Though the jewel of Week 11 — a fascinating matchup of two 9-1 teams in the Chiefs and the Rams — would have to wait for Monday night, there was still plenty of action to sort through in Week 11.
On Sunday, there were four division games, nine games decided by one score, six second-half comebacks, plenty of touchdowns, and one devastating injury that could sink a team’s playoff hopes. But since no team in the league has clinched a playoff spot yet, the stakes remain high across the NFL with a month and a half of regular season left to play.
Here are the winners and losers from Sunday’s slate of games.
Dallas Cowboys: They might have just saved their season. The Cowboys battled back on the road to topple the Falcons, 22-19, on a game-winning field goal. Now, they sit at 5-5 and in second place in the NFC East. And, if they beat the Redskins on Thanksgiving, they’ll be tied atop the division. But even though Dallas won its pivotal game, it still has plenty to improve upon. The passing game, even with Amari Cooper (three catches for 36 yards), remains quite pedestrian. And, though unfortunate it might be (and more on that later), but a significant injury to a division foe could end up helping the Cowboys.
Andrew Luck: Forget comeback player of the year, the Colts’ quarterback is playing his way into the MVP conversation after yet another sterling performance in a 38-10 beating of the Titans. It was such a thorough domination that the Colts rested Luck with more than 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand. Luck now has seven consecutive games with at least three passing touchdowns, leaving him within striking distance of the all-time record. He trails only Peyton Manning (eight, in 2004) and Tom Brady (10, in 2007). He also became just the third player — joining Dan Marino and Aaron Rodgers — in league history to have at least 160 passing scores through their first 80 career games. And for the fifth game in a row, Indy didn’t allow Luck to get sacked — a big reason for his resurgence.
Saints defense: Everyone expects New Orleans to light up the scoreboard — and they did just that in a 48-7 thumping of the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles — but it might be the team’s defense that truly makes it a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They forced three interceptions and three sacks, and limited the Eagles to just 13 first downs and three-of-10 on third-down conversions. They might give up a lot of points against other high-powered offenses (like 35 in their Week 9 victory against the Rams), but that’s also a product of playing opposite an offense that churns through points and possessions. This is a defense that can shut opponents down.
Joe Flacco: It wasn’t quite the crisp performance Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson needed to unseat Joe Flacco (hip injury) as Baltimore’s clear starter, but it was a solid debut. Making his first career start, Jackson relied on his legs to help topple the division-rival Bengals, 24-21. Jackson finished with 27 carries — the most for a quarterback since 1950 — for 117 yards and completed 13 of 19 throws for 150 yards with one interception. His speed and elusiveness are unique, but Jackson showed he’s too limited as a passer to be relied upon as a week-to-week starter.
Minnesota Vikings: A slow start and sloppy, turnover-prone play put the Vikings in a hole they couldn’t climb out of. And in a battle for first place in the NFC North, they slipped and let the Bears take command of the division, 25-20. The Vikings (5-4-1) slid into the final playoff spot in the NFC. Pass protection, carelessness with the ball and a dormant rushing game all need to be fixed. The Bears (7-3), meanwhile, now have a nice cushion that puts them in the driver’s seat for the division. Still, a Week 17 rematch in Minnesota could ultimately decide who wins the NFC North, but the path for the Vikings to get there just got a lot harder.
Washington Redskins: It’s bad enough when you’re a team in first place in a wide-open NFC East and lose, 23-21, to the Texans. It’s much worse when your starting quarterback, Alex Smith, breaks his tibia and fibula and requires immediate surgery, ending his season. That means Washington — unless they add a veteran free agent — will try to reach the playoffs with backup Colt McCoy leading the offense. Washington’s (6-4) next three opponents are all division foes, with the next two against the Cowboys (5-5) and Eagles (4-6) coming on the road. And if McCoy doesn’t step up, the team’s postseason hopes could crumble.
Doug Pederson: This was the worst loss of Pederson’s head coaching career and the biggest margin of defeat by a defending Super Bowl champion. The Eagles offense is in disarray and has struggled to start games quickly. Injuries along the offensive line and in the secondary have decimated the depth chart. So, now Pederson needs to — very quickly — figure out solutions to solve the various problems (third-down ineptitude, red zone offensive inefficiency are atop the list) facing the team. Philly has lost two in a row and is 2-3 in its last five and the remaining schedule is unforgiving. Missing out on the playoffs is a very real possibility.
Jacksonville Jaguars: They held a 16-point lead late in the third quarter against a Steelers team they had dominated in recent history, but allowed Pittsburgh to score 20 unanswered to win the game. And now, the Jaguars (3-7) have lost six in a row, are currently the 14th seed — out of 16 teams — in the AFC playoff chase, and look like a long shot to play in January. So after last year’s AFC title game appearance, it’s clear that the Jags are one of this season’s most disappointing teams.