1. Jay Cutler, Chicago quarterback: You knew there was no way to omit Cutler from this list. Even though his last game was five days ago, it was a doozy. A five-interception night at San Francisco might have scuttled the Bears’ playoff hopes. Even after last weekend's games, Cutler’s 17 interceptions still lead the NFL by a wide margin. He has a long wait until Sunday night’s game against Philadelphia, and all of Chicago is holding its collective breath. Cutler has thrown 70 percent of his interceptions (12 of 17) in three prime-time games this season. Eagles defenders no doubt are licking their chops.
2. Bryant Johnson, Detroit receiver: In an offense that also includes receiver Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson should have ample opportunity for high production. But he has proved underwhelming in that role, and dropped what would have been a touchdown pass late in the second quarter of the Lions’ 27-10 loss at Minnesota. Overall this season, Johnson has caught only 22 of the 56 passes thrown his way. That ratio puts him among the 10 least-efficient receivers in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Looked at another way, Johnson has cost the Lions far too many yards and first downs.
3. Gosder Cherilus, Lions right tackle: He took a pretty good beating Sunday at the hands of Minnesota defensive end Ray Edwards and was briefly replaced by veteran Jon Jansen. Cherilus was one of many Lions offensive linemen who struggled, but you tend to get singled out when the player across from you has a career game. Cherilus had no answers for Edwards’ speed or power rushes. The Lions’ top pick of the 2008 draft deserves more time to develop, but Sunday was certainly a learning experience for him.
1. Charles Woodson, Green Bay cornerback: Defensive coordinator Dom Capers set Woodson loose Sunday against the Dallas offense, and Woodson responded with what might have been his best game in a Packers uniform. He finished with a team-high nine tackles, including a sack. He also forced two fumbles and made an interception in a 17-7 victory. It was a beautiful response from Woodson, who suggested earlier this year that Capers wasn’t blitzing as often as he should. In a must-win situation, a team relies on its best players not only for leadership but for exceptional performances. Woodson provided both Sunday.
2. Ray Edwards, Minnesota defensive end: When Detroit focused its attention elsewhere Sunday, Edwards pounced with a two-sack performance and lost a third on a questionable roughness penalty. He finished with four total hits on quarterback Matthew Stafford and also a forced fumble. The Lions tried to adjust with Cherilus, but he couldn’t keep leverage on Edwards’ outside rush. Edwards quietly has compiled 5.5 sacks this season, giving him a chance for a 10-sack year. (Sorry, Vikings fans. I’m over my Sidney Rice quota for the season.)
3. Phillip Buchanon, Detroit cornerback: No one can doubt that Buchanon still has elite speed after he caught Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson from behind and knocked the ball loose Sunday. Based on the video replay, Peterson had a 4-yard head start once he broke into the open field. Buchanon, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds while in college, sprinted 25 yards to catch Peterson. He probably should have been flagged for a horsecollar tackle, but it was such a surprising display of speed that no official seemed prepared for the play to stop short of the end zone. Speed is a precious commodity in the NFL, and Buchanon’s effort was the kind of play that can single-handedly extend a career.