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Week 17 AFC West superlatives: Only positive vibes heading into 2020

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The AFC West was obviously only 2-2 in week 17, but there was a lot of good to praise in the final superlatives column of the season

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Can you believe another NFL regular season is completed? I simply cannot. nor do I want to.

It was a bit disappointing for the AFC West on the whole this year. The Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, and Oakland Raiders all failed to make the playoffs. Of those teams, only the Raiders could really be seen as a surprise in the positive sense.

But going into 2020, at least three of the four franchises have reason for optimism. As usual, the Chargers remain a wallowing, cursed franchise. Some things never change, no matter the year.

But frankly, like last week, there is little time or reason to focus on the negatives. Only positives from me as I dole out my final weekly awards for the division in 2019.

QB of the week

For the second straight week, Derek Carr looked like he knew he was playing for his job in 2020. He wasn’t perfect, or as good as in Week 16, but the numbers were impressive.

Even if the Raiders decide the film from the past couple weeks was not as impressive as the numbers indicate, those statistics make it somewhat of a public relations trip to trade Carr in the offseason, unless they replace him with someone obviously better.

And before you indict stat nerds for this, remember it has traditionally been people you wouldn’t identify as sharing the same ethos as stat nerds who justify personnel moves based on simple rate statistics like passing yards and touchdowns.

But let’s just take a moment to appreciate the way Carr finished the 2019 season, regardless of what his future holds. He clearly fought and battled for the silver and black.

Tight End/Receiver of the week

It’s hard to have the quarterback of the week and leading receiver in the division and score only 15 points. But then again, only positive thoughts here. And also...breathe.

Darren Waller caught 6 passes for 107 yards. It was his fifth game of the season with 100 or more yards in receiving, and his 107 yards were only the fourth most he’s had in a single game.

It capped a remarkable 2019 season — one well-documented for the inspiring story arc of his life and career — and it makes you wonder how good he could be with another year in Gruden’s offense; another year of experience playing the position; and with the possible addition of more skill position talent around him.

Offensive line of the week

I try to come up with at least one unique award each week. This is the first time I have awarded an entire offensive line. But the work the Kansas City Chiefs’ unit did in Week 17 against the venerable Charger pass rush was remarkable.

There’s this play below, which admittedly had little to do with the offensive line, but still looks good for them in the advanced statistics department:

In full, Damien Williams ran 12 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. If you take out this 84-yard run, Williams ran 11 times for 40 yards. That’s not outstanding, but it will get the job done considering many of those runs came with a lead and the Chargers playing run-heavy defenses.

More importantly, the Chiefs offensive line kept Patrick Mahomes clean in the pocket, as he was never sacked on 25 dropbacks. Keeping Mahomes clean and healthy had to be one of Andy Reid’s main goals, aside from winning, heading into the Week 17 AFC West tilt.

Mission accomplished.

Defensive player of the week

This was one of the stronger weeks in the division for defensive players. Three of the four teams had players deserving of the award...sorry Chargers. Von Miller registered a sack, 3 quarterback hits, and a pass defensed. Maxx Crosby made plays as well — more on him later. And Tyrann Mathieu was predictably all over the field on Sunday.

The award is going to have to be split between Miller and Mathieu, as I’m in the middle of an existential crisis regarding the priority of pass rush or pass coverage. I assume at some point I’ll decide.

As I said in my three matchups piece headed into the Week 17 games, Miller is one of the few pass rushers who legitimately makes his defense better just by his mere presence (it should also be noted that Todd Davis and Alexander Johnson had 15 and 13 tackles, respectively).

Mathieu does the same thing with his presence in the secondary, and his noted presence in the locker room. In addition to intercepting a Philip Rivers pass, Mathieu had two passes defensed and cleaned up seven tackles. He will undoubtedly play a large role in whatever postseason run the Chiefs make.

Rookie of the week

I saw the movie Knives Out on Sunday night instead of watching the all-important 49ers-Seahawks game. Without revealing any spoilers, the film does an excellent job of digging deep, then looking back. It keeps you on the edge of your seat while foreshadowing events to come.

Have I done that in preparing you for this award here? Okay, almost certainly not. But Raiders rookie defensive end Maxx Crosby had an excellent final scene in his rookie campaign, registering 1.5 sacks, a QB hit, a pass defensed, 5 tackles, and a tackle for loss against the Broncos.

Of course, we’re bound to ask what he’ll do for an encore in year 2. But for now, let’s applaud the fourth round pick, who could conceivably be defensive rookie of the year if not for the other, more high-profile defensive end playing in the Bay Area.

Special Teams player of the week

There’s an expression in major college sports that “the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores.” And the logic behind that is, generally by the end of their freshman season they’ve become sophomores.

That is why I was so tempted to give non-rookie awards to three rookies this week. Two of the three ended up being awarded in some capacity. In this case, apologies to Hunter Renfrow. You’ve shown you will have more weeks worthy of awards in the coming years.

Mecole Hardman looked a bit like his teammate Tyreek Hill — who he was widely compared to entering the 2019 NFL Draft — when he returned a kick for a touchdown against the Chargers on Sunday.

First off, I love that Hardman even attempted to return this kick. While I fully understand the motivation of the NFL to try to eliminate returns within reason, it has taken some of the fun out of the game. Tell me Hardman’s return here isn’t an exhilarating play!

Second of all, he shows great vision and patience, while also flying down the sideline. That’s elite stuff right there.

I firmly believe special teams is an underrated aspect of the game of football. Teams who do it well tend to be better off than those who aren’t good in that area. It’s a somewhat obvious statement, yet it seems teams don’t address it as thoroughly as they should.

Give the Chiefs credit for putting a lot of resources into that area of the game, including having one of the two or three best special teams coordinators in the game. Can we get Dave Toub a head coaching interview?

Who won the week?

This isn’t terribly hard. The Chiefs not only did their part to earn a bye, but got the help they needed from the Miami Dolphins of all teams, who went into Foxborough and defeated the defending champions 27-24. Who would have figured?

Additionally, no players got hurt. Did I mention they earned a bye?

The Broncos winning and looking like they could be a team to watch out for in 2020 earns them an honorable mention nod. And the reality is, though they lost and left themselves without any hope for the unlikely No. 6 seed in the AFC, the Raiders had plenty of performances on Sunday to be proud of and gave fans of the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders plenty of hope for the 2020 campaign, and beyond.

It’s been a surprisingly good 2019 football-wise. Here’s to 2020 being even better.