Was that the NFL or MACtion? A series of unfortunate events led to Pittsburgh and Baltimore squaring off on Wednesday afternoon, nearly a full week after their originally-scheduled Thanksgiving tilt. The Ravens, Broncos, and Colts all lost after COVID-19 spread through their organizations in the lead-up to Week 12 games. As flu season nears, we may see the league alter its schedule further out of necessity. But enough about that for now.
The Steelers remain undefeated, the Jets remain defeated, and the NFC East remains a quagmire. Tampa Bay and Carolina are off this weekend, and we are now done with byes. Flexibility, persistence, and luck will determine who gets through December unscathed. With only five games left, let’s see where things stand.
32. New York Jets (0-11, Last week: 32)
New York achieved a mere 10 first downs against Miami, yet they gave up 22. The Jets also committed twice as many penalties (six to three) and ran 15 fewer plays (68 to 53), so a 20-3 final score is hardly a surprise. At this point, the Jets can only be keeping Adam Gase around to ensure the top overall draft pick this spring.
Next week: vs. Las Vegas (6-5)
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-10, Last week: 31)
Mike Glennon–who, yes, is still in the league–brought the Jaguars to the cusp of a major upset against Cleveland in his first game action in over a year. James Robinson helped Glennon with 159 scrimmage yards and a score, but the pair could not get over the hump after closing the gap to two points and never saw the ball again. Jacksonville’s defense surrendered over 200 yards on the ground and 459 yards in total.
Next week: at Minnesota (5-6)
30. Cincinnati Bengals (2-8-1, Last week: 30)
The Bengals turned the ball over three times and managed only 155 yards of total offense in a home loss to the Giants Sunday. There is a good reason this team had the top overall draft pick last year, and they could be picking in the top three again this draft season. Cincinnati needs a major upgrade on both lines of scrimmage as well as more weapons for Joe Burrow upon his return next year.
Next week: at Miami (7-4)
29. Dallas Cowboys (3-8, Last week: 25-28)
Dallas turned the ball over twice in the second half on Thanksgiving, which led to 10 Washington points in an eventual 41-16 blowout loss. Dallas’ once-formidable offensive line yielded four sacks and produced a long run of only 11 yards. Defensively, the Cowboys’ run defense allowed over five yards per carry and three touchdowns on the ground. This season has spiraled completely out of control.
Next week: at Baltimore (6-5)
28. Detroit Lions (4-7, Last week: 24)
Another uncompetitive Thanksgiving loss has cost Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn their jobs. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will finish 2020 as the interim coach. He could parlay a late-season run into his first head coaching job. More likely, though, is that the three-game stretch of Green Bay, at Tennessee, and Tampa Bay in mid-December will secure a 10-loss season and lead to further upheaval inside the Lions’ organization.
Next week: at Chicago (5-6)
27. Los Angeles Chargers (3-8, Last week: 23)
So much for easing Austin Ekeler back in slowly. Ekeler returned to the field for the first time since October 4th, yet he still led the Chargers in carries, targets, and receptions against Buffalo, and he responded with 129 total yards. Los Angeles had a chance to tie the game at 24 halfway through the fourth quarter, but they found themselves losing another close one instead.
Next week: vs. New England (5-6)
26. Philadelphia Eagles (3-7-1, Last week: 25-28)
As hard as it is to win in the NFL, trying to do so with a subpar offensive line and a turnover-prone quarterback becomes exponentially harder. Fans are rumbling to see Jalen Hurts take over for Carson Wentz, not only because of Wentz’s 16 turnovers (15 picks and a lost fumble), but also because of Hurts’ ability to scramble when the pocket collapses. At 3-7-1, what does Doug Pederson have to lose?
Next week: at Green Bay (8-3)
25. Carolina Panthers (4-8, Last week: 22)
Carolina held a six-point lead with under two minutes left, but they could not hang on for the win. Joey Slye missed a long field goal with six seconds remaining, and he had had another blocked earlier in the second half. Those two miscues overshadowed an unbelievable achievement by rookie safety Jeremy Chinn, who returned Minnesota fumbles for touchdowns on CONSECUTIVE SNAPS, interrupted only by an extra point and a kickoff. What a waste.
Next week: idle
24. Denver Broncos (4-7, Last week: 17)
Well, at least that’s over now. Denver had to play New Orleans without a single quarterback after one tested positive for COVID-19, and the other three were close contacts. Kendall Hinton came off of the practice squad as a wide receiver to get the start (he played quarterback in high school and for a short while in college before changing positions), and he completed one of nine pass attempts.
Next week: at Kansas City (10-1)
Kendall Hinton was a state championship QB in high school and played some QB in college. Against an NFL defense, he's 1/9 with 2 INTs.
Remember this the next time somebody on Twitter says they could accomplish anything in a pro sport other than immediately fall down.
— Zach Kram (@zachkram) November 29, 2020
23. Chicago Bears (5-6, Last week: 21)
In the early months of 2019, Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace were awarded NFL Coach of the Year and Executive of the year, respectively. Now, a five-game losing streak (and counting) may end up costing them both their jobs. The Bears already have a horrendous quarterback situation, and now their once-proud defense is losing its edge. Perhaps hosting the Lions will right the ship?
Next week: vs. Detroit (4-7)
22. New York Giants (4-7, Last week: 25-28)
The Giants won the game yet may have lost the season. At 4-7, New York is still in the NFC East title race, but Daniel Jones left Sunday’s win over Cincinnati with a hamstring injury. Hamstrings have a tendency to linger for several weeks, so it could fall on Colt McCoy and Wayne Gallman to carry this team across the finish line in place of Jones and Saquon Barkley.
Next week: at Seattle (8-3)
21. Atlanta Falcons (4-7, Last week: 29)
Are there two more chaotic and unpredictable teams than Atlanta and Las Vegas? On Sunday, we saw what happens when an infrequent force meets an inconsistent object. In this case, it resulted in a 43-6 Falcons drubbing of the Raiders. In the words of Scott Lang: “Perfectly not confusing.”
Next week: vs. New Orleans (9-2)
20. Washington Football Team (4-7, Last week: 25-28)
Antonio Gibson looks like a rookie gem for Washington. The former Memphis Tiger ran for 115 yards and three scores against Dallas, and he is on pace for well over 1000 total scrimmage yards this season. Montez Sweat and the Washington defensive line are inconsistent at times, but when they are on, they can completely wreck a game.
Next week: at Pittsburgh (11-0)
19. Las Vegas Raiders (6-5, Last week: 14)
Only the Raiders can beat the 4-0 Chiefs before losing to the 3-7 Falcons. Las Vegas lost five turnovers and had 11 penalties enforced against them in Atlanta, which is hardly a recipe for success. They are now 6-5, but three of their final five opponents have losing records, so the playoffs are still a possibility.
Next week: at New York Jets (0-11)
18. New England Patriots (5-6, Last week: 19)
New England isn’t dead yet, folks. In typical Patriots fashion, Bill Belichick and Cam Newton have won three of their last four to close out November, and they will certainly have a say in who takes home the AFC East title after all is said and done. Can they survive three consecutive road games to open December, though?
Next week: at Los Angeles Chargers (3-8)
17. Houston Texans (4-7, Last week: 18)
Houston has gone 4-3 since firing Bill O’Brien and now looks more like the team who won their division four of the last five seasons. Tennessee and Indianapolis are probably too far ahead to catch, but the Texans are at least showing some fight. Then again, betting against Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt is a dangerous game.
Next week: vs. Indianapolis (7-4)
16. Minnesota Vikings (5-6, Last week: 20)
Minnesota survived back-to-back fumble return touchdowns against Carolina, which had turned their 10-7 lead into a 21-10 deficit to start the second half. However, a blocked field goal helped regain some mojo, and the Vikings notched their fourth win in five games. The Bears and Vikings started their seasons at 5-1 and 1-5, respectively; Minnesota now owns a tiebreaker over Chicago for second place in the NFC North at 5-6 overall.
Next week: vs. Jacksonville (1-10)
15. San Francisco 49ers (5-6, Last week: 16)
Now that the coaching carousel is starting its yearly spin, Robert Saleh is putting his name back in the mix. San Francisco’s defensive coordinator devised a gameplan that limited Jared Goff to under 200 passing yards, sacked him twice, and picked him off another two times. Rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw helped his coach with a spectacular 27-yard pick-six to open the third quarter as well.
Next week: vs. Buffalo (8-3)
14. Baltimore Ravens (6-5, Last week: 12)
Despite missing roughly half of their starters, Baltimore hung tough against a sloppy Pittsburgh team Wednesday afternoon. Trace McSorley eventually took over for Robert Griffin III, who had started in place of Lamar Jackson. The Ravens have now lost four of their last five and find themselves two games back of Cleveland and five back of Pittsburgh within the AFC North.
Next week: vs. Dallas (3-8)
13. Arizona Cardinals (6-5, Last week: 13)
Arizona led 10-0 after the first quarter and 10-7 at halftime on Sunday. Unfortunately for them, a Kyler Murray interception and a Zane Gonzalez missed field goal turned into 10 points for New England in a tight, 20-17 loss. The Cardinals have now lost three of four, but they can regain some footing with three divisional games left and two (winnable) NFC East matchups still to play.
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Rams (7-4)
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5, Last week: 10)
A late season bye could not come at a better time for the suddenly-reeling Buccaneers. After losing three of their last four, Tampa Bay now has a chance to regroup and find some chemistry for a manageable final push. All four games on Tampa’s remaining schedule–Minnesota, Atlanta twice, and Detroit–come against teams currently under .500.
Next week: idle
11. Indianapolis Colts (7-4, Last week: 6)
The Colts entered a matchup against Derrick Henry without their best defensive lineman (DeForest Buckner), their leading sacker (Denico Autry), and a starting linebacker (Bobby Okereke). After falling behind 35-14 at halftime, they needed to make a ferocious comeback without their Pro Bowl center (Ryan Kelly), their Pro Bowl left tackle (Anthony Castonzo), and their starting running back (Jonathan Taylor). It did not go well.
Next week: at Houston (4-7)
10. Los Angeles Rams (7-4, Last week: 5)
The Rams turned the ball over three times in the first half, and they started the second half with an interception returned for a touchdown. Despite all of that, they were tied with San Francisco late in the fourth quarter before giving up a long drive that ended in a field goal. Los Angeles has three divisional games in its final five, but this loss could still prove costly in the long run.
Next week: at Arizona (6-5)
9. Miami Dolphins (7-4, Last week: 15)
Ryan Fitzpatrick returned to the starting lineup Sunday, and he did what we all know he can do. Fitzpatrick threw for 257 yards and two scores to lead Miami over the hapless Jets. Matt Breida and Patrick Laird did lose a fumble apiece, but Xavien Howard and Nik Needham each snagged a pick to even the turnover margin at two per team. The Dolphins are very much in the playoff picture and can still win the AFC East.
Next week: vs. Cincinnati (2-8-1)
8. Cleveland Browns (8-3, Last week: 11)
Nick Chubb ran for 144 yards, and Jarvis Landry added 143 yards through the air against Jacksonville. The Browns’ offense was dynamic enough to exploit a bad Jaguars defense, but the real story of the day was Callie Brownson. Cleveland’s chief of staff became the first female coach to lead a position group in NFL history when she filled in for the Browns’ tight end coach, who missed the game for the birth of his child. Kudos to Coach Brownson and the Browns on their historic victory.
Next week: at Tennessee (8-3)
7. Buffalo Bills (8-3, Last week: 7)
Josh Allen had a so-so day in the passing game, but Cole Beasley, Devin Singletary, and Zack Moss picked up the slack for him. Beasley threw a touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis on a trick play, while Singletary and Moss ran for a combined 141 yards on 20 carries. It must be reassuring for the Bills to know that they can still win if Allen is having an off performance.
Next week: at San Francisco (5-6)
6. Tennessee Titans (8-3, Last week: 8)
Tennessee regained control of the AFC South with a dominating win in Indianapolis Sunday. The Titans outgained the Colts by over 100 total yards, forced the game’s only turnover (a Philip Rivers interception), and held an 11-minute edge in time of possession. Of their remaining five opponents, only the Browns and Packers currently have a winning record.
Next week: vs. Cleveland (8-3)
5. Seattle Seahawks (8-3, Last week: 4)
In just his second season, D.K. Metcalf is leading the league in receiving yards through 11 games. He added 177 of his 1039 yards Monday night in Philadelphia and is on pace for over 1500 by year’s end. Just as impressively, Seattle’s defense generated six sacks and an interception to stymie the Eagles’ chances.
Next week: vs. New York Giants (4-7)
4. Green Bay Packers (8-3, Last week: 9)
Don’t be fooled by the final score–Green Bay’s Sunday night home victory over the Bears was much less competitive than its 16-point final margin. The Packers did whatever they wanted through the air (four touchdowns, no interceptions), on the ground (182 yards and one score), and defensively (three turnovers forced, one returned for a score). The Bears host the Packers in Week 17, but at 8-3, Green Bay likely has the NFC North wrapped up already.
Next week: vs. Philadelphia (3-7-1)
3. New Orleans Saints (9-2, Last week: 3)
Some people deride the Saints for trotting out Taysom Hill at quarterback because he is often used as a runner, occasional receiver, and special teams player. Well, Sunday proved that at least a part-time quarterback is superior to no quarterback at all. New Orleans stifled the one-dimensional Broncos as expected, and Hill was part of an efficient Saints running game that forged a 31-3 victory.
Next week: at Atlanta (4-7)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-1, Last week: 2)
Tyreek Hill is good at football. Hill hauled in three long touchdowns to help the Chiefs build a 27-10 second-half lead over Tampa Bay. Kansas City had to sweat it out in the end, but they executed their “four-minute drill” to perfection, melting the clock with five runs, two short passes, and a kneeldown. Can we fast forward to December 20th for the Chiefs-Saints matchup already?
Next week: vs. Denver (4-7)
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-0, Last week: 1)
Playing a shorthanded division rival at home with nine days to prepare should be a dream scenario for any team. But instead, the Steelers slogged through an ugly win over Baltimore to cling to the AFC’s top spot. Getting James Conner back from the COVID-19 reserve list will help bring some balance offensively, but the plethora of drops and fumbles have to be alarming.
Next week: vs. Washington (4-7)