Blowout wins, last-second losses, and the inescapable realities of COVID-19. Here are the top NFL Week 12 Divisional Takeaways.

AFC East – Patriots in Purgatory

Division Leader: Buffalo Bills (8-3)

I caught myself in a cycle of destructive thinking late Sunday afternoon. My beloved Patriots had just beat the Cardinals on a last-second field-goal and were sitting at 5-6. Somehow, they weren’t completely eliminated from playoff contention. I started going over it in my head and I couldn’t stop.

NFL Week 12 Divisional Takeaways

They lost by a single yard in week two versus the Seahawks. Week six was a narrow loss to the putrid Broncos in Cam Newton’s first game back following his COVID-19 diagnosis. In week eight, they lost to the Bills by three points after a red-zone fumble by Newton with under two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Just last week, coming off an upset victory over the Ravens, they lost to the Texans on the road by seven points but had a chance late in the game to win that one, too. It dawned on me. This team, warts and all, could be 9-2 had they just won those games. That would put them atop the division, and just a game away from a playoff bye. Then it dawned on me.

They could also be 2-9.

Their three-point win against the Jets, their fluke win over the Ravens in a monsoon, and this week 12 victory over the Cardinals all could have been, and perhaps should have been losses for the Patriots. The logic goes both ways. If everything went right? They’d be awesome! If everything went wrong? They’re in the mix for the first pick in the draft!

This isn’t your normal Patriots team and we’ve known that for some time. They’re not great. They’re not terrible. They beat teams they should lose to and lose to teams they should beat. If you have Patriots purgatory on your 2020 NFL bingo card, it’s safe to punch it.

AFC North – Baltimore On Their Last Legs

Division Leader: Pittsburgh Steelers (11-0)

I’m aware there are five weeks left in the season. I don’t care. It’s almost a done deal that the Ravens are this year’s bad luck team.

There have been retirements and injuries, and key players underperforming their previous season’s productivity. Those are the normal issues teams face. Then came their COVID-19 outbreak. Their starting quarterback, top two running backs, and a slew of other players and personnel tested positive early last week. In total, the Ravens had 20 players on their Reserve/COVID-19 list entering the week, forcing their Thanksgiving matchup with the Steelers to be rescheduled for Sunday.

And then to Tuesday. OK fine, Wednesday. The NFL treated this game like we as a society treat daylight savings time. Should this be happening? Probably not. Are we just going to ignore all the reasons it’s likely doing more harm than good and carry on?

Robert Griffin III played well. The Baltimore defense was strong. It wasn’t enough.

Now 6-5, it’s time to panic. Sure, their remaining schedule is soft. Aside from a week 14 matchup with the Browns (8-3), no team they face currently has more than four wins. But even if they win-out and end the season at 11-5, they’re going to need some help from the teams ahead of them. There’s some reason for optimism having competed well against the league’s lone remaining undefeated team while missing key players, but the time for symbolic victories is over. John Harbaugh and the Ravens need to start playing like a team on the brink of collapse.

Because that’s exactly what they are.

AFC South – How Dangerous is Tennessee?

Division Leader: Tennessee Titans (8-3)

The sea-saw continues.

Following their 45-26 victory over the Colts on Sunday, the Titans now sit alone atop their division. Derrick Henry was phenomenal, rushing 27 times for 178 yards and 3 touchdowns. No running back is better suited for cold, late-season football than the former Heisman Trophy winner. Yet despite the edge Henry brings them, Tennessee’s playoff potential has long been dependent on the same criteria as it is for the rest of the league: quarterback play and defense.

Ryan Tannehill could surprise us all. Look to Nick Foles and the 2018 Eagles if you’re doubting the capacity for an average quarterback to get hot and help an above-average team to a championship. But the Titans are an AFC team, and to even get to the Super Bowl they will likely need to beat the Chiefs. That means their defense, in the bottom half of the league by most metrics, would need to slow the best offense in the NFL to give them a fighting chance. Maybe Malcolm Butler can tap into his 2014 magic and shut down Tyreek Hill for a full game. Maybe Mike Vrabel can draw up a plan that will stifle Travis Kelce. Is it possible? Maybe. Just Maybe.

They haven’t shown the capacity to be a shutdown defense, and perhaps it’s an unfair litmus test to say a team’s only path to a Super Bowl in the AFC is in their ability to shut down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. But can they slow down Kansas City enough to give Derrick Henry a shot at wearing down the defense? Is it possible for their offense, led by Tannehill, to go toe to toe with Kansas City?

Maybe. Just maybe.

AFC West – A Good Old Fashioned Vegas Hangover

Division Leader: Kansas City Chiefs (10-1)

That was bad!

Coming into week 12, the Raiders were in what I considered the perfect position for this season. A week removed from a narrow loss to the Chiefs, it was clear they were building towards something for the future. They were likely headed to the playoffs. Were they Super Bowl contenders? No. But they beat the defending champion Chiefs once and brought them to the brink a second time. All they had to do this season was prove they could go 16 games without laying a complete egg in one of them.

On Sunday, against the Falcons, they lost 43-6.

NFL Week 12 Divisional Takeaways

The Falcons didn’t have Julio Jones or Todd Gurley. The Falcons are still, last I checked, the Falcons. This Falcons team beat the Raiders by 37 points and held them without a touchdown on the day.

Look, as I said before, the Raiders weren’t winning it all this year. But following their week 12 stink fest they’re in legitimate jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Currently one game behind both the Colts and the Dolphins in the Wild Card race, they have matchups with both teams in the final five weeks of the season. The outcome of those matchups will be significant in shaping the final playoff picture, but had they just taken care of business against a bad Atlanta team, the upcoming games wouldn’t loom so large.

Choose one corny Las Vegas inspired closing sentence below:

  • For Jon Gruden and the Raiders, they’ll have to play the hand they were dealt.
  • For the Las Vegas Raiders, they now have to hope that what happened in Atlanta, stays in Atlanta.
  • With three of their remaining five games at home, the Raiders are hoping sin city can be win city.

NFC East – Sure, Whatever.

Division Leader: New York Giants (4-7)

Dallas: bad. Washington: bad. Philadelphia: bad. New York: bad, but in first place.

Ok fine, you’re really going to make me do this again. Seeing as Thanksgiving was just last week, I’m trying to be more positive. In this division, the best storyline of the season is by far the return of Alex Smith.

But the juiciest storyline in the division is the potential for a new starter in Philadelphia. Having only played a few snaps as a change of pace option, it appears Jalen Hurts may be the sole beneficiary of this Carson Wentz season. The ramifications of the former Heisman Trophy finalist and national champion being named the starter would almost be too much to comprehend. Can you imagine sports talk radio in Philadelphia? I’ll be concerned for the city if this actually happens. You’d have the Wentz haters, Doug Pedersen hating Wentz defenders, and Hurts supporters quite literally at each other’s throats. And wait. Who’s that?!

NFL Week 12 Divisional Takeaways
(Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images)

It’s the Nick Foles lovers from the top rope! This is mayhem!

The alternative to making a change is more of what we saw on Monday night. Down 23-9 with 21 seconds left in the game and absolutely no chance to win? Perfect time for Wentz to throw a 33-yard touchdown and for the team to then convert a two-point conversion. Why go for the two-point conversion, you ask? I don’t know, but it turned an eight-point Seattle lead into a six-point Seattle win, and with a -6.5 Seattle betting line, you certainly can’t say it was meaningless. Just ask the bettor who lost $500,000 on that one play.

You know it’s a rough season when even scoring points is quite literally ruining lives. Hand the keys to Hurts and let’s get weird.

NFC North – Self-Destruction in Chicago

Division Leader: Green Bay Packers (8-3)

We need to discuss the Bears.

Chicago started the season 5-1. They beat Tampa Bay in week five. Just as the Chargers always find ways to lose games they should win, the Bears seemed primed to be the yin to Los Angeles’ yang, winning games they had no business winning.

Then gravity took over.

Following their week 12, 45-21 loss to the Packers, the Bears have no lost their last five contests while being outscored 134-88. The early season trendy choice for potential coach of the year honors, Matt Nagy has oscillated between Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles at quarterback seemingly at random. For a team whose identity is its defense, all the Bears need to be competitive is someone under center who doesn’t turn the ball over. That’s it. Through 11 games, Chicago’s quarterbacks have combined for 13 interceptions.

(Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

We’re reminded every week that the Bears chose Trubisky over the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Maybe it borders on unfair; no one knew what Patrick Mahomes would become and there was broad skepticism towards Watson’s consistency. But for a team who needs so little from their quarterback in order to succeed, it’s impossible not to look around the league at all the players who could have helped make Chicago a contender.

Maybe someday, Chicago. Maybe someday.

NFC South – The New Orleans Identity Crisis

Division Leader: New Orleans Saints (9-2)

I know I shouldn’t read too far into this one.

New Orleans’ Sunday victory over the quarterback-less Broncos isn’t the type of matchup you should scrutinize too heavily. On the road in Denver, at altitude, I wasn’t expecting the Saints offense to score 35+ points.

I was, however, expecting to see more.

Without Drew Brees, most figured Jameis Winston would be the obvious choice to fill the role at quarterback. When Sean Payton made it clear Taysom Hill would be the starter, most of us trusted he knew something we didn’t. Maybe Hill would unlock the offense in a unique way. He’s ran for over 40 yards and 2 touchdowns in each of the games he has started, but he has yet to throw for a touchdown and his passing yardage has been underwhelming. With Brees, Alvin Kamara hadn’t notched fewer than five receptions in any game this season. These past two weeks with Hill, Kamara has only one catch for negative yardage.

This is concerning, and I say that first and foremost as someone who owns fantasy stock in Alvin Kamara.

I’m unsure what the ceiling is for this version of the Saints offense. Maybe their week 13 matchup against the Falcons will see Hill throw for 300+ yards and relieve all doubt, but that seems unlikely. The question now is whether New Orleans can keep things afloat as one of the top seeds in the conference. If they can do that and enjoy a bye in the playoffs, maybe they won’t have to worry about winning a playoff game without their franchise quarterback.

But if things get bumpy and they’re forced into starting Hill in a division round game against, say, one of the NFC West teams? Now that would be interesting.

NFC West – Everyone Helps Seattle

Division Leader: Seattle Seahawks (8-3)

We sure know what Seattle was thankful for this weekend.

Entering the week tied in the standings with the Rams and just one game up on the Cardinals, both teams suffered upset losses placing Seattle alone atop the division. For Arizona, their 20-17 loss to the Patriots was a stinger. New England managed just 179 total yards on the day. A missed goal-line scoring opportunity to end the first half loomed large, but it was the play of Kyler Murray that should give the Cardinals pause. He hasn’t looked like the early-season MVP contender since he injured his shoulder in their week 11 loss to the Seahawks.

More shocking was the Rams loss. Los Angeles fell to the now homeless 49ers 23-20 in one of the surprise games of the week. Left for dead following a slew of injuries to key players, San Fransisco capitalized on a very poor Jared Goff performance (three turnovers, no touchdowns), and managed to put themselves back in position for a potential Wild Card spot.

As we seem to be reminded each week, narratives shift fast in this league. What just last week seemed like the overwhelming choice for the best division in football, potentially sending three teams to the playoffs, now appears as stable as a folding table in Buffalo.

Follow me @jordan_kirsch on Twitter and check out the Belly Up Football page for all the latest from the gridiron.

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Jordan A. Kirsch

NYC by way of PDX - Writing about all things Football, Basketball, and Fantasy Sports.

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