B/R NFL Staff's Biggest Winners and Losers of Week 12
In what may be considered the most unpredictable week in NFL history, games were still played.
Despite extenuating circumstances that included the Denver Broncos calling up a wide receiver, Kendall Hinton, from their practice squad to play quarterback because the team's entire group of signal-callers landed on the COVID-19 list and the Baltimore Ravens enduring eight straight days with a positive test (and still going), the league continued its march toward the postseason.
Week 12's slate brought its share of winners and losers, and Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers—Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski, Gary Davenport, Kalyn Kahler and Matt Miller—has assigned those designations.
Each participant selected one from each column based on what he or she saw during Sunday's Week 12, and nothing was off-limits.
The Detroit Lions cleaned house at the start of the weekend. The Jacksonville Jaguars fired general manager Dave Caldwell after Sunday's 27-25 loss to the Cleveland Browns, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. The New York Jets could very well be next on the list.
But no one should dwell on the negatives. Plenty of good things happened, too. Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry and Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill dominated during their respective contests.
Good or bad, certain individuals and teams deserve recognition.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill
We have to reserve space for the league's hottest offensive player.
After catching 13 passes on 15 targets for a silly 269 yards and three touchdowns Sunday, Tyreek Hill now has 582 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in his last four games.
The 26-year-old is right there with Michael Thomas and DeAndre Hopkins as one of the most dominant receivers in the sport, and he's absolutely on fire entering the home stretch.
Loser: The Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In five games against teams with seven or more wins, the Buccaneers are 1-4, and Tom Brady has thrown nine interceptions in the four losses. They're also 0-3 on short rest following a poor performance Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The box score is deceiving because this was another uneven, sloppy showing from the Bucs. Brady's deep ball hasn't been there, and it's fair to wonder if he's fading late in his age-43 season, just as he did in his final campaign with the New England Patriots.
Throw in that the defense has now been sliced up pretty well in three of its last four games and it's hard to have much confidence in a Bucs squad that appears to be destined for a wild-card spot at best.
This isn't a top-echelon team.
Winner: New York Giants
As much fun as everyone can make about the NFC East, one of its participants will win a division crown and host a playoff game this season.
A game of musical chairs has ensued in recent weeks with the Philadelphia Eagles perched atop the standings until the Washington Football Team won Thursday against the Dallas Cowboys. The Giants then staked their claim Sunday with a 19-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Like Washington, they have a 4-7 record, though they have already beaten the Football Team twice in head-to-head matchups.
With this weekend's latest win, the Giants claimed a three-game winning streak. They've taken care of business against those they needed to beat and positioned themselves for a postseason run.
It won't be easy, of course. The next four games are against opponents with winning records, and quarterback Daniel Jones suffered a hamstring injury Sunday, which forced backup Colt McCoy into the lineup.
But the mere fact that this is even a possibility considering the Giants' 1-7 start is a major feather in the franchise's cap. Washington and Philadelphia don't have it any easier over the final month of the season.
May the best-worst team win the division.
Loser: New York Jets head coach Adam Gase
Do you remember when your parents caught you in a lie, and the fib started to crumble the second you tried to build upon the initial story?
Well, that's exactly how the Jets' Adam Gase sounded when local media pressed the head coach on taking over offensive play-calling duties, which ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported he would do prior to Sunday's 20-3 loss to the rival Miami Dolphins.
Look, the Jets are embarrassingly bad. They're 0-11 and well on their way to "earning" the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Gase probably won't be the head coach next year.
With all that in mind, there's no reason for the coach to be anything but open and honest about where he and his team stand.
What's there to lose when you haven't won anything all season?
Winner: Tennessee Titans
Sunday's trip to Indianapolis to face the Colts was a massive game for the Titans. Win and avenge a Week 10 loss at home, and first place in the AFC South was all theirs. Lose, and not only would the Titans fall a game off the pace, but the Colts would also own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
With so much on the line, the Titans turned to the man who carries their offense. And Derrick Henry most assuredly did that in Week 12.
All Henry did against the Colts was carry the ball 27 times for 178 yards and three first-half touchdowns during a game that was over by halftime. Against one of the best defenses in the league, the Titans scored five touchdowns over the first 30 minutes.
Tennessee now sits at 8-3 and is in the driver's seat in the division. But there's no room for complacency in Nashville since the Titans host the 8-3 Cleveland Browns next week and still have to travel to Green Bay to battle the Packers in Week 16.
Loser: Indianapolis Colts
We might as well just stay in the AFC South.
The Colts came into Week 12 with an opportunity to make a real statement. After they handled the Titans two weeks ago and outlasted the Packers in Week 11, a win over Tennessee would mean three victories in a row over teams with winning records and would effectively open a two-game lead over the Titans in the process.
That didn't happen, largely because the same defense that has carried the team most of the season let the Colts down.
Yes, the Indy defense was shorthanded against Tennessee. But the absence of three starters doesn't fully explain how a Colts D that came into the week allowing the fewest rushing yards per game in the AFC got gashed for 229 yards. Or how a defense that was surrendering fewer than 21 points per game allowed 35—in the first half.
The Colts picked the absolute worst time to lay an egg on defense, and it could wind up costing them dearly.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
In the weird NFC West, it feels like any team can beat any team. The fact that the Niners have remained competitive through a slew of important injuries is a testament to the coaching staff.
Deebo Samuel's return from injury was a difference-maker. Admittedly, I counted the Niners out after they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles and the Miami Dolphins, but they are still in the hunt. They're only a game out of the final wild-card spot after the Arizona Cardinals (6-5) lost to the New England Patriots.
If they keep winning and stay in the playoff conversation, head coach Kyle Shanahan has indicated they'll get key players Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle and Ben Garland off injured reserve to play in meaningful games late in the season. With those players back, they might have a shot at sneaking into the playoffs.
Loser: The NFL
The league came out looking ridiculous for letting the game go on without a quarterback available to the Denver Broncos. I know, I know: The league isn't going to postpone a game for strategic reasons, and it doesn't matter which players can't play. As long as there isn't a risk of an outbreak or many high-risk contacts on the team, the game will go on.
But per ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio, there is supposedly a committee of former executives, coaches and players dedicated to advising NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on "matters relating to whether games should proceed." I don't know how that committee arrived at the conclusion that it's a good idea to play a game in which one team would be fielding a practice squad wide receiver at quarterback.
Florio also reported that the Broncos lobbied hard for the league to postpone their game against the New Orleans Saints until Monday when their quarterbacks would be eligible to play, but that request was clearly rejected. Maybe it's the TV money; maybe it's the fact that Broncos quarterbacks weren't forthcoming with the league's contact-tracers, as reported by the Washington Post's Mark Maske.
The reason is irrelevant. This game should not have been played, and the league ended up looking bad for putting that product out.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
Last week, the Dolphins benched rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and raised questions about whether they drafted the wrong signal-caller at No. 5 overall when they selected the Alabama superstar over Oregon's Justin Herbert.
Those questions can't be answered in one week alone against the NFL's bottom-feeders in the New York Jets, but the Dolphins took care of business and notched the team's seventh win against only four losses to stay very much alive in both the AFC East and AFC wild-card playoff races.
Loser: Las Vegas Raiders
This was supposed to be a team on the cusp of a playoff berth. It's the only team to beat the Kansas City Chiefs. It's the only team to intercept Patrick Mahomes—and it's done so twice!
But during a Sunday on which the Raiders could have pocketed an easy win over the Atlanta Falcons—a team so bad it fired its head coach and general manager earlier this season—they fell apart with an embarrassing 43-6 loss that sets them back in the AFC West and AFC wild-card standings.
Now sitting at 6-5, the Raiders have to hope teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens also fall in the standings so they can hold onto a shot at the No. 7 seed.
Even if they find a way into the playoffs, the Raiders look like a roster at least a year away from being legitimate contenders, and questions will be renewed about the viability of Derek Carr as a postseason quarterback.