NFL Week 12 Brings Hype Machines to a Halt
On the 12th Sunday of the 2020 NFL regular season, hype machines malfunctioned all over the country.
The Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams saw hot streaks come to an end, the Arizona Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders lost plenty of good vibes with duds of their own, and the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns received wake-up calls in unimpressive victories.
Here's a breakdown of six teams that were generating buzz by the gallon before suffering letdowns in Week 12.
The Colts Might Have Just Cost Themselves the AFC South
Prior to Sunday's startling and costly 45-26 home loss to the division rival Tennessee Titans, the Colts had been defeated just once since the middle of October. They won four of five games during that stretch, which was capped with an exciting overtime victory over the contending Green Bay Packers in Week 11.
But in their most important game thus far this season, the unreliable Colts laid an egg against Tennessee. The league's fifth-ranked defense in terms of DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average at Football Outsiders) surrendered 28 first downs, 6.6 yards per play and a season-worst 45 points in defeat.
That unit couldn't stop star Titans running back Derrick Henry, while the unbalanced offense failed to consistently sustain drives.
But this wasn't really on the Philip Rivers-led offense. Not having defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Denico Autry was hugely problematic in a matchup with Henry. They need those guys back as soon as possible, and they have to pray left tackle Anthony Castonzo's knee injury isn't going to cost him too much time. But even if they get those key players back soon, it will be tough for Indy (7-4) to leap back ahead of Tennessee (8-3) in the AFC South.
The Colts still have two games against the feisty Houston Texans and a pair of road matchups with the contending Raiders and unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers, and they'll now need help from those who play Tennessee down the stretch.
Were the Rams Caught Looking Ahead?
Like the Colts, the formerly surging Rams also had just one L on their schedule since the middle of October before suffering a crushing upset loss to a division rival in Week 12. But at least Indy fell to a Super Bowl contender, whereas L.A.'s first defeat since Nov. 1 came at the hands of a severely depleted San Francisco 49ers team.
Without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle and defensive linemen Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas and Dee Ford, the 49ers (5-6) found a way to beat the Rams 23-20 on the road Sunday. Rams quarterback Jared Goff struggled mightily with zero touchdown passes, two interceptions and a QBR of 10.1, and Los Angeles turned the ball over four times.
"We just have to take better care of the football," head coach Sean McVay said of a team that has now turned it over eight times in its last two losses. "It's as simple as that."
Goff was 1-of-6 with an interception on deep passing attempts as the Rams (7-4) lost all of the momentum they gained with back-to-back victories over the contending Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Weeks 10 and 11. Now they've at least temporarily fallen behind the Seattle Seahawks in the tight NFC West, which gives them no margin for error ahead of a Week 13 road meeting with the Cards.
The only easy out remaining on L.A.'s schedule comes in the form of a Week 15 home game with the winless New York Jets. It's possible they fell into a trap Sunday, and that loss could be a killer when it's all said and done.
The Cardinals Are in Trouble
The silver lining for the Rams on Sunday was that the division rival Cardinals also delivered a dud performance in an upset road loss to the New England Patriots.
The 20-17 defeat dropped Arizona to 6-5, which has to be crushing considering how high the team was flying after a last-second Week 10 victory over the Bills. Since then, they acceptably dropped a road game on short rest in Seattle before less-acceptably falling short on extra rest in Foxborough.
The Patriots haven't been an easy out at Gillette Stadium since...ever, but the Pats are no longer an elite team on either side of the ball, and they looked just about toast in a Week 11 loss to the Houston Texans.
So what the hell happened on Sunday? Arizona blew a double-digit-point first-half lead and just couldn't produce on offense, wasting a strong defensive effort against Cam Newton (who completed just nine passes) and the New England offense (which averaged just 3.5 yards per play).
Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray compiled just 201 combined passing and rushing yards and completed only one deep pass all day. Throw in some awful penalties and a crucial missed field goal from Zane Gonzalez late in the fourth quarter, and it was a rough day at the office all around.
It was an extremely ugly season-saving win for the Pats and a loss that could doom the Cards if Seattle takes care of business in a Monday night matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Cards were all the rage when they won three in a row in October and then beat Buffalo on the Hail Murray in November. But the remaining schedule is pretty tough, and Arizona will have to fight to extend its season deep into January.
The Raiders Completely Bombed
The Raiders might have earned a moral victory with a strong performance in defeat last week against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, but that encouraging showing became a lot less meaningful when Las Vegas was absolutely hammered by a last-place Atlanta Falcons team on Sunday.
Like, annihilated. The 43-6 margin made it the most lopsided game of the 2020 NFL season to date.
It was actually the third one-sided loss of Las Vegas' season, but a three-game November winning streak followed by a second toe-to-toe matchup with the juggernaut Chiefs had a lot of folks talking playoffs with regard to a Raiders team that hasn't won a postseason game since 2002.
But now it's fair to ask if the Raiders can recover from such an embarrassing defeat. They were 6-4 entering this game, but that was also the case when they were spanked 34-3 by the Jets in Week 12 last season, and they won just a single game the rest of the year.
The good news is they get the Jets again in Week 13 and New York is winless, but the next three games beyond that are tougher, and nothing is guaranteed for a Vegas team that gained just 13 first downs and drew 141 yards worth of penalties in Atlanta.
The Raiders quite simply make too many mistakes. It wouldn't be surprising if they were to again miss the playoffs entirely.
A Wake-Up Call for the Sloppy Bills?
Yes, the Buffalo Bills walked away with a 27-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, but against a half-competent opponent that easily could have been a loss. Buffalo ridiculously turned the ball over on three consecutive second-half possessions while trying to protect a shrinking lead, but the Bills were bailed out by the fact the Chargers are a terribly coached team that is also mistake-prone.
At the very least, that reality will hopefully serve as a wake-up call for a Buffalo team that was at home following a bye week that was preceded by a tough loss in Arizona. The Bills have lost just one game since the start of Week 7, but the mistakes are adding up, the Miami Dolphins aren't far behind in the AFC East and the Chiefs and Steelers are pulling away from the Bills in the race for the top seed in the conference.
"Yeah, we can be better, especially in the fourth quarter," Bills quarterback Josh Allen told reporters. "But I don't want to make a mountain of a molehill. Obviously, we've got a lot of work to do, but 8-3 is pretty good."
That's fair, but the Bills still have a limited margin for error with road games against the 49ers and Patriots and difficult home matchups with the Steelers and Dolphins on the remaining sked. It won't be easy for the team to align itself well for its first playoff win of the 21st century.
The Bills nearly gave this game away, but the Chargers wouldn't accept any gifts. The 49ers, Steelers, Patriots and Dolphins are unlikely to be as forgiving.
Ditto for the Browns
Meanwhile, against an even worse opponent, the Browns (8-3) cut it even closer than the Bills on Sunday, defeating the 1-10 Jacksonville Jaguars by a slim 27-25 margin in Florida.
The Cleveland offense was clicking most of the day. But the Browns settled for a field goal or less on three drives in which they got inside the Jacksonville 25-yard line, and the short-handed defense made Mike Glennon look far too competent as the Jags often controlled the game on offense while sticking around for all four quarters.
A win is indeed a win, but that early-season hype surrounding Cleveland still hasn't fully returned, and a tight game against Jacksonville won't help much there. They will simply have to be better next week in Tennessee, the following week against Baltimore and in Week 17 against the first-place Steelers.
Otherwise, despite their first non-losing season since 2007, they could easily wind up outside of the playoffs yet again.