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 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.
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.
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.
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).