The Steelers stay unbeaten, the Chiefs remain inevitable, and the Rams deliver a signature win. Here are the top NFL Week 11 divisional takeaways.
AFC East – Breathing Room in Buffalo
Division Leader: Buffalo Bills (7-3)
Well, that went just about as well as the Bills could have hoped for.
Coming off their heartbreaking loss to Arizona in Week 10, Buffalo was prepared to spend their bye week watching what could have, maybe should have, been wins by both the Patriots and Dolphins to narrow the divisional race. Houston and Denver didn’t get the memo. With both New England and Miami losing their Week 11 matchups, the Bills now hold a three-game lead over the Patriots and a one-game lead over the Dolphins.
For the 4-6 Patriots, the writing is on the wall. In addition to the four division leaders in the conference, five teams sit at 6-4 or better. Even if a Covid-19 related issue expands the number of AFC playoff teams to eight, New England would still need to win-out. That’s just to have a shot at a wild card spot. How’s the mood in Foxborough?
Meanwhile, Miami remains fully in play for both the wild card and the division. They’ll need more consistency from Tua Tagovailoa, and their defense will need to continue generating turnovers the way it has all season. With difficult games remaining for both teams, it seems we’re on course for the Week 17 matchup between the Dolphins and Bills to determine the divisional and playoff picture. If you’re Miami, Sunday’s loss to the Broncos was a head-scratcher and a missed opportunity at putting the pressure on Buffalo.
It’s not as easy task, but the Bills managed to win even in their bye week.
AFC North – Baltimore Is in Trouble
Division Leader: Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0)
What happened to the Baltimore offense?
It’s impossible to overstate just what a far cry Lamar Jackson’s performance has been this season versus last year’s MVP campaign. They’ve suffered significant injuries. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is done for the season. Right guard Tyre Phillips has been out of the lineup since Week 8. But for a team who has carried over almost all of their playmakers from last season, this years’ unit seems completely lost. Whether it’s sustaining drives, converting red-zone trips into touchdowns, or executing big plays, none of it comes easy. It seems as though if they do any one of these things it’s a miracle.
Following their overtime loss to Tennessee on Sunday, the Ravens sit outside the playoff bubble looking in. At 6-4, they’re currently third place in their division. A Thanksgiving rematch with the undefeated Steelers on Thursday means an opportunity for an upset win which could shift the narrative and perhaps jolt their confidence.
Anything is possible. There’s simply nothing they’ve done to this point to make any of us expect that.
AFC South – Tennessee Rebounds, But Indianapolis Stays Hot
Division Leader: Indianapolis Colts (7-3)
What a difference a week can make.
Following their Week 10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee went on the road and beat the Ravens in overtime. Just as the Colts seem to have the Titans’ number, so too do the Titans have the Ravens. It wasn’t always pretty and Tennessee benefited from some unforced Baltimore errors, but they seemed to re-establish their identity in this one. At their best when Derrick Henry is rolling, the bruising running back rushed for 133 yards on 28 carries, including a 29-yard rushing touchdown to win the game in overtime.
I’m sure Tennessee, who won in the early window, got showered and sat down ready to watch Indianapolis lose to Green Bay. The Packers were favored, and a Colts loss would have put the Titans atop the division.
Rodrigo Blankenship said think again.
The Colts managed to claw their way back from a 21-7 first-half deficit to eventually force overtime. There, their kicker delivered the game-winner in what turned out to be one of the more surprising outcomes of the week. The Colts won the same way they’ve won all season; on the back of their defense who ultimately forced an overtime fumble which led to the game-winning field goal just four plays later.
The Colts and Titans will now face-off this coming Sunday. That game will decide who sits atop the division.
AFC West – No Sweep for Las Vegas
Division Leader: Kansas City Chiefs (9-1)
Wasn’t it crazy how no one on the Las Vegas sideline thought it was over?
Even after a go-ahead touchdown with 1:43 left in the 4th quarter gave the Raiders a three-point lead, everyone seemed to know what was coming. I personally expected a modicum of defense from Las Vegas, which would have helped force Kansas City to settle for the game-tying field goal. It seems, however, Patrick Mahomes heard my thoughts and internalized them the Michael Jordan way.
Look, it was always unlikely the Raiders would sweep the Chiefs. A great storyline? Absolutely. But a probable storyline? Have you met Patrick Mahomes? The Raiders, for their part, played a solid game and did nothing to hurt their standing as a solid playoff contender.
But this is the Chief’s division. It’s their conference. Until we see it from someone else, it’s their league.
NFC East – Dallas Isn’t Good, and It Doesn’t Matter
Division Leader: Philadelphia Eagles (3-6-1)
What do you say about the Dallas Cowboys?
Entering the game at 2-7, Andy Dalton returned to lead the Cowboys to a 31-28 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Now at 3-7 with a (holds back vomit) legitimate chance at winning the division, I guess we have to start talking about ‘aMeRicA’s TEaM’ again.
Entering the season, Dalton was considered one of the best, if not the best, backup quarterbacks in the NFL. Returning from his two-game absence due to injury, he completed 22-32 passes for 203 yards and 3 touchdowns. Led by 2020’s best Where’s Waldo cosplay Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas run game racked up 175 yards and a touchdown. Most surprisingly, the Cowboys scored 30+ points for the first time since Dak Prescott’s injury.
Dallas is still bad. They are still very, very bad. Their defense gave up 300+ yards and three touchdowns to Kirk Cousins. And before you respond that Cousins is not terrible and is actually capable of putting up big numbers, I would ask that you please don’t. But it doesn’t matter that they’re bad. It’s the NFC East. It’s 2020. Nothing matters. There will be an NFC East representative in the playoffs this season. They’re going to host a home game! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the existence of this division in the year of our lord 2020 feels like a hostile, personal affront and I strongly disapprove.
Side note: the craziest part of this week? Since the Giants had their bye and the Washington Football team won their game, the division won more games than they lost this week. Philadelphia was the lone loser. The last time this happened? Week 15 of the 2019-20 season.
NFC North – Everyone Loses
Division Leader: Green Bay Packers (7-3)
Hey Green Bay, what gives?
You just let Philip Rivers and the Colts beat you a week after you narrowly squeaked past the Jaguars. It’s clear this defense is shakier than a post-Thanksgiving belly, but the offense has become the football equivalent of the home run or strikeout player in the MLB. The Green Bay Packers are now Aaron Judge.
Perhaps coming out of last season, Green Bay realized the same run-heavy formula wasn’t going to win them a championship. Maybe they decided they needed to put the ball in Aaron Rodgers‘ hands. That’s fine! But there’s a difference between tweaks to your game-plan and complete overcorrections. Aaron Jones has played in eight games this season. In games where he gets more than 10 rushing attempts, the Packers are 6-0. In games where he gets 10 or fewer? They’re 0-2, including Sunday’s loss to the Colts. That’s not the whole ball of wax and it would be an over-simplification to say it was. But you have to start somewhere. Maybe putting the ball in the hands of one of your best offensive playmakers just a few more times per game is a good place
Once again, the Packers benefit from leading a weak division. This week’s loss didn’t cost them any crucial standing. But as we move into December and January, that will no longer be a luxury they can afford.
The Bears had their bye this week, but all three active teams in the division lost. If you’re a fan of any of them, you did too.
NFC South – Stay Calm, Tampa Bay
Division Leader: New Orleans Saints (8-2)
It certainly wasn’t how Tampa Bay planned it.
Tom Brady struggled to sustain drives in what was an offensive slog for the Buccaneers throughout their Monday loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The 43-year-old quarterback threw two interceptions on the night, including what would be the game-sealing turnover with 1:57 left in the 4th quarter with his team trailing 27-24.
The numbers back-up what we all saw.
Tampa was 7-14 on 3rd down, generating only 251 yards of total offense on the night. None of their vaunted receivers eclipsed 60 yards. No rusher surpassed 25 yards. In what was slated to be a matchup of high-octane offense and stout defense, only one side lived up to the billing. Still, in a game where the Buccaneers struggled with mistakes and inefficiency, they had a chance to win in the 4th quarter.
The challenges Tampa Bay faced last night have been recurring throughout the season. Mike Evans hasn’t played like a reigning Pro Bowl receiver. The run game has been inconsistent. Brady has made unforced errors. But the Buccaneers’ defense, when healthy, is among the best in the league. Rob Gronkowski and his back have somehow found the fountain of youth. Chris Godwin is now back in the lineup and trying his hand at flying.
If the same problems persist in their remaining five games, it will be time to panic in Tampa Bay. But Week 12 brings a home matchup with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. This is a week-to-week league, and Tom Brady and the Buccaneers will have a chance to shift the narrative in short order.
NFC West – Watch Out For the Rams
Division Leader: Seattle Seahawks (7-3)
Since their Week 9 bye, the Rams seem like a team with an identity.
Having looked to the defense to carry the load for much of the season, last night’s matchup with Tampa Bay showed how dangerous the Rams offense can be if they protect Jared Goff in the pocket. Despite throwing two interceptions, Goff wasn’t sacked on the night. That kind of protection helped him on his way to throwing for 376 yards and three touchdowns. Against a solid Tampa Bay secondary, receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods combined for 275 yards, and Woods hauled in a touchdown of his own.
Now with back-to-back wins over two of the best teams in the conference, the Rams are just a half-game behind the Seahawks in the division and poised for a playoff run.
If their four-turnover Week 8 loss to the Dolphins told us anything, it’s that the Rams can lose to anyone who can get consistent pressure on Goff. If their back-to-back wins over Seattle and Tampa Bay taught us anything, it’s that they deserve to be discussed as one of the best teams in the NFC.