10 things to know about NFL Week 17
The Vikings' defense held strong, Peyton Manning came of the bench, and more—here's everything you need to know about NFL Week 17.
10 things to know about NFL Week 17
Before gearing up for Wild Card weekend, be sure to catch up on everything that went down in Week 17. Here are the 10 things you need to know, based on PFF’s grades and data.
1. Antonio Brown became the second-highest graded WR in the PFF era.
Notching 187 yards and a touchdown on 13 receptions against the Browns, Steelers WR Antonio Brown became the second-highest graded receiver ever since Pro Football Focus began grading players (2007).
Brown, for the season, is our top-graded WR, just ahead of Atlanta’s Julio Jones. This is Brown’s second year atop the position, finishing just ahead of Jordy Nelson and Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014.
The highest-graded season ever for a receiver still belongs to Brandon Marshall, with his 2013 campaign in Chicago earning him the honor.
For what it’s worth, Jones’ 2015 season grade is the third-highest ever, behind Brown’s 2015 and Marshall’s 2013 campaigns.
2. If it wasn’t his already, Aaron Donald made his final bid for DPOY.
While the Rams may be watching the playoffs from home, DT Aaron Donald solidified his spot as the Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner against the 49ers.
Though St. Louis fell short in the contest, it wasn’t on account of the second-year defensive tackle. Donald capped off an outstanding season with his overall highest-grade of the year—leading to the highest cumulative season grade we’ve ever recorded for any player.
That mark was originally set by J.J. Watt in 2013, giving some perspective as to just how hot Donald has been.
On Monday, PFF Senior Analyst Sam Monson broke down Donald’s performance in greater detail.
3. Khalil Mack can certainly challenge Donald, though.
It seems that each week we talk about about Aaron Donald, we also have to mention Oakland OLB Khalil Mack. While Donald is dominating the interior, Mack is a scary player to be facing off the edge, owning the top edge defender grade in the league this season.
In what amounted to the final game of the season for the Raiders, Mack recorded his second-highest game grade of the year. He tallied one QB hit, five QB hurries, nine tackles, and seven defensive stops in Oakland’s loss at Arrowhead Stadium.
As we’ve said in previous weeks, Donald, Mack, and Luke Kuechly are all worthy choices for the DPOY, each taking their play to another level this season.
4. The Vikings’ defense carried Minnesota to the NFC North crown.
For the first time since 2009, the Minnesota Vikings finished Week 17 as the NFC North champions, topping the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday night.
The 20-13 win, however, didn’t come on the back of a high-powered offensive attack—QB Teddy Bridgewater, in fact, recorded his lowest game grade of the season, notching just 99 yards, no touchdowns, and one pick.
Instead, as has been the case for much of the season, standout performances on the defensive side of the ball helped dismantle the Green Bay attack.
Linebacker Anthony Barr, owner of the second-highest season grade at the position behind only Luke Kuechly, shined against the Packers, notching a sack, a hit, and a hurry on Aaron Rodgers. Barr also had one pass defense in coverage, although the four other targets thrown his way were completed for receptions.
Defensive end Everson Griffen contributed mightily in the pass-rush department, with two sacks, two QB hits, and five QB hurries of his own, earning the sixth-highest grade among 3-4 DEs this week.
Finally, CB Xavier Rhodes must be recognized for his strong finish to an impressive second-half of the season, with a timely pick-six and pass defense in the Vikings’ Week 17 win. Through Weeks 1–9, Rhodes was the league’s 105th-ranked CB—since then, he’s graded out as the eighth-best in the NFL.
5. While Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense limp into the playoffs.
Opposite of the Vikings’ defense on Sunday Night Football was the struggling Packers’ offense, led by Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers, however, earned his second negative game grade in a row to end the season, something that doesn’t bode well for Green Bay heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Redskins.
In fact, over the last two weeks, Rodgers has earned the seventh-worst grade of any NFL QB, with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions to his name.
While Rodgers remains our 12th-highest graded QB this season, overall, the key injuries around him seem to be taking their toll late in the year.
6. Rex Ryan and the Bills squashed the Jets’ postseason plans.
In what was touted as one of the marquee matchups for Week 17, Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan found himself with a chance to send his former team home for the year—and the Bills delivered.
The Buffalo offense leaned heavily on WR Sammy Watkins, who hauled in 11 receptions for 136 yards, mostly on underneath targets.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, with a chance to finally reach the playoffs, turned in his worst game grade of the year, with three interceptions to two touchdowns, and the lowest accuracy percentage of any QB in Week 17 (62.5 percent).
So, the Jets are watching the playoffs from their couches, as are the Bills. The real winner in Rex Ryan’s revenge game, then, is…the Steelers?
7. Backup QB Peyton Manning led the Broncos to the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
Possibly Week 17’s biggest surprise appearance came in Denver, as Peyton Manning took the field over Brock Osweiler in the third quarter of the Broncos’ meeting with the Chargers.
Osweiler was 14-of-22 passing, with 232 yards, a touchdown, and two picks to his name before being swapped for the veteran, who saw the field for the first time in six weeks.
Manning attempted just nine passes in Sunday’s outing, completing five of them for 69 total yards.
Gary Kubiak has yet to name a starter for Jan. 17’s Divisional Round game, but the 18-year veteran looked confident in his appearance against the Chargers, earning a slightly-positive grade.
Sam Monson broke down Denver’s playoff chances with Manning under center on Monday.
8. Bengals OLB Vontaze Burfict is getting hot at the right time.
While many in Cincinnati are quaking at the prospect of facing division-rival Pittsburgh in Saturday’s AFC Wild Card matchup, one Bengal is truly hitting his stride at the right time.
4-3 OLB Vontaze Burfict earned the top overall grade at his position in Week 17, with two QB hits, 11 tackles, a pass defense, and two interceptions.
Burfict’s season started in Week 8 when he returned from injury, and he’s been on a fairly steady incline towards his 2013 form since then. In fact, since Week 13, only New England 4-3 OLB Jamie Collins has earned a better overall grade than Burfict.
The only major concern for the Bengal since his return has been his penalties, with three unnecessary roughness flags since his since Week 8 return—tied for second-most in the league for the entire season.
9. Carson Palmer edged out Big Ben for the top QB season grade.
With the final week of the regular season closing the book on many teams’ schedule, it’s worth noting that Carson Palmer finishes the year as our top-graded QB.
Palmer’s 97.7 overall grade (1–100 scale) just beat Ben Roethlisberger’s 97.6. In Week 17, the Cardinal recorded his second-lowest game grade of the year—which was still a positive performance overall—on just 35 of the team’s 60 offensive snaps.
Here’s how the top six QBs finished, based on overall season grade:
10. Seattle’s Tyler Lockett is scary as a punt returner.
Not often do we discuss special teams in this weekly roundup, but the dynamic ability of Tyler Lockett is a must-mention.
Since Week 14, Lockett has averaged 20.5 yards per punt return for the Seahawks—three players are tied for a distant second, at 16.0 yards. He also has the most yardage in that span, at 164, coming in less return attempts than most of his trailing peers (eight).
Lockett, a third-round pick in the 2015 draft out of Kansas State, is PFF’s highest-graded kick returner since Week 14—a dynamic weapon hitting his stride at just the right time for Seattle.
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.