What did we watch in Week 13? Really, what did we watch in Week 13? This was some of the most brazen, bizarre, exciting, and maddening football of the season depending on who you ask.
The playoff picture has taken shape in the second half of the 2020 NFL season, but there is still plenty to suss out as we reach the last month of the regular season. The NFC saw the New Orleans Saints clinch a playoff berth with the Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, and New York Giants all leading their respective divisions. The NFC could shapeshift in these final weeks with teams combusting, like the Seattle Seahawks in their 17-12 loss to the New York Giants, and some hot-and-cold contenders on the bubble, in the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals.
But that isn’t the story here; it’s more so what we’ve come to expect from the NFC: There are usually the same contenders vying for their conference crown. But the same can no longer be said for the AFC, and this year it’s a wild playoff race.
The Pittsburgh Steelers currently hold the No. 1 seed at a perfect 11-0. The Patrick Mahomes-led Kansas City Chiefs sit pretty in second and from there, the sneaky Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, and Cleveland Browns—yes, the Cleveland Browns—are on a path to extend their respective seasons. What’s most interesting isn’t the order of the AFC playoff picture or the teams at No. 6 (Miami Dolphins) and No. 7 (Indianapolis Colts) hanging on by a thread; it’s how open the AFC is from top to bottom—and this includes the unbeaten Steelers and seemingly unstoppable Chiefs.
Pittsburgh, despite its record, is a beatable team. The product—albeit after a week of schedule changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic—the Steelers recently displayed was anything but “perfect”; they just started playing complete football a couple of weeks ago and have exposed plenty of flaws in their game that could get exposed in matchups against the Bills, Colts, or Browns.
Kansas City, which clinched a playoff berth with a 22-16 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday, has its lone loss versus a Las Vegas team that hacked the mainframe of head coach Andy Reid but nearly lost to the no-win New York Jets earlier in the day. It made no sense—well, it made sense when you look at the Raiders—a team that is not and has not been good with inconsistency being one of its many issues—and when you consider how weird this division, in this season, has been.
If you look at only Week 13 in this context: The Raiders’ Hail Mary efforts barely put them past the Jets; the Browns are 9-3 for the first time since the 1994 season with the best record of all non-division leaders in the AFC; and the Texans, who got bested by the Colts, need to win out to get to a mere .500 with everything working against quarterback Deshaun Watson, who would be an MVP candidate if it weren’t for the team’s 4-8 record. Even for some of the teams that were poised as early contenders, like the Titans with the duo of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry, have been mind-numbingly awestruck by the abnormality of this year. On Sunday, the Titans were getting rocked by the Browns before making it close in the second half with two 14-point quarters. Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher, had 60 yards; his second-lowest single-game rushing total. And these are the better teams in the conference.
Further down the standings, the successes are closely outweighed by the major flaws, particularly on offense. The Dolphins secured a 19-7 win over the struggling Cincinnati Bengals, but the double-digit victory doesn’t excuse Miami’s inability to move the ball consistently with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa—although he flashes. It’s a bad time for things not to click, and from offensive penalties to Tagovailoa missing open receivers, the Dolphins can’t afford to keep working out rookie kinks. But the way this division is playing out, they could break their three-year playoff drought regardless.
A big part of the ever-changing AFC picture is the fall of the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP, is leading an offense that is in the middle of a severe dropoff from last season. It’s not just that Jackson doesn’t look like the passer we saw last season; Baltimore changed what worked so well—running heavy sets with now-Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst. Baltimore didn’t fill his vacancy at all, leaving Jackson looking to mainly two targets this season: receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and tight end Mark Andrews.
As nauseating as it was to see the New England Patriots dominate the conference for the better part of two decades, at least we knew who the AFC champion would be. And this season, in the back of our minds, we know Kansas City is likely repeating, but for now, it’s a free for all. It’s entertaining, it’s fun, and it’s a full-on mess.
- Aug 22, 2022
- Aug 22, 2022