B/R NFL Staff's Biggest Winners and Losers of Week 11
As Thanksgiving nears, many NFL players, coaches and front office personnel have plenty to be thankful for after the latest action. Others would rather the holiday week pass quietly so they can get a crack at another opponent.
Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers—Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski, Gary Davenport, Kalyn Kahler and Matt Miller—watched the latest action to find the biggest winners and losers coming out of Week 11's slate.
Each of the contributors was granted free rein over whomever or whatever they decided to include, as per the simple parameters set forth.
Thanksgiving week also signals the final leg of the regular season. With six games left to be played and only two byes remaining, Sunday became one of the last opportunities to build some momentum or get healthy for an official postseason run.
As of now, the AFC is loaded with nine teams over .500. The NFC hasn't fared nearly as well with six.
How each of the conferences shakes out could be determined by what everyone saw during the latest outcomes.
Winner: New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen
The Atlanta Falcons usually play the Saints tough and were coming off their bye Sunday, so this was a tough spot for a New Orleans team that was obviously without quarterback Drew Brees.
But none of that mattered because Allen's defense dominated the game with eight sacks and two interceptions. It allowed the Falcons to convert just two of 14 third-down attempts, and it held Atlanta to just 82 total yards in the second half of an easy victory.
Somewhat quietly, Allen's D has surrendered just 8.3 points per game over the last three weeks.
Loser: Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia
That should be it for the third-year Lions coach, whose team on Sunday became the first NFC squad to be shut out since October 2019.
Detroit is now 13-28-1 under Patricia's tutelage, which is ridiculous considering there's a decent amount of talent on the roster. His defense ranked 25th in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders before letting an ex-XFL quarterback (PJ Walker) and a backup running back (Mike Davis) consistently move the ball down the field in Week 11.
With 18 losses in his last 23 games, the front office should just move on from Patricia now and get a head start on its next coaching search.
Winner: New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton
Sean Payton's infatuation with backup quarterback/gadget player/special teams performer Taysom Hill finally makes sense.
Too many discounted the coach's decision to start Hill over Jameis Winston after Drew Brees suffered 11 broken ribs last week against the San Francisco 49ers. After all, Hill had 18 career pass attempts entering the contest, while Winston led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards last season (yes, those numbers came in the NFL's first-ever 30-touchdown, 30-interception campaign).
A source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport that Payton made the decision to place Hill in the lineup because "Sean just wants to know."
Well, everyone knows now.
During the New Orleans Saints' 24-9 victory over the rival Atlanta Falcons, the 30-year-old first-time starter completed 78.3 percent of his passes for 233 yards. He also carried the ball 10 times for a team-leading 51 yards and two scores.
Maybe Hill really is the Saints' quarterback of the future.
Loser: Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson
The Baltimore Ravens continue to falter, and the NFL's reigning MVP feels the pressure of high expectations.
Baltimore has now lost three out of its last four contests after Sunday's 30-24 overtime defeat at the hands of the Tennessee Titans. During that stretch, Jackson hasn't eclipsed 250 passing yards.
"I feel like people want us to lose," the 23-year-old quarterback told reporters when asked about his critics.
The issues run a little deeper with schematic problems, the offensive line not performing as well as last season and Jackson's stagnant development. The fact the third-year quarterback feels the way he does shows he's letting outside noise get to him when the Ravens must rectify a much bigger problem.
"It looked like [the Titans] wanted it more than us," Jackson told reporters. "They [were] playing physical. When we went up, I just feel like we took our foot off the gas. We've just got to keep it going, finish teams."
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
When the Colts fell at home against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9, they had the look of a good (but not great) team that beat up on tomato cans but couldn't defeat the league's better teams. After outlasting the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Indy has now amassed two straight wins over contenders and strengthened its case as one in its own right.
This was a game in which the Colts were down 14 at the half. But the offense picked it up in the second half, and a stout and opportunistic Indianapolis defense forced four turnovers and allowed only three second-half points.
Next week brings a third consecutive tough matchup. If the Colts continue to play at this level and beat the Tennessee Titans for the second time this year, they'll have a firm grip on the AFC South heading down the stretch.
Loser: Miami Dolphins
OK, so maybe we got a little carried away regarding how far along Miami's rebuild was. The Dolphins' five-game winning streak stopped with a thud Sunday, courtesy of an ugly 20-13 loss to a mediocre Denver Broncos team.
There's plenty of blame to go around for this turkey. Miami's defense laid an egg, allowing 189 yards on the ground and 5.7 yards per carry. The offense was nonexistent most of the afternoon, with many of its 223 total yards coming after Tua Tagovailoa was benched in favor of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Head coach Brian Flores said Tagovailoa's benching was performance-related (he completed just 55 percent of his passes for 83 yards), and the rookie will be the starter again in Week 12 against the New York Jets.
At 6-4, the Dolphins are still in the wild-card hunt and just a game back of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. But Miami's Week 17 trip to Buffalo is one of three games in the last month of the season against teams with winning records.
The team we saw Sunday in Denver would be hard-pressed to survive that gauntlet.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
During their bye, the Bills had a nice week.
Every AFC East team lost Sunday: the Miami Dolphins to the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots to the Houston Texans and the New York Jets to the Angeles Chargers in the only one of the three games that was an expected loss. The Dolphins were 6-3 heading into their loss at Denver and would have matched Buffalo's 7-3 record with a win.
Instead, the Bills are comfortable atop the AFC East, and the longtime owners of the division, the Patriots, sit at 4-6 with an ever-narrowing path to playoffs.
Loser: New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston
Sean Payton's choice to go with Taysom Hill seemed like the right one.
Last week, Winston made a questionable throw that was almost intercepted by San Francisco 49ers safety Jimmie Ward, and that was probably all Payton needed to see to remind him why starting Hill was a smarter choice.
Hill wasn't perfect by any means, but his rushing ability stressed the Atlanta Falcons defense and opened up more in the passing game. He fumbled in the fourth quarter but didn't throw any costly interceptions.
This looks like a smart move, and Hill will likely keep that starting job in Drew Brees' absence.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
As Mike Tomlin said after the game, "It wasn't perfect, but the only thing about us that is is our record."
The Steelers rode their defense and the playmaking of wide receiver Diontae Johnson to a win over the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and improved to 10-0 on the season. A playoff berth is essentially guaranteed, the AFC North crown looks like a lock, and the lone playoff bye per conference, as well as home-field advantage, is in play for Tomlin's gritty, tough team.
It wasn't always pretty. But in the NFL, getting a win is all that matters. So far, that's all Pittsburgh has done.
Loser: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz
It's time to admit what has been on display for the last 11 weeks: Carson Wentz is not playing starter-level football.
You can make excuses based on the offensive line, the play-calling and the skill-position weapons around him. Those are all valid. But too often, Wentz is the one damning the Philadelphia offense with his poor decisions and inaccurate throws.
The Eagles selected Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft. It's time to think long and hard about seeing what they have in the player in whom they invested the No. 53 overall pick.
Hurts' athleticism could provide the spark the offense needs. But at a minimum, he could avoid the inexcusable mistakes that plague Wentz's game.