Patrick Mahomes widened the MVP gap; the Colts continued their November climb; and the NFC East is creating historically strange drama. Week 11 produced one of the season's most eventful Sundays. Here are the grades for every team, along with odds and ends on every team entering Monday night.
For all the resources poured into upgrading their defense, the Packers still depend on Aaron Rodgers carrying them. The quarterback icon only had a part in two of Green Bay's four turnovers in their overtime loss, but Marquez Valdes-Scantling's slip-up shows the tightrope the Packers walk against top competition. Although they beat the Saints in Week 2, the Packers (7-3) have only played one team that entered with a winning record -- the Colts. Sunday's loss may not be a precursor -- with one winning team left on the schedule (the Titans) -- but the Packers have issues to fine tune before January.
PACKERS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Bears (Sun.)
After allowing 28 first-half points, the Colts' second-ranked defense allowed for a Philip Rivers and Co. rescue effort. The Packers scored zero second-half points until an OT-forcing drive, but even that ended well for the Colts. Indianapolis (7-3) keeping Rodgers from leading a Packers final-minute escape, and newcomers Julian Blackmon and DeForest Buckner teaming up on the Colts' biggest turnover this season, showcased this franchise's resurgence to a near national audience. The Colts did not make mistakes signing Rivers or trading a first-round pick for Buckner. This is an enhanced operation back on course after 2019's predictable step back.
COLTS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)
Nearly 15 years after Carson Palmer's ACL tear sidetracked one Bengals rebuild, their latest effort is now on hold. The Bengals are now 2-7-1, and Joe Burrow's ACL tear pauses everything. Cincinnati brass put its QB prize in peril, doing little to improve an offensive line essential to the 2-14 season that sent Burrow back to Ohio. Two Washington defenders sandwiching the rookie will make for a somber final six games -- if Ryan Finley's first seven-plus NFL halves are any indication -- and could put Zac Taylor's job in jeopardy. A patient Bengals franchise will face a tough choice on a coach who will have a terrible two-year record by year's end.
BENGALS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: vs. Giants (Sun.)
This year's unusual Thanksgiving will feature an afternoon game befitting it. Washington (3-7) and Dallas will vie to be the first NFC East team to four wins. In a dark-comedy sense, this will create captivating television. Washington created this opportunity by holding the Burrow-led Bengals to nine points and slamming the door on a wretched Finley-piloted offense. Finley went 3-for-10 for 30 yards. Ryan Kerrigan and Montez Sweat notched sacks, and Jonathan Allen registered three of Washington's 12 QB hits. Chase Young forced a Burrow goal-line fumble. Washington is tied for the NFC's worst record but could be a division leader in three days.
WASHINGTON GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Cowboys (Thu.)
Although Derrick Henry gashed the Ravens again and provided a more dramatic conclusion to his latest Baltimore effort, A.J. Brown made one of the best plays a receiver has authored in years. Said play will go down as a 14-yard touchdown reception, but the second-year wideout took on nearly half the Ravens defense and emerged standing in the end zone on the go-ahead score. The Titans (7-3) turned to Brown down the stretch last season, and his yards after catch-per-reception figure (8.8) led the NFL. Sunday's relentless display gave Brown seven TDs on just 36 catches. He should probably be involved more.
TITANS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Colts (Sun.)
Henry now has 328 rushing yards in his past two Baltimore trips. The nightmare tackling assignment ended the best Ravens season (by record), and their 2020 edition has not recovered. Defenses have caught up to Lamar Jackson's as-of-now-limited skill set, applying more pressure on Baltimore's stacked defense. That unit caved in Sunday, blowing an 11-point second-half lead and allowing 400-plus yards for the second time this season. The Ravens bashed the Browns in Week 1 but trail them in the wild-card standings. Believed to be the Chiefs' top AFC threat, the Ravens (6-4) have been relegated to the "In the hunt" line on playoff graphics.
RAVENS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Steelers (Thu.)
A Saints gadget tool outplayed a former MVP by a considerable margin Sunday. Continuing an understandable trend of struggling without Julio Jones available, Matt Ryan had no answers for a Saints defense that smothered his offensive line. The Falcons (3-7) went 2 of 14 on third downs and allowed eight sacks, marking the second straight year the Saints have dropped Ryan at least eight times. An Atlanta O-line featuring two Pro Bowlers and two 2019 first-round picks fared poorly, and although Jones' injury does not appear serious, the Falcons again cratering without their almost-32-year-old wideout is a bad long-term sign.
FALCONS GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: vs. Raiders (Sun.)
To the delight of ESPN fantasy leaguers who slotted Hill at tight end, the Saints (8-2) produced an NFL-like offense. Hill accounting for 284 yards and two TDs provided some vindication for Sean Payton's plan to give the keys to a player with 18 career pass attempts. Hill had success in the mid-range areas, awakening Michael Thomas. And although his strange-looking pass to Emmanuel Sanders had a Tebow-esque quality, its 53-yard route was still the longest a Saints pass has traveled in three years. With the Broncos and the Falcons rematch up next, Payton's latest Drew Brees-absence plan has a good shot to keep the Saints on track for the NFC's top seed.
SAINTS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Broncos (Sun.)
Minkah Fitzpatrick's two interceptions of Jake Luton were his eighth and ninth since being traded to the Steelers in September 2019. Terrell Edmunds' two thefts were his first since 2018. The '18 first-round pick entered Sunday with one career INT, having an earned reputation as a player lacking splash-play ability. Through 38 starts, Edmunds had forced one turnover. But tipping a Luton fourth-quarter pass to himself led to an Eric Ebron touchdown that finalized a 27-3 blowout. The Steelers' four picks gave them an NFL-leading 21 forced turnovers. They are also the 18th team in the Super Bowl era to start 10-0.
STEELERS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Ravens (Thu.)
The Jaguars' actual quarterback threw four INTs Sunday. Their potential if-the-season-ended-today QB -- Ohio State's Justin Fields -- threw three picks Saturday. But whichever passer starts for the 2021 Jags, their current regime cannot be around to shape that player's supporting cast. The Jags (1-9) lost their 100th game under owner Shad Khan; he is the second-fastest owner -- ahead of only ex-Buccaneers honcho Hugh Culverhouse -- to reach 100 losses. Caldwell has been Jacksonville's GM for all but one season of Khan's run. Even after starting another rebuild, the eighth-year Jags exec being allowed to continue it next year would be an amazing development.
JAGUARS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Browns (Sun.)
The Patriots defense provided the biggest difference between Tom Brady's ring count and his top rivals', continually creating an unrivaled margin for error for the legendary passer. Cam Newton has not enjoyed the same support. The Patriots dropped to 4-6 after Deshaun Watson dominated Bill Belichick's depleted defense. New England's COVID-19 opt-outs aside, the team still has most of its top-tier secondary available. Watson threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns against a Pats defense that had allowed fewer than 200 passing yards in six games this season. New England (first in defensive DVOA in 2019) ranks 25th in passer rating allowed.
PATRIOTS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: vs. Cardinals (Sun.)
Ten games into the season, the Texans have their franchise cornerstone healthy. And Watt thwarted a Patriots game-tying drive by batting down two Newton passes, giving the future Hall of Famer four for the game. After three season-defining injuries halted a nearly unparalleled run, Watt is on course for another Pro Bowl. His seven bat-downs are one shy of his 2015 Defensive Player of the Year output. The Texans (3-7) are reportedly ready to trade their 31-year-old star to a contender next year, and that will be a bonus for NFL fans eager to see Watt in high-stakes situations again. But Sunday, he helped remind why he is this franchise's greatest player.
TEXANS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Lions (Thu.)
Although the Eagles lost more offensive linemen Sunday -- in an unstable season for Philadelphia's front -- they entered the game with key skill players available that were out during previous 2020 wins. The third visitor this month forced to play a bad-weather game in Cleveland, the Eagles (3-6-1) suddenly look like the worst team in a division they lead. Three turnovers allowed a Browns team missing Myles Garrett to skate to a comfy victory. Wentz may deserve a pass given the injuries of the past two years, but 2020's end result -- double-digit losses? -- will have the former No. 2 overall pick entering the '21 season on a hot seat.
EAGLES GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Seahawks (Mon.)
The Browns gave Clowney the hard sell this offseason, presenting the former No. 1 overall pick with multiyear and 2020-only contracts to replace Olivier Vernon. When Clowney balked at Cleveland's offers, the Browns pivoted back to their incumbent Garrett wingman. Vernon came through without Garrett on Sunday. The ex-Dolphins and Giants defensive end notched his first three-sack game since 2013, concluding it by beating Jason Peters with an inside move to drop Wentz for a safety. Vernon, 30, helped bump the Browns to 7-3. In the process, he redefined his underwhelming Cleveland tenure and enhanced his 2021 free agency value.
BROWNS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Jaguars (Sun.)
A 20-0 shutout loss to a team starting a recent XFL quarterback moves the Lions closer to the end of their current regime's tenure. This was the first shutout of Matthew Stafford's career, and while the Lions (4-6) were missing Kenny Golladay again, the Panthers were starting P.J. Walker at quarterback and playing without Christian McCaffrey. Matt Patricia is 13-28-1, and the man who hired him -- ex-Patriots coworker Bob Quinn -- has only one playoff berth on his record. And it was one of the worst teams in playoff history . This season will mark two Bill Belichick assistants -- Patricia and Bill O'Brien -- being fired.
LIONS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Texans (Thu.)
While Walker's connection with D.J. Moore helped spark a Teddy Bridgewater-less offense, the Panthers defense dominated the team with the better quarterback. Carolina's pass rush sacked Stafford five times, with second-year defensive end Brian Burns dropping the 12th-year passer twice and hitting four times. The Panthers (4-7) snapped their five-game losing streak, stopping a run of higher-end QBs' success against their defense. After the Buccaneers scorched the young unit in the second half last week, the Panthers' response is encouraging for the stretch run and beyond 2020.
PANTHERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Vikings (Sun.)
Ezekiel Elliott became a star running behind O-lines featuring three or four Pro Bowl-caliber blockers. The Cowboys currently lack such talent. They are down to only Zack Martin from those decorated crews, and the All-Pro guard made his first start at right tackle. But the two-time rushing champion posted his first 100-yard game of the season at a key time, helping the Cowboys (3-7) regain bizarrely solid footing in the NFC East race. Elliott used Le'Veon Bell (Pittsburgh edition)-like patience to pick up a critical first down on Dallas' game-winning drive, punctuating a day in which the Cowboys rushed for a season-high 180 yards.
COWBOYS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Washington (Thu.)
Playing in a realistic division, the Vikings drifted back off the playoff radar Sunday. But their longtime ace wide receiver completed a productive week. Adam Thielen finished off his two-game week with four touchdowns, scoring two more during an eight-catch, 123-yard day against the Cowboys. The veteran Viking notched a 25-plus-yard catch, a 50-plus-yarder, caught a one-handed TD and put rookie Reggie Robinson on skates for the other. The former rookie tryout body leads the NFL with a career-high 11 TD catches. After missing seven games last season, the 30-year-old wideout is on pace for his third 1,000-yard slate in four years.
VIKINGS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Panthers (Sun.)
Brian Flores insisted Tua Tagovailoa will be Miami's starting quarterback going forward, but he provided evidence he will not sit through all of the rookie's developmental hiccups. The Dolphins are now in the thick of the AFC playoff race, and that does not align with Tagovailoa performances like Sunday's. Flores yanked the prized prospect after a ghastly 11-for-20, 83-yard showing, and Ryan Fitzpatrick's return to action differentiated the Dolphins' plan from the usual routine rookie-QB routine. The Dolphins (6-4) are 3-1 in Tua's starts, but the slight spark Fitz provided late (12-for-18, 117 yards) in the loss complicates matters.
DOLPHINS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Jets (Sun.)
The Broncos are missing Von Miller, their starting defensive line and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. The latter has been out the entire month because of COVID-19. Denver (4-6) still vexed Tagovailoa, using well-crafted stunts to sack the rookie six times. Undrafted free agents DeShawn Williams and Malik Reed combined for 3.5 of those, with Reed (6.5 sacks this season) showing he will be a post-2020 factor. It remains to be seen if Justin Simmons will for the Broncos, but the safety's fourth INT this season concluded the team's 2020 defensive masterpiece. The franchise-tagged DB has been the most consistent player in a miserable Denver era.
BRONCOS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Saints (Sun.)
A beyond-lost season -- one seeing the 0-10 Jets eliminated from playoff contention in Week 11 -- has produced a left tackle for a franchise that has plugged in stopgaps there since D'Brickashaw Ferguson's retirement. Mekhi Becton has emerged as advertised, and he nullified whichever Pro Bowl Charger pass rusher he faced Sunday. The 364-pound blocker stonewalled Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, not allowing a pressure in 31 pass-blocking snaps in Los Angeles. GM Joe Douglas' first draft choice has battled myriad injuries but remains one of the league's top prospects.
JETS GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Dolphins (Sun.)
Putting one of the NFL's best route runners up against an 0-10 team's secondary -- which recently lost three primary cogs -- went about how you would envision. Allen broke his own Chargers record with 16 receptions, turning those into 145 yards and a touchdown. The eighth-year wide receiver has eight more catches (81) than anyone else this season and is cruising toward his fourth straight Pro Bowl. The route-running phenom has aided Justin Herbert's Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, and with Herbert developing faster than anyone thought, the recently extended Charger cornerstone -- still just 28 -- should have a few more productive years on tap.
CHARGERS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Bills (Sun.)
A list of quarterbacks with MVPs in a three-year span: Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, Steve Young, Joe Montana. Mahomes is barreling toward that list, among other coveted clubs. The NFL's QB1 made a 75-yard game-winning drive look about as easy as possible Sunday night. Mahomes completed 6 of 7 passes on that march, and his 348-yard outing saved the Chiefs (9-1) on a night in which their defense could not be relied upon. Mahomes has rescued worse defenses than this one. Despite the Steelers' 10-0 record, the Chiefs' fourth-year QB -- now holding a 27-2 TD-INT ratio -- keeps them installed as Super Bowl favorites.
CHIEFS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Buccaneers (Sun.)
A Raiders defense that saw half its starters miss a week of practice because of COVID-19 protocols -- with the virus sidelining regulars Clelin Ferrell and Lamarcus Joyner on Sunday -- predictably folded against Mahomes. But Carr nearly saved his embattled squad, completing 23 of 31 passes for 275 yards and giving the Raiders (6-4) a lead inside of the two-minute warning. Interestingly, Carr is now 6-for-9 in deep passing (20-plus air yards) against the Chiefs this season compared to 8-for-21 against everyone else, per Next Gen Stats. The oft-criticized passer sits fourth in QBR, continuing to re-route his career in Jon Gruden's system.
RAIDERS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Falcons (Sun.)
The Cardinals are in the rare position of contending for a division title after making a top-10 pick. More uncommon about this situation: said draftee has not played especially often. But Simmons has flashed against the Seahawks, intercepting an overtime pass in the teams' first meeting and making a Cards-best 10 tackles (two for loss) and sacking Russell Wilson in the rematch. The tools-heavy, position-versatile Clemson alum has played more than 55% of Arizona's defensive snaps once (Thursday) in a game but represents a rare luxury for the 6-4 Cardinals to throw at teams down the stretch.
CARDINALS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Patriots (Sun.)
In trading for Carlos Dunlap, the Seahawks recognized their mistake of offseason pass-rush stinginess. The Bengals' all-time sack leader has made an immediate impact, with his 3.5 sacks in three games as a Seahawk surpassing Jadeveon Clowney's total with the franchise (three). Dunlap's game-closing sack of Kyler Murray shows the 31-year-old defender has juice left, despite being demoted in Cincinnati. A pure sack artist, unlike Clowney, Dunlap is an hired-gun rental for a Seahawks team that still ranks last defensively. In three games, Dunlap's seven QB hits are more than 2019 Round 1 pick L.J. Collier's career total (five).
SEAHAWKS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Eagles (Mon.)
Joe Noteboom will make his first left tackle start Monday and do against an acclaimed Buccaneers duo -- Pro Bowler Jason Pierre-Paul and 2019 NFL sack leader Shaq Barrett. Noteboom will replace potential Hall of Fame tackle Andrew Whitworth, who tore two knee ligaments last week. A 2019 guard starter, Noteboom returned from ACL and MCL tears this year but was back on IR after a calf strain. He only resurfaced from the second malady last week. Noteboom was a multiyear left tackle starter at TCU. His work against Tampa Bay's edge rushers will go a long way toward determining if the Rams (6-3) can pull off this slight upset.
MONDAY: at Buccaneers, 8:15 p.m. ET
The Buccaneers (7-3) continue to employ Antonio Brown, despite the recent vandalism accusation surfacing after they signed him. This week-to-week relationship remaining intact, however, will produce an elite matchup Monday. Brown, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin (11 combined Pro Bowls) will face the Rams' Jalen Ramsey-led secondary that shut down the Seahawks' explosive passing attack. First-year starter Darious Williams (four INTs) enters Monday as Pro Football Focus' No. 3 overall cornerback, carrying a 42.6 passer rating-against figure. This will be one of the season's marquee skill duels.
MONDAY: vs. Rams, 8:15 p.m. ET
Prior to DeAndre Hopkins' "Hail Murray" TD, Stefon Diggs' "That's why you pay me" line would have been a big story last week. But Diggs is making a bid to join his fellow 2020 trade piece as an All-Pro and ascend to his NFL tax bracket. The first-year Bill's 73 catches and 906 yards both rank second in the NFL and are on pace to smash his career-high totals. Both of Eric Moulds' single-season Bills records -- 100 catches (2002), 1,368 yards (1998) -- are in danger. The Bills (7-3) will also have a disgruntled employee on their hands if they do not redo Diggs' now-outdated $14.4 million-per-year deal in 2021.
NEXT: vs. Chargers (Sun.)
This season may be a lost cause for the 49ers, but they still have to sort out how they will build their 2021 backfield. Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman are on track to return from IR in Week 12; the team's Super Bowl tandem has not played together since Week 2. Mostert is the player to watch here; he will return to a 5.9 yards-per-carry average and is under contract in 2021. If Mostert can stay healthy after his knee and ankle injuries, the 49ers can plan on retaining the breakout back on his not-even-$3 million 2021 salary. Mostert's health will be a key component for a 4-7 49ers team preparing for next season.
NEXT: at Rams (Sun.)
A live underdog in a strange NFC East title race, the Giants will enter Week 12 carrying the best chance -- according to Football Outsiders -- at earning its mandated playoff home game. Football Outsiders gives the Giants (3-7) a 32% chance to represent the NFC East in the postseason. However, the Giants have not beaten a team with a winning record since Dec. 2, 2018. Eli Manning, Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. ( in his New York finale) were involved. The 2020 Giants still have four winning teams -- the Seahawks, Cardinals, Browns and Ravens; all in a row -- on their docket. Predictions aside, it is difficult to see New York overcoming this gauntlet.
NEXT: vs. Bengals (Sun.)
Tyler Bray was a standout prospect out of central California 10 years ago; he started three seasons at Tennessee and threw 34 TD passes as a junior. But since going undrafted in 2013, he has authored one of the weirdest careers in recent NFL history. Prior to injuries to Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky sending Bray into action last week, he had thrown one career pass in seven-plus NFL seasons. His amazing rapport with Matt Nagy -- his coach for all eight seasons, in Kansas City and Chicago -- aside, Foles not being able to go Sunday night in Green Bay would represent a new low for a Bears team that has seen QB play again waste an elite defense's work.
NEXT: at Packers (Sun.)
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.