The NFL is set to flip the calendar to December with wild playoff races taking center stage. Three teams are tied for the final spot in the AFC race with four teams separated by a half game. In the NFC, three teams are a half game behind the Vikings for the final spot, making the stretch run even more interesting than usual.
The Eagles can take full command of home-field advantage in the NFC this week while the race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC is coming down to four teams. Then there's the NFC South, where every team has a losing record.
As the playoff races heat up, this is what we learned about each team in the Week 12 slate of games (no team had a bye this week).
Run defense even worse than usual: The Cardinals allowed a season-high 228 yards on the ground in Sunday's loss to the Rams, a performance even more abysmal than their run defense has been all year. Arizona allows 140.1 yards per game this season (30th in NFL) and 4.5 yards per carry (25th in NFL). The unit hasn't allowed under 100 yards rushing in seven straight weeks and has allowed 174.3 yards per game over the last three weeks. Arizona has no chance of winning games with this run defense.
Their identity returned: The Falcons were a run-first team with their quarterback situation last year, using their excellent run-blocking offensive line to gain yards and win games. That disappeared for much of this year, but Atlanta rushed for 228 yards (on 41 carries and averaged 5.6 yards per carry) in Sunday's win. This was a season-high in rushing yards, as Atlanta got 91 from Bijan Robinson, 64 from Tyler Allgeier, and 43 from Cordarrelle Patterson. This is how the Falcons can win the poor NFC South, and they should stick to it.
The offense is setting records for having the lead: It's amazing that the Ravens have lost three games when realizing how much they had the lead through 12 games. Baltimore has held the lead for 9:08:23 this season, the only team since 2000 to have the lead for over nine hours through the first 12 games of the season -- passing the 2004 Eagles' mark of 8:58:35. They are the fourth team since 1950 to hold a lead entering the fourth quarter in each of their first 12 games. Baltimore certainly is used to playing with a lead, even if there were a few times the Ravens haven't sealed the deal.
Tyler Bass is in a slump: The Bills could have finished off the Eagles early in the second half, but Bass missed a 48-yard field goal that would have put Buffalo up 20-7. Instead, the miss was one of two missed kicks (the Eagles blocked the other one) that could have put Philadelphia in an even bigger hole. Bass is 9 of 14 on field goal attempts over his last seven games, including 4 of 7 from 40-plus yards. Buffalo played more than well enough to win Sunday, but miscues got in the Bills' way. Bass is part of that.
Frank Reich couldn't fix the offense: A poor offensive line didn't allow Reich, billed as an offensive guru, to work out his vision for Bryce Young in Carolina. The Panthers finally pulled the plug on Reich's stint there Monday, as he was fired after just 11 games. Carolina's offensive line is 27th in pressure rate allowed (40.3%) and 28th in sack rate allowed (9.5%). Young has struggled as a result, with no reliable pass catchers to throw to. This was a recipe for disaster, and Reich takes the blame -- whether he could call plays or not.
Offensive line still has major woes: The questions around Justin Fields remain on whether he's the franchise quarterback, but he didn't get any help from his offensive line in Monday's win. The Bears are the worst team in the NFL in pressure rate allowed (43.8%), which was put on display against the Vikings. The unit allowed 23 pressures and three sacks in the win, making Fields run for his life all day. The Bears are fortunate Fields was 10 of 17 under pressure, or else they would've been staring at another loss.
Run game continues to let the offense down: When Jake Browning is at quarterback, the running game has to play better than the unit that's 29th in rushing yards per game and 31st in yards per carry. In Sunday's loss, the Bengals had 11 carries for 25 yards and just 2.3 yards per carry. The Bengals are averaging just 70.3 rushing yards per game over their last four games, but haven't reached 70 yards in three of their last four games. If the Bengals want any chance with Browning at quarterback, Zac Taylor has to commit to the run game (no matter how bad it is).
Run defense lets the Browns down: The Browns have been solid against the run throughout the season, and they were expected to keep Denver's run game at bay. Instead the Broncos rushed for 169 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry -- the second straight week Cleveland has been bullied on the ground. The Browns have allowed 170.5 rushing yards per game over the last two weeks, even though they have allowed less than 300 total yards in both those contests. Teams can run on Cleveland, a weakness exploited in a dominant defense.
Dak Prescott is on an unbelievable run: Prescott has been on fire for the past month or so, capped with his performance Thursday which he finished 22 of 32 for 331 yards and four touchdowns in Dallas' latest blowout win. Over the past five games, Prescott has completed 70.6% of his passes for 1,602 yards with 17 touchdowns to two interceptions and a 124.8 rating. The Cowboys are 4-1 in that stretch, as Prescott continues to play at a high level. Prescott is first in passing touchdowns and passer rating by a wide margin (he's the only player in the past five games with double-digit touchdowns). He's playing like an MVP. The Cowboys just have to beat the winning teams next to significantly help his case.
Run defense continues to struggle: The Browns have been struggling against the run the past two weeks, but the Broncos have been struggling all year. Denver is last in rush yards per game (155.2) and yards per carry allowed (5.4), which continued against the Browns on Sunday. The Broncos only allowed 107 rushing yards, but that was a product of the Browns abandoning the run rather than Denver stopping it. Denver allowed three runs of 10-plus yards in the first half -- and were only up eight. This is on the Browns more than the Broncos. Cleveland should have continued to run the ball.
Overaggressiveness on fourth down cost them: Dan Campbell went for it five times on fourth down against the Packers and the Lions dug themselves to a 20-6 hole, and didn't convert any of them until the game was basically decided with under three minutes to play. The Lions went for it on fourth-and-4 from the Packers' 35 in a 20-6 game, but rushed to get the play off before the two-minute warning (they didn't have to), which led to an incomplete pass. They decided to run a fake punt on their own 23-yard line midway through the third quarter in a 23-14 game and failed to gain a yard (the Packers scored a touchdown on the short field to make it 29-14). They also failed to convert a fourth-and-7 on the Packers' 12 to keep the deficit at 29-14. The Lions are the most aggressive team on fourth down in the NFL, but that actually backfired this week.
Pass rush starting to come alive: The Packers finished with 12 quarterback hurries and three sacks in Thursday's win over the Lions -- all from Rashan Gary. Green Bay also had a season-high 27 pressures (including seven by Kenny Clark), which played a huge role in getting to Jared Goff and forcing three fumbles. The Packers are seventh in pressure rate (39.6%) and have 42 pressures over the last two weeks. Green Bay is back in the NFC playoff race thanks to the re-emergence of the pass rush.
DeMeco Ryans is still a first-year head coach: Ryans had a few questionable decisions in Sunday's loss, going for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 46-yard line and calling a deep pass on the play. He also sent out Matt Ammendola for a 58-yard try to tie the game on a fourth-and-12, when he could have cut the distance by being more conservative on third-and-12. Ammendola had never made a field goal over 50 yards either. Ryans is still learning how to be a head coach, even if that hasn't shown most of this year.
They are the No. 7 seed in the AFC playoff picture: Yes, the Indianapolis Colts occupy the final playoff spot heading into December. The Colts are tied with three teams at 6-5, but hold the No. 7 playoff spot due to having a better conference record than the Broncos and the head-to-head win over the Texans. This is with a rookie head coach in Shane Steichen and backup quarterback in Gardner Minshew, but will it last? The Colts actually have a favorable schedule quarterback-wise, not facing a top quarterback until C.J. Stroud in Week 18. Four of their final six opponents currently have losing records. They'll be in the playoff hunt.
Trevor Lawrence shows up in a big moment: Franchise quarterbacks tend to play their best in big games, especially in division showdowns for first place. Lawrence had one of the best games of his career, throwing for 364 yards and a touchdown and rushing for a touchdown. Lawrence has a pass and rush touchdown in the same game for the second consecutive week, but also showcased his tremendous accuracy on the deep ball. He has four completions of 40+ yards, the most by a Jaguars quarterback since Mark Brunell in 1996. The Jaguars showed the Texans they're the best team in the division, thanks to Lawrence.
Turnovers and dropped passes were nowhere to be found: The Chiefs got off to a slow start against the Raiders, but were able to come back because of a very un-Chiefs like performance. Kansas City has 19 giveaways on the season and had 11 in its last five games. The Chiefs didn't have any on Sunday, along with just one dropped pass (they lead the NFL in dropped passes). There's a reason why Kansas City scored 31 points and touchdowns on four of five possessions. The Chiefs didn't beat themselves Sunday.
Antonio Pierce is getting the most of Josh Jacobs: The biggest problem with Josh McDaniels this season was how inefficient Jacobs was in his system, a year after he led the NFL in rushing yards. Under Pierce, the Raiders have averaged 108 rushing yards per game -- while Jacobs has 363 yards and three touchdowns in that four-game stretch. He has two 100-yard games in his last three, while averaging 4.2 yards per carry. With a rookie quarterback, the Raiders are relying on Jacobs more. A very good thing.
Austin Ekeler has been off all year: An ankle injury affected the start of his season, and Ekeler hasn't been the same player since his return. He had just 10 carries for 32 yards (3.2 yards per carry), continuing a season which he has just 428 rushing yards and four touchdowns (3.8 yards per carry). The receiving numbers are down too for Ekeler, as he has just 286 receiving yards and a touchdown. This is the same player who's had 28 scrimmage touchdowns over the last two years -- Ekeler has just five this year. This isn't the same guy who's been one of the most productive players in the league.
Kyren Williams returned at the right time: Williams was finally back from injured reserve due to an ankle injury and had a huge game, rushing for 143 yards and averaging 8.9 yards per carry. He also had six catches for 61 yards and two touchdowns, totaling 204 yards from scrimmage and two scores. Whether it was the Cardinals run defense or not, the Rams offense is clearly better with Williams in the lineup -- averaging 25 points per game when he plays. Williams also leads the NFL in rushing yards per game at 85.9.
Little things need to be cleaned up: The Dolphins racked up 395 yards of offense and 5.7 yards per play, including going 11 of 16 on third down. Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill each had 100-plus receiving yards and Raheem Mostert rushed for two scores. Despite the offensive success, the Dolphins turned the ball over three times (two Tagovailoa interceptions and a lost fumble). The Dolphins have six giveaways in their last two games and nine in their last four. These can be fixed, but Miami has to take better care of the football come December -- whether they are playing at home or not.
Benching Joshua Dobbs isn't the solution: Dobbs had a brutal game in Monday's loss to the Bears, throwing for 185 yards and four interceptions in what was his worst start of the season. Dobbs looked lost running Kevin O'Connell's offense, as the head coach had him running play-action similar to Kirk Cousins. That is not Dobbs' game and the Vikings offense sputtered to 242 yards and 10 points. Dobbs is best when relying on his athleticism, which O'Connell didn't allow him to do Monday.
Quarterback change doesn't matter: Bill Belichick played games with his starting quarterback all week, going with Mac Jones to start before moving on to Bailey Zappe to start the second half. Both Patriots quarterbacks combined to go 21 of 35 for 143 yards and three interceptions (two from Jones and one from Zappe). The Patriots did score and Zappe's first drive, but had just 76 yards the rest of the way, including an interception and a missed field goal. The offense is just bad, and may end up being the worst the NFL has seen in quite some time.
Derek Carr hasn't been the difference-maker: The Saints have a roster to roll through a poor NFC South, yet find themselves in second place with a losing record heading into December. Carr hasn't helped, having zero touchdowns in three division games -- including none in Sunday's loss to the Falcons. He also threw a game-changing pick-six to Jessie Bates in the red zone, adding to New Orleans' frustration on offense. Carr has 10 touchdowns to five interceptions for an 88.5 rating, numbers that aren't making a difference, like what the Saints paid for. The Saints have plenty of problems, and Carr is one of them.
Jalin Hyatt plays his best with Tommy DeVito: Hyatt had his first career-100 yard receiving game on Sunday, finishing with five catches for 109 yards in the win over the Patriots. In the previous two starts with DeVito, Hyatt has just one catch for seven yards on three targets. The Giants turned him loose on Sunday in a lost season, as he averaged 18.2 yards per target. He had the three biggest plays for either team (41, 29, and 22 yards). Hyatt admitted he had a conversation with Brian Daboll how to succeed in the league, so perhaps that got him going.
Tim Boyle wasn't any better than Zach Wilson: This shouldn't come as a surprise, but the Jets offense was still bad -- even with Boyle at quarterback. Boyle threw two interceptions (one of which was the Hail Mary return for a touchdown) and averaged just 4.7 yards per attempt. The Jets put up just 159 yards of offense (29 rushing yards) and averaged a pathetic 2.9 yards per play. The Jets also allowed 13 pressure and a 5.8% pressure rate per dropback. Boyle wasn't the answer nor a fix. The offense is just bad with Nathaniel Hackett running it.
Jalen Hurts is clutch, and so is Jake Elliott: What Hurts was able to accomplish in the second half for the Eagles in Sunday's comeback win is incredible (14 of 20 for 167 yards with three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 134.8 rating), but the comeback doesn't happen without Elliott making a 59-yard field goal in the wind and pouring rain to force overtime. This isn't the first time Elliott has accomplished this, as the Eagles kicker has never missed a game-tying or go-ahead field goal attempt in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime (made all eight attempts). The Eagles have clutch players, and Elliott is one of them.
The offense was better without Matt Canada: Don't let the point total cloud judgement here (the Steelers only scored 16 points). The Steelers gained 421 total yards, snapping a streak of 58 straight games under 400 total yards, the second-longest streak in the NFL over the past 30 years. They out-gained the Bengals 421-222, the first time this season they have out-gained an opponent. Pittsburgh has 174.0 rushing yards per game in the last four games (79.7 in the first seven games). Pat Freiermuth had 120 receiving yards and Kenny Pickett averaged 8.4 yards per attempt, clearly taking more shots of 10-plus air yards. This offense will only get better going forward.
Christian McCaffrey should be offensive player of the year: Just another day at the office for McCaffrey, who finished with 19 carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns and five catches for 25 yards. The 49ers are loaded on offense, but McCaffrey is clearly the best player on the impressive unit. McCaffrey leads the NFL in rushing yards (939), rushing yards per game (85.4), scrimmage touchdowns (16) -- all while leading the league with 241 touches while staying relatively healthy. The 49ers are a well-oiled machine, and McCaffrey is the engine that gets it going.
Playing on a bad elbow was tough for Geno Smith: A short week certainly didn't help Smith recover in time from his bruised elbow, which he was getting treatment on all week. Smith started off slow in Thursday's loss (which he claims has nothing to do with his elbow). He had a bad threw which led to an interception (which Smith hasn't been known for since heading to Seattle) and almost tripped his way to a safety. The Seahawks had no yards of offense after the first quarter and 15 after their first five possessions. The 49ers pressure had a lot to do with it, but Smith's elbow was too much to overcome. Going 1-of-3 for 5 yards in the first quarter with a dropped interception showed how his day was going to go.
Tristan Wirfs isn't the same player at left tackle: Sore ankle or not, this isn't been the dominant Wirfs the league is accustomed to seeing. Wirfs allowed two sacks and four pressures on Sunday, a pressure rate per dropback allowed of 10.5%. This is the most sacks Wirfs has ever given up in a season (again, at a new position) and the highest pressure rate allowed (3.0%) since his rookie year in 2020. Long-term, Wirfs will be fine, but the numbers won't be as dominating from left side as the right.
They're a playoff team at home: The Titans have played for games at home, six on the road, and one game in London. They're 0-7 away from Nissan Stadium and 4-0 at home, which included Sunday's win over the Panthers. The Titans average 24.8 points per game at home and 12.3 away from Nissan Stadium. Tennessee has four of its final six games at home, so the Titans will be a tough out. This isn't a playoff team, but playing in Tennessee isn't a walk in the park.
The end is near for Ron Rivera: Whether it's the 45 points given up, the 8.6 yards per play, or the offensive line allowing 23 pressures and six quarterbacks hits -- this Commanders team is bad. Dallas showcased why Washington is 4-8 after 12 games, even though the Commanders have seen promise from Sam Howell. Rivera's answer was firing his defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach before the Titanic sunk. If Rivera lasts the season, it will be surprising. The Commanders can move the ball, but their offensive line, defensive line, and secondary destroys any opportunity for them to win a game. Two of those aspects are on Rivera.