Tis the season for major rankings shake ups. Hot streaks were snapped for the Dolphins and Vikings. Playoff hopes took a hit for the Patriots and Eagles. Meanwhile, the Ravens continue to struggle with an identity crisis as their postseason dreams fade and the Lions forgot how to score heading into Thanksgiving.
Needless to say, it is hard to feel quite as excited about the Thanksgiving Day slate of games as we usually would given the rising cases of the coronavirus across the country. That means this year we will be faced with much smaller gatherings, forced to see loved ones through computer screens and likely missing out on many of our usual traditions.
It has been a hard year for all of us, so I just want to take a chance to say thank you to everyone who reads this. It is a very useful outlet for me to feel productive in this ridiculous time. It is also a distraction from all of the real world issues we all face on a daily basis. I know that is a dangerous thing to ignore the social injustice and public health crisis going on around us, but I also know it is healthy to find a release that allows you to return to those much more serious and pressing issues with a renewed sense of energy.
So this holiday season, more than ever, I am thankful for my health. I am thankful for my family and friends who continue to support me and keep me sane. And, as always, I am thankful for football.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers: 10-0 (Last Week: 1)
Won 27-3 at Jacksonville
The target on Pittsburgh’s back continues to grow. Having won 10 straight, the Steelers are winning games in different ways each week. Chase Claypool, Benny Snell Jr. and Eric Ebron each found the end zone. Defensively, Pittsburgh bent, but never broke. Four interceptions of Jake Luton made life very easy on the offense and kept the Jaguars out of the end zone. The intensity will escalate quickly with a desperate Ravens team visiting on Thanksgiving night. The Steelers could just about wrap up the division with a win.
2. Kansas City Chiefs: 9-1 (Last Week: 2)
Won 35-31 at Las Vegas
There is clearly something tricky for the Chiefs when it comes to facing the Raiders. Patrick Mahomes struggled in the first half, throwing an interception just before halftime. Kansas City’s offense found its footing in the second half, but the defense never seemed to get on track. Derek Carr tore up the secondary for three touchdowns and 8.9 yards per attempt. The Chiefs will be happy to move on with a win and avenge their one loss off the season, but this is not a team that Kansas City will want to see a third time.
3. New Orleans Saints: 8-2 (Last Week: 4)
Won 24-9 vs. Atlanta
Who needs Drew Brees? Apparently not Sean Payton, who picked up his sixth win over the past two years while starting a backup quarterback. While it wasn’t always pretty, Taysom Hill also validated Payton’s faith in him. While he was most impactful as a runner, Hill was highly effective as a passer. Completing 18-of-23 passes for 10.1 yards per attempt is more than good enough for the Saints to win games. It helped that the defense stepped up big time, intercepting Matt Ryan twice and limiting the Falcons to just 52 yards rushing. New Orleans also sacked Ryan eight times as Atlanta never reached the end zone. It might be a bit of an unconventional approach, but the Saints are still going to be a very tough team to beat.
4. Green Bay Packers: 7-3 (Last Week: 3)
Lost 34-31 at Indianapolis
Green Bay led 28-14 at halftime, then proceeded to score just three points between the second half and overtime. Turnovers killed the Packers and most were self inflicted. A botched snap on the first drive cost Green Bay points. Aaron Rodgers got greedy and forced a pass to Davante Adams that was intercepted. Indy’s field goal to take the lead was set up by a Packers fumble on the kickoff return. Then of course, Marquez Valdes-Scantling coughed it up on the second play of overtime to set up the Colts’ winning field goal. Sloppy mistakes cost the team a chance at a road win against one of the AFC’s top teams. Now, the Packers are looking up at the Saints and Seahawks in the standings.
5. Buffalo Bills: 7-3 (Last Week: 8)
Buffalo got a week off to put the heartbreak of last week’s loss behind them. That was made significantly easier by watching the Cardinals lose their next game. The Bills also now enjoy a full-game lead in the division thanks to a loss by the Dolphins and the Patriots shrink further into the background after they lost as well. In a season that seems to lack too many dominant teams, I don’t know that Buffalo is going to fill the void, but it sure has an opportunity it can take advantage of.
6. Los Angeles Rams: 7-3 (Last Week: 14)
Won 27-24 at Tampa Bay
Los Angeles is flying under the radar, but at 7-3, the Rams lead the NFC West and hold the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff race. Jared Goff is spreading the ball around and getting it out quickly. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods went off on the Buccaneers secondary. This offense still has the tendency to disappear too often, but the top-end potential of this team is a Super Bowl champion. If this defense continues to play at this high of a level, the Rams are going to be very tough to knock out in the postseason.
7. Seattle Seahawks: 7-3 (Last Week: 11)
Won 28-21 vs. Arizona
For the first time all season, Seattle’s defense showed up to play. The addition of Carlos Dunlap paid some major dividends on Thursday night, coming up with the game-winning sack on Kyler Murray. Holding the Cardinals to just 21 points is actually a pretty big accomplishment. Without question, the Seahawks’ defense is still a weakness for this team. Seattle needs a performance like that to occur a bit more frequently to really look the part of a complete team.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 7-4 (Last Week: 5)
Lost 27-24 vs. Los Angeles
Another primetime game and another failed test for the Buccaneers against a playoff contender. Tom Brady threw a pair of interceptions, including one on Tampa Bay’s final drive of the game trailing by three. He got very little help from his running game. The Bucs rushed for just 42 yards and 2.3 yards per carry as everything fell on Brady to create down the stretch. Tampa’s run defense did it’s job almost before hitting the field. Los Angeles kept throwing the ball, but it was a masterclass in route running and offensive scheming. This is a close loss to a good team, but those will end your season in January.
9. Indianapolis Colts: 7-3 (Last Week: 12)
Won 34-31 vs. Green Bay
Sunday was a statement win for the Colts. The Titans had been the only decent team Indianapolis had beaten all season up to this point. Losses to the Ravens, Browns and Jaguars definitely made it hard to trust the Colts as well. The defense did catch a few breaks, but making opportunistic plays is crucial to winning football games. Still, it is unlikely any of Indy’s opponents will commit four turnovers again any time soon. There was an air of good fortune surrounding this win, but Indy needs to take the lucky break and build momentum from it heading into the home stretch of what looks to be a very tight divisional race.
10. Miami Dolphins: 6-4 (Last Week: 6)
Lost 20-13 at Denver
Well, that certainly took the wind out of Miami’s sails. Riding high on a five-game win streak, the Dolphins were bullied by a much more physical Broncos team. Tua Tagovailoa was sacked six times and eventually benched. He finished with just 83 yards passing. The Dolphins defense made just enough big plays to give Ryan Fitzpatrick a chance, but he threw a game-ending interception in the end zone on Miami’s final drive. To be that close is impressive given how thoroughly the ‘Fins were outplayed. Denver ran for 189 yards at 5.7 yards per carry and Drew Lock was averaging nine yards per attempt. It was a humbling reality check for Brian Flores’ squad.
11. Arizona Cardinals: 6-4 (Last Week: 7)
Lost 28-21 at Seattle
It was a bit of an off week for the Cardinals. Perhaps, Arizona had a bit of a letdown following an emotional win the week before. DeAndre Hopkins hauled in that ridiculous Hail Mary. Kyler Murray had a muted performance by his standards. The Cardinals entered Week 11 as the league’s top rushing team. Arizona finished with just 57 yards, more than 100 yards below its season average. This team is still on the rise, but the Cardinals took a major hit in the division standings.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: 6-4 (Last Week: 13)
Lost 35-31 vs. Kansas City
No team has been able to challenge the Chiefs this year. No team other than the Raiders that is (and maybe the Panthers, weirdly enough.) Las Vegas took Kansas City to the wire, making Patrick Mahomes look mortal doing so. Derek Carr played nearly flawless. The interception on Vegas’ final drive put a damper on his outing, but the Raiders were in a pretty bleak situation before that play ever occurred. If nothing else, it shows that the biggest threat to the Chiefs returning to the Super Bowl might just be Jon Gruden’s squad.
13. Tennessee Titans: 7-3 (Last Week: 14)
Won 30-24 at Baltimore
While maybe not as impressive a win as it would have seemed a few weeks ago, Tennessee bounced back nicely against Baltimore. Ryan Tannehill looked sharp and A.J. Brown looked damn near unstoppable at times. If that wasn’t good enough, Derrick Henry pulled off some late-game magic and Corey Davis went over 100 yards receiving again. The most impressive performance of the day though came from the Titans’ defense. Holding the Ravens to 3.9 yards per carry and containing Lamar Jackson was crucial. This was around the time last year that everything seemed to click for the Titans, so if this team can rediscover some of its 2019 magic, look out.
14. Baltimore Ravens: 6-4 (Last Week: 9)
Lost 30-24 vs. Tennessee
What is wrong with the Ravens? The offense that dominated every team it faced a year ago looks lost. Lamar Jackson has dropped off a cliff. Baltimore’s offense is struggling to get receivers open and the offensive line is incredibly banged up. Now, Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins are out after testing positive for COVID-19 on Thanksgiving against the Steelers. Baltimore is running out of time to turn things around. A loss to Pittsburgh would put the Ravens’ playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.
15. Cleveland Browns: 7-3 (Last Week: 15)
Won 22-17 vs. Philadelphia
The marriage between Kevin Stefanski and the Browns’ offense feels like a perfect match. Stefanski wants to establish the run and use it to take the pressure off his defense and his quarterback. With both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt healthy, it is hard to find a way to stop that duo. Even though Hunt struggled running the ball against Philadelphia, Chubb rumbled for over 100 yards. Baker Mayfield didn’t exactly play well, but he avoided making too many mistakes. The defense came up with big plays when needed. Cleveland still does not really scare too many opposing teams, but it continues to grind out wins.
16. Carolina Panthers: 4-7 (Last Week: 20)
Won 20-0 vs. Detroit
Shoutout to P.J. Walker. In August of 2019, the Colts waived their former undrafted free-agent signing and added him to their practice squad. This past spring, Walker starred for the Houston Roughnecks in the XFL. On Sunday, Walker made his first NFL start and led the Panthers to a win. In addition to Walker, Carolina’s defense deserves a lot of credit for snapping this five-game losing streak. The Panthers join the Dolphins as the only teams to register a shutout this season. It was a big step in the right direction for a very young defense, holding Detroit to just 185 yards of offense. If this is what Carolina can do without Teddy Bridgewater and Christian McCaffrey, I’m excited to see them at full strength.
17. Chicago Bears: 5-5 (Last Week 19)
Like it has for pretty much the entire season, Chicago enters Week 12 with a question mark at quarterback. That’s a really bad place to be heading into a matchup with an angry Aaron Rodgers. Both Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles are dealing with injuries. Even healthy, neither has been very good this year. Chicago’s only other option is Tyler Bray. It’s not like this is a new problem, but if the Bears have any hope of salvaging what is left in their season, they need someone to step up at quarterback.
18. Denver Broncos: 4-6 (Last Week: 22)
Won 20-13 vs. Miami
Well, I did not see this coming. Namely because I picked the Dolphins in my survivor pool. The Broncos were fresh off a blowout loss to the Raiders and hosting one of the hottest teams in the NFL. On Sunday though, Denver looked like the ’85 Bears. The Broncos racked up six sacks and Justin Simmons came up with the game-sealing interception of Ryan Fitzpatrick in the end zone. Yes, this defense played so well, it forced the Dolphins to bench their rookie quarterback. Offensively, Denver moved the ball well, but definitely could have come away with a few more points. It is hard to figure out how the team that averaged nine yards per pass and 5.7 yards per run managed just 20 points. Still, the Broncos will be happy to take the win and show some of the potential many saw entering the season.
19. San Francisco 49ers: 4-6 (Last Week: 21)
I don’t know that a team has ever needed a bye week more than the 49ers did. Coming off the break, there is some optimism that Deebo Samuel, Tevin Coleman and Jerrick McKinnon all return to action in Week 12. That won’t solve all that ails this team, but considering that Kyle Shanahan had next to no offensive weapons to work with last time out, that trio returning will be a welcome improvement. San Francisco faces a tough matchup with Los Angeles. The Rams have won against the Seahawks and Buccaneers in back-to-back weeks. If 2020 has taught us anything though, it is to never rule out anything. Except maybe the Jets winning a game.
20. Minnesota Vikings: 4-6 (Last Week: 16)
Lost 31-28 vs. Dallas
Minnesota’s recovery tour just went off the rails. A loss at home to Dallas was definitely not part of this script. The Vikings missed a golden opportunity to get to .500 and put pressure on the Cardinals for the final playoff spot. Instead, they fell two games back in the playoff chase and will potentially miss Adam Thielen after he was played on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Minnesota has been dealing with inexperience and absences on defense all year. Those issues showed up in critical moments down the stretch as Andy Dalton piloted a game-winning drive. There is still a chance for the Vikings to rebound, but this feels like a big blow to their postseason hopes.
21. New England Patriots: 4-6 (Last Week: 17)
Lost 27-20 at Houston
Just when it seems like the Patriots had finally turned the corner, they lay an egg against the hapless Texans. Up to this point, Houston had not beaten anyone other than Jacksonville. Unfortunately for New England, Deshaun Watson broke out his Superman cape en route to a ridiculous performance. The Pats’ defense had no answer for him, even with Stephon Gilmore back in the fold. All season, I have made excuses for this team lacking the depth or top-end talent it was used to having due to opt outs or injuries. Those issues did not go away, but New England let them take over again on Sunday. This is a setback I don’t know if the Patriots can recover from.
22. Atlanta Falcons: 3-7 (Last Week: 18)
Lost 24-9 at New Orleans
Even without Drew Brees, the Falcons’ defense could not stop the Saints. While that was true, it was the offense that was even more disappointing. Matt Ryan had an abysmal game. He also spent much of it picking himself off the ground. New Orleans’ defense sacked Ryan eight times in the contest. In addition to not pass block, Atlanta’s offensive line did not run block either. The Falcons front office has invested draft picks, cap space and time to building an offensive line, but until that finally gets fixed, this team is going nowhere.
23. New York Giants: 3-7 (Last Week: 25)
Don’t look now, but the Giants might just be rounding into form. I know that statement doesn’t usually apply to a 3-7 team, but New York designated both Xavier McKinney and Oshane Ximines for return from the IR this week. Those two could be real difference makers on a defense that has been surprisingly good this year. It doesn’t solve Daniel Jones’ terrible decision making at quarterback, but hopefully it means he will be asked to do less. The Giants have a tough final six games, but they might just be able to grind out a division title.
24. Los Angeles Chargers: 3-7 (Last Week: 26)
Won 34-28 vs. New York
It was ugly and fittingly weird, but the Chargers finally snapped their losing streak. Justin Herbert put on a showcase, albeit against a bad Jets defense. Keenan Allen balled out as well, finishing with 16 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown. The running game was a bit of a red flag, picking up 29 yards on 26 carries. There is some speculation that Austin Ekeler could return soon though, which would be a huge boost down the stretch. Los Angeles still has a ton of question marks left to answer before this team is ready to compete, but there is no question it has its franchise quarterback.
25. Washington: 3-7 (Last Week: 28)
Won 20-9 vs. Cincinnati
I don’t care which team you are a fan of, it is good to see Alex Smith win a football game. He actually took a backseat to the running game and defense, but Washington looked in control throughout the game. Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin continue to shine. The front seven looks pretty dynamic as well. With a veteran quarterback and a defensive line capable of generating pressure without blitzing, Washington might just have the pieces in place to run the table. Stranger things have happened and this team is right in the thick of the NFC East race.
26. Philadelphia Eagles: 3-6-1 (Last Week: 24)
Lost 22-17 at Cleveland
I am running out of excuses for Carson Wentz. Sure, he doesn’t have a great supporting cast, but he is just playing bad football right now. Maybe it is because he has been sacked on a higher percentage of his dropbacks than any quarterback in the league that he is pressing. Still, Wentz leads the league in turnovers by a wide margin. OK, so maybe I’m not totally done making excuses for Wentz, but come on, he is being hung out to dry every week. Philly needs to find a way to protect him and take some of the pressure off. Running the ball a bit more seems like a good place to start. Despite yet another brutal loss, the Eagles have not done anything that cannot be undone. This team somehow still controls its playoff destiny in the worst division maybe ever.
27. Houston Texans: 3-7 (Last Week: 29)
Won 27-20 vs. New England
On one hand, I want to focus on the greatness of Deshaun Watson. It has unquestionably been overlooked this year in a lost season for the Texans. His playmaking skills were on full display as he threw for 344 yards, tossed two touchdowns and added another one on the ground. On the other hand, please someone get this man some help! Watson led the team in rushing with just 36 yards. He lost his top receiver this offseason in one of the worst trades ever. His starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil was out with an illness. Despite all of that, he was great. With no first-round pick, Houston has no incentive to tank. It can just sit back and watch Watson go off for now, perhaps while designing some offseason plans to rebuild his supporting cast.
28. Detroit Lions: 4-6 (Last Week: 22)
Lost 20-0 at Carolina
In general, you don’t really want to share any of the same accomplishments as the Jets. That is especially true this season, but Detroit joins New York as the only teams to be shutout this season. I know that Matthew Stafford is not at 100 percent and the Lions were missing Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola, but come on. Nothing? This is a Panthers’ defense starting four rookies, with about three more that see significant playing time. Carolina does not have one of the league’s top defenses, yet Detroit was completely stymied. On top of all that, I lost my fantasy matchup this week because I started Matt Prater, who got me -1 points.
29. Dallas Cowboys: 3-7 (Last Week: 30)
Won 31-28 at Minnesota
The Red Rifle returns! Andy Dalton made his triumphant comeback with a three-touchdown performance, leading Dallas to victory in the process. He was far from flawless, but stepped up when his team needed him to late in the game. Ezekiel Elliott finally broke out of his slump, topping the century mark rushing and adding a receiving touchdown. With every team sitting at three wins in the division, Dallas controls its own destiny just as much as any of them. A healthy Dalton definitely gives them the best chance to win this wonky division and make an improbable playoff appearance.
30. Cincinnati Bengals: 2-7-1 (Last Week: 27)
Lost 20-9 at Washington
Sunday was hard to watch for Bengals fans. Joe Burrow continued to battle despite his pourous offensive line. He was ultimately carted off with a knee injury that turned out to be a torn ACL and MCL with additional structural damage. There is no positive way to spin this one. Given the extent of the injury, Burrow’s status for the 2021 season is already in doubt. Cincinnati was not going to be winning the AFC North any time soon, but this is a major blow to the team’s rebuild and a gut punch to a franchise that finally felt like it had begun to turn the corner. Here’s hoping that Burrow will make a full recovery as soon as possible.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars: 1-9 (Last Week: 31)
Lost 27-3 vs. Pittsburgh
So, maybe Jake Luton isn’t the answer at quarterback either. It might seem a little harsh to make that assessment after facing the Steelers’ defense, but four interceptions, 4.1 yards per attempt and a completion percentage below 50 are bad no matter how good the opposing defense is. James Robinson continues to make his case for Rookie of the Year, but the wide margin made it hard for the Jaguars to stay committed to the ground game. It is hard to find too many positives in a 24-point loss, but at least several two-win teams around the league won this week, strengthening the Jags chances as a top-five draft pick.
32. New York Jets: 0-10 (Last Week: 32)
Lost 34-28 at Los Angeles
The Jets tank job for Trevor Lawrence stretched into its 10th week. New York became the first team eliminated from the playoffs, meaning fans can now start studying mock drafts until next April (as if we haven’t already been doing that since Week 3.) At least this week was entertaining. Breshad Perriman hauled in a long touchdown pass and the ageless wonder Frank Gore found the end zone as well. Still, I’ve just reached the point where it is hard to find any joy in watching this team any more.
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