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Rob Carr/Getty Images
Well, that was an eventful week in the NFL.
Week 13 brought with it a trio of potential postseason previews. In Baltimore, a rematch of Super Bowl XLVII solidified the Ravens’ case as the top team in the NFL while knocking the San Francisco 49ers down a peg. In Houston, the Texans slayed the proverbial dragon, knocking off the New England Patriots and boosting the Ravens into the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
And in Seattle, the Seahawks shook things up in the NFC, getting past the Minnesota Vikings and into first place in the NFC West.
There was a big-time upset of a potential contender in Miami. A statement win by the Bills in Dallas. A sixth victory in seven games for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And a first victory of the season in Cincinnati.
It was week that sent shockwaves through the league from top to bottom—and sent Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski scrambling to make sense of it all.
Here’s how they view the NFL’s pecking order as Week 14 dawns, starting with that Queen City victory parade.
Alas, fair friends, but it is time for Brian Westbrook and Adam Lefkoe to eulogize their beloved Philadelphia Eagles’ season. Twas over before it got started, truly. Also, the Patriots are definitely cooked, right? Right?? Does anyone ACTUALLY believe that? Lefkoe believes John Harbaugh is absolutely the Coach of the Year, and that one other first year coach needs to be fired (but you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out who! That’s called a tease!!). Keep coming back all season long and through the playoffs for more of Lefkoe and Westbrook’s football discussions of The Lefkoe Show.
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Bryan Woolston/Getty Images
Last Week: 32
Week 13 Result: Won vs. New York Jets 22-6
There won’t be an 0-16 team in 2019.
After 11 weeks of misery, mistakes and all-around moribund performances, the Cincinnati Bengals finally got in the win column Sunday against the New York Jets.
Whether or not that means anything is another story.
After watching rookie Ryan Finley bumble around the field for several weeks, the Bengals turned back to veteran Andy Dalton at quarterback in Week 13. Dalton played relatively well, passing for 243 yards and a score that set the franchise record for touchdown passes. Per John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Dalton said it felt good to be back on the field.
“You work all year to win,” Dalton said. “Each week you’re doing what you can to win. To have it finally pay off, to get the first win, to get Zac [Taylor] his first win of his coaching career, it’s a big relief.”
But with Cincinnati still on a collision course with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, Dalton’s days as a starter in Cincinnati (and quite possibly in Cincy at all) are probably numbered.
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Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Last Week: 31
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Green Bay 31-13
You’re going to notice something of a theme in the bottom half of this week’s power rankings—coaches whose time at the helm could be about to end.
And there likely isn’t an NFL coach in hotter water than Pat Shurmur of the Giants after New York dropped its eighth game in a row in blowout fashion.
It had all the hallmarks of the 2019 Giants. Daniel “Danny Dimes” Jones played more like Paulie Picks, tossing three more interceptions. The New York defense was porous. Tailback Saquon Barkley’s sophomore slump continued.
In short, the Giants are a mess. But as Steve Serby reported for the New York Post, Shurmur insisted after the game that the G-Men are close.
“This is a historically young team,” Shurmur said, “that’s going out there and competing against some really good football teams, and we’ve got to do what we have to do to win games, and I understand that. But they also are developing. At some point, we’ll be good enough to win.”
New York is close, all right—close to being the worst team in the league.
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Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press
Last Week: 26
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Tampa Bay 28-11
So, um, about that $50 million in guaranteed money that the Jacksonville Jaguars handed Nick Foles in the offseason…
Is it too late to ask for a refund?
Foles’ return to the Jaguars starting lineup didn’t last a month. After a horrendous first half against the Buccaneers that included three turnovers and a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, Foles was benched in favor of rookie Gardner Minshew II. Minshew didn’t play especially well, but he was markedly better than Foles—opening the door to a full-blown QB controversy in Jacksonville.
The controversy didn’t last long. On Monday, Doug Marrone announced that Minshew would start the rest of the way for the Jaguars.
“Obviously it was a tough deal,” Marrone said, via ESPN’s Michael DiRocco. “Nick coming back from injury and us not being able to do a good enough job around him, really. So we feel with Gardner’s mobility and elusiveness, it can give us a better chance of winning with the way we’re playing right now because we’re all not doing a good enough job.”
If it makes Marrone feel any better, after four more games he probably won’t have to worry about which bad quarterback starts for the Jags. And Foles gets paid in any event.
“They’re just the third team this decade to lose four consecutive games by three or more scores,” Gagnon wrote. “With that much talent, that’s completely inexcusable. This should be Marrone’s final month as the team’s head coach.”
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Brian Blanco/Associated Press
Last Week: 29
Week 13 Result: Won at Carolina 29-21
Break up the Washington Redskins!
For most of the season, the Redskins looked like arguably the worst team in the NFC—if not all of the NFL. Washington won just one of its first 10 games. Just this week, Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network explained that Washington owner Daniel Snyder is considering firing team president Bruce Allen in the offseason.
However, over the last two weeks the Redskins have peeled off back-to-back wins—including a victory Sunday in Carolina in which Washington fell behind 14-0 and then ripped off 29 unanswered points to shock the reeling Panthers.
The star of the win was undoubtedly second-year tailback Derrius Guice. Playing in just the fourth game of a career marred by knee injuries, Guice gashed the Panthers for 129 yards on just 10 carries. It was a display of the explosiveness that spurred the Redskins to take Guice in the second round in 2018.
There’s still a lot of work to be done in the nation’s capital. Holes to fill on both sides of the ball. But there’s also some hope shining through—young players the team can build around moving forward.
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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Last Week: 25
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. New Orleans 26-18
By virtue of Thursday’s loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons are guaranteed a losing record for the second consecutive season—the first time that’s happened since 2013 and 2014.
Those losing seasons cost Mike Smith his job as head coach and ushered in the Dan Quinn era.
These will likely be the end of Quinn, who is now 20-24 since the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI.
There’s been no shortage of speculation after the Falcons started the season 1-7 that Quinn’s job was in jeopardy. But per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Quinn insisted that he’s going to keep doing his job as long as has it.
“I’ve certainly learned a helluva a lot of this year,” Quinn said. “More so than any year. We are going to keep continuing to push and go for it like crazy.”
With the Falcons now eliminated from postseason contention, he all but certainly has a max of four games left in his Atlanta coaching tenure.
“The season can’t end soon enough in Atlanta,” Sobleski said. “Sure, the Falcons could secure another victory or two down the stretch after a 3-9 start, but those wins will be meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Quinn will almost certainly be fired. Right now, the most important thing for Atlanta is draft positioning—it currently owns the fifth overall pick.”
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Last Week: 23
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Los Angeles Rams 34-7
At the seven-game mark of the 2019 season, the Arizona Cardinals appeared to building up a nice head of steam. The Redbirds had peeled off three straight wins and sat at 3-3-1 for the year.
Since then, the Cardinals have dropped five in a row. And while that slump comes with the caveat that four of the losses were against teams with winning records, after the latest debacle it’s fair to ask whether this year’s Cardinals are that much better than last year’s mess of a team.
Sunday in Phoenix, the Cardinals were dominated in just about every way a team can be. Offensively, Arizona was completely shut down, generating just 198 yards of total offense and one touchdown well after the game was out of hand.
Defensively, Arizona was roasted to the tune of 549 yards.
This is a game from which you burn the film. And then bury the ashes.
“This might actually be the worst defense in the NFL, which is unbelievable considering the talent they have at key defensive positions,” Gagnon said. “And it’s the same thing every week: can’t wrap up, can’t get off the field, can’t defend tight ends. That’s on Vance Joseph, who should be one-and-done as defensive coordinator in Arizona.”
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Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Last Week: 27
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Chicago 24-20
It’s hard to believe that the 2019 Detroit Lions were one blown fourth-quarter lead in the season opener away from starting the season 3-0.
It’s hard to believe that because since then, those same Detroit Lions are 1-8.
It’s not exactly surprising that the Lions lost on Thanksgiving Day—with both starting quarterback Matthew Stafford and backup Jeff Driskel sidelined by injuries, Detroit turned to undrafted rookie David Blough under center against the Chicago Bears.
What is a bit surprising is just how awful Detroit’s defense is under head coach (and supposed defensive guru) Matt Patricia. This is a defense that surrendered the first 300-yard passing game to Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky since—the Lions did last November. This is a defense that’s ranked toward the bottom of the NFL in any number of statistical categories.
The Lions were something of a mess when Patricia took over in 2018, With a record of 9-18-1 since he got the job, it can be argued they’re an even bigger one now.
And the odds that Patricia will be back for a third season aren’t especially good.
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Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Last Week: 30
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Philadelphia 37-31
The Miami Dolphins are probably the most talent-deficient team in the NFL. They also might be the best 3-9 team we’ve seen in quite some time.
Miami head coach Brian Flores is in the earliest of stages in a ground-up rebuild. And yet more weeks than not of late, the Dolphins have at least given opponents a run for their money. The team did more than that Sunday—dealing a crushing blow to the lagging playoff hopes of the Eagles in Miami.
Patrick Laird led the team in carries (10) for all of five yards. Miami’s secondary gave up 300-plus passing yards and three scores to Carson Wentz.
But thanks to 365 passing yards and three scores from Ryan Fitzpatrick and a trick play that must be seen to be believed in which a punter threw a touchdown pass to a kicker (you read that right), the Dolphins won for the third time in five games.
The best part? Thanks to upset wins by the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins, the Dolphins didn’t even lose any draft position.
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Bryan Woolston/Getty Images
Last Week: 21
Week 13 Result: Lost at Cincinnati 22-6
We give up.
There’s no figuring out the 2019 New York Jets. In Week 12, the Jets obliterated the Oakland Raiders 34-3 for their third consecutive victory. After a terrible start to the season marred by multiple injuries to prominent players, Gang Green appeared to be building up a head of steam.
The Jets were certainly steaming in Week 13 against the Bengals, getting blown out by a winless Cincinnati team to fall to 4-8.
The Jets were terrible in every aspect Sunday. The offense managed just 271 yards and 15 first downs against a Bengals defense that has redefined futility on a weekly basis. New York managed to allow 22 points to a team that averaged less than two yards a carry on the ground.
On the same day as Miami stunned the Philadelphia Eagles, the Jets looked the part of the worst team in the AFC East.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Last Week: 22
Week 13 Result: Lost at Denver 23-20
This is getting ridiculous.
In 2019, the Los Angeles Chargers have become the masters of finding new and inventive ways to lose. All eight of the team’s losses have been by one score. Of late, the biggest culprit had been turnovers by quarterback Philip Rivers. The veteran had struggled so badly that there were reports before Sunday’s game that the Chargers were considering benching him.
Well, Rivers played well enough to get the win Sunday, leading the team back from a 14-0 deficit. But Casey Hayward inexplicably drew a pass interference penalty with just seconds left on the clock that set up Denver’s Brandon McManus for the game-winning kick.
It was just the latest misery in a season filled with them. A Chargers team that entered 2019 a Super Bowl contender in the eyes of some now occupies last place in the division.
And with Rivers in the final year of his contract and head coach Anthony Lynn’s future with the team unclear, the Chargers could be a drastically different team when they move into their new stadium in 2020.
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Jack Dempsey/Associated Press
Last Week: 28
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Los Angeles Chargers 23-20
The Denver Broncos have been searching for a quarterback from the moment that Peyton Manning stopped tossing passes and starting pitching insurance.
There’s no guarantee that rookie Drew Lock is that guy, but his first NFL start offered reason for optimism.
The raw stats weren’t great—18-of-28 passes for 134 yards, two scores and an interception. But Lock showed off plus arm strength, made plays when he needed to and (most importantly) got the Broncos their fourth win of the season.
At the very least, Lock earned the right to an extended audition—to four more games as the team’s starter down the stretch. Even then, the Broncos are all but certainly headed for a third straight 10-loss season.
Of Denver’s last four games, three come against teams that are .500 or better—including trips to Houston and Kansas City over the next two weeks.
If Lock can win either of those games, then we’ll really be impressed.
“Lock provided the entire Broncos organization with a lifeline on Sunday,” Sobleski said. “Obviously, one game isn’t enough to determine whether Lock can be Denver’s long-term starter, but he played well enough for some hope to bubble to the surface.”
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Mike McCarn/Associated Press
Last Week: 18
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Washington 29-21
We would say that the Carolina Panthers have hit rock bottom, but the team keeps finding new nadirs with each passing week.
Still, Sunday has to be viewed as the low point in what’s shaping up as another disappointing season in Charlotte. Playing against a two-win Washington Redskins team, the Panthers raced out to a 14-0 lead—and then proceeded to allow 29 unanswered points to one of the most anemic offenses in the NFL.
Carolina’s porous run defense found a new level of awful, allowing 248 rushing yards and over eight yards a carry. Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen continued his collapse, committing two more costly turnovers.
Running the wrong way on 4th-and-goal with a chance to tie the game just about sums up Allen’s season.
The Panthers are done. The Saints have locked up the NFC North, and Carolina is not sniffing a wild-card spot this year.
And after missing the playoffs and falling apart in the second half for the second year in a row, there could be massive changes coming for the franchise in the offseason.
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David Eulitt/Getty Images
Last Week: 20
Week 13 Result: Lost at Kansas City 40-9
Not that long ago, the Oakland Raiders appeared to have turned a corner. The Raiders won three in a row to make it to 6-4 and were in the mix for a wild-card spot.
After being outscored 74-12 over the past two games, it now looks like the Raiders turned a corner all right—into the path of an oncoming bus.
There hasn’t been much that’s gone right for the Raiders over the last two weeks. The team has been sloppy with the football, turning it over five times. Oakland’s 20th-ranked defense has struggled to get off the field. And the team’s lack of a No. 1 receiver becomes more evident every time the team falls behind.
Still, there’s been at least one bright spot. With his fifth 100-yard rushing effort of the season against the Chiefs, Josh Jacobs became the first rookie running back in franchise history to top 1,000 yards. And while the Raiders are slumping, the team still has a puncher’s chance at notching a .500 season.
Glass half-full, right?
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
Last Week: 24
Week 13 Result: Won at Jacksonville 28-11
The good news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is that with four games to play, the team already has as many wins as in each of the last two seasons.
The bad news is that Tampa is still not an especially good football team.
The Buccaneers ran the ball 31 times—for all of 74 yards. Quarterback Jameis Winston managed to avoid turning the ball over—but also didn’t throw a touchdown pass. The Buccaneers allowed a season-low 11 points, but that says a lot more about a terrible Jaguars offense than it does any tangible improvement by the Tampa defense.
It was a victory full of sound and fury—signifying nothing.
“If anything,” Davenport said, “winning this game was a bad thing for the Buccaneers—as gifts go, it was that wool sweater your grandma bought you years ago that’s never been worn and sits in the back of the closet. It doesn’t mean the Buccaneers are getting better. It just means that the Jaguars are in free-fall. What it does mean is that Tampa just slid deeper into Round 1 of the draft—and this team needs all the help it can get.”
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Justin Berl/Getty Images
Last Week: 16
Week 13 Result: Lost at Pittsburgh 20-13
The city of Pittsburgh has not been a happy place for the Cleveland Browns over the years. Since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, the team had played 21 games in the Steel City (including one playoff game).
The Browns had two wins entering Sunday—and still do.
For a moment it appeared things might be different this time, with the Browns scoring the game’s first 10 points. The Steelers then scored 20 unanswered points—and that was that.
For the Browns, the seventh loss of the season all but ends any hopes of the team’s first playoff trip since 2002. It also put a stop to a three-game winning streak that had given the Browns a bit of positive momentum.
“The defense has been ravaged by injuries and stupidity,” Davenport said, “with safety Damarious Randall staying home in Cleveland this week due to a coach’s decision. That benching is just one more example of the lack of discipline and chemistry this team has demonstrated all season. The Browns have talent. But that’s all they have right now, and it’s become abundantly clear that alone isn’t enough.”
“The Browns entered their biggest game of the season with everything on the line and a chance to change the narrative only to fall completely flat,” Sobleski added. “Typical. The team bought into its preseason hype and never did the little things necessary to actually become a consistent winner. The malaise has ruined another season, with head coach Freddie Kitchens possibly paying for the disappointment with his job.”
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Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
Last Week: 15
Week 13 Result: Lost at Miami 37-31
Week 13 was supposed to be a golden opportunity for the Philadelphia Eagles. After the Cowboys lost on Thanksgiving, all the Eagles needed to do was beat the lowly Dolphins to move to .500 and a virtual tie for first place in the NFC East.
The Eagles even got No. 1 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery back for the game. Things were seemingly breaking the right way.
Now, after being stunned on the road, the Eagles are just broken.
That Philly’s playoff hopes aren’t toast says a lot more about how bad the NFC East is than how good the Eagles are. This is a team that just squandered the best game from Carson Wentz in weeks by surrendering over 350 passing yards and three scores to Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“The NFC Least is the division no one wants to win,” Davenport said. “Whoever ‘wins’ the division is probably going to get blasted by a 12-win fifth seed on Wild Card Weekend. But at least the Cowboys had the decency to lose to a good team. The Eagles lost to the least-talented team in the NFL in a game they badly needed to win. That says all you need to know about how good they aren’t.”
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Rick Osentoski/Associated Press
Last Week: 17
Week 13 Result: Won at Detroit 24-20
The Chicago Bears are becoming the NFL equivalent of the antagonist in a slasher movie…
They just won’t die.
For much of their Thanksgiving Day tilt with the Lions, it looked like this was it—the Bears were finally going to surrender any hope of making the playoffs for a second straight year. But thanks to some timely defensive play and 338 passing yards from quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the Bears squeaked out a win to get back to .500.
Of course, that the Bears had to stage a fourth-quarter comeback to beat a bad Lions team at all is a sign of just how far the team has fallen relative to last year’s 12-4 squad. To call the offense inconsistent is being kind. The defense is still good, but it’s not the dominant unit we saw in the Windy City a year ago.
Next up for the Bears is an elimination contest of sorts against a 6-6 Dallas team whose own playoff hopes would be on life support if they played in any division except the NFC Least.
The cold, hard truth? It doesn’t matter even a little who wins. One-and-done’s the best-case scenario for both.
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Bobby Ellis/Getty Images
Last Week: 10
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Tennessee 31-17
If the Indianapolis Colts fail to advance to the postseason in 2019, we’ll look back at the last two weeks as the reason.
After losing a heartbreaker to the rival Texans in Week 12, the Colts opened up a 10-point lead over the Tennessee Titans at home on Sunday. But the team fell apart after that with a combination of Jacoby Brissett interceptions and a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown contributing to 24 unanswered points and a 14-point loss that dropped the Colts into third place in the AFC South.
Brissett topped 300 passing yards, but his pair of picks were killers. Without Marlon Mack on the field, the Colts were able to gain only 82 yards on the ground. And Indy’s defense had no answer for tailback Derrick Henry, who gashed the Colts for 149 yards and a score on 26 carries.
The loss leaves the Colts in a precarious spot in the postseason race. But with just one remaining game against a team with a winning record, all hope isn’t quite lost yet.
However, both the Steelers and Raiders own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Colts—so the team is going to need help down the stretch.
“It’s just not in the cards for Jacoby Brissett, who has posted a sub-90 passer rating in four of his last five games,” Gagnon said. “He can’t consistently stretch the field and his limitations are becoming glaring. Gotta do more with that offensive line. The Colts are too talented to enter next season with this guy under center.”
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Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Last Week: 12
Week 13 Result: Lost vs. Buffalo 26-15
As David Moore reported for the Dallas Morning News, after the Minnesota Vikings beat the Cowboys to drop the team to 5-4, tailback Ezekiel Elliott said there was no cause for concern. Everything was fine. In fact, the last thing the Cowboys wanted to do was peak too early. Quarterback Dak Prescott agreed.
“I second Zeke on that,” Prescott said. “You don’t want to peak too early. This is a confident group that knows we’re going to peak at the right time. We’ve got all the faith and trust that we’re going to get there and handle the things that we need to handle.”
Well, all is going to according to plan then—because the Cowboys most assuredly are not peaking.
After getting embarrassed at home on national TV, Dallas is a .500 football team that’s only in first place because it plays in the NFC Least. It has now played five games against teams with a winning record in 2019—and lost all five contests.
It appears that the NFC East is going to come down to a Week 16 meeting between the Cowboys and Eagles in Philadelphia.
It also looks like the only thing at stake will be the right to bet walloped at home by what could easily be a 12-4 wild-card team on the first weekend of the playoffs.
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Justin Berl/Getty Images
Last Week: 19
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Cleveland 20-13
In some respects, the 2019 season may go down as the best coaching job of Mike Tomlin‘s career.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not an especially good team, despite their 7-5 record and the fact that if the season ended today, they would be in the playoffs. As things currently stand, the Steelers would head to Arrowhead to play the Kansas City Chiefs.
That game would not end well.
But this is a team that has somehow won six of seven after starting the year 1-4—despite the loss of its Hall of Fame quarterback and the absence of the team’s lead tailback and No. 1 receiver for long stretches. The Steelers started an undrafted third-string rookie quarterback in Week 13—and won.
“Pittsburgh isn’t doing anything fancy,” Davenport said. “The Steelers are running the ball, playing defense and hanging around in close games long enough to figure out how to win. With games still left against the Bills and Ravens, the playoffs are far from a sure thing. But to even be in the conversation with an offense held together with duct tape and hope is pretty impressive.”
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Last Week: 14
Week 13 Result: Won at Arizona 34-7
Where the heck have these Rams been?
In Week 13, the Los Angeles Rams finally looked the part of the team that represented the NFC in Super Bowl LIII. Offensively, quarterback Jared Goff had easily his best game of the season, throwing for 424 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Tailback Todd Gurley piled up 115 total yards and found the end zone. Both wide receiver Robert Woods and tight end Tyler Higbee topped 100 yards.
Defensively, the Rams slapped the clamps on an Arizona offense that had been playing well. The Rams allowed only 198 yards of offense, sacked quarterback Kyler Murray six times and took an interception back for a touchdown.
Still, at least one analyst feels it may be a matter of too little, too late.
“The Rams finally looked like the team we expected to see this year in the desert,” Davenport said. “But they remain on the outside of the playoffs looking in with games left at home against Seattle and Arizona and road games at Dallas and San Francisco. It’s going to take a Week 14 win against the Seahawks to get the Rams back in the conversation as a realistic contender.”
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Bobby Ellis/Getty Images
Last Week: 13
Week 13 Result: Won at Indianapolis 31-17
As Jason La Canfora reported for CBS Sports Sunday morning, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been outstanding since taking over at quarterback for the Titans, and it’s looking more like the team will slap the franchise tag on Tannehill in the offseason. La Canfora wrote:
“Tannehill has been a top-five quarterback in virtually every key metric since replacing former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota under center, leading Tennessee to a 4-1 record and putting them in position to possibly win the AFC South. Since Tannehill took over, the Titans are averaging 50 more passing yards per game and 44 more rushing yards, with the quarterback pushing the ball deep downfield, getting multiple receivers involved and making it more difficult to load the box against star running back Derrick Henry.”
Make that 5-1. And while Tannehill threw for a relatively modest 182 yards Sunday, he had two touchdown passes and a passer rating over 130. With two meetings against the division-leading Texans over the last three games of the season, the playoffs are suddenly a very real possibility for the Titans.
“The Tennessee Tannehills are 5-1 in their last six contests with a legitimate shot to not only make the postseason but possibly claim a division title,” Sobleski said. “The Ryan Tannehill Reclamation Project is easily one of the NFL’s best stories (and potential garage band names). The former failed first-round pick opens up the Titans offense because he’s able to drive the ball down the field with some consistency. As a result, Derrick Henry is more effective in the running game. Two contests against the rival Houston Texans during the regular season’s final three weeks will decide the Titans season.”
“Tannehill has been great,” Davenport added, “but he hasn’t been a one-man show. Derrick Henry has been a wrecking ball, and the Titans defense has been stout. If there’s one primary area of concern, it’s an offensive line that surrendered six more sacks against the Colts.”
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Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Last Week: 11
Week 13 Result: Won at Dallas 26-15
For most of this season, many folks have been sleeping on the Bills. Despite the third-best record in the AFC, there wasn’t much talk of the Bills as a legitimate force in the conference.
That may be about to change after the Bills hammered the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving—in front of the largest television audience for any program since Super Bowl LIII.
After putting on a showcase in his first nationally televised appearance, Bills quarterback Josh Allen downplayed the significance of the win while speaking with reporters.
“Just No. 9,” Allen told reporters, referring to the Bills’ win total this season.
However, Davenport thinks this was more than just another win.
“The thoroughness and ease with which Buffalo dismantled the Cowboys was an eye-opener,” he said. “The Bills are stout defensively and can run the ball, and Allen is playing light-years better than his rookie season. I don’t know that the Bills will beat Baltimore next week. Or that they can go into Foxborough and slay their archenemies. But assuming that the Bills wind up the AFC’s No. 5 seed, there isn’t a team in the conference that wants any part of being No. 4.”
Gagnon, on the other hand, is still a tad skeptical…but coming around.
“I’m not ready to declare the Bills a contender because Dallas was overrated to begin with,” he said. “Still, it’s a heck of a good sign that the stout defense is now starting to make splash plays, and the sky is the limit for Josh Allen. It’s important to keep in mind that the offense underwent major changes in the offseason. Are they finally starting to click?”
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Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Last Week: 7
Week 13 Result: Lost at Seattle 37-30
To be fair, the Minnesota Vikings remain a very good football team more than capable of giving the Green Bay Packers all they can handle in the NFC North.
But after they fell in Seattle during the final game of Week 13, a familiar refrain is about to echo around the Vikings—and especially around quarterback Kirk Cousins.
The Vikings (under Cousins) just can’t win the big ones.
In fairness, it wasn’t Cousins who allowed over 200 rushing yards to the Seahawks on Monday night. It wasn’t Cousins who lost two fumbles, and even his interception was a ball that bounced off the hands of wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
Injury was added to insult, too. Running back Dalvin Cook, who has been the focal point of the Minnesota offense this season, left the game with an injured shoulder. Thankfully, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer indicated that the injury isn’t believed to be serious.
That’s good because the Vikings’ margin for error has narrowed. At 8-4, they sit just one game ahead of the Los Angeles Rams with four to play for the second Wild Card.
Still, the schedule works in the Vikings’ favor, as just one of their remaining opponents (the Packers) has a record above .500. That’s most assuredly a good thing. Minnesota has lost all three games this season against teams that presently sport one.
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Tim Warner/Getty Images
Last Week: 9
Week 13 Result: Won vs. New England 28-22
For most of the franchise’s existence, the Houston Texans have been Charlie Brown to New England’s Lucy. The Texans kept trying to kick the ball—and kept winding up flat on their backs.
Sunday night, they finally got one—just Houston’s second victory in 12 career meetings with the Pats.
It was a big win for multiple reasons—and not just because Houston badly needed to show it could beat New England. With the red-hot Titans hot on their heels (and two meetings with Tennessee coming over the last three weeks of the regular season), the Texans needed a victory to remain in first place in the AFC South. And the outcome shifted home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs away from the Pats and toward the Baltimore Ravens.
Given what happened to Houston in Baltimore recently, that last consequence isn’t ideal. But life ain’t perfect.
Outside those two games with the Titans, the Texans face a pair of beatable opponents over the next month, beginning Sunday at home against the Denver Broncos.
Whether it’s as division champions or a wild-card team, the Texans should be headed back to the playoffs again this year—where they may have to show they can repeat Sunday’s feat when the stakes are that much higher.
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Tim Warner/Getty Images
Last Week: 3
Week 13 Result: Lost at Houston 28-22
On some level, it seems almost silly to worry about an NFL team that didn’t lose its second game until Week 13. Especially when that team is the most successful franchise in the league over the last 20 years.
Still, it’s becoming evident that there’s cause for real concern with the Patriots after they lost their second game over the last four weeks following an 8-0 start.
Simply put, the offense hasn’t been good.
Tom Brady wound up with 326 passing yards and three touchdowns against the Texans, but he also came perilously close to failing to complete 50 percent of his passes for a second straight game—something that has never happened in Brady’s 19-plus seasons in the NFL.
“Brady is not the quarterback he once was,” Davenport wrote, “but he’s also not the primary problem with New England’s floundering offense. Julian Edelman is the only wideout on the roster getting open with any regularity, so the Texans did what future opponents will, too—double him all game. There isn’t a team in the league better at rallying or in-season adjustments than the Patriots. But I have my doubts as to whether this is a problem the team can fix this season.”
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Last Week: 8
Week 13 Result: Won at New York Giants 31-13
When last we saw the Green Bay Packers, they were getting housed by the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12.
That did not happen in Week 13—largely because the New York Giants are most assuredly not the 49ers.
The Packers did exactly what they were supposed to in Week 13—dispose of an inferior opponent with relative ease. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 243 yards and four touchdowns on the frozen tundra of MetLife Stadium.
OK, that doesn’t have the same ring to it.
The Green Bay defense also played well, forcing three turnovers and limiting the Giants to 5-of-14 on third down.
It’s the start of a very manageable stretch run for the Packers, who maintained their hold on first place in the NFC North. The Packers play just one more team the rest of the season that sports a winning record.
That game is a matchup with the Minnesota Vikings in Week 16 that could have massive postseason implications.
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David Eulitt/Getty Images
Last Week: 6
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Oakland 40-9
The Kansas City Chiefs no doubt wish they could play the Oakland Raiders every week—KC’s AFC West rivals make the Chiefs look like the best team in the game.
However, despite the lopsided final score, Sunday’s win wasn’t a stellar effort by the offense. Patrick Mahomes passed for just 175 yards, the Chiefs averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and the team had only 259 total yards for the afternoon.
The defense was another matter. Kansas City’s beleaguered defensive unit has improved in recent weeks, forcing three turnovers (including a pick-six) and allowing Oakland to convert just three third-down attempts.
It’s that improved defense that Gagnon believes could really make the Chiefs dangerous over the season’s final month (and into the playoffs).
“Is the defense actually turning a corner? It has given up just 26 points the last two weeks, and it generated six takeaways in a seven-quarter span against two non-awful division rivals,” he said. “If the Chiefs don’t have to consistently run up the scoreboard to win, a Super Bowl run isn’t out of the question.”
We may not have to wait long to see if the defensive improvements are for real or not—the Chiefs head to Gillette Stadium next week to face the 10-2 Patriots.
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Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Last Week: 5
Week 13 Result: Won at Atlanta 26-18
The New Orleans Saints are headed back to the postseason.
After downing the Falcons in Atlanta on Thanksgiving night, the Saints are the first team in the NFL to lock up a division title. As things stand now, the Saints would earn a first-round bye and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
However, there’s cause for at least a modicum of concern in the Big Easy ahead of this week’s big game against the San Francisco 49ers. It’s been a while since the Saints put forth a complete effort. Against the Falcons, the defense was lights-out, piling up nine sacks of Matt Ryan. But the offense was rather scattershot, managing fewer than 300 yards of total offense and converting just two of 10 third downs.
“When playing to their potential, the Saints are as good as any team in the NFL,” Davenport said. “They might just be the most balanced team in the league. But the Saints haven’t been playing to their potential of late. New Orleans is going to have put forth a much more complete effort next week against San Francisco if it wants the NFC playoffs to run through the Superdome.”
Sobleski is not as concerned, largely because of the defense.
“Since a surprising loss to the Atlanta Falcons nearly a month ago, the Saints handled their business in the subsequent three contests (including Sunday’s rematch with the Falcons). New Orleans is now 10-2 with an opportunity to prove it’s the NFC’s best squad during an upcoming showdown with the San Francisco 49ers,” he said. “The Saints are capable of earning that distinction if their defense continues to play as well as it has in recent weeks.”
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Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
Last Week: 4
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Minnesota 37-30
The last game of Week 13 certainly didn’t disappoint. Monday’s battle between the Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings had a little of everything: big plays in the passing game, a defensive score, one of the niftier fake punts you’ll see and a fourth-quarter comeback attempt that came up short.
It also may have had big implications for the NFC playoffs.
By virtue of their seven-point win over the Vikings and a head-to-head victory over the 49ers, the Seahawks have moved into first place in the NFC West and the No. 2 seed in the NFC overall. That a 10-2 team is sitting in the No. 5 hole in the NFC is indicative of just how loaded that conference is in 2019.
Well, three divisions of it, anyway.
Nothing is assured at this point. The Seahawks travel to Los Angeles this week to face a Rams team coming off its best game of the season and still have a home date with the 49ers in the regular-season finale. That matchup looks like it will have staggering stakes.
But for one week, at least, the Seahawks are in the driver’s seat in what’s become the NFL’s toughest division.
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Rob Carr/Getty Images
Last Week: 2
Week 13 Result: Lost at Baltimore 20-17
It seems almost laughable to suggest that the San Francisco 49ers should be worried after losing just their second game of the season Sunday in Baltimore. The 49ers gave the Ravens all they could handle, and this is the same San Francisco team that just wasted the Green Bay Packers in Week 12.
But this loss potentially puts the 49ers in a precarious position ahead of next week’s trip to face the Saints in New Orleans.
By virtue of Seattle’s win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night and a loss to the Seahawks in Week 10, the Niners have fallen from the No. 1 seed in the NFC all the way to No. 5. Home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs has turned into playing on the road on Wild Card Weekend—likely at either Dallas or Philadelphia.
“The Saints have Drew Brees,” Davenport wrote. “The Ravens have Lamar Jackson. The Seahawks have Russell Wilson. The 49ers have Jimmy Garoppolo. It’s not that Garoppolo played badly in Baltimore, or that he’s not a good quarterback. But he’s not great, and I continue to worry that the day is going to come when the 49ers need him to be. Next week’s trip to New Orleans just became that much bigger for the Niners.”
Gotta keep your head on a swivel in the NFC Best, folks.
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Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
Last Week: 1
Week 13 Result: Won vs. San Francisco 20-17
The Baltimore Ravens just keep rolling.
Granted, Sunday’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers wasn’t the dominant effort we’ve seen from the Ravens in recent weeks. Lamar Jackson barely cracked 100 passing yards, and as a team the Ravens failed to accrue 300 yards of offense.
But Jackson gashed one of the NFL’s best defenses for over 100 yards on the ground, the Baltimore defense played well and kicker Justin Tucker nailed a 49-yarder as time expired to notch Baltimore’s 10th win of the season and eighth in row.
Baltimore’s last four games aren’t a cake walk—the team travels to Buffalo next week and still has in-division games with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns.
But the NFL’s hottest team is still very much in play for both a Round 1 bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs…especially after the Patriots were defeated in Houston on Sunday night.
And given that the Ravens have now defeated the Pats and 49ers at M&T Bank Stadium, it’s getting harder and harder to imagine Baltimore getting knocked off in the playoffs in that building.