The Atlanta Falcons collapsed yet again, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are officially out of the playoffs for the first time since Tom Brady tore his ACL in 2008, Jalen Hurts led the Philadelphia Eagles to their most efficient passing offense of the year, Baker Mayfield’s hot streak continued and Trevor Lawrence is now on track to be a…Jaguar!?
PFF is here to break down NFL Week 15 in greater detail using advanced data and our unique play-by-play grading. Here, we present to you the PFF Team of the Week, a few big takeaways and player awards from Week 15 of the 2020 NFL season.
PFF TEAM OF THE WEEK
QB: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
RB: Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
WR: DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
WR: Cole Beasley, Buffalo Bills
TE: Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
FLEX: Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
LT: Charles Leno Jr., Chicago Bears
LG: Ali Marpet, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
C: Ben Jones, Tennessee Titans
RG: Billy Turner, Green Bay Packers
RT: Mike McGlinchey, San Francisco 49ers
DI: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
DI: DaQuan Jones, Tennessee Titans
EDGE: Carl Lawson, Cincinnati Bengals
EDGE: Romeo Okwara, Detroit Lions
LB: Germaine Pratt, Cincinnati Bengals
LB: Matt Milano, Buffalo Bills
CB: Chandon Sullivan, Green Bay Packers
CB: Cameron Dantzler, Minnesota Vikings
S: Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans
S: Adrian Amos, Green Bay Packers
FLEX D: Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills
Dec. 20, 2020: Maybe the worst day in New York Jets history
Three more games. Just three more games the Jets had to lose in the 2020 season to change their franchise for the better. That would have blessed them with the No. 1 overall pick, which would give them the best prospect we have ever seen, Trevor Lawrence. The first of those three games was against the Los Angeles Rams, and considering the Rams entered with the second-best pass defense by expected points added allowed per pass and the Jets had the NFL’s least efficient passing attack, a New York loss seemed all but assured.
Not so fast, my friend. Instead of losing and moving one step closer to Lawrence, Sam Darnold and the Jets pulled off the upset. Now, the Jacksonville Jaguars are the proud owners of the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and they have over a 70% chance to stay in the spot with two games remaining. It could prove to be the most impactful day in each team’s franchise history.
It’s not like the Jets are completely out of luck at quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft. They will still have their choice of either Justin Fields or Zach Wilson, who each would be in the conversation at the No. 1 pick in a year without a rare prospect like Lawrence.
But neither Fields nor Wilson is on the same level as Lawrence, who PFF Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner deemed a better prospect than even Joe Burrow. The Clemson quarterback is the only player we have seen in the PFF College era to record a 90.0-plus PFF grade as a true freshman, sophomore and junior. His physical tools are what coaches dream of, and the Jets had him in their hands before the Week 15 upset win.
There is a chance they could reclaim that highly coveted pick, but it’ll take a Jags win over the Bears or Colts to close out the year.
Carson Wentz looks like he may be on his way out of Philadelphia
The Eagles may have fallen short against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15, but Jalen Hurts led the team to its most efficient passing offense of the 2020 season. Philadelphia had generated just -0.1 EPA per pass with Wentz at the helm this season, but that figure has jumped to 0.2 with Hurts in charge.
The rookie completed 13 passes over 10 yards downfield against Arizona, the most by an Eagles quarterback this season. Whether he was in rhythm or creating off structure, Hurts made throws that we rarely saw from Wentz. At the same time, though, Hurts had four turnover-worthy plays in the game, took a few sacks when he shouldn’t have and held onto the ball a little too long on some occasions. One of his four turnover-worthy plays resulted in a safety, but another was a late-game fumble that he scooped back up and turned into a net positive.
Overall, it was a streaky performance from Hurts – he’d make a beautiful timing throw on one play and toss a late and uncatchable ball on the next. At the end of the day, though, he did lead a better offense than Wentz prior to the quarterback change.
It’s too early to say Hurts is the long-term solution and can lead the Eagles back to the promised land, but based on what we have seen from him thus far, he’s no doubt the better option over Wentz. And according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Wentz wants out of Philly if Hurts remains the starter.
The best option for the Eagles moving forward is finding a way to cut ties with the 2016 second overall pick via trade and giving the keys to Hurts for 2021 to see if he is able to go from “a better option than Carson Wentz” to a franchise quarterback.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
The difference in Mayfield's play between the first six weeks of the year and the last eight games is staggering. Through Week 6, Mayfield ranked 28th among NFL starting quarterbacks in passing grade at 57.3. Since Week 7, which happened to be the week OBJ suffered his season-ending injury, Mayfield is second in passing grade at 91.9.
His performance against the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football this past weekend was not just the best of that span, but the best of the 2018 first overall pick’s career. His grade on throws over 10 yards downfield against New York was the second-best of the 2020 season. Mayfield completed 12-of-14 10-plus-yard attempts for 189 yards and two scores, with four big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays. Kevin Stefanski has been dialing up more and more play-action shots in recent weeks, and it’s bringing the best out of Mayfield. Three of his four big-time throws and half of those completions over 10 yards downfield were a play-action pass.
Cleveland finally has the coach-quarterback pairing they have been longing for.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
The Rams may have been a complete disaster in their loss to the now one-win New York Jets, but Donald is the last person to point a finger at. He was his normal, dominant self against the Jets with a 93.0 PFF grade and 10 pressures generated. Donald’s win rate in this game was the best we have seen in the 2020 season at 43.8% by over five percentage points, and his 32.3% pressure rate was also the best. That win rate is actually the best we have recorded at the position since Donald put up a 52% win rate in Week 1 of 2016. After this one, Donald now owns 32 of the 100 best single-game pass-rush grades at his position in the last five years. The next closest defensive player has nine.
ROOKIE OF THE WEEK
Herbert has no doubt been one of the biggest surprises of this rookie class alongside guys like Justin Jefferson and Michael Onwenu. This past week on Thursday Night Football, Herbert went up against a poor Las Vegas Raiders defense and lit them up for his best passing performance of his young NFL career. The sixth-overall pick earned an 89.9 passing grade, the second-best of Week 15 and over nine grading points higher than his previous career-high.
Herbert was absolutely money downfield. He completed more passes over 10 yards downfield against Las Vegas than in any other game this season (nine) and had a 92.1 passing grade on those throws (previous single-game best was 81.3). What was interesting was the fact that the Raiders secondary — that ranks in the bottom five of the NFL in EPA per pass allowed — played more Cover-6 than they typically do, and Herbert and the Chargers offense picked them apart on those plays. Herbert’s grade jumped to 93.8 against Las Vegas’ Cover-6 as he completed nine-of-12 for 167 yards and a score and tossed three big-time throws. One of which was this beauty to the honey hole to tie the rookie passing touchdown record:
JUSTIN HERBERT TIES THE ROOKIE PASSING TDs RECORD ????????????pic.twitter.com/OQxwygOWv7
— PFF (@PFF) December 18, 2020
OFFENSIVE LINE OF THE WEEK
Tampa didn’t run the ball a lot in Week 15, but the offensive line did an excellent job when Bruce Arians did decide to pound the rock. No line had a higher combined run-block grade this week than the Buccaneers. Then in pass-protection, the group held their own. Especially guards Alex Cappa and Ali Marpet. Those two came in as the second- and fifth-highest-graded guards of Week 15. Rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs played exceptionally well too with not a single pressure allowed on 48 pass-block snaps. Week-after-week, the 2020 13th overall pick has impressed and is now just one of three right tackles in the entire NFL with a grade above 75.0 in both pass- and run-blocking.
SECRET SUPERSTAR OF THE WEEK
With injuries rattling the Seattle secondary, 2018 fifth-round pick and former 49er D.J. Reed Jr. was thrust into one of the outside starting spots back in Week 10. It was bumpy to start, but things started to progress for Reed in the weeks leading up to their Week 15 affair with Washington. That all being considered, no one was quite expecting Reed to perform the way he did against the Football Team on Sunday.
Reed was tested in coverage with 10 targets, but the corner legitimately shut down his opponent. Of those 10 targets, he allowed just four catches and one first down for a total of 15 yards, while intercepting one and forcing a couple of incompletions. That led him to an 8.3 passer rating allowed and a career-best 90.7 coverage grade for the game.
PLAY OF THE WEEK
It was a “Texas Tech Patrick Mahomes” kind of game for the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. He did record six big-time throws, but he also had four turnover-worthy plays. One of those big-time throws was the best play we saw of Week 15 and is something few quarterbacks in the league could do:
PATRICK MAHOMES HOW?!?
— PFF (@PFF) December 20, 2020
Also, what a grab by second-year wide receiver Mecole Hardman. That was Mahomes’ 16th passing touchdown outside of the pocket this season, making it six more than anyone else in the NFL. I don’t need to beat a dead horse here, but Mahomes’ ability to make plays like this are why he is on the path to becoming one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the sport.
AN EARLY LOOK AHEAD TO WEEK 16…
All we wanted for Christmas was a Week 16 slate that was chock-full of very impactful games to the 2020-21 playoffs, and the big man delivered on that.
Week 16 has four games that’ll be played before the Sunday slate — one on Friday and three on Saturday — and the last two of those bunch are going to carry a lot of weight. The interdivisional matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals matters quite a bit for both teams due to draft position (San Francisco) and actually making the playoffs (Arizona). As we all know, the 49ers quarterback situation is a bit in flux. Jimmy Garoppolo has been out with an injury, but he hadn’t really been performing up to Kyle Shanahan’s standards (65.4 passing grade in six starts this year) even when healthy. They could very well be in that QB3 or QB4 conversation come April, but a win this week or the next could put them out of reach for Zach Wilson or Trey Lance. As for Arizona, they are currently holding the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC, but the Chicago Bears are right on their tail in the playoff race. A loss to the 49ers and a Bears win over the Jaguars next week could put that spot in jeopardy.
Following the 49ers-Cardinals on Saturday night are the Miami Dolphins taking on the Las Vegas Raiders. Playoffs for Vegas are a pipe dream at this point after they shot themselves in the foot with back-to-back losses in the last two weeks, but Miami is in an extremely tight race with the Baltimore Ravens for that final spot in the AFC. As of now, the Dolphins have a 43% chance of making the postseason while the Ravens have an 82% chance. Considering Baltimore gets the Giants and Bengals for the last two games, Miami desperately needs a W here. Their passing offense with Tua Tagovailoa under center has been far from eccentric and potent. With Tua, they rank 21st in the NFL in per-play passing efficiency. The good news is that they’ll be facing a coverage unit that is among the worst in the NFL and just got lit up by fellow rookie Justin Herbert. The Raiders rank 29th in the league in EPA per pass allowed.
Then on Sunday, there are a couple of non-conference showdowns that will impact the seeding significantly in both the AFC and the NFC. Those two games are the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans versus the Green Bay Packers. Indy could jump to No. 4 in the AFC and secure a home playoff game, but they need a win over the Steelers and a Titans loss to the Packers. Meanwhile, both Pittsburgh and Green Bay are in the running for the No. 1 seed and first-round bye but need wins to help their case.
Then finally, the best game of the day is the Seattle Seahawks going up against the Los Angeles Rams. Both teams are not coming off the best of games — Russell Wilson couldn’t get anything cooking downfield against Washington in Week 15 and the Rams, of course, lost to the worst team in the NFL. A Rams loss to the Seahawks would give the division crown to Seattle.
There are playoff ramifications all over the place in Week 16, and it’s setting up to be one of the better weeks of the season.