An NFC showdown between the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys was one of those can't-miss prime-time matchups.
Some supposed massive games have turned out to be duds this year, but those in charge of making the schedule had the right idea with the Saints and Cowboys. Both entered Thursday night in full stride and put on an unexpectedly low-scoring show.
There, the Cowboys stunned the Saints 13-10, holding Drew Brees to a single touchdown pass and shutting down the likes of Michael Thomas. While a second loss on the season for the Saints isn't the biggest concern, the Cowboys moving to 7-5 after winning a fourth in a row has major playoff implications.
Here's where the power rankings stand now heading into the biggest portion of Week 13.
2018 NFL Power Rankings
|1||Kansas City Chiefs|
|2||Los Angeles Rams|
|3||New England Patriots|
|5||New Orleans Saints|
|7||Los Angeles Chargers|
|17||Green Bay Packers|
|27||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|28||San Francisco 49ers|
|29||New York Giants|
|30||New York Jets|
Don't count out the Minnesota Vikings just yet.
Few teams have had such a ho-hum season this year. Kirk Cousins was seen as one of the biggest free-agency wins around the league but hasn't exactly lit the world on fire. He's completing 71.1 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions, but the team hasn't typically rallied when it needs it most.
But the notable exception was in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers, an unexpected 24-17 win as Cousins tossed three scores and the Vikings defense held Aaron Rodgers to one.
Outside of everything else, those are the games the Vikings are paying Cousins to win:
The result is the Vikings remaining comfortable in the chaotic NFC playoff hunt and in a position to snipe the NFC North lead if the Chicago Bears suffer a mishap or two.
But the Vikings have to avoid the same thing—next up is a trip to Foxborough against the New England Patriots and a trip to Seattle for a game against the surging Seahawks after that. The season also happens to end with the Bears coming to town for a date that could decide the whole division.
Like plenty of teams making headlines right now, the Vikings have enough talent to make some serious noise in the playoffs, which probably means they should be on the receiving end of more headlines.
This is it for the Washington Redskins.
Losers of two in a row, it all comes down to a Week 13 Monday Night Football affair against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Redskins fell out of NFC East control with two straight losses after losing starting quarterback Alex Smith to an injury. So far this year, Smith's replacement Colt McCoy has completed just 60 percent of his passes with a trio of touchdowns and interceptions.
Granted, the offense figured to take a dip with Smith under center or not if it kept relying on the 33-year-old Adrian Peterson to act as the centerpiece of the attack. He started hot but hasn't rushed for even four yards per carry since the end of October, in part because his age is preventing him from compensating for a hobbled offensive line.
That hasn't stopped the Redskins from still having an eye on the prize.
"It all boils down to us taking care of our business," left tackle Trent Williams said, according to ESPN.com's John Keim. "Right now, we don't need any help. We just have to help ourselves by playing mistake-free football and stringing along wins together."
Simply taking care of business isn't going to be so easy, with two games left on the schedule against NFC East foes Eagles, another battle against the New York Giants and road matchups with Jacksonville and Tennessee teams that are hard to figure out.
If a defense surrendering just 20.8 points per game can hold opponents near that number, a little offensive innovation by the coaches playing to McCoy's strengths might keep the Redskins in the playoff hunt. Either way, the attempt should be fun to watch.
The fall comes quickly for some teams.
One of those is the Cincinnati Bengals, a five-win team freefalling in the AFC North and now without its franchise quarterback thanks to a thumb injury. How bad is the luck for Cincinnati? Andy Dalton suffered a season-ending thumb injury while scrambling to recover a loose ball after a high snap from...first-round pick Billy Price.
Now the Bengals will roll with 2016 sixth-round pick Jeff Driskel under center, a guy who has attempted 36 passes in his career, all of them in relief of Dalton this season. But he'll try to make a difference in his big audition perhaps without starting left tackle Cordy Glenn or his backup Jake Fisher, meaning Andre Smith, a guy they signed off the street Thursday, could be thrown to the wolves:
Overall, the Bengals have lost five of six after starting the year 4-1. A once-proud defense coughed up north of 500 yards three times in a row, then north of 400 against Baltimore and plenty more in a 35-20 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Those last two were divisional encounters.
The long-term outlook is a problem, too, with the strong Denver Broncos in town in Week 13 followed by a trip to take on the elite Los Angeles Chargers. Don't forget they have to close the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, too.
And yet...the Bengals aren't dead just yet. They are stuck with four other five-win teams and the last team in right now only has six wins. If the Bengals can pull off an unexpected run with a backup quarterback who can beat teams with his legs, the wild AFC might let them wiggle into the postseason.