The Steelers are no longer undefeated, the Jets make the wrong kind of history, and the Seahawks’ age-old problems return. Here are your NFL Week 13 Divisional Takeaways.
AFC East – Come Right Up and Beat the Jets
Division Leader: Buffalo Bills (9-3)
Jets fans rejoice, you remain winless.
It didn’t seem like it was going to stay that way even up until the end. Scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 5:34 left in the game, and then stopping the Raiders in the red-zone with 1:37 remaining, it really seemed like this would be win number one for the Jets. But they couldn’t get that last first down to seal it, and instead they gave the Raiders the ball back with 25 seconds left in the game. The rest will live forever in New York Jets lore.
Hard as it is to believe, by going 0-16 this season, the Jets will actually be doing themselves a huge favor. Winning a few random games won’t help them get anywhere near the playoffs. By remaining the worst team in the league, they retain their spot atop the 2021 draft board. Tank for Trevor, or whatever the slogan is this year.
But did it have to happen like this? Stripping the fanbase of whatever pride was still somehow stuck on the windshield?
The Jets made an unprecedented play call to end their game vs the Raiders— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 6, 2020
There were 252 pass plays meeting this criteria the last 15 seasons:
•Final 15 seconds
•Down 4-8 points
•40+ yards to the end zone
They were the 1st defense to send 6+ pass rushers in ^ situation pic.twitter.com/mrk61E46ET
I understand you have to commit.
You have to be all in. If you’re going to tank, you can’t leave room for interpretation. But this crosses the line in a pretty significant way. It also ignores the uncertainty which defines the sport above all else. What if Trevor Lawrence gets hurt? Or if he’s a bust? What if he follows the same path paved by Eli Manning and forces his way onto a new team? Maybe things will work out perfectly. Maybe years from now, Jets fans will look back at this game and chuckle, seeing it as the defining moment that brought them their franchise quarterback.
If you’re the Jets organization, you’d better hope so. Because sports fans, particularly in New York and New Jersey, have long memories. If you make them suffer through an 0-16 season in the midst of a pandemic, and the lasting moment from that season is gift-wrapping your best shot at a win to another team? It’s hard to imagine how that will be received.
The word unforgivable comes to mind.
AFC North – The Pretenders
Division Leader: Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1)
Just like that, the ‘72 Dolphins pop their champagne.
Following the Steelers’ 23-17 loss to the Washington Football Team on Monday night, no team in the league remains unbeaten. As someone who has struggled to hop on the Pittsburgh bandwagon this year, I never expected them to finish the regular season undefeated. They still play the Bills, Colts, and Browns, all currently playoff teams, and it seemed likely one of those teams would hand Pittsburgh their first loss. But Washington?
Just last week against Baltimore, we saw how Pittsburgh’s lack of an effective run-game could be a major liability, particularly when their receivers make mistakes. It was surprising, though, that it wasn’t their offense that cost them in their matchup with Washington, but rather their vaunted defense. For much of the game, Alex Smith was able to hit dump-off passes and crossing routes seemingly at will. Pittsburgh remains the conference’s top seed by virtue of their tie-breaker with 11-1 Kansas City, but declarations of them being the best team in the league have now given way to questions.
With their loss to Washington paired with what we saw in Tennessee, are they even the best team in their division?
The Browns 41-35 win over the Titans was impressive, and it also wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. Up 38-7 at the end of the first half, they looked as dominant as any team in the league right now. They shouldn’t have let Tennessee sniff a comeback, but now 9-3 and looking as though they’ve hit their stride, their looming Week 17 matchup with the Steelers is getting more exciting each week.
Cleveland football is back, and I for one cannot wait to see how they blow it this time.
AFC South – The Wildcards
Division Leader: Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
Let’s take a look at the Colts and Titans trying to decide who will win the division.
With the Colts narrowly beating the Texans on Sunday and the Titans getting roughed up in their loss to the Browns, both teams now sit at 8-4. By virtue of the tie-breakers, Indianapolis currently leads the division, but with four games left to play, we’re sure to see this flip at least a few more times. Even as it currently stands, though, each team has a spot in the playoffs, with the only difference being their respective seed. Seeding will work itself out in the coming weeks. Looking forward, however, the question I’m most curious about when it comes to these two teams is simple.
Who fares better in the playoffs?
The Colts are the better team on defense and special teams, but their 45-26 Week 12 loss to the Titans showed they’re nowhere near perfect on those fronts. The Titans are stronger on offense and have the luxury of Derrick Henry on their roster, but their 41-35 loss to the Browns on Sunday, which saw Henry run for just 60 yards and the offense as a whole score just 7 points in the first half, clearly has its vulnerabilities as well. In many ways, the division rivals mirror each other in their capacity for both dominance and inferiority. It’s becoming clear that should they both make the playoffs, what matters most will be which version of these teams shows up.
Outside of the Chiefs, I can see scenarios where they beat whoever they play. I can just as easily see them being eliminated in the first round.
AFC West – Raiders of the Lost Credibility
Division Leader: Kansas City Chiefs (11-1)
Has a win ever looked worse?
The Raiders’ narrow 31-28 win over the Jets on Sunday was ugly. It took the Jets’ defensive backs deciding a third down with under 15 seconds remaining in the game was the perfect time for a mannequin challenge to make it happen for Las Vegas. At 7-5, they’re just barely outside of the playoff picture. If they beat the 8-4 Colts in Week 14, they may find themselves a step closer to securing the final wild-card spot.
Am I supposed to care about that?
Right now, they don’t deserve serious consideration as playoff contenders. Were they without their star running back in Josh Jacobs? Yes.
But the Las Vegas running backs who filled in for him didn’t surrender 28 points to Sam Darnold and the Jets, did they? Would Josh Jacobs have prevented the Jets from rushing for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns? This narrow win combined with their embarrassing 43-6 loss to the Falcons last week completely shifted the perception of this team.
A few weeks ago Las Vegas looked like a playoff contender. Not a Super Bowl threat, but maybe a team who could upset a higher-ranked squad looking past them. Now they look like a team who may sneak their way into the playoffs, but who won’t incite any fear. They went from dangerous to harmless. They had their win over Kansas City, and they took them to the brink in their second matchup. At the time those felt like statements of arrival; a message to the division and the league that maybe the Raiders were only a piece or two away from title contention.
Now those two games seem like the personification of the broken clock. Functional, no; just rarely bound to be correct by virtue of circumstance.
NFC East – Glory Be Thy Name
Division Leader: New York Giants (5-7)
Let me first point out that I’ve been this division’s fiercest defender. While other people mocked it and pondered whether we should eliminate its teams from the league entirely, it was I who said nay.
OK maybe that’s not exactly how it went.
This was, though, the division’s best week of the season. By far. First, it was the Giants heading westward to Seattle with backup quarterback Colt McCoy to beat the Seahawks in a 17-12 upset. Two points for the Seahawks came via a blocked punt resulting in a safety, so the Giants’ defense actually managed to hold Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense to a paltry 10 points. The Giants have now won four games in a row and sit atop the division at 5-7.
The second feather in the division’s proverbial cap came in the form of the Washington Football Team’s Monday night upset win over the previously undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers.
This one was a true shocker.
A seriously wild win for Washington.
An all-time puzzler in Pittsburgh.
A real WTF moment for the WFT.
A quick note: this game was in the bizarre 2 pm PST/5 pm EST early Monday night time slot, and I’m sure most people missed the opening of the broadcast where they actually tried to sell this as a matchup of two Comeback Player of the Year candidates in Ben Roethlisberger and Alex Smith. We were to believe that there was an argument for whether Roethlisberger, who hurt his elbow last year and had to miss the rest of the season, has had as impressive a comeback as Smith, who broke his leg so severely and gruesomely two seasons ago that they wondered whether he would lose his leg OR DIE.
Never change, NFL media. Never change.
The game itself was impressive. Putting aside what we’ve already discussed with regard to the implications for Pittsburgh, there’s reason for optimism in Washington. Trump is leaving! Sorry, muscle memory. I am in fact talking about the football team. Their offense with Smith has found ways to move the ball, sure, but it’s their defense that will make them a contender for years to come. It’s their fast, tough front-seven. Perhaps most of all, it’s their generational talent in Chase Young.
Nevertheless, hats off to Washington and New York. That was impressive.
NFC North – Detroit’s Post-Breakup Revenge Tour
Division Leader: Green Bay Packers (9-3)
Matt Patricia got fired and that Lion’s mane just looks… better. Doesn’t it?
The Lions 34-30 win over the Bears on Sunday had one of the more exciting endings of the day. Detroit managed to score 14 points in the final two and a half minutes of the 4th quarter, taking advantage of the most galaxy-brained coaching decisions Chicago could have made.
The Bears are obviously pathetic and we needn’t dive too deep on that, but let’s give the Lions their moment. Now 5-7 in the bizarre NFC, they’re actually on the playoff bubble with a not so crazy path to a wild card spot. Is that likely? Not at all. Their remaining four opponents are all currently playoff teams. But maybe the ousting of their former head coach sparked something unexpected.
I don’t know what it is about this league. Why does the firing of a coach, whether unliked or unsuccessful, almost always lead to the team winning the following week? Just this season we’ve seen it with every team that has axed their head coach; in Atlanta and Houston, and now in Detroit.
Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here. Maybe the takeaway should be to end the toxic relationship a bit sooner. Perhaps it will require some self-reflection and a few tough questions. Are you actually the problem in the relationship? Think about that, tough as it may be to swallow.
Do the hard work. Take stock of your life. Finally, raise your hand if you’re the issue.
NFC South – The Poor Falcons
Division Leader: New Orleans Saints (10-2)
The Falcons might be perplexing if they weren’t so sad.
With games like their Week 12, 43-6 beatdown win over the Raiders, you think they’ve caught momentum. Then they face off against New Orleans and when they get to the 4th quarter, you truly start to believe their luck has shifted. With under 10 seconds left and one last chance to win, you catch yourself holding your breath as their final prayer soars to the endzone. And of course, it falls incomplete.
This has been the story of Atlanta’s season.
Now 4-8, five of their eight losses, including their Week 13 loss to the Saints, have been by seven points or fewer. Two have been by a single point. San Fransisco and Baltimore are in a two-man race for bad luck team of the year; injuries to key players, COVID-19 outbreaks, and in San Fransisco’s case, literally being forced from their home stadium, keep them in a league of their own. But those are overarching, season-long trends of bad luck.
If we’re talking about a per-game basis, Atlanta is the favorite for this season’s ‘Wile E. Coyote Bad Luck’ award, and their only competition is the 3-9 Chargers. Of the Chargers’ nine losses, seven have been one-possession games. One was by a single point. Two have been in overtime. Who do the Chargers play in Week 14?
Do we call it the ‘Bad Luck Bowl’ or ‘Super Sad Sunday?’ I want to be positive and think about how one of these teams will leave victorious, giving them a brief respite from the toilet bowl spiral that has been their season. But I can’t. I can’t because of one single thought that keeps echoing in my mind.
This game is 100% ending in a tie.
NFC West – A Seattle Stinker
Division Leader: Los Angeles Rams (8-4)
Let’s start by acknowledging the Rams.
Coming off a tough Week 12 loss to the 49ers and facing a hungry Cardinals team who was likewise trying to rebound from a difficult loss to the Patriots, Los Angeles was impressive. Their 38-28 win on Sunday helped place them atop the division, but that wasn’t all it took.
They got a little help from Seattle.
While Seattle’s 17-12 home loss to the Giants on Sunday may have shocked the football world and cast doubt on their legitimacy, you have to figure Pete Carroll and the team aren’t panicking. Sure, it was a home loss to an inferior team that they could have and should have won. But it wasn’t a playoff loss, and they’ll have ample opportunity in their final four games to win the division title. The loss isn’t the main concern, nor is the division.
It’s how they lost.
- Inconsistent run-game: Seattle running backs rushed 15 times for 66 yards. 4.4 yards per rush is not alarming, but their running backs broke just 2 tackles and averaged less than 1.5 yards after contact.
- Too much pressure on Wilson: Russell Wilson was sacked five times and pressured on nearly a third of his drop-backs. His lone interception bounced off his receiver’s hands, so you can’t pin that on pressure. But his first-half lost fumble was the result of an unblocked rusher. His final, futile fourth and 18 heave was set up by a third down sack as well.
- Inability to get necessary stops on defense: Facing a third down with 5:24 remaining in the game, the Giants converted a first down pass to extend their drive. The Seahawks’ failure to make that stop meant getting the ball back with less than two minutes rather than over four minutes.
It seems like another universe thinking back to Seattle’s Week 5 win over Minnesota. In that universe, Russell Wilson was on his way to an MVP campaign and the team was 5-0 entering their bye. With a 3-4 record since that point, I understand it’s tempting to wonder how it turned so dramatically.
The answer, though, isn’t too complicated.