Week 13 gave us a little of everything. We had a huge upset in the Giants beating the Bears in a wild game, a huge comeback by the Chargers in Pittsburgh on Sunday Night, and a plenty more crazy finishes. Let’s take a look at the winners and losers from this crazy week!
Winner: New England Patriots (Won 24-10 vs MIN)
The Patriots aren’t the most talented team, but that doesn’t stop them. Coming into this matchup with the Vikings, it looked like Minnesota’s superb defense had a chance to hold New England’s run first offense in check, while Kirk Cousins and the Vikings’ strong passing game would dominate against the Patriots’ suspect secondary. Instead, the Patriots dominated this football game. With a perfect offensive balance (39 rushes, 32 passes), the New England’s offense made the Vikings look silly defensively. Tom Brady threw for 311 yards and a touchdown, while the Patriots rushed for 160 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. That allowed them to control the time of possession, which wore out Minnesota’ s defense and kept Cousins and the Vikings offense on the sideline. When Cousins and company got a chance, New England shut them down. The Patriots held the Vikings to a 25% conversion rate on third down, had two interceptions, and held Cousins to a QB rating of just 70.4. The Patriots aren’t perfect, in fact they may not be a top three team in the AFC in terms of talent. However, they’re well coached, and do all the little things well. They’re efficient on offense, win the turnover battle, hold opponents on third down, and keep the opposing defense guessing with perfect schemes by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Just because of their superb execution, they’re still the team to beat in the AFC. They’ll need to avoid falling into their annual trap that is a December game against the Dolphins next week; a date with the Steelers is the week after.
Loser: New Orleans Saints (Lost 13-10 at DAL)
Had you said coming into the Saints’ Thursday Night game against the Cowboys that they would allow just 13 points, the assumption would be made that the Saints won. Instead, New Orleans lasted a big opportunity and was exposed on both sides of the ball. The offense was simply overmatched by the Cowboys’ physical defense, and couldn’t adjust when Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram couldn’t establish the running game like they’re used to do. Michael Thomas couldn’t adjust to a corner being as physical and fast as him, and Byron Jones held him to 40 receiving yards. That’s the issue with the Saints. They’re so reliant on Kamara, Ingram, and Thomas, that they can’t win when those three aren’t performing. There isn’t a real threat opposite Thomas, and it showed. Outside of Thomas, no wide receiver was targeted more than once. That’s an issue, and it will come back to bite the Saints like it did this week. The offensive line also couldn’t handle Dallas’ pass rush, and Brees had no chance facing an interior pass rush. That’s another limitation with the Saints; Brees’ lack of mobility and height makes it impossible the face any sort of interior pressure. This offense is extremely thin and overly reliant on a couple of key players, and won’t be able to carry the Saints to wins when it’s defense falters. That defense also struggled, despite only allowing 13 points. Eli Apple has been a complete bust for the Saints, as he was constantly burned by third round rookie Michael Gallup all game long. In total, New Orleans allowed Dak Prescott of all quarterbacks to throw for 248 yards and let the Cowboys convert on half of their third downs. They allowed Dallas’ drives to go on for way too long, and the Cowboys had the ball for almost twice the amount of time as a result. When the offense is only able to run 49 plays, it’s going to be difficult to establish any sort of rhythm. The Saints are in trouble, and were exposed by a team that could handle their top playmakers and team speed. They better adjust in a hurry, but this is more of a lack of depth issue than a scheme issue, even though Sean Payton’s coaching was awful as well.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens (Won 26-16 at ATL)
When the Ravens were 4-5, they looked like they were done. Heck, rumors of head coach John Harbaugh being fired had begun to float everywhere, and this team looked to have no chance of making the playoffs under Joe Flacco. Then, Flacco suffered a hip injury, leading the Ravens to turn to their savior- Lamar Jackson. Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement. The 21-year-old first round rookie hasn’t been spectacular, and he’s produce average to below average QB ratings in all three of his games so far. Still, all three games have resulted in a win, and the team is much more energized under Jackson than it even was under Flacco. Jackson wasn’t perfect in his first road start – a fumble by him got recovered for a touchdown and he threw for just 125 yards – but his presence as a dual-threat quarterback has made this offense much more exciting. For a third straight game, Baltimore ran for over 200 yards, thanks in large part to Jackson (17 rushes for 75 yards) and rookie running back Gus Edwards (21 rushes for 82 yards), who looks like the Ravens’ long term answer at running back. That was good enough to put up a respectable 366 total yards of offense, and allowed them to control the clock for twice as long as the Falcons. That helped the defense, which held Atlanta to nine points and had a defensive touchdown. The Falcons have one of the most electric offenses in the NFL, yet Matt Ryan was held to just 131 yards passing. Julio Jones? Just 2 catches for 18 yards. This defense is easily a top three unit in all of football, and is good enough to carry Baltimore to the playoffs alongside a dominant rushing attack. As long as the Ravens stick with Jackson, who looks more comfortable as a passer, they’ll continue to win. A date on the road against the 10-2 Chiefs will give us an even better understanding of how they stand compared to the other top teams in the AFC.
Loser: Pittsburgh Steelers (Lost 33-30 vs LAC)
Coming into this home game on Sunday Night Football against the Chargers, the Steelers were 220-0-2 when leading by 14+ at home. Now they’re 220-1-2 in those circumstances, and their season is now in doubt. When they led 23-7 at halftime, this game looked to be over. The Steelers were doing everything right, they were flowing on offense and their defense was confusing Phillip Rivers. Then, a switch flipped for both teams. Pittsburgh looked lost in the second half and failed to adjust on either side of the ball. Despite the fact that James Conner was running through the Chargers defense, Pittsburgh still threw the ball 45 times. That number is astonishing considering they entered the second half with a two score lead. The defense continued to blitz despite the fact that Rivers had adjusted and was lighting up them up, and allowed Keenan Allen to have 14 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown. Their rush defense also disappeared, as late round pick Justin Jackson ran for 63 yards, 7.9 yards per carry, and a touchdown. Even the special teams faltered: Chris Boswell missed a PAT, they allowed a punt return that tied the game at 23, and went offsides when Los Angeles missed the game winning field goal. This was all about missed opportunities, whether it was Ben Roethlisberger’s first half red zone interception, the crazy amount of drops, or the amount of blown coverages. That’s the issue with the Steelers. They are so talented, yet so undisciplined. Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler should be fired, and head coach Mike Tomlin needs to get his act together or his seat will start to warm as well. With just a half game lead on the Ravens and a week 15 affair against New England, Pittsburgh needs to avoid a Week 14 letdown against the Raiders, or their season may be in jeopardy.
Winner: Houston Texans (Won 29-13)
The Texans were expected to handle the inferior Browns at home. Still, Cleveland had won two straight and was a common underdog pick this week, so how Houston manhandled them was still a surprise. This game was over at halftime; the Texans led 23-0. They did this with the perfect combination of a very efficient offense and a stellar defense. Deshaun Watson had a QB rating of 102.1, and was complimented by 187 yards of rushing. If the Texans continue to play that level of offense, they’re going to be a tough out in the playoffs, considering how talented their defense is. Houston gave up 428 total yards, but all of that was due to garbage time yards. Despite having zero sacks, they pressured Baker Mayfield all game, and forced him to throw three interceptions, one being returned for a touchdown. They held Nick Chubb to just 31 rushing yards and held the Browns to just 2 of 8 on third downs. At 9-3, the Texans have now won nine straight and are tied with New England for the two seed. The issue is that they lost to the Patriots in Week 1, so they need to win out and pray for a Patriots loss to get that first round bye. Luckily for them, they have a very winnable schedule from here on out, and New England has to travel to Pittsburgh to face a desperate Steelers team in two weeks. That first round bye may be in the Texans’ hands after all.
Loser: Indianapolis Colts (Lost 6-0 at JAX)
With such a high-powered offense, the Colts seemed like a lock to win every game in which their defense only allows 211 yards and six points. Yet, the Colts managed to get shut out and lose this game, and their playoff hopes are in serious jeopardy. Indianapolis may have gotten shut out, but they shouldn’t have. They had plenty of chances deep in Jaguars territory, but continued to go for it on fourth down and failed. When playing an inferior team on the road, an aggressive mindset isn’t the best answer, especially when Jacksonville isn’t a threat to score touchdowns. The Colts reverted back to their old ways. They made Andrew Luck throw the ball 52 times, couldn’t protect him, and Luck made several errant throws, including a costly interception in plus territory. All in all, this is a game that the Colts had to win, and they blew it. The worst part is what is up ahead: on the road against the Texans and a home affair with the Cowboys. Yikes. The Colts may have just ruined a golden opportunity to get to the playoffs. With such a great QB in Luck, they may have been in position to come away with at least one upset win on the road in the postseason.