NFL Week 13 takeaways: What we learned, big questions for every game and future team outlooks

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Week 13of the 2021 NFL seasonbegan with the Cowboys getting back on track Thursday night against the Saints.

And it kept rolling on Sunday with big wins for NFC powerhouses Tampa Bay and Arizona. The Bucs' offense excelled behind four Tom Brady touchdown passes, and the Cardinals enjoyed getting quarterbackKyler Murray and receiverDeAndre Hopkins back. Arizona got to double-digit wins and maintained the top spot in the conference.

But the biggest news of the early window was the Lions' first win of the season, which came on a TD pass from Jared Goffto Amon-Ra St. Brown on the final play of the game.

Elsewhere, the Colts' defense was impressive, shutting out the Texans and making a move in the AFC South. The Chargers piled on points against the Bengals and forced Joe Burrow into a pair of interceptions. The Eagles looked good in a 15-point win over the Jets without Jalen Hurts, and the Dolphins took care of business against the Giants to get their fifth straight win.

In the late window, the Rams crushed the Jaguars, who appear to be inching closer to the No. 1 pick in the draft. Washington narrowly defeated the Raiders, the Steelers upset the Ravens and the Seahawks beat the 49ers. The Chiefs concluded the night by shutting down the Broncos. On Monday night the Patriots won their seventh straight by pushing the Bills around on a windy night in Buffalo.

Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating -- a 0-10 grade of how they feel about a team's outlook coming out of the week. Let's get to it.

Jump to a matchup:






New England 14, Buffalo 10


What to know: The Patriots won a game while attempting a franchise-low three passes. Coach Bill Belichick said: "We played kind of the way we felt like we needed to play to win." Wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour factored into the decision-making process, but so did the Patriots' success running the ball against a Bills' defense that had previously shown vulnerability in that area. They finished with 222 rushing yards and center David Andrews called it one of his most memorable wins because of how unique it was. "I don't know if I've ever played in a game where we've thrown the football three times and I've been playing football since I was 6 years old. Six years old, [we] threw the football more than that," he said. -- Mike Reiss

How serious is Adrian Phillips' knee injury? The veteran safety left the game late in the fourth quarter after registering five tackles and a team-high two passes defended. Phillips has been one of the team's best and most consistent defenders, with Belichick previously comparing him to Patrick Chung in the sense that he always seems to do the right thing. Phillips tweeted after the game "Thank you God!" but it was unclear if that was related to his injury situation. -- Reiss

Reiss' confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 6.6. Moving on up, slowly but surely, in Belichick fashion. With each week comes an added level of confidence, as the Patriots keep finding different ways to win -- which is what good teams do.

Next game: at Colts (Saturday, Dec. 18, 8:20 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Bills continue to lose games at the line of scrimmage, and it cost them in a key AFC East matchup against the first-place Patriots. Despite the Patriots attempting an historic three passes, the Bills struggled to limit New England's offense and allowed them to run when they needed to. They were able to put enough points on the board and run out the clock, finishing with a 32:01-27:59 advantage in time of possession. On the offensive side, the Bills remain unable to run the ball effectively, which falls on both the running backs -- averaging 3.2 yards per carry -- and the blockers. "We're gonna try our darndest to fix it," coach Sean McDermott said. "It's tough. I'm not gonna sit up here and lie to you guys. To fix (the rushing offense) this time of year is tough. That's why we try like heck to do it in training camp. That's where you develop the toughness of the football team." -- Alaina Getzenberg

Can the Bills still win the AFC East? Yes, but something needs to change. A terrible trend has begun to emerge for the Bills. For the past six games, they have won one game and then immediately lost the next. That pattern has happened three straight times. The loss to the Patriots was a close game. Buffalo had so many chances to put points on the board and take control. That didn't happen. The next three weeks include the upcoming game against the Buccaneers and another game against the Patriots. The Bills are running out of time and there is little room for error, but it's still possible to win the division. -- Getzenberg

Getzenberg's confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, down from 7.9. The Bills keep falling short of the challenge to win a big game, which holds back their score yet again, but they also lost a close battle to a good football team that is now on a seven-game winning streak.

Next game: at Buccaneers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Kansas City 22, Denver 9


What to know: The defense will need to continue to drag an underachieving offense to victory. In beating the Broncos, the Chiefs topped 20 points for just the second time in their five-game winning streak but needed an interception return for a touchdown by Daniel Sorensen to get there. This is no longer a slump for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense. Between turnovers, penalties and a lack of big plays, the Chiefs have issues they apparently aren't making progress in solving. -- Adam Teicher

Can the Chiefs continue to win with a low-scoring offense? They've won five straight games, two against opponents leading their respective divisions, so it has worked to this point. But the margin for error is slim. One substandard day for the defense could bring the whole thing crashing down. -- Teicher

Teicher's confidence rating (0-10): 8, down from 9. A victory over the Broncos, an opponent the Chiefs have beaten 12 straight times, isn't enough to raise the confidence level.

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


What to know: The Broncos didn't get the play they needed and didn't create the pivotal moment necessary to beat Kansas City. They needed a hero on offense Sunday night, and they are still left wanting, as the losing streak to the Chiefs is now 12 in a row. The Denver defense did more than enough to win, but the Broncos didn't get a favorable early ruling on what would have been a scoop-and-score touchdown if the play had not been blown dead as an incompletion. (The Broncos lost the review.) They didn't score on a 20-play drive, and they didn't make anything out of a Pat Surtain II interception. Whenever they did make the K.C. defense nervous, the Broncos would get penalized. If they continue to waste good defensive efforts, the Broncos won't stay in the playoff hunt for much longer. -- Jeff Legwold

How can the Broncos get the ball to their wide receivers? Whatever they're doing right now ain't working. Midway through the fourth quarter,Courtland Sutton had two catches, while Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy had one each. The Broncos don't protect quarterback Teddy Bridgewater well enough when they open up the formation to sling it around and don't use play-action nearly enough when they get behind. Their best work pushing the ball down the field in the passing game has come out of play-action, yet in all six of their losses, the Broncos haven't consistently committed to it and haven't offered a real explanation as to why. -- Legwold

Legwold's confidence rating (0-10): 5, down from 5.5. The defense is good enough for a postseason chase, but the Broncos continue to be let down by their consistently leaky special teams and low-impact offense.

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

Seattle 30, San Francisco 23


What to know:Quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' offense snapped out of their funk, providing some hope the final five games -- even if meaningless -- will at least be entertaining. On a wild Sunday, the Seahawks fumbled four times, losing two, and gave the ball away when Gerald Everett bobbled a would-be touchdown. They also mismanaged the clock and nearly allowed the 49ers to drive the 98 yards needed for the tying score, before holding at the 3. But this was a much better version of Wilson and of the offense that scored only 26 points during the three-game losing streak that began with his return from finger surgery. Even with at least one notable misfire, Wilson was much more accurate than he had been of late while completing 30 of 37 passes for 231 yards and two TDs with the unlucky INT. -- Brady Henderson

How badly is Jamal Adams hurt? The Pro Bowl strong safety left late in the second quarter because of a shoulder injury and didn't return. When he walked back onto the sideline in the third quarter in street clothes, he shared an extended embrace with his position coach, Andre Curtis. Adams dealt with injuries to both shoulders last season, with one requiring surgery. He had been playing better of late after early-season struggles, with two interceptions in three games and other impact plays. He had shown flashes of the $17.5 million-per-year player the Seahawks are paying him to be. The real disappointment is that the Seahawks won't reap the biggest reward of this awful season -- an early first-round pick -- because the Jets own it. Depending on its severity, Adams' shoulder injury could add to that disappointment. -- Henderson

Henderson's confidence rating (0-10): 3, up from 2. This win was almost certainly too late to keep any realistic playoff hopes alive -- the Seahawks were down to a 1% chance entering the day, per ESPN's Football Power Index -- but they showed they're still going to compete.

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


What to know: Despite how their recent three-game win streak made it look, the 49ers offered a resounding reminder on Sunday that their margin for error is way too thin to make the kind of mistakes they made against the Seahawks. At 6-6, the Niners remain in the NFC playoff picture, and judging by how it's going for the other teams "competing" for the final spots, that's probably going to continue. But the Niners were their own worst enemy at Seattle. Among their many errors: 10 penalties, three turnovers, another special teams touchdown allowed and a missed extra point. Similar performances down the stretch will undoubtedly keep San Francisco on the outside looking in come mid-January. -- Nick Wagoner

When will the 49ers start consistently beating Seattle? The Magic 8 Ball says "reply hazy, try again." For as much as the 49ers have enjoyed their recent run of success against the Los Angeles Rams, they have been on the wrong end of their matchups against the Seahawks for far longer. In fact, since quarterback Russell Wilson arrived in 2012, the Niners are 4-16 against Seattle. The Seahawks entered Sunday's game at 3-8 with an offense that has been unable to stay on the field and a compromised Wilson still working back to form after a finger injury. No matter: Seattle took advantage of a litany of San Francisco mistakes and continues its hold over the Niners. It's hard to envision the 49ers getting back to the top of the NFC West if they can't solve even this version of the Seahawks. -- Wagoner

Wagoner's confidence rating (0-10): 6, down from 6.5. Just when the 49ers begin making a case they could be not only a playoff team but one capable of making some noise, they come crashing back to Earth.

Next game: at Bengals (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Pittsburgh 20, Baltimore 19


What to know:The Pittsburgh Steelers' defense held Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' offense in check for most of the night for the 20-19 win. A kickoff out of bounds with less than two minutes to play gave the Ravens great field position to start a winning drive, but tight endMark Andrews dropped the 2-point conversion that would've won the game. Significant third-down stops in the second half kept the Ravens to nine points, and three Steelers recorded at least a sack: Chris Wormley (2.0), T.J. Watt (3.5) and Cameron Heyward (1.0). After allowing the Ravens 191 yards in the first half, the Steelers mostly restrained them in the second, yielding 135 yards -- 60 of those coming on the Ravens' final drive. -- Brooke Pryor

Can the Steelers' offense find a consistent identity? Ben Roethlisberger and the offense came alive with a 16-point fourth quarter. But in the first half, the offense couldn't sustain a drive, possessing the ball for 6 minutes, 30 seconds -- their lowest time of possession in the past 20 seasons. The ground game, supposed to be the focal point of the offseason, produced 13 first-half yards. The group moved much better in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter, and rallied to take the Steelers' first lead with 1:48 left in the game on Diontae Johnson's second touchdown of the game. Johnson looked every bit of a No. 1 wide receiver with eight receptions for 105 yards and two scores, more than making up for dropping a would-be touchdown in the first half. Roethlisberger also finished with one of his best games of the season, completing 21 of 31 attempts for 236 yards and two touchdowns. -- Pryor

Pryor's confidence rating (0-10): 3.5, up from 2.3. The defense mostly kept Jackson and the Ravens' ground attack in check; but while the offense showed life in the second half, the first-half inability to move the ball continues to be a major concern.

Next game: at Vikings (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)


What to know: No one can fault the Ravens going for the win. Baltimore nearly pulled off the comeback victory by going for the 2-point conversion with 12 seconds remaining, but Jackson's pass went off the outstretched hand of tight endMark Andrews. It's tough to second-guess Harbaugh here. The Ravens' defense couldn't stop the Steelers in the fourth quarter, allowing scores on three straight drives. The offense has been struggling to score points, getting held under 20 points for a fourth straight game, which is the first time that has happened to Baltimore since 2013-14. The Ravens are 8-4 this season because their aggressiveness usually pays off. -- Jamison Hensley

What's going on with Lamar Jackson? Jackson said he played "like a rookie" after throwing a career-worst four interceptions last week. He didn't look much better at Heinz Field before the final two minutes. Jackson opened the game by getting picked off in the end zone. That's the second red zone interception of his career (and the other one happened three weeks ago in Miami). Jackson also didn't get rid of the ball quickly enough, getting sacked seven times. The Ravens have to figure out how to get Jackson into his groove. -- Hensley

Hensley's confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, down from 8. The Ravens remain atop the AFC North, but they're showing some cracks with a lack of explosiveness on the offense.

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

Washington 17, Las Vegas 15


What to know: After four straight wins, Washington is a team worth watching over the final five weeks thanks to another fourth-quarter comeback drive by quarterback Taylor Heinicke. He is adept at overcoming his own mistakes (he threw a fourth-quarter pick on Sunday) to lead winning drives. During this streak, Washington has defeated Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay and won twice on the road. It has triumphed with a defense playing far above its early-season performances. It did that again on Sunday, holding the Raiders under their season averages in points, total yards and yards per play. This despite missing defensive back Landon Collins and defensive ends Chase Young and Montez Sweatbecause of injuries. Washington is down to its fourth center, and it was missing running back J.D. McKissic. Washington plays physical and with confidence. -- John Keim

Can Washington catch Dallas? It will be tough, but Washington plays the Cowboys twice in the next three weeks, starting next Sunday at home. The WFT is two games behind the Cowboys in the NFC East, so it's not out of the question it can make the division race a lot more interesting than anyone thought a month ago -- heck, even two weeks ago. It helps that its final five games are against divisional opponents. A 3-2 record is doable, but can Washington continue to win with a major emphasis on ball control? That has keyed the four-game win streak, but Washington will need more consistency -- and chunk plays -- from the passing game. -- Keim

Keim's confidence rating (0-10): 6.6, up from 6.3. Washington keeps overcoming injuries and even its own mistakes to find ways to win. It's a tough-minded, physical team.

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


What to know: Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio won the chess match within the game against his former quarterback in Derek Carr. Barely. It took a 48-yard field goal with 37 seconds to play, so it wasn't really checkmate. But it didn't have to be. Del Rio, who was with the Raiders from 2015 to 2017 and has the highest winning percentage of any Raiders coach since Hall of Famer Tom Flores resigned after the 1987 season, kept Carr uncomfortable and cautious through the first three quarters. Long enough to keep big plays to a minimum and keep Washington in control and in position for the win. -- Paul Gutierrez

What happened to that aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach Carr and the Raiders' offense showed in Dallas on Thanksgiving? Indeed. Carr is, by nature, a patient quarterback, one who infuriates fans who recall his more swashbuckling days under Del Rio in 2016. But when he isn't taking deep shots -- and firing high to open receivers -- in a game for the taking, it stings. Simply put, he had to get comfortable against a defensive coordinator who knows him well, and it took too long. Carr averaged 10.1 yards per attempt in the second half, after averaging 4.5 yards per attempt in the first half. And the Raiders, with the lackluster 17-15 loss, are 6-6 and sliding in the AFC West.-- Gutierrez

Gutierrez's confidence rating (0-10): 5.5, down from 7.5. The up again, down again vibe of the Raiders is infuriating and, as they say, you are what your record says you are.

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

L.A. Rams 37, Jacksonville 7


What to know: The Rams stopped a three-game losing streak with a win over the Jaguars, but it wasn't exactly the type of victory that immediately returns the star-laden roster to the Super Bowl conversation. Consistency in all three phases remains a pressing matter, even as quarterback Matthew Stafford reestablished a connection with Cooper Kupp and continues to build a rapport with Odell Beckham Jr.The defense produced two turnovers, and special teams remained less than special. With the win, the Rams proved, once again, they could beat up on a foundering team, but questions remain about whether they can take down the top talent. -- Lindsey Thiry

Are the Rams ready for the Cardinals? Outside of an impressive Week 3 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, the Rams have struggled to perform against the NFC's top teams this season. After dominating the Cardinals the past four years, winning seven straight, the Rams fell 37-20 to quarterback Kyler Murray and the Cardinals in a Week 4 rout. The Rams will get another chance against the division leaders on Monday Night Football in Week 14, with an opportunity to prove they still deserve to be among teams capable of a Super Bowl run. -- Thiry

Thiry's confidence rating (0-10): 7.2, up from 7. The Rams earn an ever-so-slight uptick as they decisively avoided letting a three-game skid turn into four. The offense showed signs of growth without Robert Woods and with the new additions of Beckham and even Ben Skowronek, while the defense took advantage of turnover opportunities and played with an aggression that had been recently missing.

Next game: at Cardinals (Monday, Dec. 13, 8:15 p.m. ET)


What to know: There are still five games remaining, but the Jaguars again appear headed for the top draft pick. Detroit won (1-10-1), and it has shown signs of improvement. Houston is also 2-11, but the Texans have already beaten the Jaguars once; the teams play again in Jacksonville on Dec. 19. The Jaguars' offense continues to founder -- there are no fixes available until the offseason -- and injuries are beginning to mount. This roster doesn't have enough playmakers. There have been five instances when a team had the first overall pick in back-to-back drafts. The latest was Cleveland in 2017 and 2018, picks that netted the Browns Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield. -- Mike DiRocco

When will the Jaguars win a game against an NFC opponent? That's going to have to wait until 2022. The Jaguars have lost 15 in a row to NFC teams, dating back to a season-opening victory over the New York Giants in 2018. The Jaguars play the NFC East next season (Dallas and New York at home and at Washington and Philadelphia). -- DiRocco

DiRocco's confidence rating (0-10): 0.5, down from 1.5. The Jaguars are so limited offensively that asking for more than 10 points (when the game isn't in garbage time) feels outrageous, and the defense pretty much has to play a perfect game every week just to have a chance to win.

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

Detroit 29, Minnesota 27


What to know: Lions first-year coach Dan Campbell was finally able to celebrate after Jared Goff hitAmon-Ra St. Brownwith a last-second 11-yard TD pass to snap Detroit's 15-game winless streak. Detroit hadn't won in the regular season or preseason in nearly a full calendar year, dating back to Dec. 6, 2020, against the Bears. The Lions held their largest lead of the season at the half, 20-6. The Vikings took a four-point lead with 1:50 left, but the Lions fought back with the 75-yard TD drive despite missing running backD'Andre Swift, who was out because of a shoulder injury. After the game, Campbell dedicated a game ball to the Oxford, Michigan, community, where a shooting at Oxford High School on Tuesday claimed the lives of four students. The Lions honored the victims with a moment of silence ahead of kickoff, while also wearing T-shirts and helmet decals as a tribute.-- Eric Woodyard

Can the Lions build off this dramatic win?Yes. It's easier to build off an actual win than a moral victory, and the Lions had plenty of the latter this season. Detroit played hard and kept teams close, even tying the Steelers, but against a Vikings team fighting to stay playoff-relevant, they took the next step and found a way to win. -- Woodyard

Woodyard's confidence rating (0-10): 3, up from 2. Yes, the Lions got their first win, but it's also not the time to throw a parade in the Motor City. This team still has a ton of holes, but it played its best game of the season Sunday. The win was much needed.

Next game: at Broncos (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


What to know: This loss was inexcusable, yet it felt inevitable. Minnesota did everything it could to let the previously winless Lions hang around and walk off with a touchdown on the final play of the game. There is nothing to be proud of here for the Vikings, who regained the lead with 1:50 remaining only to lose it 14 plays later when Jared Goff hit Amon-Ra St. Brown for the winning TD. Minnesota did everything it could to lose this game: poor offensive playcalling and execution, penalties and a strange defensive game plan that let Goff off the hook from the very start. ReceiverJustin Jefferson was terrific, as usual, and had Minnesota gotten him involved far earlier than the end of the second quarter, this game might have gone differently. The Vikings brought their D-plus game to Detroit and thought it would be enough to beat a bad team. -- Courtney Cronin

Are the Vikings close to making changes to the coaching staff/front office? Have Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf seen enough to want to change the direction of this franchise? Minnesota got embarrassed by a team with an 0-10-1 record and that led 20-6 at halftime. The Wilfs saw passes sail well short of the sticks on second- and third-and-long all day, and two questionable 2-point conversion play calls that failed. They saw the Lions win a game after finishing 2-for-11 on third down. They saw ill-fated game plans on offense and defense. Now the question is whether Minnesota's owners will make changes to their coaching staff and/or front office, and if they do, will those come in December or the offseason? -- Cronin

Cronin's confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 6. Minnesota has a short week with Pittsburgh coming to town Thursday night. Another loss would drop the Vikings to 5-8, put them further behind in the race for the No. 7 seed and be the nail in the coffin on the season.

Next game: vs. Steelers (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

Tampa Bay 30, Atlanta 17


What to know: The Bucs deviated from their run-first approach this season, with quarterback Tom Brady attempting 51 passes. The result was four passing touchdowns (two to tight end Rob Gronkowski),and wide receiver Chris Godwin setting a single-game franchise record with 15 catches -- the most in an NFL game this year. Brady's first two scores came on a pair of 3-yard passes to running back Leonard Fournette and tight endCameron Brate. Without safeties Jordan Whitehead (calf) and Mike Edwards (suspended), the Bucs gave up some big plays early, like a missed tackle onCordarrelle Pattersonon a pitch that was taken 39 yards -- the longest run play given up by the Bucs all season. It set up a 17-yard touchdown run by Mike Davis. But the defense notched five sacks, with Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea getting two apiece. -- Jenna Laine

How does Sunday's win impact the Bucs' playoff positioning? With Sunday's win, the Bucs extended their lead to four games in the NFC South and moved into a tie for second place in the NFC seeding with the Green Bay Packers, who were on a bye week (although the Packers would win the tiebreaker because they have a better conference record). Only the top two seeds are guaranteed home-field advantage until the conference finals, with only the top seed getting a first-round bye. The Bucs could benefit from playing at home considering their scoring differential between home (21.6) and road games (minus-2.33) this season. -- Laine

Laine's confidence rating (0-10): 8.5, up from 8. Cornerbacks Carlton Davis' and Sean Murphy-Bunting's returns to health, along with the Bucs' five-sack performance, evokes more confidence in the defense.

Next game: vs. Bills (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)


What to know: One of the biggest inconsistencies this season for the Falcons has been the lack of a run game. Any progress one week would be stifled the next. But now, with the season hitting the homestretch, Atlanta seems to have discovered more consistency on the ground. A lot of that has to do with Cordarrelle Patterson, who had 78 yards on 13 carries Sunday, becoming the team's main back. Mike Davis, who at one point was expected to be the No. 1 back, has found a secondary role and had three rushes for 29 yards and the Falcons' lone offensive touchdown. When Atlanta ran well against Jacksonville, that was one thing. That the Falcons could do it against Tampa Bay, which entered the day as the league's best run defense, signals progress. This was the first time Atlanta rushed for 100-plus yards in back-to-back games since Weeks 2 and 3 last year -- something to build on as the Falcons fight for a playoff spot. -- Michael Rothstein

What can the Falcons do to limit the pressure onMatt Ryan? At face value, the overall season numbers don't look bad (26 sacks) -- but Ryan has been sacked 10 times in the past three weeks, including a season-worst five Sunday. The majority of those came from the interior of the offensive line, where Atlanta struggled to handle Vita Vea (two sacks) and Ndamukong Suh (two sacks). Atlanta knows it has issues on the offensive line despite having three first-round picks and two third-round picks as starters -- hence the rotation at center between Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman. After working well against the Jaguars, Dalman had two botched snaps Sunday, including one essentially at the goal line in the first half that helped stall a drive and led to a field goal. But this is a team that has given up at least one sack in every game but one this season (Week 5 against the Jets) and has struggled to protect Ryan, who took 41 sacks in 2020, 48 in 2019 and 42 in 2018. -- Rothstein

Rothstein's confidence rating (0-10): 3.6, no change from 3.6. No change because what was expected to happen -- a Falcons team that played decent but didn't have enough to win -- is exactly what occurred.

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

L.A. Chargers 41, Cincinnati 22


What to know: Sometimes a team with the fewest mistakes wins the game; other times it's a team with a lot of mistakes that recovers from them the best. That's what happened Sunday. Up 24-6, the Chargers turned it over on three straight drives for the first time since 2019. Running back Austin Ekeler had his first career game with multiple fumbles. Quarterback Justin Herbert was sacked four times and threw a pick. Linebacker Joey Bosa went out with a head injury. Somehow, the Chargers still won the game. -- Shelley Smith

How did they do it? Cornerback Tevaughn Campbell played a big role, recovering a rare Joe Mixon fumble and returning it 61 yards for a touchdown to turn a two-point game into a two-possession game. -- Smith

Smith's confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 5.5. Somehow the Chargers came into the Bengals' stadium, made every mistake imaginable and won, which might have huge playoff implications.

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


What to know: Cincinnati squandered the opportunity to build some serious momentum in its playoff push with the loss. Earlier in the week, Bengals coach Zac Taylor acknowledged Sunday was a chance to win three straight games, an opportunity that has slipped out of their grasp twice this season. An injury-depleted roster came close to digging out of a 24-point hole, but Cincinnati couldn't cobble together the three-game win streak it wanted. -- Ben Baby

Are the Bengals going to be healthy enough to secure the playoff bid? Before Sunday, Cincinnati was one of the healthiest teams in the league. But starting cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and linebacker Logan Wilson were both knocked out of the game with injuries. Quarterback Joe Burrow also injured his right pinkie. Burrow aside, those are key positions that will have big implications. But Cincinnati cannot afford Burrow going down or being hampered the rest of the way. -- Baby

Baby's confidence rating (0-10): 6.2, down from 6.7. Cincinnati's injury problems are more concerning than the loss that dampens the Bengals' playoff hopes.

Next game: vs. 49ers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Arizona 33, Chicago 22


What to know: Kyler Murray is back. The Cardinals quarterback returned Sunday against the Bears after missing three games because of a high left ankle sprain and looked like the Murray of old. There were a few odds and ends the Cardinals need to clean up in their comfortable win in Chicago, but Sunday was the best they've looked after a bye in coach Kliff Kingsbury's three seasons in Arizona. -- Josh Weinfuss

What will stand between the Cardinals and the No. 1 overall seed? Not much. Coming out of the bye with a big win over the Bears shows this team -- and coaching staff -- has made significant strides from the past two seasons. That will bode well, and likely prevent a meltdown down the stretch. Arizona's remaining schedule is favorable, with games against the Rams next week and the Cowboys in the penultimate game of the season the most daunting. Besides that, Arizona is playing like a team in line for the NFC's top seed, which comes with home-field advantage until the Super Bowl. -- Weinfuss

Weinfuss' confidence rating (0-10): 8.8, up from 8.5. An improvement was warranted because of the win, but there were some small issues -- perhaps rust -- coming off the bye that Arizona needs to clean up before getting into the thick of the homestretch.

Next game: vs. Rams (Monday, Dec. 13, 8:15 p.m. ET)


What to know: A rough day by Bears quarterback Andy Dalton kept getting worse -- thanks in part to him, his receivers and the Cardinals' defense. Dalton threw four interceptions in Sunday's loss, tying his career high. One was for sure Dalton's fault, two went off the hands of his receivers and another was on an incredible play at the line of scrimmage by Cardinals defensive lineman Zach Allen. Dalton's picks led to 23 Arizona points including 14 in the first quarter, which gave the Bears -- losers of six of their past seven games -- too large of a deficit to overcome. -- Josh Weinfuss

How many games could the Bears win to finish the season? Chicago could win three more games down the stretch, with two games against the Vikings, plus one each against the Packers, Giants and Seahawks, still remaining on the schedule. If the Bears could finish that stretch 3-2, they would end the season at 7-10. Would that be good enough for embattled head coach Matt Nagy to keep his job? -- Weinfuss

NFL Nation's confidence rating (0-10): 3.5, no change from last week. The Bears didn't play terrible. But they did run into a Cardinals team that might be the best in the NFL, and challenged it for most of the game. -- Weinfuss

Next game: at Packers (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

Philadelphia 33, N.Y. Jets 18


What to know: QuarterbackGardner Minshew's performance is going to create quite a stir in Philadelphia. He matched Donovan McNabb for highest first-half completion rate (93.3%) by an Eagles QB since 1991 and led the offense to scores on its first seven possessions. Minshew maneuvered well within the pocket and was in command. With a bye coming up, there will be two weeks' worth of debate over whether he has earned another start. The expectation is Jalen Hurts will reclaim his job once his sprained left ankle has healed up. But that won't keep the sports-talk phone lines from burning up. -- Tim McManus

With playmakers like Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders coming alive, are the Eagles back in the playoff hunt? Goedert set a career high with 105 receiving yards and had his first multi-touchdown game as a pro, while Sanders finished with 144 total yards. That's certainly encouraging, though it's fair to wonder how much Goedert's career day was tied to the play of Minshew. And Sanders appeared to reinjure an ankle down the stretch. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, the Eagles' playoff chances rose from 25% to 30% with the win. With one of the easiest closing schedules in the NFL, they'll be in the mix the rest of the way. -- McManus

McManus' confidence rating (0-10): 4.7, up from 4.1. It was the Jets, so let's not get carried away. But the Eagles should win more than they lose the rest of the way regardless of the quarterback.

Next game: vs. Washington (Sunday, Dec. 19, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson conquered his first-half demons, leading touchdown drives on the Jets' first three possessions. The Jets lost the game, and Wilson did have a fourth-quarter interception on an overthrow, but perspective is important. Wilson, the key to the franchise's future, took a couple of baby steps. For a change, he wasn't skittish in the first quarter. There also were no lingering effects from his recent knee injury, which bothered him last week. Operating a conservative passing attack, Wilson (22-for-37, 226 yards) threw for two short touchdowns and ran for another. Why was this so important? Before Sunday, Wilson had the NFL's lowest first-quarter QBR (0.7) since 2000. He played well enough to beat the Eagles, but his defense was bad, as usual. -- Rich Cimini

Was the Jets' defense surprised by Eagles quarterback Gardner Minshew? It sure looked like it. The Jets looked utterly unprepared for Minshew, an 11th-hour injury replacement, and the Eagles' passing attack. The Jets prepared for the dangerously mobile Jalen Hurts, who was scratched due to a lingering ankle injury. To say they failed to adjust would be an understatement, as the Eagles scored on their first seven possessions. Minshew (20-for-25, 242 yards, two TDs) was nearly flawless. Everybody knows the Jets, ranked 32nd in total defense, are talent deficient, but there was no excuse for this. This was a failure by the coaching staff, which expected one thing and got another. -- Cimini

Cimini's confidence rating (0-10): 2.5, down from 4. With nine losses, the Jets clinched their sixth consecutive losing season, a drought that has covered three different head coaches. When does it stop?

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

Indianapolis 31, Houston 0


What to know: It wasn't pretty and the Colts sputtered at times, but they did what they were supposed to do to beat the lowly Texans. The Colts moved back to above .500, and they've reached their bye week with a relatively healthy team for the final month of the season. They'll have two weeks to prepare for the most pivotal stretch of their season with back-to-back games against New England and Arizona, teams that are likely headed to the playoffs, awaiting them on the other side of the bye. The Colts will likely need to win three of their final four games to make the playoffs. The problem: Three of those four opponents went into Sunday with a winning record. The Colts have beaten only one team (Buffalo) with a winning record this season. -- Mike Wells

Can Jonathan Taylor reach 2,000 yards rushing? Not likely. Taylor has 1,348 rushing yards with four games remaining in the regular season. That means he'll need to average 163 yards over the final four games to become the seventh running back to reach that milestone. Taylor has topped 163 yards rushing in a game twice in 13 games this season. -- Wells

Wells' confidence rating (0-10): 3.7, no change from last week. Nothing changed for the Colts from last week against Tampa because the Texans aren't a good team and Indianapolis was supposed to beat them.

Next game: vs. Patriots (Saturday, Dec. 18, 8:20 p.m. ET)


What to know: Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills have struggled, but the Texans also haven't put them in a position to succeed. After playing well in Houston's first two games before he injured his left hamstring, Taylor has been ineffective since he returned from injured reserve. And while he has been unable to protect the football, he also has had to play with poor protection and without impact playmakers beyond wide receiver Brandin Cooks. It has been clear all season the Texans lack the talent to compete with the best in the NFL, but Sunday showed once again they aren't just a quarterback away from winning in the NFL. -- Sarah Barshop

Is it time to stay with Mills? Last week, coach David Culley said Mills would play only "if something happens to Tyrod [Taylor]." Taylor was evaluated in the medical tent during the third quarter but was cleared to play, and the team said it was Culley's decision to play Mills instead. Culley has said all season that when healthy, Taylor gives the Texans the best chance to win. While Mills has also struggled, there is a better chance that he is in Houston's plans for the future. If that is the case, it would make sense to get another look at Mills before the Texans make a decision about the quarterback position for next season. -- Barshop

Barshop's confidence rating (0-10): 0.6, down from 0.8. The confidence rating has gone upward only once since the Texans opened the season with a win -- and a blowout loss to the Colts this week drives the number down even further.

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

Miami 20, N.Y. Giants 9


What to know: Until the Dolphins develop a more consistent run game, expect this kind of stat line from Tua Tagovailoa -- a lot of attempts and a lot of short, quick passes. The second-year quarterback completed 30 of 41 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns -- that's 8.1 yards per completion. He completed 5 of 12 passes beyond 10 yards but connected on 21 of 24 passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Tagovailoa's numbers would have looked a little prettier were it not for a handful of drops by Dolphins receivers. And you can't argue with the results. He put up big numbers in Week 5 and Week 6 -- both losses -- so as long as this system continues to work, don't expect it to change. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

Can the Dolphins win out? When Miami stopped its losing streak in Week 9, the goal was to get to .500 by the time it traveled to New Orleans in Week 16. But with the Saints and Tennessee Titans looking increasingly vulnerable, and the Patriots gunning for a No. 1 seed (and possibly resting starters in Week 18), it is suddenly conceivable that the Dolphins' winning streak lasts through the end of the regular season. They are getting healthier and peaking at the right time. If they didn't lose seven of their first eight games, we would be calling them the hottest team in the NFL. -- Louis-Jacques

Louis-Jacques' confidence rating (0-10): 8.3, up from 8. Miami will have some explaining to do if it somehow loses to the Jets in Week 15; this defense is too good, and the offense has been far more efficient as of late.

Next game: vs. Jets (Sunday, Dec. 19, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: It doesn't matter who is the quarterback or offensive coordinator. The Giants' offense is hard to watch. It's borderline incompetent. From the offensive line's struggles to the missed throws by quarterback Mike Glennon, who was playing for an injured Daniel Jones, to key drops and communication issues. All ugly. A unit that came in averaging 18.4 points per game could have played for days before hitting that number in Miami. The Giants (4-8) finished with nine points and 250 total yards. -- Jordan Raanan

What now with the playoffs not even a realistic dream scenario? It's time to start thinking about the future. It's not really if, but when, they get a new general manager in the building. And what about the quarterback and coach? The Giants want to see more from Jones. But it's not clear when he will return from his neck injury and even if he does, what can he do behind this offense line and with the skill positions depleted? Even running back Saquon Barkley has something to prove. He looks like a shell of his former self. -- Raanan

Raanan's confidence rating (0-10): 3.4, down from 4. The Giants are a poor man's version of the Dolphins. That isn't necessarily good.

Next game: at Chargers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Dallas 27, New Orleans 17


What to know: This was a win the Cowboys needed to get back on track. Style points did not matter. The Cowboys did not have their head coach. They did not have five other coaches and two players. They lost two straight and three of four entering the contest and still responded. Mike McCarthy, who was watching from Texas, called it "an adversity win." It wasn't pretty, but the Cowboys improved to 8-4 and extended their lead in the NFC East and kept up the possibility of earning home-field advantage and one of the top three spots in the playoffs. -- Todd Archer

Are the Cowboys back? It's difficult to say because the Saints have now lost five straight games. But this can build confidence in the Cowboys' ability to handle adversity. This season, the Cowboys have won games without Dak Prescott (Oct. 31 vs. Minnesota) and McCarthy. They are getting players back from injury (Randy Gregory, Neville Gallimore) and have players getting up to speed (DeMarcus Lawrence, Amari Cooper) off injuries or the COVID-19 list. They also have young players carrying the load (Micah Parsons, CeeDee Lamb). With five weeks left in the regular season, the Cowboys have put themselves in position to make a run. They have to get hot now if they want to be a team with a legit chance to go far. -- Archer

Archer's confidence rating (0-10): 8.4, up from 7.9. It wasn't a work of art -- they couldn't run the ball well and it seemed Prescott forced some plays -- but it's a win. And that's all that mattered on Thursday night.

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


What to know: For a minute, it looked like Taysom Hill's legs might inject some life into the Saints' flailing offense. But then the wheels came off when he had to play catchup, with three of his four interceptions coming in the fourth quarter. Maybe the Saints (5-7) will find new life if stars like Alvin Kamara, Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk return against the Jets on the road in Week 14. But it might be too late now that they've lost five straight in a season for the first time under Sean Payton. -- Mike Triplett

Will the Saints stick with Taysom Hill at quarterback? Yes, as long as his foot and finger injuries are OK. Hill's performance can't be sugarcoated. He was off target on some passes even before he started "pressing" and throwing those late INTs. But he also ran for 101 yards -- and he does offer some needed juice if he can start throwing with more accuracy. "I thought he played with a lot of heart, a lot of guts. We didn't help him any in the first half," Payton said. -- Triplett

Triplett's confidence rating (0-10): 4.1, down from 4.5. A smaller dip this time because the Saints should be healthier and more competitive next week. But their playoff chances have plummeted from 83% to 20% since Week 8, according to ESPN's FPI.

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

Related Video