News & Analysis

NFL Week 17: PFF Team of the Week, key takeaways, player awards and more

The Washington Football Team clinched the NFC East (thanks to Doug Pederson and Nate Sudfeld), the Miami Dolphins were the odd 10-win team out in the AFC after being blown out by the Buffalo Bills and the Arizona Cardinals gifted the Chicago Bears a playoff spot despite a poor performance from Mitchell Trubisky and a 19-point loss to the Green Bay Packers.

It was a drama-packed Week 17 and 2020 season, and the NFL playoffs are now finally set. But before we dive into our playoff preview, we must deliver our last recap of the 2020-21 NFL regular season.

PFF is here to break down NFL Week 17 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 17 of the 2020 NFL season.

PFF TEAM OF THE WEEK

Offense

QB: Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB: J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
WR: A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
WR: Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
TE: Pharaoh Brown, Houston Texans
FLEX: Marvin Jones Jr., Detroit Lions
LT: Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints
LG: Bradley Bozeman, Baltimore Ravens
C: Connor McGovern, New York Jets
RG: Nate Herbig, Philadelphia Eagles
RT: Trey Pipkins, Los Angeles Chargers

Defense

DI: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
DI: Maliek Collins, Las Vegas Raiders
EDGE: Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints
EDGE: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
LB: Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
LB: Tyler Matakevich, Buffalo Bills
CB: Troy Hill, Los Angeles Rams
CB: Jonathan Jones, New England Patriots
S: Adrian Amos, Green Bay Packers
S: Kareem Jackson, Denver Broncos
FLEX D: Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers

BIG TAKEAWAYS

It’s too early to call Tua Tagovailoa a bust, but it’d be wise for Miami to take a quarterback with the third pick in the 2021 NFL Draft

For just the second time in the past 12 years, the Miami Dolphins have produced a record above .500, finishing 10-6 in the 2020 regular season. That, however, was not enough to earn a postseason spot.

It was a win-and-you’re-in scenario on Sunday for Miami against the Buffalo Bills, but they were blown out by 30 points. Rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s performance didn’t help matters, either, as he posted a sub-65.0 passing grade and led the Dolphins to -0.15 expected points added per pass play. That really hasn’t been much different from what we have seen all year long from the former Alabama quarterback.

Tagovailoa ranked ahead of only Sam Darnold, Mitchell Trubisky and Carson Wentz in accurate pass rate on throws of 10-plus yards downfield in the 2020 season. His passing grade on those throws also ranks 35th among 48 rookie quarterbacks in the PFF era, among the likes of Josh Rosen, E.J. Manuel, Christian Ponder, et al. The 2020 fifth overall pick’s 2.1% big-time throw rate for the season was also the worst in the NFL and just half that of the NFL average (4.2%). In other words, it wasn’t necessarily a stellar rookie campaign for Tagovailoa, who made nine starts.

It’s way too soon to dismiss the possibility of Tagovailoa being a franchise quarterback, but it’s also far from a guarantee after his Year 1 output. And that means the Dolphins' brass shouldn’t stop looking for that franchise-caliber quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft, especially when considering the position they are in.

Courtesy of Bill O’Brien — the former Houston Texans head coach and general manager — Miami has the third overall pick in the next draft in April via the Laremy Tunsil trade from prior to the 2019 season. That puts them in a spot where they may have either BYU's Zach Wilson or Ohio State's Justin Fields — two blue-chip prospects who rank No. 2 and 3, respectively, on the PFF Draft Board — there for the picking.

The majority of the football world is likely to advocate for offensive tackle Penei Sewell or trading back in the first round as opposed to taking either Wilson or Fields, but it’s the most important position on the field. Teams must keep swinging the bat until they find their guy. And if Tua ends up panning out, then Miami has itself a prime trade piece that several quarterback-needy teams will be willing to trade the farm for.

Tom Brady is legitimately on fire entering the playoffs

Through his first 12 games as a Buccaneer, the 43-year-old Brady had been performing easily at a top-five level. He had recorded an 86.6 passing grade in that span along with 30 big-time throws, both of which were the fifth-best at the position. Over the past four weeks, though, Brady hasn’t just been one of the best. He has been the best.

He and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secured a 44-27 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 17, and Brady recorded his eighth single-game PFF grade above 80.0 for the season, posting an 89.6 mark. Four of those eight outings have come in the past four games, paving the way to a 94.1 PFF grade in that span. That’s the best at his position by over four grading points.

Brady’s 15 big-time throws and one turnover-worthy play in the past four weeks both also lead all quarterbacks, and Tampa Bay has fielded the most efficient passing attack in the NFL by a substantial margin. Granted, this has come against pass defenses that rank 24th, 27th and 32nd among all teams in expected points added allowed per pass play, but this stretch — and really the entire 2020 season, despite a so-so box score — just goes to show that Brady is still his normal, elite self.

Brady finished the 2020 regular season ranked second in PFF grade — behind only Aaron Rodgers — and the Buccaneers as a whole finished fifth in expected points added per pass play. Now, Brady and Tampa Bay get the most painless wild-card opponent this season when they face the 7-9 Washington Football Team.

I wouldn’t count this team out from representing the NFC in Super Bowl LV.

Aaron Donald should hands-down win Defensive Player of the Year

The NFL awards debate has intensified with the 2020 regular season now over, and when it comes to Defensive Player of the Year, we are likely to be debating three names from now until the award is announced prior to the Super Bowl: T.J. Watt, Aaron Donald and Xavien Howard.

All three put together remarkable seasons, but this one really shouldn’t be up for much debate at the end of the day. This award should 100% belong to Donald, who has already established himself as one of the best defensive linemen in NFL history.

Donald closed his seventh season in the NFL with an elite 90.0-plus PFF grade against the Arizona Cardinals, something he did in exactly half of his games played this season. Six of the 10 best single-game performances by a defensive tackle this season in terms of PFF grade belong to Donald. That helped him produce the second-best season-long PFF grade we have recorded on the defensive side of the ball since 2015. He now owns six of the eight highest-graded seasons on defense in that span.

He won over a quarter of his pass-rush reps in Week 17 to bring his season-long win rate to 25%. Not only does that lead his position this season, but it’s the second-highest mark we have ever recorded by a defensive tackle in the PFF era (trails only his 2018 season).

A hotly contested area of Donald’s play has been his run defense, but he was one of the best in the NFL this year — like every other year of his career. He was the only player at his position to record a run-defense grade north of 90.0 for the season.

Betting markets currently list Watt as the favorite, but this year’s DPOTY deservingly belongs to Donald. It was another season of him displaying dominance in its purest form.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK

WR A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans

Brown has stacked up several elite performances in his young, two-year NFL career, but none have been better than what he did on Sunday against the Houston Texans. The 2019 51st-overall pick notched a 93.1 PFF grade in Week 17, the best of his career and fifth-best we have seen this season by a wide receiver. Seven of his 10 targets came against single coverage — five he generated separation on while the other two were contested — and Brown hauled in every single one for a whopping 137 yards. That was the fifth-most yards in a single game this year against single coverage, and 52 of those came on a reception in the final 20 seconds that set up a game-winning field goal.

Brown now ranks fourth since entering the league last season in receiving yards against single coverage with 1,227 yards. He’s just a couple of spots behind his former college teammate from Ole Miss and fellow second-year receiver D.K. Metcalf, who has 1,357.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK

S Adrian Amos, Green Bay Packers

Amos had the best single-game performance of his entire six-year NFL career on Sunday against his former team, the Chicago Bears. The safety posted a 94.4 PFF grade and took advantage of a poor decision by Mitchell Trubisky with this interception late in the fourth quarter that led to a Green Bay touchdown just a few plays later:

Amos also had forced a fumble after the catch that, unfortunately for he and the Packers, was negated by an offsides penalty. He now has a 90.2 PFF grade across 298 snaps in four games against the Bears over the last two years with several impact plays in coverage like the aforementioned interception. That right there is sweet revenge for Amos.

ROOKIE OF THE WEEK

RB J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens

Dobbins closed out his final regular-season game as a rookie with a big bang. He recorded a career-high 90.7 rushing grade against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, over 13 grading points higher than his previous NFL-best from all the way back in Week 8. Dobbins busted off three 20-plus yards against Cincy, with one of those being a career-long run of 72 yards. This was just one of nine performances we saw in the entire 2020-2021 regular season in which a running back had three or more 20-plus yard runs in a single game.

Obviously, we have to give some credit here to the big men up front for opening up holes that gave Dobbins at least six yards before contact on all three of those runs. At the same time, though, Dobbins did his job by taking advantage of those holes and creating more yardage after contact on all three runs.

OFFENSIVE LINE OF THE WEEK

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There were a handful of the 32 offensive lines that were a routine contender for PFF OL of the Week this season, and Tampa was one of them. This past week, they were the only group to finish top five in both pass- and run-blocking grade, and rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs put together yet another great outing. The 13th-overall pick lost just one of his 46 pass-block snaps, and that is quite impressive considering he played the fifth-most true pass sets. Really everyone on the line performed incredibly well in pass-protection, combining allowed just two pressures on the day, both of which weren’t a sack or hit on Tom Brady.

The Bucs’ offensive line has been feasting on middling defensive fronts over the last four weeks, as they rank first in the NFL in unit PFF grade in that span by a country mile. Next week’s Wild Card matchup with the Washington Football Team may not be as easy for them to replicate that success, though. Anchored by rookie edge rusher Chase Young — who finished the regular season sixth at his position in PFF grade — the Football Team is fourth among the 32 defensive lines in unit grade.

SECRET SUPERSTAR OF THE WEEK

LB Tyler Matakevich, Buffalo Bills

For just the third time in his five-year NFL career, Matakvich on Sunday against the Dolphins logged substantial playing time on defense in a regular-season game. He played just 187 total snaps prior to Week 17 of this season but saw the field for 40 this past week in the second half of play after Buffalo took a three-touchdown lead on the Dolphins. While it may have been a blowout, Matakevich made the most of those snaps with an impressive 89.4 PFF grade that earned him PFF Team of the Week honors.

With the Dolphins playing from behind and in dire need of a W for a playoff spot that they ultimately fell short of, Matakevich spent a bulk of his reps in coverage for Buffalo and made a couple of great plays on the ball in zone. One was nearly an interception for Tua Tagovailoa.

PLAY OF THE WEEK

Down three points with under two minutes left to play, Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans got the ball inside their 20-yard line with a shot at preventing the Tennessee Titans from taking the division crown. Watson led Houston down to Tennessee’s territory and gave Ka’imi Fairbairn a 51-yard attempt to tie the game with just over 20 seconds left. The kick ended up as good and it looked like the game was headed to overtime as the Titans had just 18 seconds left with the ball at their own 25-yard line. Then Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown did the inevitable. They took advantage of a Houston secondary that has made mistake after mistake all year long and connected for a 52-yard pass that set up a game-winning field goal:

Tannehill made perhaps the throw of his life and hit Brown perfectly in stride. That throw and catch prevented Tennessee from traveling to Buffalo as the 7-seed; instead, the Bills will host the Baltimore Ravens as the 4-seed. Tannehill and Brown — along with offensive coordinator Arthur Smith — have been key reasons why Tennessee ranks third among all 32 NFL offenses in passing efficiency this season and are bound to give Baltimore fits just like they did in their Week 11 OT win.

Know tomorrow, today. Western Southern Financial Group.
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