Twelve weeks into the 2023 NFL season, we're finding out how much we don't know about the league. A month ago, the Denver Broncos would have been out. The Green Bay Packers are now surging as well. The Buffalo Bills are .500 and San Francisco shows that a team can lose three games in a row and still be Number 1. Additionally, we had our second in-season head coach firing of 2023.
That's not even half of the happenings in Week 12 alone. The NFL may be many things. Boring ain't one of them.
1. San Francisco (8-3)
After a three-game skid, the 49ers have returned to their old ways. They are consistently playing great football on both sides. Christian McCaffrey rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the first half as the 49ers jumped out to a 21-point halftime lead and cruised to a 31-13 win against the Seahawks. The 49ers have won 10 straight against NFC West opponents and three straight overall to put a three-game losing streak in the distance. If Brock Purdy can be a game manager and not turn the ball over, then the 49ers might be ready to take on the Eagles for the best of the NFC. Luckily, we get to find out this week when the two NFC Juggernauts face off in Philadelphia.
2. Philadelphia (10-1)
In some late-game heroics, the Eagles remained the NFL's only one-loss team. Never underestimate the value of a great kicker. Jake Elliott’s game-tying 59-yarder through the rain tied the score with 20 seconds left in regulation, and Jalen Hurts capped a five-touchdown day (three passing, two rushing) with a 12-yard scramble to the end zone to seal a 37-34 overtime win against the Bills. The Eagles overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. The Bills could not capitalize when they had opportunities and it ended up biting them in the rear end. Philadelphia continues to show that they are a top 1 or 2 team in the NFL, even if they have a coach who acts like a middle schooler at the helm.
3. Kansas City (8-3)
The Chiefs looked more like themselves this week against the Raiders. While the Raiders are not a great team, they have been playing good football ever since they parted ways with Josh McDaniels. Kansas City had a slow start, but unlike in recent weeks, they were able to put points on the scoreboard in the second half. After not scoring in the second half for three straight games, the Chiefs scored 17 to break a halftime tie in a 31-17 win against the Raiders. All of it was needed, too, after falling into a 14-0 hole giving renewed Raiders faithful hope. The the Chiefs defense stepped up. The Chiefs have held 11 straight opponents to 24 points or fewer. Isiah Pacheco rushed for two touchdowns. If this version of the Chiefs is what we get the rest of the year, they could be a tough team to beat in the playoffs, especially if the AFC still runs through Arrowhead.
4. Baltimore (9-3)
The Ravens are somewhat gimmicky, but they have found consistent success on both sides of the ball this season. There is a reason that they are atop the AFC by a half-game. They have, unlike the Chiefs on a consistent basis, executed. They are not as talented as the other teams in their tier, but they are all consistently on the same page and therefore win big games. The well-traveled Jadeveon Clowney is playing like a former No. 1 overall draft pick, culminating with a key strip-sack takeaway that kept fourth-quarter points off the board in a 20-10 victory against the Chargers. Rookie Zay Flowers scored both touchdowns, icing the game with 96 seconds to go. The Ravens have led entering the fourth quarter in all 12 games. I think the Mark Andrews injury will probably haunt them against really good defenses, but they beat the Chargers in a tight matchup.
5. Dallas (8-3)
Okay, okay, okay. I know that the Cowboys won and that they have talent all over the field, but they will forever be a team that I am willing to allow other teams to jump over because they have not beaten anyone with a winning record… for the time being. How is that possible? A 25-point fourth-quarter explosion turned a close game into a 45-10 blowout against the Commanders. Dak Prescott threw for 331 yards and had multiple touchdown passes for the fifth straight game. DaRon Bland set a NFL single-season record with his fifth interception return for a touchdown. The Cowboys have won 13 straight at home — their longest streak in 42 years. I don't know if the Cowboys are ready or battle-tested for what the NFC playoff picture could show them in the coming weeks.
6. Detroit (8-3)
Although the score does not show it, this week's game against the Packers was never really a competition. The Lions started slowly and they never really got into the game. The Lions dropped their seventh straight Thanksgiving game, losing 29-22 to the Packers. Converting just 1 of 5 fourth-down tries didn’t help the cause. Especially the failed fake punt from their own 23-yard line that led to an easy touchdown. Jared Goff fumbled a career-high three times, one of which was returned for a defensive touchdown. We could either chalk it up to the "Thanksgiving curse" or we can say that the Lions are vulnerable, especially on defense. I personally feel there’s only one way for the Lions to move and that’s down. They better torch the Saints this week as a test to let the NFC and their fans know.
7. Jacksonville (8-3)
In a tight AFC South matchup, the Jags snuck out a win over the up-and-coming Texans in Houston. Jacksonville has found some great success with Calvin Ridley in the last few weeks and is beginning to find a new kind of offensive rhythm. Trevor Lawrence threw for 364 yards and accounted for two touchdowns as the Jaguars improved to 6-0 away from home and avenged an earlier loss to the Texans by winning, 24-21, in Houston. Brandon McManus made 3 of 4 field goals while counterpart Matt Ammendola missed both his attempts, including a would-be, game-tying, 58-yarder in the final minute. Their adaptability and talent level could make them a difficult team to beat down the stretch.
8. Miami (8-3)
The Dolphins, like the Cowboys, are a team that struggles to beat the upper-echelon of NFL teams. They have some tremendous talent on both sides of the ball, but they have just not been able to come away with wins in tough matchups. This week they thumped the Jets, but who hasn't? Jevon Holland returned a Hail Mary interception 99 yards the other way for one of the craziest touchdowns in NFL history — the most memorable moment of a 34-13 win against the Jets in the inaugural “Black Friday” game. Raheem Mostert ran for two touchdowns to offset two interceptions thrown by Tua Tagovailoa. This week they should beat up on the Commanders and we’ll still know very little.
9. Pittsburgh (7-4)
The Steelers are forever confusing. They are tough defensively most of the time, but the offense has been abysmal. Last Sunday however, the Steelers posted their first 400-yard game of the season, just days after parting ways with former offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Coincidence? I think not. In their first game since firing offensive coordinator Canada, the Steelers snapped a 58-game streak of not gaining 400 yards by tallying 421 in a 16-10 win against the Bengals. Najee Harris scored a touchdown, and Chris Boswell kicked three field goals. The defense sacked Jake Browning four times in his first career NFL start. If this version of the Steelers is for real, they could be a viable contender for the division. That and they still have their defense and a great Coach.
10. Cleveland (7-4)
Everyone knows that the Browns have a great defense. What we still don't know is what is going to happen with the quarterback situation in Cleveland. For all the success the Cleveland Browns have had in the face of adversity, at some point all the injuries were just going to be too much to overcome. What the Browns have accomplished without their starting quarterback (Deshaun Watson) and best offensive player (running back Nick Chubb) is impressive. Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been almost serviceable, but it is clear that they need more. Do they turn to Joe Flacco or do they just hope for the best with a rookie? What they do will be a huge indicator of what is to come. Their defense is what wins games in December.