in as the play-caller.
It’s not ideal, but the Browns aren’t the only team with offensive concerns. Here are the three offensive units that concern me most heading into Super Wild Card Weekend:
The Washington Football Team’s offense is about as vanilla as they come from a play-calling standpoint. Nothing they do should scare defensive coordinators, especially considering Alex Smith’s limited mobility. As we saw last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, Smith isn’t involved in any pocket movement or running the ball — both of which used to be huge parts of his game — and he’s not talented enough to dice defenses up from the pocket at this stage of his career. He also hasn’t received much help from his surrounding cast, outside of receiver Terry McLaurin. Tight end Logan Thomas, who played quarterback in college, has been a pleasant surprise, but the rushing attack has been way too inconsistent to have a regular impact. Everyone on Washington’s offense, which tends to disappear for two quarters at a time, needs to play their best football to have a shot at advancing in the postseason tournament.
Even though Smith is 5-1 as a starter this season, Ron Rivera told reporters Tuesday that the team will “definitely have to look at” rotating Taylor Heinicke in because of the calf injury that has limited Smith of late. The New Orleans Saints frequently rotate two quarterbacks, Drew Brees and Taysom Hill, but it’s tough to compare Washington’s situation with the dynamic duo at Sean Payton’s disposal. I’m not saying that using both Smith and Heinicke won’t work, it just feels like a steep climb.
For all of these reasons, it’s going to be difficult for the Football Team’s 30th-ranked offense to go blow for blow with Tom Brady and the high-flying Buccaneers. The Football Team’s magical ride in 2020 feels like it may come to an abrupt end Saturday.
The Bears have done a great job of simplifying the playbook for Mitchell Trubisky since he reclaimed the starting position in Week 12. They have helped Trubisky get into a rhythm by implementing a mostly short, quick passing game with deep shots sprinkled in with play-action, along with involving Trubisky in the run game. With the quarterback more involved, the Bears’ rushing attack, featuring an improved David Montgomery, has averaged 144.2 rushing yards per game since Week 12 — a big reason for the offensive turnaround down the stretch. In fact, the Bears have scored at least 30 points in four of their final five regular-season games, but that still might not be enough against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
Trubisky has played well over the final month, but the reason the Bears are on this list is because he’s such a wild card. The Bears won’t be playing shoddy defenses — like they did over the final month of the season (Green Bay being the exception, of course) — in the playoffs, and a real concern is whether Trubisky can be the consistent player he’s been down the stretch vs. the best defenses in the league over the next month. The postseason is another animal for quarterbacks. You must be able to execute a two-minute drive before the half and at the end of regulation, be great on third down (not just third-and-short but third-and-long) and take advantage of red-zone trips. I can’t say that I trust Trubisky to consistently do these things.
The Steelers are on this list for two reasons: the run game and drops. Pittsburgh has the worst rushing attack in the league heading into Super Wild Card Weekend. James Conner is the only running back on the roster who’s averaged over 4.0 yards per carry (4.3), but he’s again struggled to stay on the field. Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland have had an increased workload in Conner’s absence, but neither player has rushed for even 3.5 yards per carry this season.
Without a consistent run game, the Steelers have been unable to routinely control the clock and are susceptible to mistakes through the air. Remember what Ohio State’s Woody Hayes said: “Three things can happen when you pass the ball, and two of them are bad.” The Steelers know this all too well, as they have often faltered when relying on Ben Roethlisberger’s arm. The veteran has played some solid ball with good protection from his offensive line and a scheme that allows him to get the ball out quickly, but the biggest issue week after week has been dropped balls. The Steelers have 43 on the season, according to Pro Football Reference, and no one has struggled more than Diontae Johnson (13). Drops have been contagious, and almost every pass catcher has had his fair share, including Eric Ebron (seven), Chase Claypool (six), James Washington (four) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (three). This simply can’t happen if your offense is predicated on quick passes that are turned into big gains. This offense is loaded with talent, but the inconsistencies of the run and pass games have hurt them down the stretch. Pittsburgh’s trending down at the wrong time.
Top 15 Offensive Players
Each week in the 2020 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season’s efforts. Now, let’s get to it — the end-of-season pecking order is below.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from Week 17’s rankings.
I’m pretty sure Rodgers locked up his third NFL Most Valuable Player award with his four-touchdown performance against the Chicago Bears. Rodgers has made highlight-reel plays to Davante Adams, Robert Tonyan and Co. en route to recording a career-high 48 passing touchdowns this season (most in the NFL). This confident, vintage version of Rodgers has routinely made good defenses look bad and great defenses look mediocre — exactly how you win the MVP and make a deep playoff run.
The MVP candidate and the Chiefs’ top skill position players sat in Week 17 to give them two weeks rest before hosting a Divisional Round game. A multiple-week break hasn’t worked out for some — just ask the 2019 Baltimore Ravens — but I get the sense that this Chiefs offense won’t be fazed. The league’s top-ranked offense is led by a once-in-a-generation player who’s been able to turn poor stints around with one flick of the wrist. I don’t expect that to change in two weeks, at least not at this point in his career.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There’s not another receiver in the game right now who I’d rather throw to if I was still playing. His exceptional route running, body control and ability to separate — along with the fact that Rodgers is playing the best football of his career — is why he’s logged a league-leading 18 touchdown receptions in 2020. It’s also why this Packers pair is the scariest duo entering the postseason.
The Titans won the AFC South for the first time since 2008 behind Henry’s historic campaign. He delivered in a big way Sunday with a career-high 250 rushing yards to become the eighth player in NFL history to have at least 2,000 rushing yards in a single season. His 2,027 rushing yards rank fifth all time. Henry is the most valuable non-quarterback heading into the postseason for obvious reasons.
With the exception of a few down weeks in October, Allen has played exceptionally well in his third NFL season, setting franchise records in several categories, including completion percentage (69.2), completions (396), passing yards (4,544), passing TDs (37) and passer rating (107.2). His improvement from last season has the Bills looking like one of the scariest teams in the league heading into the playoffs. They locked up the No. 2 seed in the AFC after thumping the Dolphins in the season finale (their sixth win in a row), and I’d expect Allen to rise to the occasion on NFL Super Wild Card Weekend when the Bills host Indianapolis at 1:05 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Kamara missed the regular-season finale after landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list late last week, but the Saints are optimistic about his return for their wild-card matchup against Chicago. Kamara has been an instrumental part of Sean Payton’s ever-changing offense this season, logging career highs in rushing yards (932) and receptions (83). I would think with the way Kamara’s playing (and if he’s back on the field Sunday) that he’d be a featured player, even if Payton’s offensive arsenal is at full health.
Watson dazzled us with his improvisation and dynamic play-making ability all season long on the way to setting several franchise records, including the highest passer rating (112.4) in a single season. He also led the league in passing yards (4,823), and it’s such a shame we won’t see him play on NFL Super Wild Card Weekend. His 2020 campaign was certainly deserving.
Kelce finished his record-setting campaign with 1,416 receiving yards, second to only Stefon Diggs, and 11 receiving touchdowns. The All-Pro tight end provided the Chiefs with consistent and dominant performances during a season that was anything but ordinary, and he seemed to only get better as the season progressed. That should be a tough reality for the rest of the playoff field to swallow.
Cook returned home to Miami last week following his father’s death, causing him to miss Week 17’s game vs. Detroit. Even still, Cook put together a career performance in his fourth NFL season with 1,557 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. He should continue to be the focal point of the Vikings’ offense, no matter who’s calling the plays in 2021.
Once again, Hill gave the Chiefs a dynamic receiver who stretched the field, and as a result, he tallied a career-high 15 touchdown receptions for the Chiefs’ No. 6 scoring offense. I expect him to follow one of his best regular-season efforts with an equally impressive postseason.
The relocation from one snowy city to another last offseason worked out well for both Diggs and the Buffalo Bills. Playing a major role in his young quarterback’s success, Diggs set franchise records and led the entire NFL in receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535). Was he worth the haul, which included a first-round pick, the Bills sent to Minnesota? The Magic 8-Ball reads, “As I see it, yes.”
Though he’ll surely miss the presence of Bitonio, Cleveland’s second-best run-blocker, per Pro Football Focus, Chubb still has to feel confident going into next weekend’s rematch with the Pittsburgh Steelers after posting 108 yards and a 47-yard TD run on 14 totes (7.7 rushing yards per carry) in Sunday’s finale. He has been one of the most efficient running backs this season, as he has the most rushing yards per carry (5.6) of any of the league’s top 10 running backs. He looks poised to shred Pittsburgh’s stingy D in Cleveland’s first playoff appearance in 17 seasons.
The fact that both DK Metcalf (1,303 receiving yards) and Tyler Lockett (100 receptions) set Seahawks franchise records this season speaks volumes about how Wilson has played. He’s proven he can handle an increased role week in and week out, and though his statistical production in the second half of the season decreased pretty significantly from the first half, is there anyone out there who thinks Wilson won’t bring everything he’s got to Seattle’s postseason opener? Let’s bring out the Magic 8-Ball one more time: “My sources say no.”
Since Jackson came off the COVID-19 list after the Ravens’ bye week, he’s looked like the guy who won the league MVP award last season as undoubtedly the best player on the field every week. His elevated play has helped the Ravens win their last five games to earn a third consecutive playoff berth, and in doing so, Jackson registered his second 1,000-yard rushing season in as many years. The Ravens are playing some of their best football heading into the postseason, and Jackson has a lot to do with it.
The most prominent thing to watch in the Lions-Vikings game was Jefferson’s countdown to breaking Randy Moss’ franchise and Anquan Boldin’s league rookie receiving yards record. You kind of felt like Jefferson would do it after seeing him don THESE cleats. He not only surpassed both marks but reached 1,400 receiving yards for the year. The future is bright for Minnesota’s young star.
Dropped out:DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Cardinals (previously No. 14).
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