Week 13 in the NFL was a wild one, with a last-second win for the Raiders, an explosive first half for the Browns and arguably the biggest upset of the NFL season in Seattle.
And as the NFL enters its final month of the regular season, playoff races across the league are tightening, and some teams are rising while others are fading away.
Still, it wouldn’t be 2020 without a few quirks along the way. Case in point, there are still three games left to play in the week, with a Monday night doubleheader and a Tuesday game between the Cowboys and the Ravens scheduled.
In the meantime, here are the Week 13 winners and losers.
New York Giants
This isn’t an overstatement: the Giants toppling the Seahawks 17-12 on the road with backup quarterback Colt McCoy starting may be the biggest upset of the year. And it also may have set up the Giants, with rookie coach Joe Judge at the helm, as the favorites to take the NFC East. The Seahawks entered Sunday ranked third in the NFL in scoring, averaging 31 points per game.
New York has allowed 46 points in the last three games and its defense has suddenly become a strength of this team. In particular, the pass rush has stepped up. Defensive end Leonard Williams, a castoff from the crosstown-rival Jets, had 2 1/2 sacks and five quarterback hits against Seattle. The Giants have 12 sacks over their last four games, all of which they have won. While the remainder of the schedule isn’t necessarily favorable, the Giants have real momentum and have a chance to get a full game ahead of Washington, which plays the 11-0 Steelers on Monday night.
The Tank for Trevor
Yes, the Jets lost 31-28 to the Raiders, but the team overall is a big winner here. With the loss, they maintained their grip on the No. 1 overall selection in the draft, putting them in position to potentially draft Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (or Ohio State’s Justin Fields). New York is likely set to embark on a franchise-altering rebuild, with head coach Adam Gase and his assistants very likely to be out of work.
Securing the right to draft Lawrence could be the first step in creating stability at the sport’s most important position. But Lawrence, or whomever the Jets draft, won’t solve all the issues facing this team. Just look at the way New York lost this game, holding a four-point lead with 13 seconds left to play on a third-and-10.
Keep in mind that Henry Ruggs III’s game-winning 46-yard touchdown was one play after the Jets again got beat deep but Raiders quarterback Dereck Carr missed an open Nelson Agholor. Every team wants to win games, but a meaningless victory would have hurt the team’s long-term outlook far more than this loss did to preserve it.
Taysom Hill on third down
Not only did the Saints become the first team in the NFL to clinch a playoff berth with a 21-16 victory against the Falcons, backup quarterback Taysom Hill posted his best career game as a passer. Hill finished the game 27-of-37 for 232 yards and two passingi touchdowns – the first of his NFL career – and also added 83 rushing yards on 14 carries.
Though Hill’s production slowed in the second half, he was instrumental in helping New Orleans build a big enough lead in the first that Atlanta could not overcome, despite a late rally. And Hill was most impressive before intermission at extending drives. In the first half, Hill completed eight of nine his third-down passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. Among the completions were conversions on third-and-13 and third-and-17. Overall, Hill was 11-of-13 for 114 yards with the score on third down, and the Saints converted eight of 17 tries. Most important, New Orleans is now 3-0 with Hill as the starter while Drew Brees (ribs) is on the mend.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield posted the best first half a Cleveland quarterback has had since Hall of Fame passer Otto Graham did so in … December 1951. In the first half of Cleveland’s 41-35 demolition of the Titans, Mayfield had as many touchdowns (four) as he had incompletions. His performance in the second half was more pedestrian, but Cleveland didn’t need him to be anything else. Mayfield finished the game 25-of-33 for 334 yards with the four scores.
While Mayfield at times struggles in cycling through his various reads, Sunday’s performance showed how he has honed some more subtle aspects of his game. In particular, he continues to draw teams offside with hard counts and has fooled defenses with his play-action fakes and misdirection plays. The 75-yard touchdown to receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones was a mastery in freezing the defensive front – and free safety Amani Hooker – to create that open space. Mayfield hasn’t thrown an interception in the last five games and Cleveland secured its first winning season since 2007. The playoffs look to be next.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, and even coach Doug Pederson, typically bear most of the blame for Philadelphia’s utter incompetence this season. But not enough scrutiny has fallen on general manager Howie Roseman, whose numerous misses in the draft and inability to anticipate weaknesses as his roster aged have left the Eagles looking completely lost. Their 30-16 loss against the Packers was just more proof of that.
The offensive line, in particular, has been abysmal. While Wentz often holds onto the ball too long, this marked the 10th consecutive game that the Philadelphia line had allowed three or more sacks. Pederson benched Wentz in the middle of the third quarter, letting rookie second-round pick Jalen Hurts get his first extended time under center. Hurts (5-of-12, 138 total yards, one touchdown, one interception) did provide a bit of a spark, but the lack of star talent at receiver and holes in the secondary continue to plague this team. And there’s nothing the quarterback can do to erase that. This is a problem of Roseman’s own doing.
Chargers special teams
Plenty went wrong in New England’s 45-0 destruction of L.A. Again, Bill Belichick flustered a rookie quarterback. The Chargers had no answer to stop New England’s rushing attack. Los Angeles didn’t even get inside the red zone once. But let’s focus on special teams.
The Patriots punted the ball four times Sunday. On one of those, the Chargers were flagged for 12 men on the field. On two others, they had just 10 players. Then, when the Chargers punted, it wasn’t much better. Patriots return man Gunner Olszewski had a 70-yard return for a score in the second quarter and then had a 61-yard return in the fourth. Kicker Michael Badgley missed a 46-yard attempt in the first quarter and then had a 58-yard try blocked and returned for a touchdown by the Patriots. In a season that may see some prominent coaches on this staff get fired, mental mistakes like these help justify those moves.
Chiefs red-zone offense
Kansas City beat Denver 22-16 and clinched a spot in the playoffs, but a troubling sign continues to emerge, and it’s one that kept Denver close in this game. The Chiefs, despite their offensive horsepower, entered Sunday tied for 12th in the NFL in offensive red-zone efficiency, converting 62.8% of their trips into touchdowns.
Against the Broncos, Kansas City had to settle for four field goals in its first four trips inside the red zone. Two of those were in goal-to-go situations. The Chiefs did eventually get a 20-yard scoring strike to tight end Travis Kelce. Against weaker opponents like Denver, the Chiefs had enough to overcome the red-zone inefficiency. But as opponents get tougher in the postseason, this is an issue Kansas City will need to clean up.
The Kyler-Kingbury connection
The Cardinals have lost four of their last five, with the latest a 38-28 disappointment against the NFC West-rival Rams. The primary problem, though there is plenty of blame to be shared, rests with the team’s offense and the stagnancy that has hit the once-explosive pairing of coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray.
Murray did throw three touchdowns against the Rams, but defenses have stifled Arizona’s attack recently, and it may be because they’re preventing the quarterback from creating big plays with his legs. Over his last three games, Murray has carried the ball 15 times for just 61 yards after he had been a force on the ground earlier in the season. Murray is also averaging just 204 passing yards over that span. A pick-six in the fourth quarter that basically ended the game was also troublesome. But worse yet, the Cardinals have been overtaken for the seventh and final seed in the NFC playoff picture by the Vikings, who won their game against the Jaguars.