10 things to know about NFL Week 16
Upsets were plentiful, "Nuk" shined, and Aaron Donald continued his DPOY campaign. Here's everything you need to know from Week 16.
10 things to know about NFL Week 16
Didn’t catch every moment of NFL Week 16? PFF has you covered with the top 10 things you need to know based on our grades and data.
1. ‘Twas the week for upsets.
Winding down from the holiday rush, many believed Week 16 would bring some solidification to the playoff picture. Sunday disproved any such expectations, however, with upsets in most of the seemingly lopsided contests.
Perhaps most surprising was the Ravens’ 20-17 win over the Steelers, whom many considered a near lock to win out and secure an AFC Wild Card spot. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger posted his second-lowest game grade of the year, as well the fewest passing yards of any full game he’s played in this season (203).
Taking advantage of the Steelers’ plight, the New York Jets upset the Patriots 26-20 in overtime after the controversial coin-toss.
The Panthers’ undefeated season came to an end against the Falcons, as the Carolina defense crashed down to earth. Luke Kuechly earned the third-lowest game grade of his career, while Josh Norman posted his second negatively-graded performance in a row.
Finally, the Seahawks fell—for the second time this season—to the Rams, this time at home. Aaron Donald and company made a mockery of the Seahawks’ offensive line, but more on that shortly.
To celebrate “the week of the upset,” the next few points will highlight players from those unexpected victories.
2. Aaron Donald solidified himself as DPOY frontrunner.
With the Rams well out of postseason contention, the early-season hype surrounding Aaron Donald’s incredible play seems to have quieted lately. In no way, however, should St. Louis’ losing record take away from the career-year of the Rams’ DT.
In Week 16, Donald was again unstoppable, beating out Carolina’s Kawann Short for the highest DT/NT grade of the week. Against Russell Wilson, Donald recorded two QB hits, seven QB hurries, five tackles, and three stops, matching his second-highest game grade of the season. (His highest game grade, interestingly enough, also came against the Seahawks in Week 1. Needless to say, Wilson very well may see Donald in his nightmares.)
For the season, Donald owns a 99.5 overall grade, the highest of any interior defender. The table below shows he’s not simply beating out chumps for that honor, either.
3. Recently-signed QB Ryan Mallett delivered for Baltimore.
With less than two weeks to prepare, Ryan Mallett took the reigns for the Ravens in what was arguably the largest upset of the week. The former Houston QB (who started in Weeks 2 through 5 for the Texans) threw for a season-high 274 yards and a touchdown, with no picks to his name.
In fact, Mallett produced the seventh-best accuracy percentage of any QB in Week 16, throwing a catchable pass on 79.5 percent of his attempts.
Mallett may be securing a roster spot for the near future in Baltimore, as Matt Schaub and Jimmy Clausen clearly aren’t the answer at second-string behind Joe Flacco in 2016.
4. As did Ryan Fitzpatrick for the Jets.
Set to become a free agent at the end of this season, Ryan Fitzpatrick delivered the seventh-best QB grade of the week in the Jets’ OT victory. The former Harvard standout notched 298 yards through the air and a trio of touchdown passes—including the game-winner to Eric Decker.
On Monday, PFF colleague Sam Monson explained why the Jets’ are a legitimate postseason threat—if Fitzpatrick and company can close out the year at Buffalo next week with a victory.
5. But Matt Ryan earned the highest grade of any QB in Week 16.
While Fitzpatrick and Mallett’s performances have stolen headlines the past few days (and rightly so), we can’t fail to mention the top-performing quarterback this past weekend: Matt Ryan.
Not only did Ryan own the highest accuracy percentage of any NFL QB on Sunday (93.1 percent), as well as the best accuracy percentage under pressure, but the Falcon also put the nail in the coffin for Carolina’s perfect season bid in the process.
The eight-year pro collected 306 passing yards and a touchdown against a Panthers’ pass coverage unit that is still ranked No. 1 in the league this season, even after the loss. Ryan’s performance earned him his best single-game grade since Week 1 of the 2014 season, when he teed off against the New Orleans’ secondary for 448 yards.
6. Johnny Manziel, on the other hand…
If Matt Ryan provided the brightest of QB performances in Week 16, Cleveland’s Johnny Manziel gave us the bleakest.
Manziel recorded the lowest overall grade of any quarterback on Sunday—worse, by a hair, than even Eli Manning’s three-pick SNF outing. Johnny Football’s earned the second-lowest passing grade of the year (the lowest was Peyton Manning’s Week 10 four-interception game), but his overall grade was actually lifted thanks to his league-best QB run grade.
Manziel averaged a league-low 4.3 yards per pass attempt, and notched the week’s worst accuracy percentage, at 46.4. When pressured (36.6 percent of dropbacks, second-lowest in Week 16), Manziel’s accuracy percentage dropped to 16.7.
Will Week 17 be the last time we see Manziel in a Browns uniform? If the front office makes any decisions based on Week 16, Cal’s Jared Goff can probably book his flight to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport soon.
7. DeAndre Hopkins tied Julio Jones for the top WR grade of the week.
“Nuk” delivered in a critical game for the Texans, collecting 117 yards and a TD on seven receptions for the receiver’s second-highest game grade of the season. QB Brandon Weeden put his trust in the third-year wideout, who recently earned his first Pro Bowl bid.
For the Falcons, Matt Ryan wasn’t the only offensive standout against the Panthers’ stout pass coverage unit. Julio Jones hauled in a league-leading 178 yards against Josh Norman and company, as well as a touchdown. Jones also forced two missed tackles on his nine receptions.
8. Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee continued his late-season roll.
The Dallas Cowboys suffered the injury bug early this season, but one healthy(ish) bright spot this year has been linebacker Sean Lee.
Lee, who hasn’t started in 14 or more games since 2011, has only missed one contest this season due to injury (Week 10). Since his Week 11 return, Lee has been the highest-graded 4-3 OLB in the league, topping even New England’s Jamie Collins in that span. For the year, the former Penn State star is the second-highest graded 4-3 OLB, behind only Minnesota’s Anthony Barr.
In Week 16, Lee recorded a sack, one QB hurry, 10 tackles, and eight stops in the Cowboys’ loss to the Bills.
While there’s not much to be optimistic about in Dallas this season—save for the offensive line, maybe—Lee is having the best season of his six-year career.
9. He couldn’t outshine Khalil Mack, however.
While Lee’s effort was impressive, it didn’t top the continued prominence of Khalil Mack coming off the edge. Mack topped all 3-4 OLB in Week 16, a feat the Raider has now accomplished six times this season.
Against the Chargers on Christmas Eve, Mack recorded five QB hurries, a hit on Philip Rivers, a batted pass, three solo tackles, and two stops—this is the kind of complete game we’ve become accustomed to seeing from Mack this season.
As mentioned above, Aaron Donald has established himself as a true legitimate DPOY candidate this season, with the top PFF interior defender grade. Mack, however, owns PFF’s top edge defender grade, putting him right in the mix with Donald and our top-graded linebacker, Luke Kuechly.
10. A battle of the backup QBs ensued on Monday Night Football.
In a game wrought with AFC playoff implications, two backup QBs took the field in Denver on Monday Night Football, and both played…average.
In a season filled with quarterback injuries, though, average is something difficult to come by, and both teams have to be happy with the production they’ve seen from their second-stringers.
A.J. McCarron, filling in for the injured Andy Dalton, earned a slightly positive game grade in his second start, quieting any doubters quickly with his first-half performance. Overall, he threw for 200 yards, one touchdown, and no picks—not bad at all against one of the NFL’s top defensive units. The fumbled snap at the end of the game was costly, but it shouldn’t completely overshadow the promising performance from the second-year Bengal.
Brock Osweiler earned a slightly negative grade, but did enough to secure the win for Denver. His accuracy percentage, like McCarron’s, was middle-of-the-pack this week when compared to other NFL QBs. The Broncos will take 299 passing yards, a TD, and no interceptions, though, especially on a night that punched their ticket to the playoffs.
Chase Howell | General Editor
Chase is a General Editor at PFF, focusing on the site’s NFL content strategy. His work has been featured in ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider, and The Cincinnati Enquirer.