On Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles kept on rolling with a win over the Tennessee Titans, the New York Giants and the Washington Commanders took their divisional battle to overtime, and the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets duked it out in a wild fourth quarter.
Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson returned from an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault, as defined by the league — but it was the defense and special teams that held the spotlight against the Houston Texans. And the Baltimore Ravens secured a win over the Broncos despite losing QB Lamar Jackson to injury.
The late-afternoon window saw the Cincinnati Bengals defeat the Kansas City Chiefs again, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Miami Dolphins but lose their quarterback, and the Seattle Seahawks stay in the playoff hunt with a late touchdown to beat the Los Angeles Rams. The Dallas Cowboys capped off the night by pulling away from the Indianapolis Colts with a historic fourth quarter.
Our NFL Nation reporters react with the biggest takeaways and lingering questions off this week’s matchups and look ahead to what’s next. Let’s get to it.
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What to know: The Cowboys scored 33 points in the fourth quarter, the most they have ever scored in a fourth quarter in franchise history. Most importantly, they kept pace with the Eagles. Dak Prescott moved into third place in franchise history in touchdown passes, passing Roger Staubach and Danny White with three TDs. Tony Pollard scored his 10th touchdown of the season, matching his total in his first three seasons. Malik Hooker recorded an interception and a 38-yard fumble return for a touchdown against his former team. The Cowboys’ goal is to make the Christmas Eve meeting against the Eagles matter. They have two more games against AFC South foes, Houston and Jacksonville, to get that done.
How will the Cowboys replace Anthony Brown if his injury is serious? The Cowboys are about to host Odell Beckham Jr. on a visit Monday, but is there a cornerback equivalent of Beckham available? They might need a cornerback more than a wide receiver at this point. Brown had a towel draped over his head as he was carted off, which is not a good sign. As much as he caught grief from fans, the coaches believed Brown was a key part of their defense. Already without nickel corner Jourdan Lewis (foot), losing Brown would be costly. Kelvin Joseph was beaten for a touchdown, and the other corners in the building are Nahshon Wright, who is on the 53-man roster, and Kendall Sheffield, who is on the practice squad. Of course, DaRon Bland, who replaced Lewis, had the first two-pick game of his career vs. the Colts. — Todd Archer
Next game: vs. Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Colts initially showed some offensive progress in small ways. The pass protection was not the utter disaster that was predicted in this game, and the passing game was able to muster a few more intermediate throws and even a 45-yard deep shot to Alec Pierce. But this unit proved it is still a long way from turning things around because it continues to be plagued by turnovers and poor execution. The five turnovers Sunday were killers, opening the floodgates to a staggering 33-0 fourth-quarter run by Dallas.
What’s up with the wide receivers? This was a unit that showed promise at times this season, with Michael Pittman Jr. continuing his solid play, Parris Campbell making good on his potential and Pierce beginning to emerge. While many of the difficulties Sunday night were a product of Matt Ryan‘s erratic throws, the receivers were equally guilty with sloppy performances and a failure to fight for the ball. On several occasions, receivers were out of position when the ball was thrown, causing big misfires because Ryan expected them to be elsewhere. The overall execution was disappointing. — Stephen Holder
Next game: at Vikings (Sunday, Dec. 18, TBD)
What to know: Chandler Jones showed he could still be a game-changer on defense. Having looked like one of the biggest busts in the NFL with a three-year, $51 million free agent deal and just half a sack entering Sunday, the 11th-year veteran edge rusher had three sacks in the first half alone, beating rookie left tackle Jamaree Salyer. And Jones’ dominance kept the Chargers, who held a 10-0 lead, from blowing it open early and allowed the Raiders’ offense to find its footing later.
Can the Raiders, now riding a three-game winning streak after that ugly 2-7 start, keep this up? Why not? Look, the Broncos and Seahawks essentially handed the Raiders wins on silver (and black?) platters the previous two weeks. But on Sunday, Las Vegas essentially took what it wanted from the Chargers. RB Josh Jacobs rushed for 144 yards and a TD, and WR Davante Adams had eight catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns. A short week at the battered Rams (3-9) ensues. So it’s more than possible. — Paul Gutierrez
Next game: at Rams (Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET)
What to know: Chargers players said they face a must-win situation every game to secure their first playoff berth in four seasons. On Sunday against the division-rival Raiders, and currently sitting outside the playoff picture, they squandered an opportunity to bolster their chances. Those chances could take another hit over the next two weeks as the Chargers prepare to host the Dolphins and Titans, who both boast winning records. The Chargers are 6-2 against teams with a losing record and 0-4 against teams with a winning record.
When will the Chargers return injured players? The Chargers have dealt with an inordinate number of injuries — on Sunday they played with a backup left tackle, right tackle and center — but coach Brandon Staley has remained optimistic they will gain strength when players return to health. But time is running out. There’s no clear timetable for the return of edge rusher Joey Bosa, who remains on injured reserve, and it’s unclear when wide receiver Mike Williams will return from a high ankle sprain. — Lindsey Thiry
Next game: vs. Dolphins (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Bengals cemented their status as Super Bowl contenders. After last season’s run, many wondered if Cincinnati could continue its success. In a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game, the Bengals beat the Chiefs, who had the best record in the conference entering Sunday. A third straight victory over K.C. — and a second consecutive win over a 2021 division winner in as many weeks — proves the Bengals are capable of making it back to the Super Bowl.
Should Joe Burrow be in the MVP conversation? Yes. Sunday’s performance against Kansas City cemented that. He has been one of the best quarterbacks in the fourth quarter throughout the season, posting the third-best QBR in the final period this season. Burrow was sublime against the Chiefs, leading the Bengals in a game featuring two of the league’s best teams. At the very least, Burrow matched Patrick Mahomes, the 2018 MVP. Burrow now leads the NFL in fourth-quarter touchdown passes (nine) and is firmly in the conversation as one of the league’s best. — Ben Baby
Next game: vs. Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Chiefs now need some help if they’re to get the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed. They’re tied with the Bills at 9-3 for the best record in the conference, but the Bills have the tiebreaker courtesy of their win over the Chiefs. The Chiefs have the easier remaining schedule, but their margin for error is gone after the loss to the Bengals. They might have to win each of their final five games to get the top spot. But even that won’t be good enough if the Bills win out, too.
How can the Chiefs beat the Bengals? The Chiefs have been close in their past three games against the Bengals. But if they’re going to finally finish the deal, job No. 1 is getting more pressure on Burrow. They didn’t get a sack until the final moments, when the Bengals were more interested in burning clock. They didn’t get much pressure on him this time, though they didn’t blitz much. Instead, they allowed Burrow to escape the pocket too often and run for 48 yards. — Adam Teicher
Next game: at Broncos (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)
What to know: Geno Smith has pretty much done it all during his resurgent 2022 season. He has been one of the NFL’s most accurate quarterbacks, and has made sound decisions and plenty of plays with his legs. Smith checked one more box Sunday, leading the Seahawks to a late win by going 70 yards on 10 plays and capping it with his third touchdown pass. The more sobering takeaway is that the Seahawks needed that drive to escape SoFi Stadium with a four-point victory. With the Rams starting a backup quarterback and also missing their two other best players in defensive tackle Aaron Donald and wide receiver Cooper Kupp, this game was much closer than it should have been. It didn’t help that Seattle lost starting running back Kenneth Walker III to an ankle injury early in the game.
Can the Seahawks’ run game withstand Walker missing time? It was already struggling, managing only 104 yards combined over the previous two games. And while Walker missing a few reads was part of the problem, he’s still far and away their best backfield option — especially with Rashaad Penny on IR for the rest of the year. Tony Jones Jr. filled in admirably Sunday with Walker hurt, DeeJay Dallas banged up and Travis Homer (knee/illness) inactive, but any running game is going to have a hard time when it’s down to its No. 5 option. Even if Homer returns next week, he and Dallas are more change-of-pace runners than backs that the Seahawks like to use on early downs. — Brady Henderson
Next game: vs. Panthers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: Bobby Wagner has been a bright spot in an otherwise bad season for the Rams. Wagner has quietly put together a solid season in his first year in Los Angeles, and that dominance was fully on display Sunday against his former team. In the week leading up to his first game against the Seahawks since he was released in March, Wagner said this was just another game for him. The stat sheet indicated otherwise: He finished the game with two sacks, an interception and three tackles for a loss.
Which of these young receivers will the Rams be able to count on next season? Without Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson II on Sunday, quarterback John Wolford spread the ball around, with completions to receivers Brandon Powell, Ben Skowronek, Tutu Atwell, Van Jefferson and Austin Trammell and tight end Tyler Higbee. Although it’s harder to judge the contributions without Matthew Stafford throwing them the ball, it is important for Sean McVay and the coaching staff to use these games to find impact players for next season. Powell led the way against Seattle with four catches for 39 yards and 45 rushing yards on three carries. — Sarah Barshop
Next game: vs. Raiders (Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET)
What to know: The 49ers got their best win of the season to extend their winning streak to five straight but lost starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to what’s expected to be a season-ending broken left foot in the process. There’s a lot of credit to go around, especially to the defense, kicker Robbie Gould and rookie quarterback Brock Purdy for getting the job done, but it’s fair to wonder what this means for the rest of the season if Garoppolo has to miss extended time.
Where do the Niners go from here at quarterback? In tough circumstances, Purdy did a solid job Sunday, and he will be asked to sustain that level with Garoppolo expected to be out for the season. But Purdy is also a seventh-round rookie with a lot to learn, and the Niners have only Jacob Eason, recently signed to the practice squad, behind him. — Nick Wagoner
Next game: vs. Buccaneers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: Tua Tagovailoa has taken a major step forward in his third season, but the next one he must take is the ability to create outside the structure of the Dolphins’ offense. His ability to anticipate openings has been accentuated by Mike McDaniel’s rhythmic offense, but the 49ers took that away for the most part Sunday. After his first pass of the day went for a 75-yard touchdown, Tagovailoa completed only 10 of his next 22 passes for 122 yards and two interceptions before sharpening up in the fourth quarter. There were plays to be made, but he was uncharacteristically off target throughout the game — particularly when his first reads weren’t there.
Was this result a product of playing the best defense in the NFL? The top-ranked 49ers defense was perfectly equipped to contain Miami’s offense. Not every team in the NFL has a pass-rusher like Nick Bosa, rangy linebackers like Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, and as much talent in the secondary as San Francisco. But the blueprint is out there, that if a team is capable of disrupting the Dolphins’ rhythm, it’ll be difficult for them to get back on track. With games against strong defenses like the Bills and Jets still to play, it’s something to keep an eye on over the next month. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Next game: at Chargers (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
What to know: Washington had won six of seven games by mostly playing mistake-free football with few penalties. Neither was the case Sunday, but their resiliency did help them manage a tie. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke fumbled twice on passing downs, losing one. But he also directed a game-tying 90-yard drive with big-time throws. But the Commanders’ also committed seven penalties — their line and tight ends hurt them in this area. A defense that had been stout allowed four consecutive scoring drives. If they had contained Daniel Jones‘ running better, it could have been a different game.
How does a tie impact Washington’s playoff chances? A tie doesn’t kill Washington at all. If the Giants lose next week to Philadelphia, the Commanders can pass New York in the playoff race by winning the rematch in Washington. 9-7-1 likely would be good enough to make the postseason. The Giants also don’t have a win in NFC East play yet; Washington does. That will matter if a tiebreaker is needed. However, injuries could hurt the Commanders’ chances as they suffered two more losses along the line, including center Tyler Larsen, with an undisclosed right leg injury, and defensive end Montez Sweat, who was evaluated for a concussion. — John Keim
Next game: vs. Giants (Sunday, Dec. 18)
What to know: A tie? It kinda, sorta helped the Giants, but much of the goodwill that came from that 7-2 start has now evaporated. The Giants blew a fourth-quarter lead and are now an underdog to make the playoffs after a three-game winless streak. They are just a half-game ahead of the Commanders in the NFC East. With their lack of talent, this team is running out of steam, especially the defense, which couldn’t stop Taylor Heinicke and the Commanders late in regulation.
Will the Giants add Odell Beckham Jr. for a playoff push and beyond? Beckham visited with the Giants on Thursday and Friday. He went straight to Buffalo afterward, and the Cowboys are on deck Monday. It’s understood that Beckham would like to return to New York, where he began his career and where he still has some unfinished business. But do the Giants want to pay Beckham what he believes he’s worth? GM Joe Schoen has been extremely disciplined financially this season. It’s hard to see that changing all of a sudden. — Jordan Raanan
Next game: vs. Eagles (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Graham Gano can’t connect on a 58-yard field goal attempt, resulting in a Giants-Commanders tie.
What to know: Ho-hum. Another week brought another close, nail-biting victory for the Vikings. Sunday’s win over the Jets was their 10th of the season, and all but one have been decided by one score. This game followed a familiar pattern. The margin of victory Sunday was Kirk Cousins‘ 10-yard touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson midway through the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t over until the Vikings’ defense stopped two separate Jets red zone possessions in the final two minutes. The Jets outgained the Vikings by 199 yards, a sign of how the Jets controlled the game in the second half, but once again the Vikings did enough to improve to 10-2.
What should we make of Cousins’ game? Facing pressure and hard hits by the Jets’ defense, Cousins threw 35 passes but gained only 173 yards. That includes seven receptions by Jefferson — for 45 yards. It was a slog, and a higher-than-usual number of off-target passes will generate plenty of discussion in the coming week. But on the most important drive of the game, he completed all five of his attempts for 62 yards en route to Jefferson’s winning touchdown. That’s what should be remembered. — Kevin Seifert
Next game: at Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Mike White’s pass is intercepted by Camryn Bynum to seal the win for the Vikings.
What to know: Mike White was terrific in his second start — just not terrific enough to pull off a miracle win. Down 20-3, White had two great chances in the final two minutes to score the go-ahead touchdown, but he misfired consistently in the red zone. It was a problem all day for the Jets, who went 1-for-6 on red zone drives. White passed for 369 yards, but he started with an interception and ended with an interception. He earned at least another start, but he missed a chance to put a stranglehold on the starting job.
What happened to the Jets’ defense in the first half? It was an uncharacteristic start for the Jets, who got creased in the run game and committed three penalties by their secondary. They made nice adjustments at halftime but got torched on a seven-play, 75-yard TD drive in the fourth quarter. When they needed their vaunted defense to make a clutch stop, it failed. — Rich Cimini
Next game: at Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Ravens are in full survival mode. After Lamar Jackson didn’t play in the final three quarters due to a knee injury, backup quarterback Tyler Huntley led a 91-yard, game-winning drive, which was capped by his 2-yard touchdown run with 28 seconds remaining. It wasn’t a statement game, but it was a much-needed victory for a banged-up team that is coming off an upset loss in Jacksonville. The Ravens believe Huntley will keep them in the playoff hunt, even though Baltimore lost its last four games last season without Jackson. Baltimore remained atop the AFC North but goes on the road to Pittsburgh and Cleveland the next two weeks.
How long will Jackson be sidelined? Coach John Harbaugh said Jackson isn’t out for the season, but he didn’t have a definitive timetable on his Pro Bowl quarterback, who left Sunday’s game after getting sacked on the last play of the first quarter. Jackson is scheduled to undergo testing Monday. Huntley is considered one of the top backups in the league, and he has kept the Ravens competitive when filling in for Jackson. Still, Baltimore went 1-4 last season in games without Jackson.
Next game: at Steelers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Broncos’ inability to score touchdowns continued Sunday. It was their 10th game of the season with one or no touchdowns by the offense, and the yardage total was ugly with 272. They compounded things with a misplaced exotic play in the fourth quarter. With their injuries at wide receiver (Courtland Sutton left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury), they need to play more composed.
Can the Broncos’ defense ever get a break? The Broncos’ defense has been, statistically, one of the league’s best this season. But once again Sunday, when their offense needed one more first down, one more field goal, to put a game away in a lost season, they couldn’t convert. The Ravens became another team to push back against the Broncos’ defense in a late-game drive for a one-point win. But the defense, with a personal foul and a pass interference on the Ravens’ 16-play, game-deciding drive, shouldn’t have been in that spot. The Broncos wasted field position after forced turnovers and couldn’t put one drive together on offense in the fourth quarter to close it out. It was another chapter in a repetitive story this season. — Jeff Legwold
Next game: vs. Chiefs (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)
Lamar Jackson exits the game after being sacked by Jonathon Cooper.
What to know: In quarterback Deshaun Watson‘s first game back from an 11-game suspension for committing sexual assault as defined by the NFL, the Cleveland Browns failed to score an offensive touchdown. It was the first time since 2020 that Cleveland failed to do so. Fortunately for the Browns, they were playing the worst team in the NFL.
Can the defense and special teams keep up the playmaking? The Browns scored three non-offensive TDs for the first time since 1989, including two defensive scores and Donovan Peoples-Jones‘ punt-return TD. Sunday was an encouraging performance from two units that have struggled for much of the year. But it’s hard to take much away from a game against the Texans, who appear to be a lock to land the No. 1 pick in the draft. — Jake Trotter
Next game: at Bengals (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The offense wasted a great defensive performance. The offensive woes have been the driving force behind a lost season for the Texans, and Sunday was a perfect picture of it. The defense didn’t allow a touchdown, but the offense handed the Browns 14 points. Quarterback Kyle Allen fumbled on a quarterback sneak out of the Texans’ own end zone that the Browns scooped and returned. Then Allen threw an interception to defensive end Chase Winovich for a score.
Should the Texans go back to Davis Mills at QB? Mills isn’t the long-term answer for the Texans. But as poorly as Mills has played recently, he didn’t struggle as much as Allen has in his two starts. The offense is averaging 14.5 points in Allen’s two starts, and he’s thrown four interceptions with two fumbles, one returned for a touchdown. Mills is certainly better than this. The offense hasn’t been remotely competitive under Allen. It may be time to look for another spark. — DJ Bien-Aime
Next game: at Cowboys (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: A.J. Brown proved his point. Brown said this game against his former team wasn’t personal, but he put on a show against the Titans, who decided to trade him this past April after the two sides couldn’t agree to a contract extension. Brown erupted for over 100 receiving yards and pulled in a pair of long touchdown catches. He has been at least as good as advertised since arriving in Philadelphia, and he’s a major reason the Eagles have the best record in football and a championship ceiling.
Is Jalen Hurts now the front-runner for MVP? It’s hard to argue a case against him. He entered Week 13 ranked fourth in total TDs (25) and added four more (three passing, one rushing) against a stout Titans defense in one of the better performances of his career. He is the second QB to record multiple games with three or more TD passes of 25-plus yards downfield since 2006, when ESPN began tracking air yards. Patrick Mahomes is deserving, but Hurts has been unstoppable on the ground and through the air. — Tim McManus
Next game: vs. Giants (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Titans’ offense struggled against the Eagles. Rookie Treylon Burks‘ 25-yard touchdown catch got things started on Tennessee’s second drive of the game. But Burks suffered a concussion on the play and didn’t return. The Titans’ offense failed to establish any rhythm without Burks other than a 41-yard catch by rookie Chigoziem Okonkwo that led to a 35-yard field goal by Randy Bullock, and running back Derrick Henry had another off day, finishing with 11 carries for 27 yards.
Can the Titans get the pass defense right? No. Tennessee’s pass defense was 31st in the NFL (allowing 266.7 yards per game) coming in, and they gave up 380 passing yards to Hurts. Former Titan A.J. Brown had 119 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and DeVonta Smith had 102 and a score. Tennessee’s secondary, specifically at cornerback, has experienced its share of struggles. It doesn’t seem like things will get better, especially after starter Kristian Fulton suffered a groin injury Sunday. — Turron Davenport
Next game: vs. Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
A.J. Brown’s second touchdown reception gives the Eagles a 28-10 lead.
What to know: It’s not Jordan Love time just yet. And Aaron Rodgers now has a bye week to get healthy. No one is ready to proclaim the Packers back in the playoff race after improving to 5-8, but with their long-awaited bye this week, they still have life — and a reason to keep playing the banged-up quarterback. A week off could do wonders for his broken right thumb and injured rib. With receiver Christian Watson (a TD catch and a TD run Sunday) still riding a heater, at least the Packers have reason to keep playing for now and not the future.
How much longer can coach Matt LaFleur stick with defensive coordinator Joe Barry? Thanks to cornerback Jaire Alexander’s interception with 2:52 left and Keisean Nixon’s with 44 seconds left, at least another couple of weeks. Last week, LaFleur was adamant that a defensive coordinator change was not the way to go. However, one seems inevitable, and it was worth wondering whether it could have happened during the bye had the Packers lost on Sunday — which was another day with wide-open pass-catchers and untouched ball carriers for much of the day. — Rob Demovsky
Next game: vs. Rams (Sunday, Dec. 18, 8:15 p.m. ET)
What to know: Justin Fields didn’t appear afflicted by his injured non-throwing shoulder in his first action since Nov. 20. This was Fields’ most well-rounded game of the season until he threw the first of two interceptions while attempting to lead the Bears on a game-winning drive with 2:57 to play. Earlier, the quarterback ran for a 55-yard touchdown and threw with anticipation, dropping a 56-yard dime to Equanimeous St. Brown to set up a second-quarter touchdown, working inside the pocket to find Cole Kmet on a big third-down throw and giving N’Keal Harry a 50-50 ball opportunity on a promising drive that was stunted by questionable playcalling.
How will the Bears approach their final four games after the Week 14 bye? Chicago was without three starters in the secondary and held up decently until Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers picked on rookie safety Elijah Hicks and rookie cornerback Jaylon Jones. The Bears hope to get safety Jaquan Brisker, cornerback Kyler Gordon and cornerback Kindle Vildor back following their bye and build on some of the positive moments they had against the Packers. How offensive coordinator Luke Getsy puts Fields in position to grow as a passer will be the focus for the rest of the season on offense. — Courtney Cronin
Next game: vs. Eagles (Sunday, Dec. 18, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Though they won back-to-back games for the first time this season with a 19-16 win in Atlanta, the Steelers (5-7) saw it almost slip away after a strong first half yet again. This time, though, instead of the offense going dormant, it was a defensive undoing that nearly cost the Steelers — until Minkah Fitzpatrick‘s pick sealed the win. The Falcons’ ground game woke up in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter, and gashed the Steelers’ defense for 118 second-half rushing yards — including 40 on a nine-minute drive in the fourth quarter that cut the Steelers’ lead to three. Meanwhile, in the first half, the Steelers held Atlanta to just 28 rushing yards. The Falcons might have pushed ahead of the Steelers on that fourth-quarter drive if not for untimely penalties in the red zone.
Where was George Pickens? Less than a week ago, Pickens continued his emergence as Kenny Pickett‘s favorite target with a team-high three receptions for 57 yards on “Monday Night Football.” Against the Falcons, though, the rookie receiver had just one target at halftime and didn’t get a second target until only 30 seconds remained in the third quarter. Pickens looked forlorn as wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson sat with him on the bench and defensive captain Cameron Heyward talked to him. Then, in the fourth, Diontae Johnson recorded his second drop of the game — initially ruled a fumble recovered by Atlanta — and Pickens walked off the field visibly frustrated. Sunday was Pickens’ second-lowest output of the season, with one catch for 2 yards (his worst was vs. Philadelphia in Week 8, when he didn’t record a catch). — Brooke Pryor
Next game: vs. Baltimore (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Falcons are still in the conversation to win the moribund NFC South, but at some point soon they’ll need to figure out what they have for 2023. Atlanta already has some answers at linebacker (Troy Andersen) and edge rusher (DeAngelo Malone), but the question will remain at quarterback, where Marcus Mariota (13-of-24 passing, 167 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) could not engineer a win, while Desmond Ridder has yet to take an offensive snap. The Falcons have lost four of their past five and are now 5-8 heading into a Week 14 bye. Depending on what happens in Monday night’s New Orleans-Tampa Bay game and in Week 14, when the Bucs play San Francisco, the Falcons might be on the fringes of the race. So it might be time to consider what they have in Ridder before it’s too late.
Can Atlanta rely on the pass at all? With each week it feels like the Falcons rely on the passing game less and less. Yes, they’ve been competitive largely without it, and they’ve found ways to pick their spots with play-action, but Atlanta’s inability to connect deep when the options were there against Pittsburgh — particularly on three plays at the end of the second quarter and two under pressure at the start of the third quarter — was particularly tough. Mariota hasn’t thrown for over 200 yards in a game since Week 8 and has completed 65% or more of his passes just once over that span. The lack of consistent passing fits the Falcons’ offensive preferences at the moment, but they could really use some more balance after the bye. — Michael Rothstein
Next game: at Saints (Sunday, Dec. 18)
What to know: The Lions have one of the league’s most potent offenses when healthy. Scoring has never been an issue for Detroit. Even during the 1-6 start, the Lions put up at least 30 points in four. Now the Lions have won four of their past five games. They scored a TD or field goal on eight consecutive drives — that is their longest streak to begin a game and their longest in a game at any point since 1971, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Credit quarterback Jared Goff, who hit wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown with two touchdowns, and now has rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams, who was making his NFL debut.
Should the Lions target Williams more going forward? Nobody in their right mind was expecting the rookie to be the focal point of the offense, or anything remotely close, after being out to recover from his ACL injury. As expected, the Lions did get him limited reps. He was targeted once on eight snaps by Goff, but as he’s able to shake the rust and get in sync with Goff, he should receive more attention going forward. The Lions’ offense continues to roll, now scoring 30 or more points in six games, and he can give them a legitimate vertical threat. — Eric Woodyard
Next game: vs. Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Jaguars invested too many resources on defense for the unit to play the way it did Sunday. They have two first-round picks rushing off the edge (Travon Walker and Josh Allen) and spent $69 million in guaranteed money on four free agents (Arden Key, Foley Fatukasi, Foye Oluokun and Darious Williams) in this offseason alone. Walker was the No. 1 overall pick, but they also drafted Devin Lloyd 27th overall, and he’s been benched for third-round pick Chad Muma. The unit gave up more than 400 yards and allowed the Lions to score on their first eight possessions. First-year coordinator Mike Caldwell has made some questionable calls as well. The Jaguars have to either figure something out in the offseason or revamp, because this isn’t close to being good enough.
Did Trevor Lawrence continue his hot streak? Lawrence’s numbers weren’t great, but he was hurt by five drops (three by Zay Jones and two by Evan Engram) and had three other incompletions on throwaways. It wasn’t his best performance, but it’s not anywhere close to some of the clunkers he has had. Still, the Jaguars could only manage one touchdown against the league’s worst defense. Lawrence also seemed to get hurt on a sack late in the first half but returned. He initially feared a left knee injury when he went down, but it turned out to be a lower leg injury. He played nearly the entire second half until the starters were taken out for the final possession. Lawrence said he was sore, but wasn’t wearing a boot or have his foot wrapped after the game. — Mike DiRocco
Next game: at Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Jared Goff finds Amon-Ra St. Brown for a couple of touchdowns, helping the Lions rout the Jaguars.
What to know: After an entire week of full participation in practice, quarterback Josh Allen is looking healthier and more like himself, which will be key for the Bills’ stretch run. Since the team’s bye in Week 7, the offense hadn’t looked consistently on the same page, and Allen’s elbow injury didn’t help. But the offense was able to put together a 15-play, nearly nine-minute drive when it needed to Thursday. Allen was 6-of-6 for 65 yards and rushed for 7 yards on that drive. The Bills’ offense took a step in the right direction after also committing to the rushing attack, especially with rookie James Cook.
How will Bills fair with Von Miller on injured reserve? Hours after Von Miller was placed on injured reserve, the Bills’ defense limited the Patriots’ offense to 10 points. That comes with a grain of salt, though, as New England struggled in general, but Patriots quarterback Mac Jones averaged 4.3 yards per attempt against four or fewer pass-rushers, his fewest with at least 10 attempts. He was pressured on 39.5% of his dropbacks, the second-highest rate of his career. The Bills have bigger tests to come against more cohesive offenses, but it was a step in the right direction with the return of the team’s younger pass-rushers, Greg Rousseau and AJ Epenesa. — Alaina Getzenberg
Next game: vs. Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The same problems that have plagued the offense for long stretches of the season — third down, red zone, ball security — continue to show up. That helped the Bills hold a decisive time-of-possession edge (38:08-21:52). The Patriots don’t seem to have a defined plan or vision for the offense, which highlights how the transition from former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels hasn’t gone as smoothly as coach Bill Belichick hoped. As Belichick has said in the past, it all comes back to him.
At 6-6, what hope is there the rest of the way? In a downtrodden locker room, some players focused on a silver lining. “We control our future,” receiver Kendrick Bourne said, while outside linebacker Matthew Judon added: “It’s not over yet.” Technically, the Patriots can still make a run to the playoffs with back-to-back road games against the Cardinals and Raiders, then back-to-back home games against the Bengals and Dolphins, before the regular-season finale at the Bills. But if they play like they did Thursday night, that’s a highly unlikely scenario. — Mike Reiss
Next game: at Cardinals (Monday, Dec. 12, 8:15 p.m. ET)