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Offensive player rankings, Week 12: Alex Smith limits Chiefs

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Yet, here we are looking at the same Kansas City Chiefs offense we've seen year after year.

The Chiefs have made three playoff appearances since Reid took over as head coach in 2013, losing once in the wild-card game (2013) and twice in the divisional round (2015, 2016). I'm a fan of Reid and quarterback Alex Smith, but with the way things are right now, they'll be sitting at home while Pittsburgh and New England duke it out on Championship Sunday.

I was Smith's teammate in San Francisco for one year (2010) and I got to know him well. When the weather starts playing a bigger factor in games late in the season, he's not a guy who can make tough throws in tough conditions. He's particular and wants the football a certain way. The colder the weather the firmer the ball and other conditions make the ball slippery. It's really hard to play in inclement weather as a quarterback, yet there are some guys -- like Brett Favre -- who could grab a ball out of a bucket of water or pile of mud and hurl it downfield. But everybody's not like that, including Smith. The conditions have to be right and the running game has to be there. As we've witnessed throughout his career, Smith isn't often going to transcend an offense and win a game on huge throws -- a frequent critique. He's just not that type of quarterback.

Early in the season, we saw Smith make those big plays and the Chiefs were rolling. We've seen downfield shots slowly digress as the season's gone on, a trend that goes back to at least the past two seasons. Since 2015, Smith has been far more effective throwing the ball down field (20-pus air yards) through the Chiefs' first eight games than he has in their final eight, completing more passes (42.1 percent vs. 36.7 percent) with a better TD-to-INT ratio (8:0 vs. 2:4) and a significantly higher passer rating (124.3 vs. 63.1).

Furthermore, since Smith's first year with the Chiefs in 2013, his passer rating on pass attempts of more than 20 yards has fallen off in the second half of the season.

September: 92.0 
October: 111.1
November: 63.5
Dec.-Jan.: 68.8

The Chiefs' high-flying offense started to stall after the Steelers exposed a weakness in Week 6. Pittsburgh played more zone coverage and allowed them to throw the ball underneath by respecting the ability of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to make things happen downfield. In addition, the run game hasn't been as effective the last five games (the Chiefs are 1-4 in that stretch), averaging 81 rush yards per game. That's 70 yards per game fewer than Kansas City put up in its first five games (all wins). In my opinion, Smith needs the run game to improve or we'll likely see him continue to struggle throwing the ball downfield as this season progresses.

I know this sounds crazy, but there's a case for Patrick Mahomes, who played well in the preseason, to start in place of Smith as the playoffs near. The Chiefs gave up a third-rounder and next year's first to draft Mahomes, viewing him as their franchise quarterback of the future. He's a gunslinger who adds another dimension in the pass game when a) the weather worsens, and b) they're trying to go head to head with the AFC's best offenses.

It's definitely possible the Chiefs could find themselves in a Nathan Peterman situation, especially if they don't handle the timing of the switch well. We don't know. What I do know, though, is we can expect the same ending to the Chiefs' story if they don't change up their cast of characters.

Each week in the 2017 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. Now, let's get to it -- the Week 12 pecking order is below.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.

I mean, this guy ... He's playing at an unfair level. In Sunday's win in Mexico City, Brady completed 30 of 37 passes (opening the game with 12 straight completions) for 339 yards, three TDs, no INTs and a 131.9 passer rating. Usually we see players digress with age, but Brady defies the odds.

There should be no questioning whether Brown is the best receiver in the league after his latest performance -- 10 receptions for 144 yards and three touchdown catches. He's the NFL's first to surpass 1,000 receiving yards this season, marking his fifth straight season in reaching the mark. The thing is, Brown routinely puts up big numbers but his greatest performances come in the biggest games. In his last six prime time games, he's averaged 102.2 yards per game and hauled in 12 touchdowns. See you in January.

Though Bell has struggled to really get going on the ground Thursday night, he was a major player in the Steelers pass game. Bell totaled 103 yards from scrimmage (46 rushing, 57 receiving) for a solid performance.

Just put the Eagles straight into Championship Sunday. Wentz looked like a veteran, not so much statistically, in prime time Sunday night and led the Eagles over a Zeke-less Cowboys team, playing especially well in the second half. Wentz continues to learn and come back better each week, which is exactly what the Eagles need from him with all of the new pieces in the offense.

After tuning into Monday night's prime time game, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Wilson is this high on the list. He constantly gives the Seahawks a chance to win and keeps them in the game despite a lackluster offensive line. This season, the quarterback has accounted for 82.8 percent of Seattle's scrimmage yards, per NFL Research. Think about that.

Drew Brees proved why he's at No. 6. He had a great game (season-high 385 passing yards, two TDs, INT and 106.2 passer rating) to help the Saints' win streak stay alive. He was perfect on the Saints' final two drives of regulation, completing all 11 of his pass attempts for 164 yards and two TDs. The 39-year-old quarterback's fearlessness has poured over to the rest of the team. It's easy to see as they never feel out of the game. New Orleans is playing some good football.

The Gurley we saw Sunday was the same one we saw at the end of the Jeff Fisher era. In fact, Gurley's season-low 37 rushing yards were his fewest since Week 4 of last season. In the Rams' first drive against Minnesota, which resulted in a six-yard Gurley touchdown, the running back touched the ball on five of the offense's nine plays. It's not a coincidence they had success when he was involved. Keep giving this guy the ball.

He made some great plays against shutdown cornerback Patrick Peterson, who my colleague Ike Taylor has at No. 1 in his cornerback rankings. In the win, Hopkins hauled in four receptions on nine targets for 76 yards and a touchdown -- most of which came in the second half.

This entire Chiefs offense has come back down to earth after a booming start. Hunt has had fewer than 100 rushing yards in five straight games, including in Sunday's loss to the Giants, when he had 18 carries for 73 yards. The Chiefs still hold the fourth seed in the AFC playoff picture after stumbling through the last month, but Hunt's gotta get something going if Kansas City wants to secure a postseason spot. Nonetheless, Hunt continues to run hard and get yards after contact.

What a play Kamara made on that final drive in regulation. He literally played hot potato with the ball but his focus and athleticism propelled him in the end zone before also getting in again on the two-point conversion to tie the game. He's heating up at the perfect time and is proving why he's so hard to cover.

Goff isn't playing poorly despite not throwing a touchdown in Sunday's loss. Rookie receiver Cooper Kupp had a big drop and a turnover at the goal line, which could've made this game a different story in the fourth quarter. Goff's young but he's got to find ways to get the ball in the end zone when facing adversity. In Los Angeles' three losses, he's thrown for just one touchdown, while recording 15 in the team's seven wins.

Minnesota's underrated WR2 continued his career year in Sunday's win over the Rams with six catches for 123 receiving yards and this 65-yeard TD. With great hands and chemistry with Case Keenum, Thielen jumped to second-best in receiving yards (916) in the NFL.

Thielen's becoming one of my favorite players in the NFL. I record videos of Thielen and show them to my sons' high school football team because he runs perfect routes and doesn't waste movement. He's so fun to watch.

Kelce basically was the Chiefs' offense on Sunday, racking up eight receptions on a team-high 14 targets for 109 yards. He had a good game individually, sans the INT he threw in his first-ever pass attempt, but the Giants' defense kept the Chiefs off balance.

The receiver's numbers weren't through the roof Monday (five receptions on 10 targets for 71 yards), but he made some big-time catches. I thought the Falcons' offense looked better against Seattle than it has in a while. Jones and others -- namely, Mohamed Sanu and Matt Ryan -- capitalized on opportunities and made the big plays when they needed it.

Since Adrian Peterson went to Arizona, Ingram's taken off and was a huge part in the Saints' comeback win over the Redskins, finishing with 11 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown. Since Week 6, the first week New Orleans was without Peterson, Ingram's averaged 18.8 carries, 106 rushing yards and 120.7 scrimmage yards per game. He gets the tough yards but still has enough wiggle to make some big gains.

Dropped out: Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (previously No. 7); Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (No. 12).


Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs: This was undoubtedly Smith's worst outing of the season. When you're in the MVP conversation, it's hard to look past a performance like Sunday's (27-for-40 passing for 230 yards, no TDs, two INTs and a 61.5 passer rating). Smith's underwhelmed since Week 5, as the Chiefs have lost four of their last five.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots: Don't get me wrong, Gronk's still one of the most valuable players in this league but others are out-producing him right now. A few more big games could put him back in the top 15.

Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins: His steady production -- a 101.8 passer rating this season, a career best -- has flown under the radar. He played a good game in New Orleans (22-for-32 passing for 322 yards, three TDs and 132.6 passer rating) but that intentional grounding penalty may have cost his team the chance to win at the end of regulation. He should be recognized, though, for what he's done this year. He's doing a lot with less.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts: He's done some good things and had big games, but I'm looking for some more consistency. He put up 175 receiving yards and two TDs in Week 9, but it was followed by a two-catch, 23-yard performance in Week 10.

Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears: Howard's making life for his rookie quarterback easier. He's enough of a threat that Mitchell Trubisky's getting some one-on-one matchups. The running back gained 125 yards and scored a touchdown on 15 carries vs. the Lions and is tied with Ezekiel Elliott for the league lead in 100-yard rushing games (11) since the start of 2016.

Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8.

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