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NFL Week 13 takeaways – What we learned, big questions for every game and future team outlooks

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Week 13 of the 2021 NFL season began with the Cowboys getting back on track Thursday night against the Saints.

And it kept rolling on Sunday with big wins for NFC powerhouses Tampa Bay and Arizona. The Bucs’ offense excelled behind four Tom Brady touchdown passes and the Cardinals enjoyed getting quarterback Kyler Murray and receiver DeAndre Hopkins back. Arizona got to double-digit wins and maintained the top spot in the conference.

But the biggest news of the early window was the Lions’ first win of the season, which came on a TD pass from Jared Goff to Amon-Ra St. Brown on the final play of the game.

Elsewhere, the Colts’ defense was impressive, shutting out the Texans and making a move in the AFC South. The Chargers piled on points against the Bengals and forced Joe Burrow into a pair of interceptions. The Eagles looked good in a 15-point win over the Jets without Jalen Hurts, and the Dolphins took care of business against the Giants to get their fifth straight win.

In the late window, the Rams crushed the Jaguars who appear to be inching closer to the No. 1 pick in the draft. Washington narrowly defeated the Raiders.

Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about each team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.

Jump to a matchup:
TB-ATL | LAC-CIN | ARI-CHI
NYG-MIA | IND-HOU | MIN-DET
PHI-NYJ | DAL-NO

Washington

What to know: After four straight wins, Washington is a team worth watching over the final five weeks thanks to another fourth-quarter comeback drive by quarterback Taylor Heinicke. He’s adept at overcoming his own mistakes (he threw a fourth-quarter pick Sunday) to lead game-winning drives. During this streak, Washington has defeated Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay and won twice on the road. It has won with a defense playing far above its early-season performances. It did that again Sunday, holding the Raiders under their season averages in points, total yards and yards per play. This despite missing defensive back Landon Collins and defensive ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat because of injuries. They’re down to their fourth center and were missing running back J.D. McKissic. Washington plays physical and with confidence. — John Keim

Can they catch Dallas? It will be tough, but Washington plays the Cowboys twice in the next three weeks, starting next Sunday at home. The WFT is two games behind the Cowboys in the NFC East, so it’s not out of the question it can make the division race a lot more interesting than anyone thought a month ago. Heck, even two weeks ago. It helps that its final five games are against divisional opponents. A 3-2 record is doable, but can Washington continue to win with a major emphasis on ball control? It’s keyed the four-game streak, but Washington will need more consistency — and chunk plays — from the pass game. — Keim

Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.6, up from 6.3. They keep overcoming injuries and even their own mistakes to find ways to win. They are a tough-minded, physical team.

Next game: vs. Cowboys (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Raiders

What to know: Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio won the chess match within the game against his former quarterback in Derek Carr. Barely. It took a 48-yard field goal with 37 seconds to play so it wasn’t really checkmate. But it didn’t have to be. Del Rio, who was with the Raiders from 2015-17 and has the highest winning percentage of any Raiders coach since Hall of Famer Tom Flores resigned after the 1987 season, kept Carr uncomfortable and cautious through the first three quarters. Long enough to keep big plays to a minimum and keep Washington in control and in position for the win. — Paul Gutierrez

What happened to that aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach Carr and the Raiders offense showed in Dallas on Thanksgiving? Indeed. Carr is, by nature, a patient quarterback, one that infuriates fans who recall his more swashbuckling days under Del Rio in 2016. But when he’s not taking deep shots — and firing high to open receivers — in a game for the taking it stings. Simply put, he had to get comfortable against a defensive coordinator who knows him well and it took too long. Carr averaged 10.1 yards per attempt in the second half after averaging 4.5 yards per attempts in the first half. And the Raiders, with the lackluster 17-15 loss, are 6-6 and sliding in the AFC West. — Gutierrez

Gutierrez’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.5, down from 7.5. The up again, down again vibe of the Raiders is infuriating and, as they say, you are what your record says you are.

Next game: at Chiefs (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Rams

What to know: The Rams stopped a three-game losing streak with a win over the Jaguars, but it wasn’t exactly the type of victory that immediately returns the star-laden roster to the Super Bowl conversation. Consistency in all three phases remains a pressing matter, even as quarterback Matthew Stafford reestablished a connection with Cooper Kupp and continued to build a rapport with Odell Beckham Jr. The defense produced two turnovers and special teams remained less than special. With the win, the Rams proved, once again, they could beat up on a floundering team, but questions remain about whether they can take down the top talent. — Lindsey Thiry

Are the Rams ready for the Cardinals? Outside of an impressive Week 3 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Rams have struggled to perform against the NFC’s top teams this season. After dominating the Cardinals the past four years, winning seven straight, the Rams fell 37-20 to quarterback Kyler Murray and the Cardinals in a Week 4 rout. The Rams will get another chance against the division leaders on Monday Night Football in Week 14, with an opportunity to prove they still deserve to be among teams capable of a Super Bowl run. — Thiry

Thiry’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.2, up from 7. The Rams earn an ever-so-slight uptick as they decisively avoided letting a three-game skid turn into four. The offense showed signs of growth without Robert Woods and with the new pieces of Beckham and even Ben Skowronek, while the defense took advantage of turnover opportunities and played with an aggression that had been recently missing.

Next game: at Cardinals (Monday, Dec. 13, 8:15 p.m. ET)


Jaguars

What to know: There are still five games remaining, but the Jaguars appear headed for the top overall again. Detroit won (1-10-1) and has shown signs of improvement. Houston is also 2-11, but the Texans have already beaten the Jaguars once (they play again in Jacksonville on Dec. 19). The Jaguars’ offense continues to flounder — there are no fixes available until the offseason — and injuries are beginning to mount. This roster doesn’t have enough playmakers. There have been five instances when a team had the first overall pick in back-to-back drafts. The latest was Cleveland in 2017-18, picks that netted the Browns Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield. — Mike DiRocco

When will the Jaguars win a game against an NFC opponent? That’s going to have to wait until 2022. The Jaguars have lost 15 in a row to NFC teams, dating back to a season-opening victory over the New York Giants in 2018. The Jaguars play the NFC East next season (Dallas and New York at home and at Washington and Philadelphia). — DiRocco

DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 0.5, down from 1.5. The Jaguars are so limited offensively that asking for more than 10 points (when the game isn’t in garbage time) feels outrageous, and the defense pretty much has to play a perfect game every week just to have a chance to win.

Next game: at Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Lions

What to know: Lions first-year coach Dan Campbell was finally able to celebrate after Jared Goff hit Amon-Ra St. Brown with a last-second 11-yard TD pass to snap Detroit’s 15-game winless streak. Detroit hadn’t won in the regular season or preseason in nearly a full calendar year, dating back to Dec. 6, 2020, against the Bears. The Lions held their largest lead of the season at the half, 20-6. The Vikings took a four-point lead with 1:50 left but the Lions fought back with the 75-yard TD drive despite missing running back D’Andre Swift, who was out with a shoulder injury. After the game, Campbell dedicated a game ball to the Oxford, Michigan, community, where a shooting at Oxford High School on Tuesday claimed the lives of four students. The Lions honored the victims with a moment of silence ahead of kickoff, while also wearing T-shirts and helmet decals as a tribute. — Eric Woodyard

Can the Lions build off this dramatic win? Yes. It’s easier to build off an actual win than a moral victory, and the Lions had plenty of the latter this season. Detroit played hard and kept teams close, even tying the Steelers, but against a Vikings team fighting to stay playoff-relevant, they took the next step and found a way to win. — Woodyard

Woodyard’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, up from 2. Yes, the Lions got their first win, but it’s also not the time to throw a parade in the Motor City. This team still has a ton of holes, but they played their best game of the season on Sunday. The win was much needed.

Next game: at Broncos (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


Vikings

What to know: This loss was inexcusable, yet felt inevitable. Minnesota did everything it could to let the previously winless Lions hang around and walk off with a touchdown on the final play of the game. There is nothing to be proud of here for the Vikings, who regained the lead with 1:50 remaining only to lose it 14 plays later when Jared Goff hit Amon-Ra St. Brown for the winning TD. Minnesota did everything it could to lose this game: poor offensive playcalling and execution, penalties and a strange defensive game plan that let Goff off the hook from the very start. Receiver Justin Jefferson was terrific, as usual, and had Minnesota gotten him involved far earlier than the end of the second quarter, this game might have gone differently. The Vikings brought their D-plus game to Detroit and thought it would be enough to beat a bad team. — Courtney Cronin

Are the Vikings close to making changes to the coaching staff/front office? Have Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf seen enough to want to change the direction of this franchise? Minnesota got embarrassed by a team with a 0-10-1 record and that led 20-6 at halftime. The Wilfs saw passes sail well short of the sticks on second- and third-and-long all day, and two questionable 2-point conversion playcalls that failed. They saw the Lions win a game after finishing 2-for-11 on third down. They saw ill-fated game plans on offense and defense. Now the question is whether Minnesota’s owners will make changes to their coaching staff and/or front office, and if they do, will those come in December or the offseason? — Cronin

Cronin’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 6. Minnesota has a short week with Pittsburgh coming to town Thursday night. Another loss would drop the Vikings to 5-8, put them further behind in the race for the No. 7 seed and be the nail in the coffin on the season.

Next game: vs. Steelers (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

Buccaneers

What to know: The Bucs deviated from their run-first approach this season, with quarterback Tom Brady attempting 51 passes. The result was four passing touchdowns (two to tight end Rob Gronkowski), and wide receiver Chris Godwin setting a single-game franchise record with 15 catches — the most in an NFL game this year. Brady’s first two scores came on a pair of 3-yard passes to running back Leonard Fournette and tight end Cam Brate. Without safeties Jordan Whitehead (calf) and Mike Edwards (suspended), the Bucs gave up some big plays early, like a missed tackle on Cordarrelle Patterson on a pitch that was taken 39 yards — the longest run play given up by the Bucs all season. It set up a 17-yard touchdown run by Mike Davis. But the defense notched five sacks, with Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea getting two apiece. — Jenna Laine

How does Sunday’s win impact the Bucs’ playoff positioning? With Sunday’s win, the Bucs extended their lead to four games in the NFC South and moved into a tie for second place in the NFC seeding with the Green Bay Packers, who were on a bye week (although the Packers would win the tiebreaker because they have a better conference record). Only the top two seeds are guaranteed home-field advantage until the conference finals, with only the top seed getting a first-round bye. The Bucs could benefit from playing at home considering their scoring differential between home (21.6) and road games (minus-2.33) this year. — Laine

Laine’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.5, up from 8. Cornerbacks Carlton Davis‘ and Sean Murphy-Bunting‘s return to health, along with the Bucs’ five-sack performance, evokes more confidence in the defense, even though it gave up a couple of big plays by Patterson, Kyle Pitts and Mike Davis.

Next game: vs. Bills (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

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Tom Brady throws two of his four touchdown passes to Rob Gronkowski as the Buccaneers take down the Falcons.


Falcons

What to know: One of the biggest inconsistencies this season for the Falcons has been the lack of a run game. Any progress one week would be stifled the next. But now, with the season hitting the homestretch, Atlanta seems to have discovered more consistency on the ground. A lot of that has to do with Cordarrelle Patterson, who had 78 yards on 13 carries, becoming the team’s main back. Mike Davis, who at one point was expected to be the No. 1 back, has found a secondary role and had three rushes for 29 yards and the Falcons’ lone offensive touchdown. When Atlanta ran well against Jacksonville, that was one thing. That the Falcons could do it against Tampa Bay, which entered the day as the league’s best run defense, signals some progress on the ground. This was the first time Atlanta rushed for 100-plus yards in back-to-back games since Weeks 2 and 3 last year — something to build on as the Falcons try to fight for a playoff spot. — Michael Rothstein

What can the Falcons do to limit the pressure on Matt Ryan? At face value, the overall season numbers don’t look bad (26 sacks) — but Matt Ryan has been sacked 10 times in the past three weeks, including a season-worst five Sunday. The majority of those came from the interior of the offensive line, where Atlanta struggled to handle Vita Vea (two sacks) and Ndamukong Suh (two sacks). Atlanta knows it has some issues on the offensive line despite having three first-round picks and two third-round picks as starters — hence the rotation at center between Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman. After working well against the Jaguars, Dalman had two botched snaps Sunday, including one essentially at the goal line in the first half that helped stall a drive and led to a field goal. But this is a team that has given up at least one sack in every game but one this season (Week 5 against the Jets) and has struggled to protect Ryan, who took 41 sacks in 2020, 48 in 2019 and 42 in 2018. — Rothstein

Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.6, no change from 3.6. No change because what was expected to happen — a Falcons team that played decent but didn’t have enough to win — is exactly what occurred.

Next game: at Panthers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Chargers

What to know: Sometimes a team with the fewest mistakes wins the game; other times it’s a team with a lot of mistakes who recovers from them best. That’s what happened Sunday. Up 24-6, the Los Angeles Chargers turned it over on three straight drives for the first time since 2019. Running back Austin Ekeler had his first career game with multiple fumbles. Quarterback Justin Herbert was sacked four times and threw a pick. Linebacker Joey Bosa went out with a head injury. Somehow, the Chargers still won the game. — Shelley Smith

How did they do it? Cornerback Tevaughn Campbell played a big role, recovering a rare Joe Mixon fumble and returning it 61 yards for a touchdown to turn a 2-point game into a two-possession game. — Smith

Smith’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 5.5. Somehow they came into this stadium, made every mistake imaginable and won, which may have huge playoff implications.

Next game: vs. Giants (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


Bengals

What to know: Cincinnati squandered the opportunity to build some serious momentum in its playoff push in a loss to the Chargers. Earlier in the week, Bengals coach Zac Taylor acknowledged Sunday was a chance to win three straight games, an opportunity that has slipped out of their grasp twice this season. An injury-depleted roster came close to digging out of a 24-point hole, but Cincinnati couldn’t cobble together the three-game win streak it wanted. — Ben Baby

Are the Bengals going to be healthy enough to secure the playoff berth? Before Sunday, Cincinnati was one of the healthiest teams in the league. But starting cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and linebacker Logan Wilson were both knocked out of the game with injuries. Quarterback Joe Burrow also injured his right pinkie. Burrow aside, those are key positions that will have big implications. But Cincinnati cannot afford Burrow going down or being hampered the rest of the way. — Baby

Baby’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.2, down from 6.7. Cincinnati’s injury problems are more concerning than the loss that dampens the Bengals’ playoff hopes.

Next game: vs. 49ers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Cardinals

What to know: Kyler Murray is back. The Cardinals quarterback returned Sunday against the Bears after missing three games with a high left ankle sprain and looked like the Murray of old. There were a few odds and ends that the Cardinals need to clean up in their comfortable win in Chicago, but Sunday was the best they’ve looked after a bye in Kliff Kingsbury’s three seasons in Arizona. — Josh Weinfuss

What will stand between the Cardinals and the No. 1 overall seed? Not much. Coming out of the bye with a big win over the Bears shows this team — and coaching staff — has taken significant strides from the past two seasons. That will bode well, and likely prevent a meltdown down the stretch, as Murray looked like the Murray of old in his return. Arizona’s remaining schedule is favorable, with games against the Rams next week and the Cowboys in the penultimate game of the season the most daunting. Besides that, Arizona is playing like a team in line for the NFC’s top seed, which comes with home-field advantage until the Super Bowl. — Weinfuss

Weinfuss’ confidence rating (0-10): 8.8, up from 8.5. An improvement was warranted because of the win, but there were some small issues — perhaps rust — coming off the bye that Arizona needs to clean up before getting into the thick of the homestretch.

Next game: vs. Rams (Monday, Dec. 13, 8:15 p.m. ET)

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James Conner snares a ball with his left hand and gets into the end zone to finish off a 23-yard touchdown.


Bears

What to know: A rough day by Bears quarterback Andy Dalton kept getting worse — thanks in part to him, his receivers and the Cardinals’ defense. Dalton threw four interceptions in Sunday’s loss, tying his career high. One was for sure Dalton’s fault, two went off the hands of his receivers and another was on an incredible play at the line of scrimmage by Cardinals defensive lineman Zach Allen. Dalton’s picks led to 23 Arizona points in total, including 14 in the first quarter, which gave the Bears — losers of six of their past seven games — too large of a deficit to overcome. — Josh Weinfuss

How many games could the Bears win to finish the season? Chicago could win three more games down the stretch, with two games against the Vikings, plus one each against the Packers, Giants and Seahawks, still remaining on the schedule. If the Bears could finish that stretch 3-2, they would end the season at 7-10. Would that be good enough for embattled head coach Matt Nagy to keep his job? — Weinfuss

NFL Nation’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.5, no change from last week. The Bears didn’t play terrible. But they did run into a Cardinals team that might be the best in the NFL, and challenged it for most of the game. — Weinfuss

Next game: at Packers (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

Eagles

What to know: Quarterback Gardner Minshew’s performance is going to create quite a stir in Philadelphia. He matched Donovan McNabb for highest first-half completion rate (93.3%) by an Eagles QB since 1991 and led the offense to scores on its first seven possessions. Minshew maneuvered well within the pocket and was in command. With a bye coming up, there will be two weeks worth of debate over whether he has earned another start. The expectation is Jalen Hurts will reclaim his job once his sprained left ankle has healed up. But that won’t keep the sports-talk phone lines from burning up. — Tim McManus

With playmakers like Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders coming alive, are the Eagles back in the playoff hunt? Goedert set a career high with 105 receiving yards and had his first multi-touchdown game as a pro, while Sanders finished with 144 total yards. That’s certainly encouraging, though it’s fair to wonder how much Goedert’s career day was tied to the play of Minshew. And Sanders appeared to reinjure an ankle down the stretch. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Eagles’ playoff chances rose from 25% to 30% with the win. With one of the easiest closing schedules in the NFL, they’ll be in the mix the rest of the way. — McManus

McManus’ confidence rating (0-10): 4.7, up from 4.1. It was the Jets, so let’s not get carried away. But the Eagles should win more than they lose the rest of the way regardless of the quarterback.

Next game: vs. Washington (Sunday, Dec. 19, 1 p.m. ET)


Jets

What to know: Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson conquered his first-half demons, leading touchdown drives on the Jets’ first three possessions. The Jets lost the game, and Wilson did have a fourth-quarter interception on an overthrow, but perspective is important. Wilson, the key to the franchise’s future, took a couple of baby steps. For a change, he wasn’t skittish in the first quarter. There also were no lingering effects from his recent knee injury, which bothered him last week. Operating a conservative passing attack, Wilson (22-for-37, 226 yards) threw for two short touchdowns and ran for another. Why was this so important? Before Sunday, Wilson had the NFL’s lowest first-quarter QBR (0.7) since 2000. He played well enough to beat the Eagles, but his defense was trash, as usual. — Rich Cimini

Was the Jets’ defense surprised by Eagles quarterback Gardner Minshew? It sure looked like it. The Jets looked utterly unprepared for Minshew, an 11th-hour injury replacement, and the Eagles’ passing attack. The Jets prepared for the dangerously mobile Jalen Hurts, who was scratched due to a lingering ankle injury. To say they failed to adjust would be an understatement, as the Eagles scored on their first seven possessions. Minshew (20-for-25, 242 yards, two TDs) was nearly flawless. Everybody knows the Jets, ranked 32nd in total defense, are talent deficient, but there was no excuse for this. This was a failure by the coaching staff, which expected one thing and got another. — Cimini

Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.5, down from 4. With nine losses, the Jets clinched their sixth consecutive losing season, a drought that has covered three different head coaches. When does it stop?

Next game: vs. Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Colts

What to know: It wasn’t pretty and the Colts sputtered at times, but they did what they were supposed to do to beat the lowly Texans. The Colts moved back to above .500 and they’ve finally reached their bye week with a relatively healthy team for the final month of the season. They’ll have two weeks to prepare for the most pivotal stretch of their season with back-to-back games against New England and Arizona, teams that are likely headed to the playoffs, awaiting them on the other side of the bye. The Colts will likely need to win three of their final four games to make the playoffs. The problem: Three of those four opponents went into Sunday with a winning record. The Colts have beaten only one team (Buffalo) with a winning record this season. — Mike Wells

Can Jonathan Taylor reach 2,000 yards rushing? Not likely. Taylor has 1,348 rushing yards with four games remaining in the regular season. That means he’ll need to average 163 yards over the final four games to become just the seventh running back to reach that milestone. Taylor has topped 163 yards rushing in a game twice in 13 games this season. — Wells

Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.7, no change from last week. Nothing changed for the Colts from last week against Tampa because the Texans aren’t a good team and Indianapolis was supposed to beat them.

Next game: vs. Patriots (Saturday, Dec. 18, 8:20 p.m. ET)

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Carson Wentz hands the ball off to Jonathan Taylor, who finds a hole and takes it in for his second short-yardage touchdown vs. the Texans.


Texans

What to know: Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills have struggled, but the Texans also haven’t put them in a position to succeed. After playing well in Houston’s first two games before he injured his left hamstring, Taylor has been ineffective since he returned from injured reserve. And while he has been unable to protect the football, he also has had to play with poor protection and without impact playmakers beyond wide receiver Brandin Cooks. It has been clear all season that the Texans lack the talent to compete with the best in the NFL, but Sunday showed once again that they are not just a quarterback away from winning in the NFL. — Sarah Barshop

Is it time to stay with Mills? Last week, coach David Culley said Mills would play only “if something happens to Tyrod [Taylor].” Taylor was evaluated in the medical tent during the third quarter but was cleared to play, and the team said it was Culley’s decision to play Mills instead. Culley has said all season that when healthy, Taylor gives the Texans the best chance to win. While Mills has also struggled, there is a better chance that he is in Houston’s plans for the future. If that is the case, it would make sense to get another look at Mills before the Texans make a decision about the quarterback position for next season. — Barshop

Barshop’s confidence rating (0-10): 0.6, down from 0.8. The confidence rating has gone upward only once since the Texans opened the season with a win — and a blowout loss to the Colts this week drives the number down even further.

Next game: vs. Seahawks (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Dolphins

What to know: Until the Dolphins develop a more consistent run game, expect this kind of stat line from Tua Tagovailoa — a lot of attempts and a lot of short, quick passes. The second-year quarterback completed 30 of 41 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns — that’s 8.1 yards per completion. He completed 5 of 12 passes beyond 10 yards but connected on 21 of 24 passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Tagovailoa’s numbers would have looked a little prettier were it not for a handful of drops by Dolphins receivers. And you can’t argue with the results. He put up big numbers in Week 5 and Week 6 — both losses — so as long as this system continues to work, don’t expect it to change. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Can the Dolphins win out? When Miami stopped its losing streak in Week 9, the goal was to get to .500 by the time it traveled to New Orleans in Week 16. But with the Saints and Tennessee Titans looking increasingly vulnerable, and the Patriots gunning for a No. 1 seed (and possibly resting starters in Week 18), it is suddenly conceivable that the Dolphins’ winning streak lasts through the end of the regular season. They are getting healthier and peaking at the right time. If they didn’t lose seven of their first eight games, we would be calling them the hottest team in the NFL. — Louis-Jacques

Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 8.3, up from 8. Miami will have some explaining to do if it somehow loses to the Jets in Week 15; this defense is too good and its offense has been far more efficient as of late.

Next game: vs. Jets (Sunday, Dec. 19, 1 p.m. ET)


Giants

What to know: It doesn’t matter who is the quarterback or offensive coordinator. The Giants’ offense is hard to watch. It’s borderline incompetent. From the offensive line’s struggles to the missed throws by quarterback Mike Glennon, who was playing for an injured Daniel Jones, to key drops and communication issues. All ugly. A unit that came in averaging 18.4 points per game could have played for days before hitting that number in Miami. The Giants (4-8) finished with nine points and 250 total yards. — Jordan Raanan

What now with the playoffs not even a realistic dream scenario? It’s time to start thinking about the future. It’s not really if, but when, they get a new general manager in the building. And what about the quarterback and coach? The Giants want to see more from Jones. But it’s not clear when he will return from his neck injury, and even if he does, what can he do behind this offense line and with the skill positions depleted? Even running back Saquon Barkley has something to prove. He looks like a shell of his former self. — Raanan

Raanan’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.4, down from 4. The Giants are a poor man’s version of the Dolphins. That isn’t necessarily good.

Next game: at Chargers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Cowboys

What to know: This was a 27-17 win over the Saints the Cowboys needed to get back on track. Style points did not matter. The Cowboys did not have their head coach. They did not have five other coaches and two players. They lost two straight and three of four entering the contest and still responded. Mike McCarthy, who was watching from Texas, called it “an adversity win.” It wasn’t pretty, but the Cowboys improved to 8-4 and extended their lead in the NFC East and kept up the possibility of earning home-field advantage and one of the top three spots in the playoffs. — Todd Archer

Are the Cowboys back? It’s difficult to say because the Saints have now lost five straight games. But this can build confidence in the Cowboys’ ability to handle adversity. This season, the Cowboys have won games without Dak Prescott (Oct. 31 vs. Minnesota) and McCarthy. They are getting players back from injury (Randy Gregory, Neville Gallimore) and have players getting up to speed (DeMarcus Lawrence, Amari Cooper) off injuries or the COVID-19 list. They also have young players carrying the load (Micah Parsons, CeeDee Lamb). With five weeks left in the regular season, the Cowboys have put themselves in position to make a run. They have to get hot now if they want to be a team with a legit chance to go far. — Archer

Archer’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.4, up from 7.9. It wasn’t a work of art — they couldn’t run the ball well and it seemed Prescott forced some plays — but it’s a win. And that’s all that mattered on Thursday night.

Next game: at Washington (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Saints

What to know: For a minute, it looked like Taysom Hill’s legs might inject some life into the Saints’ flailing offense. But then the wheels came off when he had to play catchup, with three of his four interceptions coming in the fourth quarter. Maybe the Saints (5-7) will find new life if stars like Alvin Kamara, Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk return against the Jets on the road in Week 14. But it might be too late now that they’ve lost five straight in a season for the first time under Sean Payton. — Mike Triplett

Will the Saints stick with Taysom Hill at quarterback? Yes, as long as his foot and finger injuries are OK. Hill’s performance can’t be sugarcoated. He was off target on some passes even before he started “pressing” and throwing those late INTs. But he also ran for 101 yards — and he does offer some needed juice if he can start throwing with more accuracy. “I thought he played with a lot of heart, a lot of guts. We didn’t help him any in the first half,” Payton said. — Triplett

Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.1, down from 4.5. A smaller dip this time since the Saints should be healthier and more competitive next week. But their playoff chances have plummeted from 83% to 20% since Week 8, according to ESPN’s FPI.

Next game: at Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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Dallas Cowboys’ Mike McCarthy told he will return as head coach in 2022

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Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has been told that he will return in 2022, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Ed Werder on Thursday.

Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones has so far declined to commit to McCarthy’s return publicly after Dallas’ playoff exit with a wild-card round loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

USA Today Sports first reported that McCarthy had been told he will return.

On Jan. 17, Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said in an interview with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas that he was “very confident” McCarthy would return but just days later, Jerry Jones wouldn’t divulge his conversations with the coaching staff and their futures in an interview with the same radio station.

McCarthy has said that he wasn’t concerned about his future as head coach, saying in a new conference on Jan. 19 that he had positive conversations with Jerry Jones after the loss to the 49ers.

McCarthy has an 18-15 regular-season record in two seasons, which includes a 12-5 mark and NFC East title in 2021, buoyed by quarterback Dak Prescott‘s return to health and a revamped defense that led the NFL in takeaways (34) under new coordinator Dan Quinn.

Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Dianna Russini on Thursday that Quinn will return next season as defensive coordinator interviewed for the head-coaching vacancies of the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins and New York Giants.

While the offense finished No. 1 in yards and points this season, they had no consistency, scoring 16 and 9 points in losses to the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs in a three-week span mixed around a 43-3 win against the Atlanta Falcons. They scored 56 and 51 points in two of their last three games, wins against the Washington Football Team and Philadelphia Eagles, but lost a key home game in Week 17 against the Arizona Cardinals that effectively ended their chances for the No. 2 seed in the postseason.

In the playoff loss to the 49ers, they scored just 17 points and trailed by 16 points in the fourth quarter. A potential game-winning drive was thwarted when the clock ran out after a 17-yard run by Prescott when the ball was not set for play in time. It is one of several clock-management issues McCarthy has had in his two-year tenure.

Penalties also have been an issue. The Cowboys led the league in penalties with 127 for 1,103 yards. In the playoff loss to San Francisco, the Cowboys were flagged 14 times for 89 yards, tied for the most in a playoff game in team history (Eagles, 2009 wild card, which Dallas won.)

ESPN’s Todd Archer contributed to this report.

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Why Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill had to pivot this season

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Used to providing big plays and long touchdowns for the Kansas City Chiefs, Tyreek Hill sounded weary earlier in the season with his new role as more of a possession receiver.

“It’s hard, especially for me, because I’m used to going 80 [yards] every play,” Hill said after a Week 10 win over the Las Vegas Raiders in which he caught two touchdown passes, one from 1 yard out and the other from 8.

“Coach [Andy] Reid, he’s just got to keep me calm on the sideline. I’m a head case, man. I’m used to going down the field. Now I’m running 12-yard ins. That’s not something I’m used to.”

Hill has had to adapt this season with so many teams using two deep safeties against the Chiefs. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has thrown him shorter routes underneath the coverage rather than not getting him the ball at all. And it has worked.

Exhibit A: His 64-yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter of last week’s divisional-round playoff win over the Buffalo Bills. Hill caught the pass around midfield for what would have been a modest gain, but he turned on the jets for one of several late scores that propelled the Chiefs into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Cincinnati Bengals (3 p.m. ET, CBS).

“He’s excellent after the catch,” said ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen, a former NFL safety. “You talk about catch-and-run ability, his is near the top of the league. That’s why you see Kansas City throw so many quicks, throw so many unders and use him on wide receivers screens. That allows him to play to his ability of attacking open grass.”

Hill (and his speed) is the reason for the Chiefs facing so many defensive looks with two deep safeties designed to take away his ability to get the big play. It’s a defensive concept the Chiefs have seen in the past but one that was proved especially effective by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their 31-9 victory over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV. In the season that has followed that Super Bowl loss, the Chiefs faced two high safeties 54.8% of the time, according to ESPN Metrics and NFL Next Gen Stats. That was not only the highest percentage in the league this season — by nearly 5% — but the highest in at least the past five years.

“You have to respect the speed,” Bowen said. “It creates consistent conflict for opposing defenses. What you’re going to get is more two-high looks because defenses are threatened by his ability to get down the field.”

Those looks caused the Chiefs and Mahomes to sputter at times, especially early. But it wasn’t just Mahomes who had to adjust as opposing defenses worked to take away the many big plays that were the signature of the Chiefs’ offense.

Hill is another player who had to learn another way of doing things. He caught 13 passes this season of 20 yards or more, and 26 receivers around the NFL had more. As a comparison, Hill caught 27 passes of 20 or more yards in 2018 — most in the NFL. He averaged 11.2 yards per catch during the 2021 regular season, or fewer than tight end Travis Kelce, wide receivers Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle and running back Derrick Gore. In 2018, he averaged 17 yards per catch to lead the Chiefs among their regulars.

Hill might not have loved his new role during the 2021 season, but he took to it nicely. His 111 catches broke Kelce’s year-old team record.

“That one is supposed to be held by a wide receiver. The tight end isn’t always the focal point in the offense,” Kelce said. “Tyreek has done an incredible job of taking his game to the next level. Sure enough, you see him breaking records … and he’s just going to keep taking off. It’s so fun to play with him.”

Speed and quickness are obvious assets for Hill, but he has always fought back on the notion that he’s not a complete receiver. Wide receivers coach Joe Bleymaier said Hill practices more than deep routes.

“He’s always asking to run different routes and more types of routes and more variety,” Bleymaier said. Then, noting Hill’s displeasure with not getting more big passes, he added, “At times, I just remind him, ‘You were asking for these routes back in the day when you were just running downfield.’

“It’s all an adjustment period for Tyreek. He’s made so many plays down the field and he loves doing that. We still ask him to do that, but [also other routes including] the 12-yard ins or the facing-the-quarterback, back-to-the-defense type of routes that are open for him.

“We always want to get Tyreek the ball. The more times it’s in his hands, the better for everybody.”

In the last three games of the regular season, Hill caught nine passes for 61 yards, or an average of less than seven yards per reception. His long catch was just 17 yards.

He busted out in the playoffs, though, catching a 31-yard touchdown pass in the wild-card-round win over the Pittsburgh Steelers before his 64-yarder against the Bills.

“Pretty much every coverage he has two people on him or two people kind of shadowing over the top of him, and he’s still getting himself open, making tough catches over the middle of the field,” Mahomes said after the Steelers game. “He’s really evolved his game, and at the end of the day, whenever he gets into those man coverage situations … you can always hit him over the top for touchdowns.”

This version of Hill is not what the Chiefs imagined when they drafted him in 2016. Hill played just one season of Division 1 football — at Oklahoma State in 2014 — rushing 102 times for 534 yards to go with 31 catches for 281 yards. Hill was dismissed from Oklahoma State after the 2014 season following charges of domestic assault and battery by strangulation on his then-20-year-old girlfriend. He pleaded guilty, received three years of probation and finished his career at West Alabama.

When the Chiefs drafted him in the fifth round — behind 16 other receivers — they saw the obvious speed and quickness but didn’t necessarily see him developing a wide range of talents like he showed this year.

“When he came here, he was raw,” Reid said. “He had been a running back [in college], so you could imagine. That’s a big change. They flexed him out and did all that stuff, but that’s kind of where he was. Every year he’s gotten better. Now, he’s refining all of those wide receiver skills that he’s learned here, and with his talent, he’s a tough one to stop.

“Normally, people have ways of trying to double him, which is a compliment to him and his ability, but he’s learned to work through it. He’s better in space, he’s more patient against man, setting things up, so my hat goes off to him. He’s worked very hard at that.”



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New Minnesota Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah focused on finding coach as first major task

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EAGAN, Minn. — Not even a full day into his tenure as the general manager of the Minnesota Vikings, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is already “deeply involved” in the team’s search for its next head coach, according to co-owner Mark Wilf.

Speaking at his introductory news conference Thursday, Adofo-Mensah reiterated that the conversations he has had regarding candidates are only in the beginning stages but that the direction the franchise wants to go in is clear.

“We know what we want to find,” Adofo-Mensah said. “We want leadership, we want somebody who is going to value the collective over the individual, we want somebody who has a vision, who can communicate, who has a solid football foundation, who understands how football is interconnected and what that means. That’s been our focus in these last few days honing in on what we want. In terms of specific names, we’re going to meet after this and talk about that further.”

The Vikings’ search has been narrowed down to six candidates after sources confirmed to ESPN that the Denver Broncos had hired Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as head coach and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn withdrew his name from head-coaching searches, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Dianna Russini.

Minnesota’s options now include San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

Adofo-Mensah overlapped in San Francisco with Ryans and O’Connell when he worked in football research and development for the 49ers before being hired by the Cleveland Browns, where he spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons as the vice president of football operations.

Wilf said Jan. 10 that the next general manager would have “input” in choosing the Vikings’ coach. Adofo-Mensah did not specify whether he would have the final say on whom Minnesota hires and referred to the decision as “a collaborative process.”

Asked whether he would have full control over the 53-man roster, Adofo-Mensah again deferred to seeking a collaborative approach with the team’s next head coach on personnel decisions.

“I always say that with a coach, a coach that I would work with, I would work for,” Adofo-Mensah said. “It’s somebody that I would want to partner with. I wouldn’t care about that distinction because they understand about personnel and about living in today and living in tomorrow that would make us a great partnership. I guess I know what the specifics of my contract say, but I don’t think it really matters to speak in this forum.”

Minnesota conducted interviews with eight general manager candidates before interviewing Adofo-Mensah for a second time Tuesday and announcing his hiring Wednesday. His was the only second-round interview the Vikings conducted after former Kansas City Chiefs executive director Ryan Poles was hired by the Chicago Bears as general manager before he was set to interview in Minnesota.

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