10 things to know about NFL Week 14
1. The Bengals’ postseason expectations became shaky with Andy Dalton’s injury.
Last week, PFF founder Neil Hornsby named the Cincinnati Bengals the best team in the AFC entering Week 14.
Oh, how things can change over the course of a single game in the NFL.
Andy Dalton, the seventh-highest graded quarterback in the league this season, left Sunday’s matchup against Pittsburgh with a fractured thumb. In his post-game remarks, coach Marvin Lewis said Dalton would certainly not be playing in Week 15—since then, the team has said he will not require surgery, but no timetable for his return has been outlined.
Dalton, playing the best football of his career by a stretch this season, owns the sixth-best accuracy percentage in the league when under pressure, and the seventh-best overall accuracy percentage.
In 41 snaps against the Steelers yesterday, backup QB A.J. McCarron struggled against pressure (+1.5 passing grade when not pressured, -2.8 when under pressure). Colleague Sam Monson explained on Monday what McCarron will need to do in Dalton’s absence to coast Cincinnati into the postseason—and beyond, if Dalton is out longer.
2. Khalil Mack threw his name in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.
Okay, Mack may have been in the conversation already, given the strong year he’s had to this point, but his five-sack performance against the Broncos solidified the fact.
As Sam Monson discussed in great detail on Monday, Mack simply created chaos against a Denver offensive line that has been struggling (ranked 18th this season in pass blocking, 25th in run blocking).
Mack recorded the highest grade of any outside linebacker this season—by a large margin—even overtaking Justin Houston’s monster showing against Denver in Week 10. The second-year star out of the University at Buffalo notched two hits, three hurries, and seven stops in addition to his five sacks on Sunday. Mack now leads all 3-4 OLBs in sacks (15), tackles (38), and stops (43) this season.
3. Cam Newton continued his MVP campaign.
With another quality performance against the Falcons, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has now recorded the highest cumulative grade among all NFL QBs in the past five weeks.
In Week 14, Newton shared the honor of top grade with Seattle’s Russell Wilson, performing exceptionally well as a passer. In fact, since Week 8, Newton owns the highest passing grade of any QB, as well as the second-highest run grade.
In his latest endeavor against the Falcons, Newton threw three touchdowns and no picks. He was especially accurate on deep passes (20+ yards in the air), connecting on all five such attempts for 179 yards and two TDs—the most accurate of any NFL QB in Week 14. He was also extremely cool under pressure, accurate 80 percent of the time on passes where he was under pressure (third-best in Week 14).
Newton now owns the fifth-highest overall QB grade of the season, but will likely continue to climb with favorable defensive matchups to end the season (Giants, Falcons again, and Buccaneers).
4. The Panthers shut out the Atlanta Falcons to become 13-0.
While Newton may have stolen the headlines against Atlanta, it was the Carolina defense that put on the true show.
In the 38-0 win in Charlotte, only three players earned “red” grades for the game (below -1.0), while three Panthers earned a spot on Khaled Elsayed’s Team of the Week, featuring the best performers around the NFL.
Linebacker Thomas Davis did most of his damage to the Falcons’ passing game, forcing a fumble and beating a tackle for a hit on Matt Ryan. Luke Kuechly wasn’t far behind Davis, with another big game against the run.
DT Kawann Short continued his fantastic season, with two sacks and two forced fumbles. Short is now the seventh-ranked interior defender in the NFL this season.
Safety Kurt Coleman recorded his seventh interception of the season (he’s had one in each of the last five games).
5. Todd Gurley was the highest-graded RB in Week 14.
Ah, there’s the Todd Gurley we saw in Weeks 4 through 8. On just 31 snaps and 16 rushing attempts against the Lions, the former Georgia standout notched 140 yards and a pair of TDs.
Much of Gurley’s success this season has come on “home run” rushes, as he leads the league in breakaway percentage, which shows which RBs earn the highest (and lowest) percentage of their yardage on runs of 15+ yards. 50.4 percent of Gurley’s yards have come on such rushes—Doug Martin is behind him at 44.7.
With his solid Week 14 performance, Gurley cracked PFF’s 10 highest-graded running backs this season.
6. J.J. Watt is, in fact, human.
J.J. Watt broke his hand during practice last Wednesday—and yes, as expected, the seemingly superhuman star played on Sunday, despite the injury.
What has grabbed headlines, however, is the effect the injury had on Watt’s performance. Against the Patriots—with his casted hand reminding viewers of a boxing glove—Watt tied his lowest game-grade of the season (-1.3, also coming in Week 5).
Sam Monson broke down Watt’s performance on Monday. The Texan was clearly hampered by his hand, but the Patriots’ quick-release offense also limited his effectiveness in the pass rush.
7. Russell Wilson is on fire.
With the Cam Newton craze in full swing (deservedly so, mind you) the stellar play of Seahawks’ quarterback has been somewhat overlooked.
In Week 14, Wilson tied Newton for the best QB grade, tossing five touchdowns and no picks in Seattle’s rout of Baltimore—at M&T Bank Stadium, no less.
This season, Russell Wilson owns the highest accuracy percentage of any NFL QB, hitting his target 79.1 percent of the time. He’s also been the most accurate under pressure, with a 74.1 accuracy percentage in such circumstances.
Wilson owns the highest cumulative QB grade over the past four weeks of play, as well as the most yards per pass attempt (9.9). He currently sits as the No. 4 ranked quarterback this season (86.3 overall grade)—just ahead of Cam Newton (85.8).
8. So is Big Ben, now our top-graded QB this season.
A new name climbed atop our overall season grades at the quarterback position this week, as Ben Roethlisberger notched yet another solid performance against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Roethlisberger, coming off his highest-graded game of the season in Week 13, didn’t put up the traditional box-score statistics that draw attention—but his day certainly wasn’t a sour one.
Connecting on 30-of-39 passes for the second-highest completion percentage of the week (behind only Kirk Cousins), Roethlisberger earned the fifth-highest overall grade among Week 14 QBs.
For the season (playing in nine games), Big Ben now owns the top QB grade in the NFL.
9. The Colts lost—and are still in first place in the AFC South.
Despite falling to division-opponent Jacksonville, Indianapolis remains atop the AFC South with three games left.
Indianapolis fell to 6-7 on the season, as did Houston with a loss to the Patriots on Sunday Night Football. Due to the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Colts are in sole possession of the division’s playoff bid.
What makes this race particular interesting now, though, is the fact that Jacksonville is now very much in the hunt. Blake Bortles and company host the Falcons in Week 15, while the Colts and Texans play each other. If Houston wins, we may see a very interesting game for the division title in Week 17 when the Jaguars travel to NRG Stadium.
10. Odell Beckham Jr. had a monster game on Monday Night Football.
Putting on quite the show in primetime, OBJ helped the Giants secure a win in the ever-tight NFC East race (three teams now stand at 6-7).
The second-year product out of LSU had the most receiving yards of any WR in Week 14 (166), over half of them coming off a single 84-yard gain. Beckham Jr. didn’t earn the top grade among all receivers this week (that honor belongs to Cincinnati’s A.J. Green), but he was second in that regard.
OBJ is now our sixth-ranked receiver overall this season, just behind Larry Fitzgerald and Alshon Jeffery.