Clutch Performers

Offensive player rankings, Week 16: Tom Brady, Todd Gurley rise

It's an utterly known fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers have the most dangerous offense when their "Killer Bs" (Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown) are on the field. But when they're without just one of those three -- and there have been several such stretches since Bell entered the league in 2013 -- the Steelers haven't been quite the same offensively, as reflected by their losing record (12-13) in that span when either Roethlisberger, Bell or Brown is missing.

With Antonio Brown exiting Sunday night's AFC showdown vs. the Patriots with what NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reported was a partially torn calf muscle, I must say I saw some promising play from the other offensive players. Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eli Rogers, among others, stepped up and made some big plays. Frankly, the Steelers should've won that game. But even with a solid performance from the offense, Brown's absence was visible statistically. Before Brown's injury, which coach Mike Tomlin said will keep Brown out for at least Week 16, the Steelers averaged 8.4 yards per play on Sunday, converted 75 percent of third-down plays and were perfect in the red zone. Without Brown, they averaged 5.8 yards per play, converted 58.3 percent of third-down plays and got a touchdown on just 50 percent of their red-zone trips.

Losing the league's leading receiver is a huge blow to the Steelers because he alone can dictate what the defense does. There are so many things Brown does for this team, but the proof is in wins and losses: Pittsburgh is 60-35 with Brown and 1-3 without him since 2012 (including playoffs).

The Steelers are still a good offense, but no longer are they the most dangerous in the AFC without their star receiver. Enter the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs persevered through a seven-game slump in which they won just one game. And in the last two weeks, they've stepped up in a big way against divisional opponents. A huge part of their recent success has been the play-calling switch from Andy Reid to offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, which came before the Week 13 loss to the Jets. Anytime there's a switch, the defense is unsure of what's coming. It was a smart thing to do, and my hat is off to Reid for recognizing the offense needed a change. I know a lot of coaches personally who would rather get fired than give that up.

The Chiefs averaged 76.3 rushing yards per game from Week 6 to Week 12, but with Nagy calling the plays, Kareem Hunt and the Chiefs have greatly benefitted, averaging 150.3 rushing yards per game since Week 13. The running back has been incredible in his rookie season and sits second (1,201) only to Pittsburgh's Bell (1,222) in rushing yards this season. The passing game has been steady with Alex Smith under center. He's shown resilience all season -- proving the naysayers, myself included, wrong -- and has had his best season to date.

Tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Tyreek Hill are dynamic and so tough to defend. Like we saw Saturday, Hill can run by any defender at any moment with his speed. Kelce is a guy who can't be covered by interior linebackers or strong safeties. He either requires a hybrid safety down in the box if he's lined up near the tackles, or a player who can cover him in space if he's lined up outside. The Chiefs can use Kelce in the way the Steelers use Brown, dictating how the defense plays against the offense.

Like I said, while the Steelers still have a solid offense, they don't really scare me. But heading into the final stretch, this Chiefs offense would keep me up at night if I were a defensive coordinator.

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 16 pecking order is below.

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

The second I remove Brady from the No. 1 spot, he goes and proves me wrong. Sounds about right. Brady was frustrated for most of the game at Heinz Field, but he answered with his 52nd career game-winning drive (including playoffs). On that drive, he completed 3 of 4 passes for 69 yards (all to Rob Gronkowski) and had a 116.7 passer rating. What a thing of beauty to watch.

Bell continues to show why he's the top back in the NFL. In the loss to New England, Bell totaled 117 rushing yards and a touchdown (his first career score vs. the Patriots) on 24 carries, while hauling in five receptions for 48 yards. His offensive line works extremely well with Bell's running style. With Antonio Brown out for the rest of the regular season, Bell's gotta be at least this productive going forward.

Last week, Sean McVay said he needed to find a way to get Gurley more touches. Mission accomplished. Gurley had 24 touches in the Rams' 42-7 romp of Seattle and got into the end zone FOUR times. He had 180 yards from scrimmage -- 152 on the ground -- to lead the way for Sean McVay's offense. Gurley's going to be a major player in January, especially if the Rams are playing in cold weather.

New Orleans continues to dominate with its two-headed monster in the backfield. The rookie put up 89 yards from scrimmage (44 rushing, 45 receiving) and notched his fifth TD reception of the season in the win over the Jets.

The Rams' defense was all over Wilson, who had just 142 passing yards, one TD, no interceptions and a lost fumble on Sunday. After the last two contests, both losses, I think Wilson is officially out of the MVP race. The Seahawks must get him some big men on the O-line this offseason.

Not many great things to say about the Houston Texans right now, but Hopkins sure is a bright spot. He had his 12th touchdown reception of the season -- breaking his own single-season record from 2015 (11) -- in the loss to Jacksonville and finished with 80 of T.J. Yates' 128 passing yards.

After his one-game suspension, Gronk made his presence known in a huge AFC showdown Sunday. He dominated the Steelers and racked up a career-high 168 receiving yards, serving as the catalyst in the Patriots' game-winning drive.

Kamara and Ingram could make a good case for being the best duo (in any position) in the league right now. When the Saints' offense struggled against the Jets, Ingram's play was elevated, and he finished with 74 rushing yards and two scores on 12 carries, plus five receptions for 77 yards. The Saints are marching.

A fast start by the Saints was almost thwarted by the Jets' defense. Yet, the Saints held on, with Brees finishing with two TD passes, one interception and his fifth consecutive game with better than a 100.0 passer rating (101.7 vs. New York). Being able to win in the face of adversity is key this time of year.

The Rams were able to put their Week 5 loss to the Seahawks behind them with one of their most productive performances of the season in the rematch. Los Angeles flipped its touchdown-to-turnover ratio from 1:5 in Week 5 to 5:1 on Sunday. Goff threw for 120 yards, two TDs and one pick -- a mediocre showing. But he didn't need to do much more than hand the ball off to Gurley.

The Vikings were on a mission Sunday, as they clinched the NFC North title. And although Thielen isn't putting up the numbers he was at midseason, he's a threat anytime he's on the field.

With just 54 receiving yards in Saturday's loss, Allen snapped his four-game streak with at least 100 receiving yards in each game. Well, it certainly doesn't help when your quarterback tosses three interceptions. The fact that Allen left the game in the fourth quarter with a back injury is concerning going forward, given his injury history.

With the top spot in the AFC West up for grabs, the Chiefs stepped up in a big way and beat the Chargers 30-13. Kelce wasn't the star of the Chiefs' offense Saturday, but he put up 46 receiving yards on six catches. Kelce needs 9 more receiving yards to become the first Kansas City TE since Tony Gonzalez to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He should be able to do that with the Dolphins and Broncos left on the schedule.

He's one of the most underrated receivers in the game. Since Brandin Cooks was traded from New Orleans to New England, Thomas has been Brees' favorite target. With 93 receiving yards -- and a touchdown -- on Sunday, Thomas became the second receiver in NFL history to start his career with back-to-back seasons of at least 90 receptions and 1,000 yards. ( Odell Beckham Jr. is the other.)

Keenum is the fourth Vikings player (joining Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs and Thielen) to crack my top 15 at some point in the season. He's not just a game-manager for the offense -- he's making big plays every week. And as good as Minnesota's defense has been, Keenum deserves a lot of credit for how the Vikings are playing. In the NFC North-clinching win over Cincinnati, Keenum's efficiency was off the charts. He completed 20 of 23 passes for 236 yards, two touchdowns and a 138.4 passer rating. He was also perfect (nine for nine) on third-down throws in the game. This could be a special postseason for Minnesota.

Dropped out: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (previously No. 1); Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (No. 15).

JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15:

LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills: McCoy has taken over for the Bills' offense. He followed up a snowy performance that saw him essentially give his team the "W" after a game-winning TD run with a two-touchdown game (one rushing, one receiving) vs. the Dolphins. McCoy had 24 touches for Buffalo -- the next-closest Bills player was quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who had six rushing attempts. Shady is this team's clear MVP choice.

Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs: Hill's 64-yard TD against the Chargers gave the second-year pro his 11th career TD of 50-plus yards. He joins Devin Hester (13) and Gale Sayers (11) as the only players in NFL history with at least 11 TDs of at least 50 yards in their first two seasons.

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons: Jones continued alternating productive outings with relative duds, as the Bucs held him to three catches for 54 yards and zero scores on Monday following last week's 98-yard day against the Saints. He's topped 75 yards in back-to-back games just once this season, in Weeks 2 (108 against the Packers) and 3 (91 against the Lions).

Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8.

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