NFL Week 12 Winners and Losers

The last Sunday of November had fewer games but as much entertainment compared to prior weeks. Upsets, injuries and comebacks led headlines and will be the focus before December starts. The playoff picture never looked more crowded. It’s time to break down who or what stood out most; positively or negatively.

Winners: Zach Wilson

I personally believe New York Jets rookie quarterback and number two overall pick Zach Wilson shouldn’t be playing the rest of this season, and a leg injury Sunday in Houston warrants that belief. Regardless, his return was everything the Jets wanted and needed.

Wilson’s stats weren’t pretty. He completed 14 passes for 145 yards and an interception. Yet Wilson ran for a touchdown that wound up giving New York the lead. The rookie led critical drives and a double digit comeback after Houston scored two straight touchdowns.

Some weekends the stats are ugly. However, if there’s notable improvement coming back from injuries, quality of play matters more. The Jets don’t have much quality at the quarterback position since a Mike White performance versus Cincinnati but they can feel good when their first round pick has time and isn’t hurt/hit to make the right plays and earn wins.

Tampa Bay’s running game led by Leonard Fournette

It’s easy for fans and analysts to label first round picks either as busts or studs on teams that drafted them. In the case of Leonard Fournette many fans thought the Jacksonville Jaguars jumped early when they drafted him fourth overall in 2017. Labeled as a bust by Jacksonville he was cut in 2020 and then signed to Tampa Bay. He’s been a key piece in the Buccaneer offense and it showed Sunday in Indianapolis.

Fournette scored three touchdowns on 17 carries for 100 yards. Two of the three running touchdowns gave Tampa Bay leads (one at the beginning and the other a game winner). He also caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady in the second quarter around the two minute mark, giving the Bucs a brief cushion before the Colts offense scored again.

Fournette solidified his reputation as someone who plays their best in the postseason last year. Discussion after revolved on how he could play better in the regular season. He’s on track for a career high in rushing yards (over half-way to his career high 1,152), has a career high rushing average in a season and is two touchdowns back of his career high (seven, career high is nine).

Throw in Ronald Jones II averaging five yards a run on seven carries and it’s easier to understand why the Colts defense struggled in the second half Sunday. Sometimes Tampa’s offense forces pass plays and forgets the runningback duo on the team solidifies wins in critical games. If coach Bruce Arians wants better play from both offense and defense, giving both Fournette and Jones II more carries is a good start.

Kendrick Bourne

The former 49ers wide receiver needed a fresh start after a less than stellar tenure in the Bay area. When New England signed him last offseason, it was a gamble he could play better than both the team’s wideouts and better than his time on the west coast. That gamble’s paying off.

In Sunday’s home game versus Tennessee, Bourne caught five passes for two touchdowns and 61 yards. Only one pass didn’t reach him, a gradual improvement compared to his high number of dropped passes in San Francisco. His scores either gave New England a lead or cemented a win to rise to the number two seed in the AFC playoff picture.

A few weeks ago yours truly gave Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels notable praise for how he’s developed the Patriots offense this season. Many will say rookie quarterback Mac Jones has benefitted most, but it’s surprisingly Kendrick Bourne, who’s gone from gaffe-prone and a butterfingers joke to a possible number one wideout on a first place team in the AFC East and behind only the Baltimore Ravens in the conference.

Kyle Shanahan

Keeping the topic on San Francisco, coach Kyle Shanahan’s reversed fortune by calling plays on offense and the roster’s getting healthier. The 49ers might salvage their season and clinch a berth in a contested playoff race.

The Minnesota Vikings led early in Santa Clara, CA. but choked away a double digit lead and failed to score at pivotal times in the second half. On offense, quarterback Jimmy Garappolo played his best in the second and third quarters, helping score 27 of the 34 game points. An eye opening performance from depth running back Eli Mitchell eased pressure off Garappolo during those important drives. Mitchell ran for 133 yards averaging almost five yards a carry. The receiver tandem of Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel frustrated Minnesota’s defense. Receiver Jauan Jennings (who was in that fight in Jacksonville on the 21st) scored the game tying touchdown before halftime.

What’s different the last few weeks is coach Shanahan’s play-calling. There aren’t many risks. San Francisco is running the ball, getting Garappolo to throw in easier situations, and using better clock management to tire opposing defenses. A lot of the injured players San Francisco had on injured reserve are easing back into the lineup. From a timeframe of a month and a half, Shanahan’s gone from having a hot seat and conversations on when he’ll be fired to the 49ers possibly stealing second place from their division rival Los Angeles Rams (more on them later). Regardless, San Francisco won’t need a new coach before 2023.

Losers:

Tennessee Titans Defense

If one was told the Titans defense would give up more than 300 yards passing, 100 yards rushing and 36 points (after giving up 59 the past three weeks), there would be surprised looks. That’s what happened Sunday in New England.

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones was almost perfect in a pivotal game deciding who would rise in conference standings. Tennessee’s issues before Sunday were on offense due to injuries, but the defense played better. In New England, the defense couldn’t stop anything.

Jones had all but nine passes complete to whoever was targeted. The Patriots offense scored on all but one possession in the first half (the one was a missed field goal) and punted once late in the third quarter. Tennessee struggled to pressure Jones, sacking the rookie twice. A lack of pass rush combined with multiple turnovers from quarterback Ryan Tannehill gassed out an already exhausted defense.

The Titans now have a bye week. While coach Mike Vrabel has to be relieved the team can catch their breath, it couldn’t be at a worse time when injuries and losses caught up and might doom a chance at a first round bye.

Jalen Reagor

Above in the winners is a player many thought was a bust but wasn’t because coaches didn’t know how to work and develop him to the best of not just his abilities, but the team’s. Outside Fournette’s case, most players wind up busts because they don’t have a chance to turn things around or are scarred from previous failures. They’re considered tragic cases. Yet in some decades/eras, some players are true, no doubt, 100% busts. That’s because they’re awful no matter the coaching or technique. The best case right now is Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jalen Reagor.

It’s rare someone in their second NFL season outside the quarterback position can play terribly every week. The Eagles drafted Reagor over receivers Justin Jefferson (check out last week’s winners and losers), Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. While two of the three will finish the season with better numbers, one must also ask what happens if Ruggs has better people around him in Philadelphia than in Las Vegas. Perhaps he isn’t in court on manslaughter and DUI charges.

As for Reagor’s on-field play, he’s a solid run-blocker. However he wasn’t drafted for that to be his specialty. On Sunday at the New York Giants down six, Hurts threw two well thrown passes at the sophomore second rounder and he dropped both of them wide open to tie or win the game. Hurts and the offense hadn’t played well in all but three possessions but most would forget if Reagor caught a touchdown. Those drops makes one wonder what Philadelphia saw to draft him in the second round.

Los Angeles Chargers defense

Last week the Los Angeles Chargers’ offense won a shootout against what many thought was a good Pittsburgh Steelers team. Quarterback Justin Herbert did everything possible to secure the win. Some days that won’t happen and the defense has to play better. Coach Brandon Staley’s unit failed Sunday.

Cancelling out the Pat Surtain II’s touchdown return from an interception, you’d think the defense did good limiting the Denver Broncos to 21 points. There were concerns. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was injured after the Broncos scored first with a lower leg injury. While he finished the game, he came back to throw for one touchdown after that first score. Derwin James’ interception was off Drew Lock who played a couple of possessions, and Bridgewater was sacked once despite a talented Los Angeles front seven. Former Charger runningback Melvin Gordon III averaged almost five yards a carry and also scored.

Los Angeles hasn’t done enough to change a game or take advantage of mistakes opposing offenses make unless Herbert and company play well. Coach Staley is defensive oriented who has to do more with the unit. It looked worse earlier when Pittsburgh scored ten points against a young upcoming Cincinnati Bengals defense, seven of which were in garbage time.

The Les Snead-Sean McVay duo

A general manager who prioritized trading for blockbuster players after having a number one pick in 2015 and a head coach touted as “an offensive guru” have become the heads of football’s version of Bozo’s Circus. That’s the best way to describe the Rams’ November.

The offense is a disaster. While it’s possible quarterback Matthew Stafford is dealing with an injury, both he and McVay are handling this poorly. Stafford threw his fifth interception in three games, resulting in a touchdown returned by Green Bay’s defense. The bootleg snaps and rollouts McVay wanted Stafford to throw from has moved to shotgun snaps and under center, killing offensive efficiency. If that’s because of injury, then Stafford isn’t their best chance to win against playoff caliber opponents heading into December.

The offensive line has weaknesses in the middle and gave up two sacks without the Packers blitzing. Only six receivers were targeted by Stafford. Then the trade for Odell Beckham Jr. has added to the problems by disrupting chemistry, probably jeopardizing any chance of a deep run in the playoffs.

The Rams defense was exposed this month in every game. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey doesn’t want to tackle receivers on fourth down. “Game changer” Aaron Donald was neutralized by offensive linemen to the point he choked one Sunday in front of a referee. Stars don’t do that especially when their unit is exposed.

Los Angeles lost a good player in John Johnson, who’s bolstered the Cleveland Browns secondary. This is where Snead’s trades cost the team. In order to win a championship, there must be development on all sides of the ball. Right now the Rams are desperate for more depth because it’s been traded away for star players who can’t play when it matters most or let go because of a low salary cap. Don’t be surprised if this team not only falls behind San Francisco but fizzles out in the playoffs.

NFL Week Eleven Winners and Losers

The eleventh week of the NFL season was as chaotic, strange and confounding as possible. The upsets shocked not just the football world but the playoff picture in both conferences. There’s still a lot to process and breakdown because most fans and analysts didn’t expect so many highlights. Time to break down the best and worst of week eleven.

Winners: Indianapolis Colts

Since a close loss to the Tennessee Titans where Derrick Henry suffered a season ending injury, everything’s swung in the Colts’ favor. Sunday opened eyes to the possibility of a different team winning the AFC South. Both the Buffalo Bills offense and defense are touted as top tier and Indianapolis dominated them.

Outside of quarterback Josh Allen, Buffalo’s offense lacks a strong running game and the Colts used that weakness to their advantage. Allen barely threw 200 yards with two scores and two interceptions. While he was sacked once, Allen had a hard time finding receivers downfield and was under duress until a Colts victory was imminent.

Indianapolis’ offense was all anyone could talk about Sunday until the Los Angeles Chargers played (more on them later). Runningback Jonathan Taylor ran for four touchdowns and caught an additional score. Taylor’s first two touchdowns gave the Colts a double-digit lead early. It’s the first time in both franchise and league history anyone scored on the road five times.

Coach Frank Reich and his team had excuses to surrender after a brutal early season start. The defense is playing to last year’s levels. Despite an injury to guard Quinton Nelson, quarterback Carson Wentz eased more into the offense thanks to Taylor’s workload and the return of receivers Mo Alie-Cox and T.Y. Hilton. Finally, Indianapolis is over .500 for the first time this season and have a good chance at the division title because…

David Culley, Tyrod Taylor and the Houston Texans using the bye week to their advantage

…the one win Houston Texans stunned the football world by pummeling the Tennessee Titans. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was under pressure the whole game. He threw four interceptions and was sacked twice. The lone touchdown thrown was near the end of the third quarter, and Houston’s defense smothered any chance of momentum after.

Most fans and analysts will say Tennessee choked and overlooked competition, but there was a good chance the Texans could win this game. Defensive coordinator Lovie Smith didn’t have to worry about a running game with no Derrick Henry. The Titans average two and a half yards a carry since Henry’s season ending injury. Wide out Julio Jones wasn’t in the lineup. That meant Houston’s secondary could double cover A.J. Brown and Anthony Firkser.

On offense credit goes to coach David Culley and quarterback Tyrod Taylor using last week’s bye to fix parts of the game plan. Taylor played poor in a loss to Miami before the bye and said he could do better with more practice and easing back into schemes. While the offense was ok, it built confidence. Coach Culley needed this to keep his job and make sure his influence and coaching style grows with the team.

Davante Adams and Justin Jefferson

The Green Bay-Minnesota game was fun to watch, especially the second half. The highlights of round one in the divisional matchup featured two of the league’s best receivers.

Davante Adams caught seven passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns averaging 16 yards per catch. Adams’ play was a major reason the Packer offense briefly took a lead before Minnesota’s last possession. He’s the league’s best receiver despite constant double coverage and no solid number two wideout getting more attention.

Sophomore receiver Justin Jefferson had as good if not a better game than Adams. Jefferson’s eight catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns (both in the second half) gave the Vikings a comfortable lead and the ability to do anything against one of the league’s best defenses. Like Adams, Jefferson is one of the league’s best receivers and on the verge of breaking franchise records the great Randy Moss once held. Green Bay-Minnesota round two in Lambeau Field should be just as exciting on January second.

Jalen Hurts

The sophomore Eagles quarterback is progressing because coach Nick Sirianni wants the ball run more. It’s helped Hurts deliver on throws without constant pressure. He’s also a mobile quarterback who contributes in the running game, and on some Sundays that’s be better than when he passes.

Sunday’s home game against New Orleans is an example. Hurts scored 12 of 14 points on Philadelphia’s first two drives. He ran for a 24 yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to cement a double digit win.

A lot of fans and analysts lavish praise on the other sophomore quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert for good reasons, but Hurts is growing at a steady rate on a team still in re-build mode. He could be the most successful of the 2020 class if the Eagles continue to let him learn naturally without forcing him to throw.

The Los Angeles Chargers offense

Sunday night could be a pivotal turn in Chargers franchise history. Usually known as perenial losers in epic fashion, Los Angeles won a shootout against the Pittsburgh Steelers where they went from double digit lead to losing because of turnovers. The offense led by quarterback Justin Herbert sparked a comeback late in the fourth quarter.

Herbert became the first quarterback to throw over 350 yards, run for 90 yards and post a win. Austin Ekeler tried to match Jonathan Taylor’s touchdown performance, running for two scores and catching two of Herbert’s three touchdown passes. The game ball goes to Los Angeles’ offensive line that allowed two sacks to a battered Steeler defensive line but helped Herbert read the field especially on man coverage.

Last but not least, the Chargers receivers expanded Herbert’s use of the offensive playbook. Keenan Allen had a 100 yard game on 13 targets and Mike Williams had the game winning touchdown and final lead change. Coach Brandon Staley still needs to work on the defense but he’s maximizing potential with Los Angeles’ offense.

Losers: Rookie quarterbacks not named Mac Jones

The 2021 quarterback class may wind up being one of the best after this season. However none of the rookies outside of New England’s Mac Jones will have happy memories.

Zac Wilson and Justin Fields took too many hits and wound up with multiple injuries. The general managers of the New York Jets and Chicago Bears chose not to build offensive lines to protect their most valuable assets. It doesn’t help that coaches Robert Saleh and Matt Nagy gave the rookies the green light to start early in the season to take beatings while playing in poor offensive systems. One has to wonder if both quarterbacks develop terrible habits when they return. Here’s hoping both have a resurgence in year two.

Trey Lance and Davis Mills may not see the field the rest of the season unless it’s fourth quarter action where a lopsided win or loss is inevitable. The 49ers are back at .500 because Jimmy Garappolo is playing better and throwing accurate passes to at least three excellent receivers returning from injury or benching. San Francisco won’t start Lance if they’re in the playoff hunt. On the opposite end, Mills had a chance to prove he’s a starter Houston can turn to when Tyrod Taylor’s contract expires and DeShaun Watson is traded. Mills lost every game played and his stats aren’t starting worthy. He may be a backup the rest of his career.

Then there’s number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence, who probably wants to forget about his rookie season despite it not finishing. No one can blame him either. Coach Urban Meyer is still struggling to adjust to Jacksonville’s talent. While Lawrence could wind up as the best quarterback of the class with the most potential, it’s his first season with this many losses in any phase of his football career. He’s a true starter not getting whacked every other play. The Jaguars just have to add more to get back to playoff contention.

Rashawn Jenkins

Speaking of the Jacksonville Jaguars, they won’t win many games if their players pick fights against opposing teams.

Fourth year safety Rashawn Jenkins got frustrated early and decided to fight receiver Jauan Jennings. Jenkins’ dismissal hurt the Jaguars, and the defense gave up 30 points to a team coming off a Monday night home game traveling three different timezones.

Coach Meyer has a lot to clean up and work with but the issues earlier this season on the new coach setting a good example and not being careless comes into play. That’s important when veteran players make the same reckless decisions.

That blockbuster Khalil Mack trade between the Bears and Raiders

Back in 2018 when coach Jon Gruden decided to re-make the Oakland Raiders roster, he committed what many thought to be one of the most lopsided trades in contemporary NFL history involving pass rusher Khalil Mack going to the Chicago Bears for draft picks.

It’s a trade that when we look back three years later nobody won. The Bears gave up an astounding four draft picks (two first rounders included) while receiving two back (highest was a second rounder) in addition to Mack. Two of the picks Oakland/Las Vegas received aren’t on the team and one’s starting in place of a star receiver headed to prison. On the other end, Chicago’s second round pick in the trade Cole Kmet is rarely used by an inept offensive staff.

The Raiders’ best asset received from the trade is runningback Josh Jacobs, who hasn’t played well since a return from an upper body injury. Las Vegas started undefeated heading into October and is now at .500 after week eleven. This will be the third midseason collapse the team’s had, possibly missing the playoffs because the defense fell apart combined with drama off the field and a stagnant offense.

Meanwhile the Bears defense can’t stop 90 yard winning touchdown drives dating back to 2019 with or without Khalil Mack. Mack’s numbers have gradually gone down and it could be argued he hasn’t been the best player on Chicago’s defense after 2018. With little draft capital because of the trade, Chicago didn’t have a first rounder until this year, when they traded up with the New York Giants for Justin Fields (we know how that went, see above). The Bears are close to a total rebuild…and that requires trading Khalil Mack.

Russell Wilson

It’s beginning to look like Wilson hurried his recovery and came back earlier than he should have. Despite a 300 yard game from backup quarterback Colt McCoy, Wilson’s poor reading of the Arizona Cardinals defense is why Seattle walked away with their seventh loss of the season.

Two of Seattle’s first half drives resulted in Jason Myers field goals, and the Seahawks trailed at half-time 16-6. Those drives should’ve ended in touchdowns. After D.K. Metcalf bobbled a sure score, Wilson underthrew Freddy Swain at the one yard line. Swain had room to dive or reach the ball over the endzone line to tie the game at seven. Later on, Wilson couldn’t finish reads on second and third down, missing a wide-open DeeJay Dallas underneath for first and goal and taking more time off the clock to keep Arizona’s offense off the field. He threw into the endzone all three plays, and the third down pass flew out of bounds.

By the time Seattle scored a touchdown the Seahawks defense was exhausted with both starting cornerbacks injured. The Cardinal offense faced little resistance at the end.

The big question is what Seattle does with Wilson the rest of the season. The Seahawks have little chance of making the playoffs, but their franchise quarterback needs to start reading a field better and help Seattle not fully sink. We should have answers before Christmas.

Kellen Moore and the Dallas Cowboy offensive gameplan

Many analysts and fans will hype the Kansas City Chiefs’ return to being the best team in the AFC after Sunday’s home win against Dallas. There were good things Kansas City did on defense, notably Chris Jones’ three and a half sacks and the secondary intercepting quarterback Dak Prescott twice.

It’s easy to want that exciting Kansas City team back, but both teams were ugly on offense. The worst part was offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s gameplan. It was well known number one team receiver Amari Cooper wasn’t going to play. Dallas has the best runningback tandem in their conference and didn’t use them. When Ezekiel Elliott left with an injury, Tony Pollard took over and averaged seven yards a carry. The Chiefs’ run defense is the worst the league has seen in some time and yet Moore insisted Prescott throw the ball 43 times.

It got worse when sophomore receiver CeeDee Lamb left with a concussion in the second half. That doesn’t happen if Dallas establishes a strong and dominant running game behind an offensive line needing confidence with left tackle Tyron Smith not playing. It would’ve cut down Dallas’ turnovers, mistakes on the Chiefs’ side of the field and force more errors or turnovers from Kansas City. Even if the Cowboys wanted to save their best in a re-match, they cost themselves a chance to lower the Chiefs in the AFC standings.

NFL Week Ten Winners and Losers

Week ten followed up last week’s wackiness and unpredictable results with another headline filled day and more inconsistency from teams heading towards playoff berths. It’s been a year since there was a tie. Combined with a shutout for Seattle/Russell Wilson, and the Cleveland Browns losing by 38, there were a lot of firsts. Time to break down the winners and losers.

Winners: Josh McDaniels and the New England Patriots offense

The Patriots spent over $100 million to rise in the standings and get back to the playoffs. Their plan is working well before Thanksgiving.

Quarterbacks Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer combined for four total touchdowns. New starting runningback Rhamondre Stevenson ran 20 times for 100 yards and two scores. Free agent addition Kendrick Bourne almost had 100 yards receiving to go with one touchdown.

The offense gets better every week and credit goes to coordinator Josh McDaniels. He’s not just calling the plays, he’s finding ways to acclimate players to improve gameplans and help everyone figure out better roles.

A great example was discussed Sunday night when Tim Hasselbeck told sports analyst Scott Van Pelt the main concern for the Patriots offense is perimeter play, or simply, wide receivers consistently beating cornerbacks when running routes. Bourne was the receiver who played best and scored one of the touchdowns Jones threw. Yet he struggled to get open and not drop passes in San Francisco. McDaniels and his staff are shaping players like Bourne and tight end Hunter Henry (who scored twice and is having a career year) into premier threats defenses have to take serious in coverage. Expect teams to attract Josh McDaniels next offseason for head coaching jobs with the work he’s done.

Taylor Heinecke

Is Heinecke the new kryptonite against Tom Brady? A week many thought (including yours truly) Tampa Bay would steamroll the Washington Football Team after a bye week, Heinecke played one of his best games of the season. While he threw for under 200 yards and one touchdown, only six passes were incomplete and his passer rating was 110.4. Three of these four categories were better than Brady’s.

The defense is the main reason Washington has three wins, but Heinecke is doing his best to keep them in the playoff race. He has the same number of wins Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garappolo and Daniel Jones do. He’s also played quality teams in the AFC North, NFC South and AFC East week after week. While the 28 year old isn’t the best quarterback in the NFC East, he isn’t bad. Remember that if the Football Team stays in the playoff race by December.

Cam Newton’s Return for Carolina

The Arizona Cardinals had little chance of winning against Carolina without De’Andre Hopkins and Kyler Murray. Yet no one knew how big the return of Newton for the Panthers was especially when he was cleared to play.

Newton scored the first 12 of 14 points for Carolina en route to their lopsided victory against the top team in the NFL. He completed three of four passes in a sample size of how he’ll ease back into play.

The Panthers need every bit of help possible. If they need the first ever player who went to a super bowl, went to other teams, came back and scored throwing and running the ball in NFL history to sneak into the playoffs, so be it. It’ll be a fun topic to follow.

Losers: Anyone stuck with the Detroit-Pittsburgh game

Any market stuck with the 16-16 tie at Heinz Field Sunday probably received complaints the last 24 hours. While ties are rare, they’re long games and show both teams can’t win despite glaring mistakes by the opposition.

Whatever we think of near retirement Ben Roethlisberger, he’s still better than backup Mason Rudolph. Rudolph showed he won’t be an NFL starter outside of Pittsburgh. Despite his inept play, turnovers on offense and the loss of star defender T.J. Watt, the winless Detroit Lions couldn’t take advantage. Quarterback Jared Goff played hurt and Dan Campbell’s play-calling of running the football instead of key passing situations doomed any effort for a win. Kicker Ryan Santoso missed an extra point and what could’ve been the game winning field goal.

Detroit doesn’t play many teams under .500 the rest of the season. They’ve lost to two of the remaining four (who are division rivals). Seattle and Atlanta are the remaining two who have credible offenses. If they play spoiler to a hopeful playoff team like Cleveland, they have a chance. On the other end, the Steelers wish for Roethlisberger’s return from COVID-19 couldn’t come faster.

All highlighted afternoon and evening games

Matter of fact, throw the prime time and supposed noteworthy afternoon games into this category. Most of the country was either stuck with Cleveland-New England or Atlanta-Dallas for the early afternoon games. The former was so bad CBS pulled it for the second half of “the Backup Bowl” between New Orleans and Tennessee. Dallas lead by 33 after two quarters. Few audiences would find that second half entertaining.

The hyped matchup between Seattle and Green Bay featured terrible quarterback play and a total of three points before the Packers decided to run the ball and scored two touchdowns. Seattle was shutout for the first time in over a decade. The highlights were snowfalls in Lambeau Field and receiver DK Metcalf punching a defender after taunting. Not the game people wanted nor expected.

Last but not least, the Kansas City Chiefs tore a hapless Las Vegas Raiders team apart. DeSean Jackson’s fumble and Maxx Crosby’s unnecessary roughness ended any chance the Raiders had at a win. When the fourth quarter started, fans probably tuned in to Chris Rose on the NFL Network before heading to bed early.

Saints backup quarterbacks

While New Orleans lost by a combined four points the last two games, those who’ve watched their offense know that’s misleading. A battered Titans team pulled ahead by double digits after quarterback Trevor Siemian hit the 100 yard passing mark.

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill was without two important players who can open the offense and put up similar numbers. He barely passed concussion protocol. Siemian has neither of these issues. Coach Sean Payton doesn’t trust Taysom Hill to start, even against an Atlanta Falcons team he won both games against last year.

Jameis Winston’s season ending injury means New Orleans is thinner on offense. They’re already second to last in passing yards. It could get worse with Buffalo coming into town Thanksgiving night.

NFL Week Nine Winners and Losers

Week nine stunned with upsets in every timeframe Sunday. From toss-ups to blowouts, the first Sunday of November provided the best and worst. Some teams are closer to the playoffs and others to next year’s draft. Time to break down who or what stood out.

Winners: Matt Ryan

In a game Atlanta lead by 18 points, Ryan did everything possible to secure a win. Anyone running the ball averaged one yard a carry, putting more pressure on the franchise quarterback to play perfect.

Ryan threw for 344 yards, two touchdowns and a 135.8 quarterback rating. He didn’t turn the ball over and led the game winning drive with one minute and one second left. Despite a defensive collapse, Atlanta found a way to win against a division rival in a pivotal point of the season. The Falcons are at .500 and still in the playoff race because their quarterback helped win another close game.

Cleveland Browns

Drama over the release of star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dominated headlines before Sunday. Critics and analysts went off on quarterback Baker Mayfield’s poor play. The Cincinnati Bengals were favored to win the first Battle of Ohio. None of it mattered as the Browns steamrolled their division and state rivals 41-16.

Cleveland scored on the Bengals’ first possession when Denzel Ward intercepted sophomore quarterback Joe Burrow for a 99 yard touchdown return. Despite Tony Romo and Jim Nantz saying on the broadcast the Browns defense possibly playing tired after the score and then runningback Joe Mixon tying the game at seven, Cleveland’s offense did everything right. Runningback Nick Chubb returned for a 100 yard, two touchdown performance and Mayfield threw a 60 yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones to give the Browns a double digit lead.

Cleveland’s defense was porous a good part of the season but they didn’t play tired. They forced two fumbles on rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase and intercepted Joe Burrow twice. Every time the Bengals drove down the field, the Browns got a stop or a turnover.

It’s tempting to say this game could be an anomaly and the Browns will return to their previous ways the next two of three weeks (New England and Baltimore are two of their next three opponents), but with Chubb and Peoples-Jones back healthy, coach Kevin Stefanski’s unit has a chance to rise in the standings.

James Connor

If anyone watching or covering the NFL was told running back James Connor would have the most touchdowns after the first week of November, they’d be ignored.

Connor’s the main reason Arizona didn’t have to fear a San Francisco 49ers defense after an easy first quarter in Santa Clara. In a game with no De’Andre Hopkins nor Kyler Murray, Connor took pressure off veteran backup Colt McCoy. He ran for almost 100 yards, averaging four yards a carry and was the second leading receiver with 77. His three scores give him eleven total touchdowns for a runningback or receiver before week ten.

Both Murray and Hopkins could be back in a home game versus Carolina next Sunday, but they can play looser knowing Connor is the main guy if both aren’t at full health.

The Josh Allen versus Josh Allen matchup

Over 100 years of NFL history there had never been a player sacking, intercepting and tackling another player with the same name. Sunday’s Jacksonville v. Buffalo matchup was a first.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen had an awful day (more on him later), and the Jaguars’ Josh Allen was a big reason why. Allen sacked the Buffalo star once, had his first interception of the season and notched a career high eight tackles. He even deflected a pass in an upset over the highly favored Buffalo Bills.

If that’s not impressive enough, both Allen’s were seventh overall picks in their drafts one year apart. That’s something we may never witness again.

Losers: the Josh Allen MVP conversation

While the Josh Allen on defense had a historically great day, the other Josh Allen played terribly. It’s safe to say the quarterback Josh Allen is the lesser of the two, and it brings worry to the playoff picture for the Bills.

After a Monday night loss in Nashville, Buffalo’s offense hasn’t played well. They’ve lost two out of their last three and in the one win the Bills struggled against a porous Miami Dolphin defense until the fourth quarter.

Since the bye week, Buffalo has ran for less than 150 yards in two games. The offense relies on Allen to create plays downfield and to score every possession. Devin Singletary and Zach Moss are good runningbacks but defenses aren’t threatened by them especially with a shaky offensive line.

After next week’s game against the New York Jets, the Bills face another rough part in their schedule. If Allen and the offense struggle against a hapless Jets defense, the second half of the season could spiral fast.

Las Vegas Raiders Second Half Adjustments

If there’s an argument on why interim coach Rich Bisaccia should’ve coached one game, Sunday was proof. Runningbacks Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake averaged over five yards a carry and the Raiders led by three at halftime. Las Vegas had the ball to start the third quarter and should’ve finished the New York Giants on their first possession.

Instead Giants safety Xavier McKinney intercepted quarterback Derek Carr and ran for a touchdown, swinging the game in New York’s favor. New York didn’t trail the rest of the game. Carr finished the day throwing almost 50 passes for under 300 yards and the Raiders scored three points the second half.

The loss was worse when the Los Angeles Chargers’ won in Philadelphia hours later. The Chargers have the tiebreaker and Las Vegas plays a desperate Kansas City Chiefs team next Sunday night. That game will say more about the Raiders’ playoff chances. It also keeps the Giants alive in the playoff race, something most teams in the NFC aren’t thrilled on.

Green Bay Packers

Some sports analysts wrote this past week could’ve been the most toxic week in sports for 2021. While there’s a good case, it wasn’t a fun week up in Green Bay. Star quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t just placed on the COVID-19 list, he made awful statements on quarantine and not being vaccinated before and during the season. At one point he compared the issue to Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights.

Backup Jordan Love, who’s expected to succeed Rodgers when he leaves the Packers after the season didn’t play well against one of the worst defenses in the league. Love has a lot to learn about playing regular seasons games as a starter just as Rodgers did his first few seasons in Green Bay. Despite the reasoning it’s not a good look especially when Love had the targets to throw to and couldn’t score more than seven points.

Seattle comes off their bye week headed to Green Bay with Russell Wilson and rookie receiver Dee Eskridge returning. If Rodgers doesn’t play because he chose Ivermectin over a vaccine, the Packers have a shot at the conference’s third playoff seed at best.

Washington Football Team

While Seattle received needed help to stay alive in the playoffs, the Football team had the opposite. They’re in last place after the Giants won at home.

Rivera’s team plays the remaining divisional games the last five weeks of the season, but it’s hard to argue they’ll be playoff-bound before that. Three of the remaining four games against teams not in their division are teams which could be a wild-card team at worst. They’ll play Tampa Bay, who also had a bye week and extra time to break down why they lost to New Orleans first. Something says that won’t turn out well.