The NFC frontrunners took care of business, while the AFC North continues to fluctuate. The Lions’ dramatic first win also dealt a blow to the Vikings’ playoff hopes, and the Chiefs kept their defense-powered resurgence going. Here are the Week 13 grades from around the NFL.

 

1 of 26

QB issue still undercutting Broncos’ improved roster

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Outgaining the Chiefs by nearly 150 yards, the Broncos minimized Patrick Mahomes and unleashed Javonte Williams. Denver’s solid defensive effort and run-game patience still were not enough to even seriously threaten the AFC West kingpin. Teddy Bridgewater threw one brutal interception and, on his second pick, once again failed to stop a defender from scoring. While the Broncos’ highly drafted receivers disappointed against the Chiefs’ secondary, Bridgewater’s low ceiling defines this team. The Broncos (6-6) still have a fringe playoff shot, but their evergreen QB situation negates big-picture progress elsewhere.

BRONCOS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Lions (Sun.)

 

2 of 26

DBs key another Chiefs rivalry win

DBs key another Chiefs rivalry win

William Purnell/Icon Sportswire

The Chiefs (8-4) did not need much from their still off-key offense to beat their top rivals for a 12th straight time. Their defense led a charge again. Beyond Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City’s secondary consists of low-cost investments. That group prevented Denver’s upper-crust receiving corps from sufficiently helping Bridgewater, with Juan Thornhill’s third-quarter INT and Daniel Sorensen’s fourth-quarter backbreaker keeping this defensive run going. Steve Spagnuolo’s troops continue to secure wins while the Chiefs offense figures it out. Once (if?) that happens, this defensive improvement creates a scary picture of the Chiefs’ full-tilt capabilities.

CHIEFS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Raiders (Sun.)

 

3 of 26

Secondary injuries create new Ravens blueprint

Secondary injuries create new Ravens blueprint

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens’ three Lamar Jackson-piloted playoff teams entered postseason play ranking first, fourth and seventh in total defense. Exiting Pittsburgh, Baltimore sits 20th. The Ravens (8-4) have not needed to function without a high-level defense during Jackson’s time, but after losing Marlon Humphrey for the season Sunday, Baltimore may finally have sustained too many setbacks. John Harbaugh acknowledged as much with his do-or-die two-point try. The Ravens, who have survived on a few narrow escapes, rank 32nd in pass defense entering Week 14. With no below-.500 teams left on the schedule, Baltimore should not be considered a playoff lock.

RAVENS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Browns (Sun.)

 

4 of 26

Big Ben turns back clock in Steelers’ upset

Big Ben turns back clock in Steelers' upset

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After the Steelers offense submitted its usual unremarkable work before halftime, its on-the-way-out leader showed a bit of the Hall of Fame form he once regularly displayed. Repeatedly finding the Pittsburgh wideout factory’s latest top model (Diontae Johnson), Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers (6-5-1) to 17 points on their final three drives. Slotted 24th in QBR entering Week 13, Big Ben was 9 of 10 for 129 yards and two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. The Steelers shook off one of the Mike Tomlin era’s low points to re-emerge in the AFC playoff race. Can Roethlisberger do enough to ensure they stay there until January?

STEELERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Vikings (Thu.)

 

5 of 26

Embarrassing defensive outing pushes Vikings to brink

Embarrassing defensive outing pushes Vikings to brink

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The long-term absences of top edge rushers Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen, along with the Sunday unavailability of longtime linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, made Minnesota vulnerable. But still. Dan Campbell’s stunning fourth-and-1 call inside his own 30-yard line gave the Vikings’ defense a four-point lead to protect against a winless team. Failing to deter the winless Lions on a 75-yard, no-timeout drive is inexcusable for a Vikings squad that showed playoff viability in November. The soft zone that allowed Detroit’s game-winner pushes the Vikes (5-7) to the edge — even in this bloated playoff format.

VIKINGS GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Steelers (Thu.)

 

6 of 26

Poised Goff drive finally moves Lions into win column

Poised Goff drive finally moves Lions into win column

David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Amid a reputation freefall since Super Bowl LIII, Jared Goff became the centerpiece on a memorable Lions day. Down D’Andre Swift and equipped with a bottom-tier receiving corps, Goff threw for 296 yards and led a game-winning drive. This marks the former No. 1 overall pick’s first win without Sean McVay, with the Campbell and Jeff Fisher sections of his career sinking his reputation. Campbell’s unnecessarily bold fourth-and-1 decision put Goff in a bind. The embattled passer deserves credit for making the necessary throws — capped by the clincher to Amon-Ra St. Brown (10 receptions) — to lead the Lions (1-10-1) to victory. 

LIONS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Broncos (Sun.)

 

George Kittle vaults into historic place

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Tight ends have surpassed 180 receiving yards in a game just 15 times in NFL history. Kittle is now responsible for a league-record three of those. Shannon Sharpe is the only other player with two such performances. Although the 49ers lost to the Seahawks for the 17th time in the rivals’ past 20 meetings, Kittle dropping a nine-catch, 181-yard, two-touchdown performance represents a great sign for the team’s passing attack. The injury-prone Kittle showing this form, nearly rescuing a Deebo Samuel-less San Francisco squad (6-6), bodes well for the wild-card contender’s hopes. But the 49ers obviously cannot survive on 71 rushing yards.

49ERS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Bengals (Sun.)

 

8 of 26

Russell Wilson pauses 2021 turbulence

Russell Wilson pauses 2021 turbulence

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Seahawks (4-8) went 5 of 15 on third down and needed a 73-yard fake punt to creep past 70 rushing yards. Another angle: Seattle’s quarterback made enough plays and did so (again) without a viable run game and as his tight end appeared hellbent on keeping the 49ers afloat. Despite a Gerald Everett drop that led to a red zone INT and his latter fumble near the goal line, Wilson was 30-for-37 with two TD passes — one a vintage-Russ drop-in to Tyler Lockett. Macro issues still grip this team and may well lead to a Wilson-Pete Carroll divorce, but the future Hall of Famer recapturing his form, to some degree, could be important in the grand scheme.

SEAHAWKS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Texans (Sun.)

 

Taylor Heinicke doing enough to pilot resurgence

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Winning a second straight 17-15 game, this franchise has a clearer path to going 2-for-2 in playoff berths in the Washington Football Team era. Taylor Heinicke should be receiving a bit more attention for this climb. A quarterback from the Division I-FCS level who went undrafted and was out of football at this time last year has steered Washington to four consecutive wins. While Heinicke did throw a bad INT in Las Vegas, he led Washington (6-6) to a 7-for-13 third-down clip and orchestrated a game-winning drive. Without Chase Young and Montez Sweat, this Washington rally from 2-6 presents a greater degree of difficulty. Somehow, Heinicke is making it work.

WASHINGTON GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Sun.)

 

10 of 26

Offensive issues set to nix Raiders playoff bid

Offensive issues set to nix Raiders playoff bid

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Now losers of four of their past five, the Raiders have no more sub-.500 teams left on their schedule. They needed more from their offense against Washington, but ex-HC Jack Del Rio exacted a revenge measure. Washington’s 24th-ranked defense held Las Vegas (6-6) to one touchdown. Regardless of a final-drive missed pass interference call or Trevon Moehrig’s dropped INT, the Raiders cannot be taken seriously as a contender after putting up 15 points with a four-day rest advantage over this opponent. Vegas’ post-bye offensive outputs (excepting the Thanksgiving pass interference event): 16, 14, 13, and 15 points. 

RAIDERS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Chiefs (Sun.)

 

11 of 26

Chargers defense shines in unreliable contender duel

Chargers defense shines in unreliable contender duel

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Ranked 29th entering Cincinnati, the Chargers’ defense produced four turnovers to give the talented but inconsistent squad a crucial win. Joey Bosa sidekick Uchenna Nwosu has not seized that gig this season, but he notched two sacks and a strip of Joe Burrow. Tevaughn Campbell capitalizing on a Joe Mixon slip-up, via a gift-wrapped fumble-six, and Chris Harris’ end zone INT denying the Bengals a fourth-quarter touchdown finished a crucial outing for a maddeningly inconsistent Chargers team. Few AFC squads possess the Bolts’ ceiling. Justin Herbert receiving this defensive support of this sort injects additional intrigue into a muddled race.

CHARGERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Giants (Sun.)

 

12 of 26

Bengals crumble again amid expectations

Bengals crumble again amid expectations

Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer/USA TODAY NETWORK

While not quite as ghastly as their New Jersey letdown, the Bengals again revealed their second-tier contender status. Ja’Marr Chase’s ugly drop teed up the second Bengals turnover, and Mixon’s fumble contributed to this increasingly one-sided result. Of greater concern: Cincinnati’s depleted O-line allowed a season-high six sacks. Burrow did not play especially poorly, suffering a finger dislocation, but could not keep pace with 2020 classmate Herbert. The Bengals (7-5) changed course regarding defensive free agent spending over the past two offseasons. Their final year with Burrow locked into a rookie contract needs to involve one or two big O-line investments.

BENGALS GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. 49ers (Sun.)

 

13 of 26

Bucs’ Ndamukong Suh-Vita Vea duo dominates

Bucs' Ndamukong Suh-Vita Vea duo dominates

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Not in position to accrue stats on the level of Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, the Buccaneers’ interior defensive linemen present scarier tasks for opposing blockers. Suh and Vea combined for four sacks, two of those coming on third downs in the second half, to prevent a Falcons comeback. After rushing for 101 yards in the first half, Atlanta also offered just 20 after the break. The Bucs (9-3) hit big on the nimble nose tackle monster in the 2018 first round, and despite being in Year 12, Suh (six sacks this season) remains a productive Vea co-anchor inside. Vea being healthy for this year’s stretch run matters much in the home-field advantage chase.

BUCCANEERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Bills (Sun.)

 

14 of 26

Tom Brady carves up thin Falcons secondary

Tom Brady carves up thin Falcons secondary

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Other than his Joe Theismann-esque pick-six near the end of the first half, Brady (360 yards, four TD passes) smoked the Falcons secondary for a third time in three tries as a Buccaneer. The legendary QB picked apart A.J. Terrell’s supporting cast, which turned Chris Godwin (15 catches) into a PPR savior, and could not defend a lumbering Rob Gronkowski in the red area. Rookie safety Richie Grant fared particularly poorly, allowing a perfect passer rating on five targets. It did not help the Falcons only hit the Bucs quarterback once. 

FALCONS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at Panthers (Sun.)

 

15 of 26

One-time trade chip goes off against Bears

One-time trade chip goes off against Bears

Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

After drafting Zaven Collins in the first round, the Cardinals (10-2) allowed Jordan Hicks to seek a trade. Thankfully for the NFC West-leading squad, nothing materialized. Taking the lead in the Cardinal Jordan Hicks power rankings, as the St. Louis reliever fights injuries, the Arizona linebacker played a big role in a dominant defensive outing in Chicago. The seventh-year defender tallied a season-high 13 tackles (two for loss) and sacked Andy Dalton twice. Despite playing an off-ball role, Hicks has a career-high five sacks. After injury trouble in Philly, he has become indispensable for Arizona’s ascendant defense.

CARDINALS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Rams (Mon.)

 

16 of 26

Another QB implosion for a Bears regime nearing the end

Another QB implosion for a Bears regime nearing the end

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

With Mitchell Trubisky in Buffalo, the Bears have submitted some of the NFL’s ugliest quarterback box scores this season. Following the Justin Fields nine-sack debacle in Cleveland and his five-turnover submission in Tampa, Dalton offered a four-INT outing to add to Chicago’s ledger here. The veteran’s mistakes came in miserable conditions and against a two-loss team, and the performance perhaps not even being the worst or second-worst Bears QB display this season says plenty. Dalton and Matt Nagy will certainly be elsewhere in 2022, but the Bears (4-8) have a long way to go. Another national TV showcase is unfortunately imminent, however. 

BEARS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Packers (Sun.)

 

17 of 26

Barkley’s career shows grim nature of modern RB

Barkley's career shows grim nature of modern RB

Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Saquon Barkley’s rookie season introduced one of the great running back talents in modern NFL history. Injuries and the Giants’ annual struggles have threatened to derail his lone chance at a big extension. Barkley’s 17 touches were his most since coming back from his latest ankle sprain. He totaled 74 yards, and even that stat line misleads. Barkley’s four pre-garbage-time catches produced minus-3 yards. The Giants (4-8) were down Daniel Jones, Sterling Shepard, and Kadarius Toney. They needed their would-be superstar, but he added multiple drops as well. The Giants might not be playing for anything, but these final five games are vital for Barkley’s future.

GIANTS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at Chargers (Sun.)

 

18 of 26

Dolphins defense swallows up Giants QB2

Dolphins defense swallows up Giants QB2

Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

After hanging around into the second half, the Giants could not prop up Mike Glennon any longer against a gelling Dolphins defense. Although Glennon missed passes and the Giants dropped others, the Dolphins held an opponent under 10 points for the fourth time in five games. Xavien Howard added his 14th INT over the past two years and allowed no catches. And first-round pick Jaelan Phillips now has five second-half sacks over the past two games. It might be too late for this Dolphins outfit (6-7), but they joined the 1994 Giants as the second team in NFL history to lose seven games and then win five straight. They are trending upward for the future.

DOLPHINS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Jets (Dec. 19)

 

19 of 26

Midseason mini-run definitively over for Jaguars

Midseason mini-run definitively over for Jaguars

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Beating the Dolphins and Bills and threatening the Colts, the Jaguars offered glimpses of relevant football for a short span. That period appears done. Even with the aid of an extensive garbage-time portion, Jacksonville accumulated fewer than 200 yards in Los Angeles. The Jags (2-10) went three-and-out on four straight drives. Trevor Lawrence has hit a wall and has nothing close to the infrastructure he needs to realize his NFL potential. Given Urban Meyer’s bevy of controversies and the team’s on-field woes, owner Shad Khan stands to face an unusual decision soon.

JAGUARS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Titans (Sun.)

 

Sony Michel provides Rams run-game jolt

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Subbing for Darrell Henderson, Michel offered his best game since his breakthrough 2018 playoffs. The former first-round pick rushed for the most yards of any Ram this season, grinding through the Jaguars for 121. Only Derrick Henry has gained more against the Jags this season. Michel forced five missed tackles in a nice bounce-back outing for himself and the Rams (8-4). Knee trouble ran Michel out of New England, dropping the ex-Georgia Bulldog’s stock considerably. But it would be surprising if the Rams did not move to incorporate him more alongside Henderson, who has also not proven durable. 

RAMS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Cardinals (Mon.)

 

21 of 26

Jets ignite Dallas Goedert, Eagles pass attack

Jets ignite Dallas Goedert, Eagles pass attack

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With Gardner Minshew a more polished passer at this stage of his career, Philadelphia’s backup elevated his receiving corps more than Jalen Hurts has in recent weeks. The Jets presented favorable opposition for Minshew’s spot start, and he displayed a quick connection with Goedert. The recently extended tight end posted his first 100-yard day since Week 1 of last season. The Eagles (6-7) chose a Goedert second contract over a Zach Ertz third, and after seven scoreless weeks, the fourth-year cog came through with two TDs. Good momentum for when Hurts returns post-bye.

EAGLES GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Washington (Dec. 19)

 

22 of 26

Philly run game also too much for Jets

Philly run game also too much for Jets

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Also occurring in this abomination of a Jets-Eagles uniform matchup: 185 Philly rushing yards. Considering this came without Hurts involved, and with Jordan Howard injured, it doubles as another rough showing from the Jets defense. Last year’s 2-14 team gave up 1,792 yards on the ground; Robert Saleh’s first Jets unit is already at 1,601. The Jets (2-10) did not exactly do much to deter Goedert on his two scores and did not force a Minshew incompletion until after the first half’s two-minute warning. They are now 0-12 against the Eagles since the series began in 1973.

JETS GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: vs. Saints (Sun.)

 

23 of 26

Houston trip a nice pre-bye for intriguing Colts

Houston trip a nice pre-bye for intriguing Colts

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

It is difficult to take too much away from Texans games, as the Colts have outscored them 62-3 in two games this season. This marked Indianapolis’ first shutout in three years. Longtime slot ace Kenny Moore intercepted his fourth pass, while oft-injured defensive end Kemoko Turay showed up for two sacks and five pressures. It did not make much sense to give Jonathan Taylor 32 carries in this game, considering the spate of running back injuries leaguewide. But the Colts (7-6) are heading into a bye. Quietly top 10 on offense and defense, the Colts are one of the most interesting teams ahead of the final push.

COLTS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Patriots (Dec. 18)

 

24 of 26

How will Texans find next quarterback?

How will Texans find next quarterback?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

David Culley benched Tyrod Taylor, whose run as a bridge quarterback-for-hire appears to be nearing an end. Barring an unlikely Davis Mills surge, the Texans will enter 2022 without a starting quarterback. The expected Deshaun Watson trade will furnish the franchise with vital draft capital. But Houston’s big QB swing might not come until after next season. This is not a destination for a disgruntled star via trade, and after the patience, Nick Caserio has thus far shown, the rookie GM will not force a QB pick in a draft not oozing arm talent. The Colts may have an easy run in this matchup next year as well. 

TEXANS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Seahawks (Sun.)

 

25 of 26

Reinforcements set to stabilize Cowboys

Reinforcements set to stabilize Cowboys

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Unleashing the Sports Twitter sect of the internet on Taysom Hill, the Cowboys (8-4) intercepted four passes in a game for the first time since 2010. They now have impact players on all three levels, with DeMarcus Lawrence returning after 10 games off. Pairing Lawrence with Micah Parsons and this upgraded Trevon Diggs version, the Cowboys will also have Randy Gregory due back soon. This defense, which stepped in to help an uneven offense in New Orleans, will almost certainly improve on its No. 28 ranking against the pass. A run of NFC East games stands to help here, too, as the Cowboys begin jockeying with other division leaders for favorable playoff seeding.

COWBOYS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Washington (Sun.)

 

26 of 26

Saints might want to take WR seriously in 2022

Saints might want to take WR seriously in 2022

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Hill’s four-INT night brought the 5-7 Saints’ offensive issues back into the national dialogue, though the team’s haphazard wide receiver approach deserves more scrutiny. With their No. 1 wideout done for the year after a rogue surgery timetable, the Saints’ current top target — 5-foot-6 Deonte Harris — sits 52nd among pass catchers with 523 receiving yards. He is set to be suspended for a summer DUI. Next WR1 up is Marquez Callaway, whose 409 yards are 76th. Michael Thomas may well be gone next year, leading to an overdue Saints restart at wideout. This group may lead to more harsh online judgment for Hill, who is now navigating a third injury this season.

SAINTS GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: at Jets (Sun.)

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