NFL 2023 Week 12: Biggest questions, risers and takeaways

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Monday, November 27, 2023

Week 12 of the NFL season started on Thanksgiving, as the underdogGreen Bay Packers went wire to wire in a 29-22 victory over the Detroit Lions. The Dallas Cowboys followed that up by beating theWashington Commanders 45-10 behind four Dak Prescott touchdown passes. In the Thanksgiving nightcap, the San Francisco 49ers ran away from the Seattle Seahawks 31-13 as Christian McCaffrey tallied a pair of touchdowns.

The Miami Dolphins outclassed the New York Jets in essentially every facet of Friday's 34-13 victory, outgaining their division rival by more than 200 yards.

On Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans went head-to-head for the AFC South lead, the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense came alive just days after the team made a change at offensive coordinator and the New England Patriots benched Mac Jones... again.

Our NFL Nation reporters reacted to all the action, answering lingering questions coming out of each game and picking out who -- or what -- is rising and falling for every team. Let's get to it.

Jump to a matchup:




Jacksonville 24, Houston 21


Has Trevor Lawrence found his groove? The third-year quarterback threw for 364 yards -- 4 shy of his career high -- and a touchdown and ran for another, giving him six TDs in his past two games. He got hot in the second half of last season, helping carry the Jaguars to the AFC South title and into the divisional round. This is the seventh time in his past eight games that Lawrence has had a quarterback rating of 90 or better. Lawrence and the Jaguars have a two-game cushion in the AFC South with this pivotal win.

Stock up after the win: WR Calvin Ridley. He had five catches for 89 yards and a touchdown. That was his third touchdown catch in the past two games, and it's no coincidence that the pass offense has had two of its most productive weeks when he has gotten more involved.

Stock down after the win: The run game. The Texans' run defense ranked seventh (92.3 yards per game) coming in, so it wasn't going to be easy for Jacksonville. Still, the Jaguars averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, with their short-yardage woes highlighted by a risky attempt to score from the 1-yard line with one second left in the first half. -- Mike DiRocco

Next game: vs. Bengals (Monday, Dec. 4, 8:15 p.m. ET)


What implications does this game have on the AFC South race? Anything can happen, but the Texans didn't do themselves any favors. The Jaguars are two games clear of the Texans in the AFC South and hold the edge in two tie-breakers (divisional and conference records). The good news for Houston? They're still in the mix for a wild-card spot as well as the division race, but the next game against the Denver Broncos could have playoff implications as we head down the stretch.

Stock up after the loss: CB Derek Stingley Jr. Stingley didn't have an interception in the first two weeks before missing seven games, but he returned last week and recorded one and did the same Sunday.

Stock down after the loss: CB Tavierre Thomas. He had a rough day and Lawrence kept targeting him -- doing so seven times. Thomas allowed six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown, and he also had multiple critical penalties called against him around the goal line that gave the Jags extra opportunities. -- DJ Bien-Aime

Next game: vs. Broncos (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Tennessee 17, Carolina 10


Can success at home save the Titans' season? The Titans are now undefeated in their four home games after beating the Panthers, pushing their overall record to 4-7. All of Tennessee's losses have come on the road. The Titans are averaging 24.7 points per game when playing at home but only 11 points per game on the road. With four of their final six games at home, including a matchup with the Colts next week, Tennessee can make a push toward compiling a respectful season.

Stock up after the win:RBDerrick Henry. He had two rushing touchdowns Sunday, making it his first game this season with multiple scores on the ground, and he moved up to 17th on the NFL career rushing touchdowns list.

Stock down after the win:OTDillon Radunz. The tackle allowed multiple pressures and a sack to Brian Burns, which was promptly followed by a false start penalty to kill a drive early in the game. -- Turron Davenport

Next game: vs. Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Can coach Frank Reich survive this season? Three Carolina coaches -- Dom Capers (4-12 in 1998), George Seifert(1-15 in 2001) and John Fox (2-14 in 2010) -- had seasons with 13 or more losses. All were fired. At 1-10, Reich is headed in that direction. Also working against him is rookie quarterbackBryce Young's lack of notable improvement and the offense's inability to produce. Reich was hired for his offensive prowess, but the Panthers have averaged 12.2 points over their past five games.

Stock up after the loss: DE Derrick Brown. He didn't make many tackles (five), but his ability to push the Titans' pocket, along with a tackle for a loss and a deflected pass, helped Carolina's defense keep this one close.

Stock down after the loss:The interior offensive line. This group was a mess before Sunday, allowing pressure because of poor play and injuries. Against the Titans, the pressure up the middle on Young got worse after guards Chandler Zavala and Cade Mays were injured during the game. -- David Newton

Next game: at Buccaneers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Indianapolis 27, Tampa Bay 20


How realistic are the Colts' chances of making the postseason? The Colts' playoff hopes gained significant steam with Sunday's win. They entered the weekend with a 31% chance of making the postseason, but their odds increased to 40% with the victory. What's more, the Colts -- according to ESPN Analytics -- have the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL, which only strengthens their chances. The Colts have reversed an earlier three-game losing streak with three straight victories. And their offense bounced back with 395 total yards after two underwhelming performances.

Stock up after the win: WR Michael Pittman Jr. Pittman had an impressive day, making a season-high 10 catches for 107 yards, often under tight coverage from the Tampa Bay defense. Pittman is on track to be one of the offseason's more intriguing free agents and continues to build a case for being among the more in-demand players at his position.

Stock down after the win: The third-down offense. The Colts' 2-for-11 performance on third down is startling, especially since it came against a Tampa Bay defense that has been abysmal on third downs. Tampa Bay was 30th in the NFL in third-down defense entering Sunday (46.7%). -- Stephen Holder

Next game: at Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Is hope fading for the Bucs in the NFC South race? Even at 4-7, the Bucs are still technically in the hunt, as the Falcons' win on Sunday over the Saints places Tampa Bay just one game out of first place, with the Carolina Panthers up next. But the Bucs have been far too inconsistent. A rash of injuries, blown coverages and missed tackles on defense and offensive scoring struggles don't evoke confidence in another late-season turnaround.

Stock up after the loss: WR Mike Evans. Evans caught a 1-yard touchdown pass that was set up by an interception by CB Carlton Davis at the 19-yard line in the second quarter. He later had a 23-yard touchdown catch -- the 91st of Evans' career -- in the fourth quarter to make it 20-17.

Stock down after the loss: LB Devin White. After missing Christian McCaffrey in the flat on a touchdown last week, White was juked by quarterback Gardner Minshew on a 2-yard touchdown run and missed a tackle on running back Jonathan Taylor on a 4-yard touchdown run. Taylor also slipped by him on an 11-yard run. White has been dealing with foot and groin injuries this season. -- Jenna Laine

Next game: vs. Panthers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

N.Y. Giants 10, New England 7


Do the Giants stick with quarterback Tommy DeVito after the bye week? DeVito did some good things and won for the second time in his three starts. As coach Brian Daboll has said repeatedly, "he's improving." It could serve the Giants well to continue developing DeVito, an undrafted rookie, given the way he has played (six touchdown passes to one interception in the three starts) despite the fact that Tyrod Taylor will be eligible to come off injured reserve in Week 14. Taylor told ESPN recently that he has been throwing and feels good following a rib cage injury in Week 8.

Stock up after the win:WRJalin Hyatt. The speedy rookie notched his first career 100-yard game and seems to have developed a nice chemistry with DeVito. Hyatt became the first Giants receiver to reach 100 yards this season.

Stock down after the win: The coaching staff. It's not a good sign when a report emerges about Daboll and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale being in a "bad place," and the marriage not likely to last much longer, according to Fox Sports' Jay Glazer. It's particularly interesting given the defense is coming off two dominant performances entering the bye week. -- Jordan Raanan

Next game: vs. Packers (Monday, Dec. 11, 8:15 p.m. ET)


How much does a switch to QB Bailey Zappe change the team's fortunes? For a short stretch Sunday, the idea of the offense showing improvement under Zappe seemed real. After replacing ineffective starter Mac Jones, Zappe led a 60-yard touchdown drive in his first series and was effective with a short passing game. But once Zappe settled into the game, the momentum slowed considerably; his INT into heavy coverage was costly. At this point, the Patriots can only hope that if Zappe gets more practice repetitions during the week, it might yield better results.

Stock up after the loss:RBRhamondre Stevenson. The third-year running back totaled 98 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown.

Stock down after the loss:Mac Jones and kicker Chad Ryland. Jones was pulled from the game at halftime -- the fourth time that has happened this season -- after throwing two picks, and he fumbled but was fortunate it was recovered by teammate Cole Strange. Meanwhile, Ryland missed a 35-yard field goal attempt that could have tied the game at the end of regulation. -- Mike Reiss

Next game: vs. Chargers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Atlanta 24, New Orleans 15


Has Jessie Bates III been Atlanta's most impactful free agent signing in recent years? One of the biggest moves the Falcons made early in free agency was signing Bates to a four-year, $64 million contract. The safety was a critical reason the Falcons beat the Saints on Sunday and took the NFC South lead. Bates intercepted a Derek Carr pass for a 92-yard touchdown (Atlanta's first pick-six this season), had a team-high 12 tackles and both forced and recovered a fumble in the red zone to help keep the Saints without a touchdown. It's his second straight game with 12 or more tackles. The 26-year-old has been the catalyst for two division wins this season: Sunday and the season opener against Carolina, when he had two interceptions, a forced fumble and two passes defended.

Stock up after the win: RB Cordarrelle Patterson. One of the main post-bye changes for Atlanta appears to be the reemergence of Patterson in the running back rotation. He had eight carries for 43 yards Sunday, marking the only time he has put up those types of numbers this season with both Bijan Robinson (91 yards rushing) and Tyler Allgeier (60) healthy.

Stock down after the win: S Richie Grant. The Falcons appeared to platoon Grant, who had been one of Atlanta's two starting safeties the past season and a half. Rookie DeMarcco Hellams had seven tackles and was playing in critical situations in the fourth quarter. -- Michael Rothstein

Next game: at Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Are the Saints capable of solving their red zone woes? The Saints generated more than 400 yards of offense, but things came to a screeching halt in the red zone. Derek Carr threw a pick-six, Taysom Hill fumbled and the Saints seemed incapable of advancing the ball once they got near the end zone. With the season starting to wind down, the Saints haven't shown any signs of being able to fix the scoring issues, and they're running out of time to do so.

Stock up after the loss: S Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu had two interceptions, including one that saved a score at the end of the first half, and was the lone bright spot in a game full of mistakes and injuries.

Stock down after the loss: Carr. The quarterback threw a game-changing pick-six and didn't seem to be on the same page as his receivers at times, which has been a recurring problem. -- Katherine Terrell

Next game: vs. Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Pittsburgh 16, Cincinnati 10


What did we learn from the Steelers' new-look offense? Turns out quarterback Kenny Pickett isn't allergic to the middle of the field, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are capable of moving the ball, following their first 400-yard offensive output in more than three years. Pickett -- and new playcaller Mike Sullivan -- showed as much when Pickett confidently connected with tight end Pat Freiermuth for a 24-yard gain on the very first play off a play-action pass. It was the Steelers' first of a season-high six explosive plays (gains of at least 20 yards) Sunday. Pickett (24-for-33 for 278 yards) was far from flawless, and the yards didn't translate to points with frequently poor red zone execution, but he and the offense moved the ball more fluidly, converting a season-high seven third downs. They also outgained an opponent for the first time this season (424-222). Firing Matt Canada wasn't an instant fix, but Sunday's performance was a step in the right direction.

Stock up after the win:Pat Freiermuth. Nobody benefited more from the offensive coordinator change than the Steelers tight end, who had his first career 100-yard game, finishing with a team-high nine catches for 120 yards -- doubling his season total entering Sunday's game.

Stock down after the win:WRDiontae Johnson. One play after his potential touchdown grab was ruled incomplete, Johnson showed a concerning lack of effort when Jaylen Warren's fumble bounced by him and he didn't react to the live ball. Instead, Cincinnati recovered it while Johnson (four catches on eight targets for 50 yards) watched the play unfold. -- Brooke Pryor

Next game: vs. Cardinals (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What can the offense do to help Jake Browning? Running the ball effectively would be a massive improvement. Coming into the game, Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said a more consistent rushing attack mixed in with splash runs could help the offense. Cincinnati had neither against the Steelers. The Bengals averaged just 2.3 yards per carry, which put the onus on the passing attack to move the ball. That's not an ideal scenario for a team looking to win games with a backup quarterback.

Stock up after the loss:WRJa'Marr Chase. Chase turned a couple of deflected passes into big plays and was the lone bright spot on offense with four catches for 81 yards.

Stock down after the loss:RBJoe Mixon. The veteran running back had eight carries for 16 yards on a lackluster day on the ground. -- Ben Baby

Next game: at Jaguars (Monday, Dec. 4, 8:15 p.m. ET)


Miami 34, N.Y. Jets 13


Can the Dolphins' defense continue to ascend despite Jaelan Phillips' injury? The Dolphins' co-leader in sacks went to down with an Achilles injury late in Friday's game and was quickly ruled out. Phillips had formed a potent pass rush tandem with Bradley Chubb over the past several weeks and appeared to be hitting his stride before his injury. It's a gut punch, but the Dolphins do have a stable of pass-rushers led by Chubb and Andrew van Ginkel. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah signed a $65 million contract in 2022 and had fallen out of the rotation this season, playing just 21% of the team's defensive snaps. That number figures to significantly increase, and Miami needs him to recapture his form from his first two seasons with the team, during which he recorded a team-high 18 sacks.

Stock up after the win: RB Raheem Mostert. The NFL's leader in rushing touchdowns added two more to his season total, rushing for 94 yards on 20 carries; he has eclipsed 80 yards in each of his past three games.

Stock down after the win: QB Tua Tagovailoa. The Jets' pass defense presented a tough matchup, but Tagovailoa turned the ball over three times and has multiple turnovers in back-to-back games. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

Next game: at Commanders (Sunday, Dec. 3, 1 p.m. ET)


What do the Jets do now at quarterback? There's not much they can do, as they're stuck in quarterback no-man's land. Aaron Rodgers still is a few weeks away from returning -- and that's only if his ambitious timetable becomes a reality. Chances are, coach Robert Saleh will give Tim Boyle another start. He was underwhelming in his first NFL start since 2021, but it wasn't all his fault. He was under heavy pressure. The other options are Trevor Siemian or a return to Zach Wilson, which is a long shot. Perhaps the better question: Does it even matter anymore?

Stock up after the loss: CB Brandin Echols. Playing for injured nickel back Michael Carter II, Echols delivered a pick-6 with 50 seconds left in the second quarter. It looked like a potential game-changing play until seconds later, when Miami's Jevon Hollard outdid Echols with a pick-6 on a Hail Mary.

Stock down after the loss: The offensive line: Starting their eighth different line combination, the Jets failed to protect their quarterback (six sacks) and averaged only 2.9 yards per carry. Basically, it was LG Laken Tomlinson and a bunch of backups and rookies. -- Rich Cimini

Next game: vs. Falcons (Sunday, Dec. 3, 1 p.m. ET)


San Francisco 31, Seattle 13


When will the 49ers clinch the NFC West division? The Niners have won 10 straight division games, including four in a row against Seattle. Once again it seems to be a matter of when, not if, they'll wear the division crown. There's a realistic path to that happening as soon as the Niners meet the Seahawks again on Dec. 10. That mostly requires the Niners winning their next two and getting some combination of losses for the Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams in their games. The path is clear, and once again it seems like the Niners will spend December and early January chasing the NFC's top seed.

Stock up after the win: Pass rush. After posting just 18 sacks in the first eight games, the Niners have 15 in the past three, including six on Thursday night.

Stock down after the win: Kickoff coverage. San Francisco gave up a 66-yard return on its first kickoff and allowed Dee Eskridge to average 35 yards per return, which gives it something else to clean up before heading to Philadelphia. -- Nick Wagoner

Next game: at Eagles (Sunday, Dec. 3, 4:25 p.m. ET)


Is the Seahawks' season doomed? That may sound like an overreaction for a team that's still a game over .500, but consider what lies ahead. They play the 8-3 Cowboys, the 9-1 Eagles and have a rematch with a 49ers team that just smoked them sandwiched in between. They could easily be 6-8 entering the final week of December, and this kind of blowout loss doesn't leave any reason to think they can pull off an upset win. They could've given themselves some cushion by beating the Rams last Sunday, but they wasted that chance.

Stock up after the loss: Jordyn Brooks. The fourth-year inside linebacker gave the Seahawks some life in the third quarter when he came down with a tipped pass and returned his first career interception 12 yards for a touchdown. Brooks finished with a team-high 12 tackles.

Stock down after the loss:Geno Smith: The entire offense was out of sorts, but Smith was ineffective while completing 18 of 27 attempts for 180 yards and an interception. Two of his incompletions were DK Metcalf drops, though he threw another errant pass that was nearly picked off, and he took six sacks. He said the triceps contusion he suffered four days earlier didn't affect him "at all." -- Brady Henderson

Next game: at Cowboys (Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET)

Dallas 45, Washington 10


Is Dallas ready for its most important stretch of the season? They've done what they needed to after losing to the Eagles on Nov. 5. They beat the Giants, Panthers and Commanders. Their next five games are against the Seahawks, Eagles, Dolphins, Bills and Lions. The Cowboys have lost their two matchups against teams with winning records, but they have obliterated everyone else. If they can continue to win, maybe they can catch the Eagles in the NFC East and get homefield advantage. With 13 straight home wins, that seems important.

Stock up after the win: QB Dak Prescott. Prescott is in the hottest stretch of his career. He has 18 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in his last six games. He had touchdown passes on a screen (Rico Dowdle), on a line (Brandin Cooks), on time (CeeDee Lamb) and on a rope (KaVontae Turpin). He also completed passes to 10 different receivers. Prescott's name has to be in the MVP conversation at some point.

Stock down after the win: K Brandon Aubrey. Let's nitpick because Aubrey does not miss field-goal attempts. With a 52-yarder Thursday, he has made 22 straight attempts to open his career. But he missed a point-after attempt against the Commanders, his second in the last two games and his third on the season. Let's be clear, though: This is not what happened to Brett Maher last year. -- Todd Archer

Next game: vs. Seahawks (Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET)


Will the Commanders' owner make a move? New owner Josh Harris did not want to make an in-season coaching change, especially with coach Ron Rivera. However, if Rivera wanted to make a change, Harris certainly would listen, a source said. So far, Rivera has been reluctant to make any sort of changes, especially on defense with coordinator Jack Del Rio. There's no obvious replacement, but the defense has regressed, entering the day ranked last in points and 29th in yards.

Stock up after the loss: WR Curtis Samuel. He was one of the few bright spots against the Cowboys, catching nine passes for his first 100-yard game (100 yards Thursday) since 2020. He was targeted a team-high 12 times.

Stock down after the loss: Defense. Jack Del Rio's defense allowed 431 yards -- including 331 yards passing and four touchdowns to Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott. The secondary continues to give up big plays, and the front failed to get pressure on Prescott. -- John Keim

Next game: vs. Dolphins (Sunday, Dec. 3, 1 p.m. ET)

Green Bay 29, Detroit 22


Are the Packers playoff contenders? They're still under .500, but the outlook is far from bleak. They entered the week with a 23% chance to make the playoffs. That number jumped to 38% as soon as the Packers beat the Lions, according to ESPN Analytics. That was independent of any other outcomes this weekend. Only two of the Packers' final six opponents have winning records (the Chiefs and Vikings) and after next Sunday's game against the Chiefs, it gets even easier with games against the Giants, Buccaneers, Panthers and Bears.

Stock up after the win: Safety Jonathan Owens. Owens had his best game since he signed with the Packers in the offseason. A week after missing a tackle that led to a touchdown last week against the Chargers, he recorded a season-high 12 tackles and returned a fumble for a touchdown.

Stock down after the win: Anders Carlson. The rookie kicker can be forgiven for missing a long-shot, 63-yard field goal at the end of the first half, but more problematic was that he missed an extra point for the third straight game. -- Rob Demovsky

Next game: vs. Chiefs (Sunday, Dec. 3, 8:20 p.m. ET)


Was the protection of Jared Goff a one-week blip or evidence of a bigger problem? Goff was pressured on 45% of his dropbacks in the first half, going 9-of-20, and was sacked three times throughout the game. Detroit's offensive line has been among the strengths of this roster, but struggled against the Packers while missing offensive lineman Jonah Jackson (wrist) for the second straight game. Veteran guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai was also placed on the injured reserve list on Nov. 14. It's certainly something to watch as the team looks to get more out of linemen Kayode Awosika and rookie Colby Sorsdal.

Stock up after the loss: Jameson Williams. The second-year receiver continues to grow more comfortable in the Lions' offense as the trust level increases among teammates. Williams, the No. 12 overall pick in 2022, made two catches for 51 yards, including a 38-yard reception in the fourth quarter.

Stock down after the loss: Goff. For the second straight game, the veteran quarterback struggled with turnovers. Against Green Bay, he lost three fumbles for the first time in his career after throwing three picks on Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Prior to Thursday, he went 12 straight games without a lost fumble. -- Eric Woodyard

Next game: at Saints (Sunday, Dec. 3, 1 p.m. ET)

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