Clutch Performers

NFL Offensive Player Rankings, Week 18: Three playoff offenses with serious concerns

If your eyes aren't glued to the TV every time Aaron Rodgers takes the field, you're seriously missing out. The MVP front-runner has carried the Green Bay Packers to the top seed in the NFC playoffs by efficiently dicing up defenses all season long.

Along with his physical ability, Rodgers' attention to detail and deep trust in his receivers have him ranked first in several passing categories, including TD-to-INT ratio (35:4) and passer rating (111.1). Plus, he has the Packers heading into the postseason with one of the best and scariest offenses in the NFL. I have zero concerns with this crew when Rodgers takes the field.

However, not all teams that have locked up a playoff spot are trending in that same direction. In fact, less than two weeks out from the postseason, here are three playoff offenses that I am most concerned with.

Dallas Cowboys
11-5 · NFC No. 4 seed

The Dallas Cowboys have incredible talent at every offensive position and a good, young coordinator in Kellen Moore who'll interview for the Jaguars head-coaching vacancy later this week. They rank tops in the league in scoring offense and second in yardage, but the fact that they've gotten away from the run game has led to a lack of rhythm and inconsistent play from Dak Prescott. Take last week's loss to Arizona. Dallas, which has averaged 65.8 rushing yards per game in its five losses this season, ran the ball a mere 17 times for 45 yards -- and Prescott led the way with 20 yards on five carries. Unless we're talking about Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen, no quarterback should lead his team in ground production. I get that Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard have been banged up down the stretch, but this offense must take a page out of the Titans' book and focus on being more physical and winning up front to get back to being a dominant run team. This will help Prescott find some consistency. Right now, this offense goes cold for quarters at a time. Over the last five games, Prescott has 10 passing TDs, but four of those came in the first half vs. Washington in Week 16. Check out this wacky split for the 28-year-old quarterback:


First half of Week 16: 77.1 comp. percentage, 9.2 pass yds/att, four TDs, zero INTs.

Other nine halves: 63.9 comp. percentage, 5.7 pass yds/att, six TDs, three INTs.

 

It's already been a struggle in the passing game for Prescott of late, and now the Cowboys must move forward without No. 3 receiver Michael Gallup, who tore his ACL in Sunday's loss. Consistency won't happen overnight. Moore can help the Cowboys recapture a formula that will help them win in the postseason by getting back to the run game -- which Dallas' success has always stemmed from.

New England Patriots
10-6 · AFC No. 5 seed

I know it feels a little funny to see an offense on a "concerned" list when it just dropped 50 points, but the Patriots' unit is far from a well-oiled machine. As a team that often beats up on inferior opponents (e.g., the Jags), New England relies on great coaching, a dominant run game and efficient, precise quarterback play. Their eighth-ranked ground attack featuring Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson has carried New England's offense for much of the season. Mac Jones deserves credit, too, for his mostly consistent play in Josh McDaniels' offense. But when the pressure ramps up in the postseason, there will come a time when Jones must carry this team. And don't forget: In the Patriots' two most recent losses, Jones looked every bit like a first-year quarterback (51.9 completion percentage, two TDs, four INTs, 56.4 passer rating in those games). The jury is still out on whether he has the clutch gene. I'd love to see the rookie put the team on his back in the playoffs, but that's just a big unknown right now.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
12-4 · NFC No. 3 seed

Obviously, there's no questioning Tom Brady's brilliance, but the Bucs need more than the G.O.A.T. to get where they want to go. The injuries that have piled up over the last several weeks -- Chris Godwin (ACL) is out for the year and Leonard Fournette (hamstring) is on IR -- and Antonio Brown's astounding exit leaves the Bucs thin, especially in the pass game. They will miss Brown's speed and his chemistry with Brady, but Godwin's injury could be the most significant of any offensive weapon this season. Brady has always had a reliable slot receiver -- dating back to Wes Welker and Julian Edelman in New England -- to routinely make big plays, and Godwin has been that guy in Tampa. According to Next Gen Stats, Godwin had 616 receiving yards when aligned in the slot this season (sixth-most in NFL after Week 15). I don't know who truly fills that role moving forward.


That said, a lot of Tampa's postseason success weighs on Fournette's health. He is eligible to return for Super Wild Card Weekend, but it's no guarantee he'll be ready. Fournette was having a great season, providing necessary balance for the Bucs' offense. With Ronald Jones II also battling an ankle injury, the Bucs are also lacking in the backfield. While everything went so right for the Bucs down the stretch last season, there's an entirely different feel this time around.

Top 15 Offensive Players

Each week in the 2021 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. The Week 18 pecking order is below.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from Week 16's rankings.

Rank
1
Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · QB

I don't think anyone can touch Rodgers in the MVP race after the clinic he put on against the Vikings in prime time, a win that locked up the NFC's No. 1 seed for Green Bay. It wasn't so much the numbers on Sunday night, but rather his ability to move the ball and hit his receivers at will. He makes playing the quarterback position look effortless no matter who's on the other side of the ball and regardless of the conditions. 

Rank
2
Jonathan Taylor
Indianapolis Colts · RB

Because Taylor didn't have a game-breaking run (like he did vs. the Patriots) and because the Colts lost to the Raiders, it feels like the running back had a subpar outing. But the reality is he registered 108 yards and a TD while setting a franchise record for most rushing yards in a season with 1,734. He shows up every week, which is why he's in the MVP discussion. With a playoff berth on the line Sunday, the Colts need Carson Wentz to show up. We know Taylor will.

Rank
3
Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · QB

The Bills clinched a playoff berth with their win over Atlanta, but the quarterback's performance wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. Allen threw interceptions on three straight possessions -- a string of events that caused a major swing in momentum -- leading to the lowest single-game passer rating (17.0) of his career. Fortunately, Allen scored a pair of red-zone touchdowns with his legs and finally got some help from the backfield. Still, Allen needs to clean it up and find some consistency throwing the football.

Rank
4
Cooper Kupp
Los Angeles Rams · WR

Kupp has made up for a lot of Matthew Stafford errors over the last month. When the veteran QB starts making too many mistakes -- which, to be frank, happens far too often -- Kupp is the player who steps up for the team and covers up the warts. With six catches for 95 yards and a TD in Sunday's win over Baltimore, Kupp (1,829) broke Isaac Bruce's single-season Rams franchise record (1,781). He needs 136 receiving yards next week to pass Calvin Johnson (1,964) for most in a single season in NFL history.

Rank
5
Kyler Murray
Arizona Cardinals · QB

Murray and the Cardinals needed a big performance to stop a three-game skid and keep their chances at the division title alive. That's what they got in Sunday's 25-22 win at Dallas. It was a confident and efficient outing by Murray, who finished with a 68.4 completion percentage, 263 passing yards, two TDs and a 105.5 passer rating, adding 44 rushing yards on nine carries. Murray must play this well -- or better -- to take this banged-up squad deep into January.

Rank
6
Justin Jefferson
Minnesota Vikings · WR

With Sean Mannion replacing Kirk Cousins (COVID-19) for Sunday night's game at Green Bay, Jefferson was already fighting an uphill battle. He finished with six receptions for 58 yards in the lopsided loss, which eliminated Minnesota from playoff contention. Still, the second-year pro has already improved on his spectacular rookie season in every category, from catches (103, up from 88 last season) to yards (1,509, up from 1,400) to touchdowns (9, up from 7).

Rank
7
1
Davante Adams
Green Bay Packers · WR

Adams ran circles around Mike Zimmer's defense on Sunday night with 11 catches for 136 yards and a score, giving him 100-plus yards in five of his last six games. He has already recorded a career-high 1,498 receiving yards with one more regular-season game left to play. Even with nothing for the Packers to gain, seeing how Green Bay has already secured the top seed in the NFC playoffs, I'm hoping Matt LaFleur trots out his starting offense Sunday in Detroit -- at least for a half -- to get Adams over the 1,500-yard mark and to keep the chemistry of this unit ripe ahead of the postseason. 

Rank
8
1
Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · QB

The injury-riddled Bucs might not boast the star-studded supporting cast they once had, but they still have Brady. The 44-year-old passer led the team back from a 14-point deficit (the Bucs' largest comeback of the season) and orchestrated a game-winning 93-yard drive to give the team its 12th win of the season. Man, just when the Jets thought they finally had him.

Rank
9
1
Deebo Samuel
San Francisco 49ers · WR

Deebo has been undervalued all season long. He's taken on more responsibilities and performs at the highest level every time he touches the ball. With one week remaining in the regular season, he has the third-most single-season scrimmage yards ever (1,630) by a 49ers wide receiver. The only two superior campaigns? Jerry Rice's 1995 (1,884) and 1986 (1,642) campaigns. In fact, Rice owns the other four spots on the franchise's top-five list in this area. That should tell you just how good a year Deebo is having.

Rank
10
2
Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders · QB

Another day, another game-winning drive for Derek and the Raiders. This time it was a 10-play, 60-yard march in the final two minutes capped by a Daniel Carlson field goal that lifted the Raiders over another AFC playoff hopeful, Indianapolis. A month ago, it looked like this team might be down and out, but Derek's leadership and the will of the this group has Las Vegas playing for a wild-card spot in Sunday night's regular-season finale against the Chargers.

Rank
11
Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · QB

Prescott didn't play terribly against the Cardinals; however, miscues on critical downs (he had four passes batted down, per Pro Football Focus) and the lack of a run game helped lead to the Cowboys' first loss since Week 12. He threw for three TDs, but just 226 yards in the loss -- the fourth time in the last five games that he's posted fewer than 240 passing yards. Losing Michael Gallup (ACL) won't help Dallas' offense shake this slump. 

Rank
12
1
Travis Kelce
Kansas City Chiefs · TE

It was a tale of two halves for the Chiefs on Sunday. They scored 28 points in the opening 30 minutes, including Kelce's 3-yard TD reception, but managed only a field goal over the final two quarters. Kelce finished with just 25 yards and that TD on five catches in the loss -- a costly one that dropped K.C. from the top seed in the AFC.

Rank
13
NR
Joe Burrow
Cincinnati Bengals · QB

Burrow has been exceptional at times this season and enters my rankings for the first time after putting together two monster performances in back-to-back weeks to help the Bengals claim the AFC North title for the first time since 2015. Over the last two games, Burrow has thrown for 971 yards and eight TDs with zero INTs. This kid has Cincy peaking at the right time.

Rank
14
1
Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers · QB

The Chargers got contributions from all three phases in their win over Denver, which boosted them back into the final AFC wild-card spot. Herbert was in cruise control for most of this one, completing 22 of 31 pass attempts for 237 yards and a pair of TDs, including this dime to Mike Williams. The win sets up a win-and-in scenario with the Raiders, who are also riding high, fresh off a Week 17 victory.

Rank
15
NR
Ja'Marr Chase
Cincinnati Bengals · WR

The rookie receiver re-enters the top 15 after a monumental Week 17, when he cooked the Chiefs with 11 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns, setting an NFL record for most receiving yards in a game by a rookie. That's not all. With 1,429 receiving yards on the season season, he also broke Justin Jefferson's record for most by a rookie in the Super Bowl era. He needs 45 yards on Sunday to break Bill Groman's pre-merger AFL mark from 1960 (1,473).

DROPPED OUT: Matthew Stafford, QB, Rams (Previously No. 9); George Kittle, TE, 49ers (No. 14).

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