Only two games went into overtime in Week 11, but it felt like the entire league was working for extra time on Sunday. As we finished the pre-Thanksgiving part of the schedule, we had just about everything we could have needed to check off the list. There were bad coaching decisions, bad quarterbacks, and bad coaching decisions centered around bad quarterbacks. We also saw a few teams start to break away from the pack and just as many fall away from it. Here’s our quick wrap around from the past week:
The Bills got what they deserved
The Buffalo Bills benched their starting quarterback this past week despite a 5-4 record and shot at the playoffs in the weakest conference in recent memory. Buffalo moved on from Tyrod Taylor to fifth-round rookie Nathan Peterman in a move head coach Sean McDermott explained would help the team win now and the future. The now didn’t go too well.
Peterman’s fourth pass of the day was intercepted and returned for a touchdown and it got worse from there. He threw a total of five interceptions in the first half and was replaced by Taylor in the second half, in route to a 54-24 win for the Chargers. This isn’t Peterman’s fault. He wasn’t the the one who forced his way into starting against one of the league’s best pass rushes in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram and the sixth best pass defense per DVOA.
After the game, McDermott said he was more disappointed with the result than his process of starting Peterman. The problem is his process was bad from the beginning. Taylor is clearly a polarizing quarterback, but the reality is his good outweighs his bad, especially in a league that needs more quarterback talent and an offense that was never really set up for him to succeed. Taylor was working with one of the league’s worst pass-blocking offensive lines and for much of the early part of the season, tight end Charles Clay was his only functioning deep threat. A mobile quarterback like Taylor also helps the run game more than he hurts it, but rarely were the Bills using zone read or run-pass options (RPOs) to create easy mismatches for the offense. It’s been clear this staff hasn’t been thrilled with the prospect of Taylor as the starting quarterback, but there are multiple different ways some transition could have been handled -- the trade deadline was two weeks ago if this thought process had already been started. This way, though, was about the worst way the Bills could have gone about it and it rightfully blew up in their face.
McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane want to change the culture in Buffalo. That culture change, though, has made the team worse at wide receiver by trading Sammy Watkins, worse at cornerback by trading Ronald Darby, worse at defensive tackle by trading Marcell Dareus, and worse at quarterback by benching Tyrod Taylor.
Even with the loss, the 5-5 Bills are in seventh place in the AFC behind the 5-5 Baltimore Ravens only by a tiebreaker. There’s still a shot at the playoffs if Buffalo plays its cards right the rest of the way, but it’s hard to have faith in this regime to do the right thing.
Minnesota is clicking
If there’s a more fun team than the Minnesota Vikings right now, it’s a short list in front of them. The Vikings have one of the league’s best defenses -- ninth heading into the week, but that should move up after shutting down the league’s top offense -- and the offense is rolling with Case Keenum throwing to one of the league’s best wide receiver duos in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
Minnesota got home field advantage in the Week 11 matchup with the Los Angeles Rams and came away with a 24-7 victory to put them in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye. The Vikings are currently the No. 2 seed over the New Orleans Saints thank to a head-to-head win in Week 1, which feels like a year and three different versions of each team ago.
Four of Minnesota’s final six games are on the road and the two home games are against the weakest opponents of the bunch -- the Cincinnati Bengals and Chicago Bears. There’s three straight road games in the next three weeks in Detroit on Thanksgiving then at Atlanta and Carolina. Whole none of those teams are as good as expected, they’re all hanging around the playoff race and none of them will be an easy win. If the Vikings can hold on to a first-round bye, they definitely will have earned it.
Fun race for the NFC wild cards
There’s a tight race for the AFC wild cards, but those teams are mostly bad. Meanwhile things keep getting closer and more fun in the NFC playoff picture. Even the divisional races are closing up -- well, except for the NFC East, sorry. The Vikings are up two games on the Lions, but the Saints are just a game up on the Panthers and pending the Monday Night Football game, the Rams will either be a game ahead or tied with the Seahawks in the NFC West.
The next few weeks have some good games that feature these teams in the race. Next week we get Saints at Rams. In Week 13, there’s Panthers at Saints and Eagles at Seahawks. Week 14 features Saints at Falcons and Vikings at Panthers. There’s a good chance those games help clear up the playoff picture, but there’s just as good a chance we know less after them than we do now. Either way, the home stretch of the season looks a lot more fun than it did when we were slogging through the first few weeks of the year.
Some notes on quarterbacks
During New Orleans’s early run in the season, there was some noise that Drew Brees couldn’t carry the team anymore. That was really never the case, it was just that he didn’t have to carry the team. After years of having to throw 40-plus times per game because of a terrible defense, Brees has been able to chop those attempts down and focus on efficiency thanks to a much improved defense and one the of the league’s best running games. When needed, though, Brees was more than capable of leading the team to back from a 31-16 deficit for a 34-31 overtime win. Brees went 11-for-11 on the final two Saints drives in regulation that ended in two touchdowns and a two point conversion. On the season, Brees is third in yards per attempt and he’s still seventh in total attempts. He has been and will be fine.
His counterpart on Sunday, Kirk Cousins, also had an impressive game -- at least until late. This year Cousins had some 2016 Andy Dalton potential for a down year after losing a heavy percentage of the previous season’s skill players. But to his credit, Cousins has been even better than he was last year with less help around him. Cousins is matching last season’s yards per attempt (8.1) while besting his touchdown rate (4.9 percent to 4.1 percent) and interception rate (1.4 percent to 2.0 percent). He’s truly stepped his game up when needed and even with the loss of Chris Thompson, Washington should continue to be a dangerous offense.
Let’s quickly end with Tom Brady, who is somehow quietly having one of the best seasons of his career. In his age-40 season, Brady not only leads the league in attempts (380), he also leads in yards per attempt (8.3) and has thrown an interception on less than one percent of his passes (0.5 percent). Brady also did much of this work when the Patriots defense was letting opposing offenses run wild. The defense has started to stabilize -- a 33-8 win over the Oakland Raiders helps -- but this team is not 8-2 without the quarterback doing the heavy lifting early.