Biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 12

By Jesse Reed

Half the league played like it was still in a Thanksgiving Day food coma while the other half was playing at full speed in NFL Week 12.

One of those Thanksgiving Day games was very entertaining, but the second two were only good for those who needed a nap. Sunday’s action provided a few compelling contests between relatively equal teams, but the blowouts and stinkers were just as prevalent.

We’re examining all of the games and the most prominent players as we highlight the biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 12.

Winner: Eagles not only the best but most entertaining, too

The Philadelphia Eagles carved up the Chicago Bears with ease on Sunday, winning 31-3. There wasn’t a single aspect of this game the Eagles didn’t dominate, though that should be expected. Chicago entered the game with just three wins, while Philly had just one loss on record.

Still, what we saw in this one was the league’s best team imposing its will on an inferior team, which is exactly what should happen. Even better, the Eagles are just plain fun to watch.

Second-year quarterback Carson Wentz is a legitimate MVP candidate right now. He added to his NFL-leading passing touchdown total, throwing three more to push it to 28 on the year. The running game was spectacularly efficient, gaining 5.3 yards per attempt. The defense held Chicago down the entire game.

Heading into the final month of the regular season, Philly is averaging nearly 32 points per game and is holding teams to just 17.5 points per game. That’s how you win a lot of games, and they’re doing it in a very entertaining way with their group celebrations after touchdowns and just a generally positive environment.

Loser: Big Blue blues in full effect 

The New York Giants have two wins to their credit right now. The game following both of them has been ugly, the second of which occurred Thursday night on the road against NFC East rival Washington.

Eli Manning had one of his worst games as a professional. He completed just 13-of-27 passes for 113 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. The team’s only touchdown of the game came on a pick-six by Janoris Jenkins. Big Blue’s offense managed a grand total of seven first downs and 170 yards, going 2-for-14 on third downs in the game.

It was ugly with a capital “U.”

Ben McAdoo has lost his team. There’s no way around it. While the Giants have said they won’t fire him during the season, he’s as good as gone when it’s over. And New York has some serious thinking to do about whether Manning should be the guy under center in 2018.

Winner: Vikings continue plundering NFC North

Since being beaten by Detroit back in Week 4, the Minnesota Vikings have won seven games in a row and sit atop the NFC North by a comfortable margin.

Minnesota’s big win on Thanksgiving Day over the Lions gives them a three-game lead over Detroit, which is in second place. The Vikings are now 3-1 against teams in their division and 9-2 overall and don’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

If anything, given the way Case Keenum is running the offense right now, Minnesota is surging as it heads into the month of December. Without any real weaknesses, this is a team that will be tough to beat in the playoffs, especially if it lands home-field advantage.

Did we mention Super Bowl LII is being contested in Minneapolis this year? Wink, wink.

Loser: So much for Cleveland’s defense

DeShone Kizer has been a turnover machine all year, and the Cleveland Browns have struggled on offense as a result. But the defense has been a big strength, coming into the game with the No. 7 total defense in the league.

On Sunday in Cincinnati, Kizer was pretty darn good, and Cleveland’s offense didn’t turn the ball over once. In fact, the Browns out-gained the Bengals, 405-361.

But as we’ve seen so many times over the years, the Factory of Sadness finds a way to lose. This time, the Browns couldn’t stop the Bengals from scoring, and they didn’t create a single turnover. Joe Mixon ran wild, Andy Dalton was able to operate the offense for the most part without much pressure and threw two touchdowns.

As a result, the Browns are still winless. With two more losses, they’ll set a new NFL mark for futility over a two-year span.

Winner: The rise of Julio Jones

In case you forgot how darn good Julio Jones is, the talented Atlanta Falcons receiver sent out a notification to the world on Sunday. Going up against the awful Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense, Jones had a field day,.

Coming into the contest with just one touchdown all year, Jones doubled that total. First he hauled in a gorgeous deep pass thrown by fellow receiver Mohamed Sanu early in the second quarter (watch here).

Then he outdid himself on the second touchdown of his afternoon, juking his defender out of his shoes before finishing with a superhuman effort to reach the front pylon before falling out of bounds.

All told, Jones had 12 catches on 15 targets for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Oh, and the Falcons won by two touchdowns, 34-20.

Loser: Marlon Mack’s butterfingers sink the Colts

The Indianapolis Colts couldn’t take advantage of a golden opportunity to beat the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Marcus Mariota threw two interceptions in the first half, and the Colts used those turnovers to score 10 points. They had a 16-6 lead in the third quarter. Then the wheels came off.

Jacoby Brissett tossed a pitch to Marlon Mack with a couple minutes left in the third quarter. Mack couldn’t handle it. Brissett was charged with the lost fumble, but it’s clear the blame lies on the rookie running back. From that moment on, Tennessee claimed momentum and rattled off 14 unanswered points to win by four points.

Tennessee hasn’t been sharp this year but somehow has a 7-4 record heading into December. Indianapolis has had a chance to win each of the last three games they lost. Bad teams find ways to lose, however, which is what we saw Sunday once more from the 3-8 Colts.

Winner: Patriots steamroll hapless Fins

Remember when the New England Patriots were fighting the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills for the AFC East lead? Forgive me while I snort-laugh for the next few minutes reminiscing about the hot takes during those days of madness.

Since starting the season 2-2, New England has rattled off seven straight wins. And it’s really starting to become apparent that the Pats are rounding into playoff form. One week after dispatching the Oakland Raiders with ease in Mexico City, they doubled up on the hapless Miami Dolphins, winning 35-17 while showing absolutely no respect to Miami’s offense in the first quarter.

The defense really came alive in this one, racking up seven sacks of Matt Moore and forcing two interceptions. Tom Brady threw four touchdowns, two of which were hauled in by Rob Gronkowski, and Brandin Cooks is becoming more and more comfortable in this offense.

New England is the class of the AFC once again, ladies and gentlemen. Unless something odd goes down in the next couple of months, it looks like another Super Bowl run is happening, whether you like it or not.

Loser: Truly offensive showing by Chicago’s offense

Fletcher Cox sacks Mitchell Trubisky

It’s well documented that the Eagles’ defense is dangerous, especially up front. Still, what happened in Philadelphia on Sunday was about as ugly as it gets at the NFL level.

Because of how quickly Philadelphia imposed its will on the offensive side of the ball, Chicago’s offense wasn’t able to run the ball much. And when it did try to run, Philly’s defense issued a swift letter of denial. In total, the Bears rushed for six yards on 14 carries. Take away the 12 yards Mitchell Trubisky gained scrambling and it’s much worse.

Speaking of Trubisky, he was brutalized. Completing just 17-of-32 passes for 147 yards, he didn’t throw a touchdown and was picked off once.

The Bears have been able to stay competitive this year, but that didn’t happen Sunday thanks to this dismal showing by their offense.

Winner: Carolina’s defense, special teams come up huge

Cam Newton had an awful game. The television broadcast mentioned he was dealing with a thumb injury to his throwing hand, which makes sense considering he managed 168 yards on 11-of-28 passing.

While Newton struggled to do anything positive through the air, his counterpart on the other side, Josh McCown, had a pretty big game, passing for 307 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went to Robby Anderson.

So how in the world did the Panthers win on the road?

Down by two points, 20-18, in the fourth quarter, they got two huge plays from their defense and special teams. Luke Kuechly recovered a fumble and ran it in from 34 yards out, and then shortly afterward Kaelin Clay took a punt return 60 yards to the house.

McCown’s third touchdown late pulled the Jets to within five points, but then the Panthers came through with an 11-play drive that took five minutes off the clock and ended with three points to close the game out.

The hallmark of great teams is the ability to win when key elements aren’t up to snuff. That most certainly was the case Sunday for the Panthers, who won their eighth game of the season.

Loser: The fight in Oakland was just dumb

Aqib Talib and Michael Crabtree have a beef with one another that goes back to last year when Talib ripped Crabtree’s chain off of him during a game.

Then on Sunday in Oakland, the two of them got into a fight in which both players threw multiple punches, and Talib landed a couple on Crabtree, sans helmet (watch here). Gabe Jackson ended up getting tossed along with both of them after he pushed an official.

So before either team had scored a single point midway through the first quarter, three of the game’s best players were already disqualified thanks to an old, stupid beef that carried over from last year. It should have had no part of this game between two bad teams still somehow in the race for the AFC West crown.

Winner: Russell Wilson continues to show he’s an MVP candidate

After throwing his obligatory terrible interception early in the game, Russell Wilson did what he’s been doing most of the season. Meaning, he did it all for the Seattle Seahawks, who beat their NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers by the score of 24-13.

Wilson managed to avoid being sacked a single time, which is miraculous given the state of his offensive line and because the 49ers were in the backfield quite a bit. He ended up passing for 228 yards and two touchdowns, adding another 25 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

For those keeping track at home, this means Wilson now has triple the amount of rushing scores compared to anyone else on Seattle’s roster. In fact, only one other person has a single rushing touchdown all year.

The Seahawks are 7-4 right now, second place in the NFC West, and very much in the running for one of the two wild card spots if the Los Angeles Rams do win the division. And it’s almost all due to Wilson, who’s had to do it all this year for the team to have a chance.

Loser: What in the world happened to the Chiefs?

There are some pretty alarming things that jump out when evaluating the latest Kansas City Chiefs’ loss, a 16-10 debacle at home to Buffalo.

First off, what was Andy Reid thinking running the ball just 12 times with running backs? Buffalo had given up 638 yards on the ground in the past three games. You don’t stop trying to get water out of that deep a well after just 12 attempts, even if those didn’t garner much.

After all, this game was never so far out of reach the Chiefs couldn’t pound the rock. Especially at home.

Then there’s the matter of Kansas City’s once-potent passing attack. Of late, it’s rather impotent, and Alex Smith is back to being Captain Check-down. He didn’t have a single pass than went for more than 28 yards on Sunday and finished with 199 yards, just one touchdown and an interception.

After ripping off five straight wins to start the season, the Chiefs have now lost five of their last six and are in grave danger of losing the division lead.

Winner: Chargers suddenly very much alive in AFC West

The AFC West was thought to be one of the best divisions in football this year. That’s hardly been the case. Both the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos have hit some hard times, and the Kansas City Chiefs have hit the skids since starting out red hot.

At this point it seems like the Los Angeles Chargers have just as much of a chance as any team in the division to come away with the crown.

They won their second game in a row, dismantling the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. The defense is coming on like a runaway freight train, thanks in large part to the play of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the edge. Philip Rivers has thrown 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions ever since his three-pick performance in Week 3 against Kansas City.

If Los Angeles can start winning close games with some regularity, it’ll win the AFC West.

Loser: Blake Bortles sinks Jacksonville’s battleship

Well this was a bit predictable. In a game that required Blake Bortles to make plays through the air, he did make plays. Only, they didn’t work out well for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

With the game on the line, tied up at 24-24 late in the fourth quarter, Bortles had Jacksonville in Arizona territory. A field goal would have won the game. Instead, Bortles threw a bad interception to Tyrann Mathieu — right at the defensive back, who we assume he never saw.

The Cardinals went on to win by three points at the end of the game. Bortles finished with just 160 yards on 19-of-33 passes with no touchdowns and that awful interception. He’s the biggest reason it’s hard to get behind the Jags as a legitimate contender in the AFC next January.

Winner: Pittsburgh’s Killer Bees come keep Steelers rolling

The dynamic trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell can still put on a show, ladies and gentlemen.

Before we get into how they sparked Pittsburgh’s 31-28 win at home over Green Bay, let’s take a moment to recognize how great young Brett Hundley played in defeat. The UCLA product had the best game of his career, passing for 245 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.

Roethlisberger made a couple of bad mistakes, throwing two interceptions. But as he’s been doing lately, Big Ben made up for it with four touchdowns, two of which were hauled in by Antonio Brown. No. 84 finished with 10 receptions for 169 yards, and he made one of the most ridiculous sideline catches you’ll ever see in the waning moments to set up the game-winning field goal.

Le’Veon Bell was Mr. Do-it-All. He rushed for 95 yards on 20 carries and caught 12 passes for 88 yards — just your average dominant showing by the best overall running back in the game today.

The win keeps Pittsburgh’s winning streak alive, going strong at six in a row. It also moved the Steelers up to 9-2 on the season, which matches the New England Patriots for top in the AFC.

Loser: Broncos back to square one at QB

Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian warming up before a Broncos game

Not only did the Denver Broncos lose their seventh game in a row to fall to 3-8 on the season, they couldn’t get through it with recently promoted starter Paxton Lynch.

During the latter stages of the third quarter, Lynch injured his ankle and was forced out of the game.

He was visibly emotional about being removed, shedding a few tears in the process. It’s easy to understand why. Last year’s first-round pick, he was finally getting a chance to play for the first time all year, and he had struggled before being injured.

At the time, Oakland had a 21-0 lead, and Lynch had only managed 41 yards and one interception on 9-of-14 attempts in the game.

It didn’t help Lynch’s cause that Trevor Siemian came right into the game and threw two touchdown passes in the 21-14 loss. Now the Broncos are right back where they started, with Siemian — recently benched in favor of Brock Osweiler, of all people — looking like the team’s best option, even if that means the offense is mediocre at best.

Winner: Samaje Perine gives Washington a huge boost

Injuries have been a prominent part of Washington’s story in 2017, and the team had already lost two starting running backs for the season heading into Week 12. Both Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson have been placed on the IR, meaning rookie Samaje Perine has been pressed into duty out of necessity.

The past two weeks, the Oklahoma product has shown he’s more than capable of handling the load. On Thursday, Perine rushed for 100 yards and hauled in three passes for 30 yards. It marked the second straight game in which he eclipsed the century mark as a runner, and he’s been able to break off some big gains despite Washington’s decimated offensive line.

Given the team’s lack of production at the receiver position, it seems like the offense will have to run through Perine the rest of the way if this team is going to make a run at the playoffs. Thankfully it looks like he’s more than game.

Loser: 49ers fans fail to show class

It’s been a rough season for the San Francisco 49ers and their fans. With just one win all year, there hasn’t been much to cheer about.

We get that. We also get the fact that it was exciting to know that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was finally getting a chance to play late in the fourth quarter.

But 49ers fans were cheering about this while rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard was still laying on the turf in agony after being hit low on the play that knocked him out of the game. This kid has been taking big hits ever since he was inserted into the lineup in favor of Brian Hoyer and has shown incredible toughness.

So it was pretty disrespectful to him that 49ers fans were cheering for Garoppolo before he ever took the field. Defenders Eric Reid and Reuben Foster both chimed in on that after the game, letting fans know they didn’t appreciate that in the least.

Now, Garoppolo did give fans something to cheer about as the game wound down, throwing a touchdown as time expired. But fans should have waited to cheer when it was appropriate, rather than when a player was suffering on the gridiron.

Winner: Rams get right back on track against Saints

Rams quarterback Jared Goff leads the team on the field

One week after being blown out by the Minnesota Vikings, the Los Angeles Rams put together a very impressive game against another top NFC team in the New Orleans Saints. Now, it’s not quite the same, because the Rams were at home and the Saints were without top rookie corner Marshon Lattimore. But still, we cannot discount what getting a big win will do for this team going forward.

Jared Goff took full advantage of New Orleans being down its top defensive back. He picked apart the defense, going for 354 yards on 28-of-43 passing with two touchdowns and one interception. He also completed passes to four different receivers that went over 30 yards.

Los Angeles’ defensive front applied consistent pressure to Drew Brees, and the Saints struggled on the ground, minus one 74-yard dash by rookie phenom Alvin Kamara.

A late Saints score made the game seem closer than it actually was, the final score being 26-20.

Loser: Dak Prescott is regressing in a major way

How much does Ezekiel Elliott mean to Dak Prescott? Well, if the past three games are any indication, he means everything — the entire world, the universe and beyond.

Since Elliott began serving his six-game suspension ahead of Week 10, Prescott has taken a few steps backward.

Heading into that game against Atlanta, Prescott had thrown 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions, and Dallas had a record of 5-3. Since then, including Thursday’s dismal performance in Dallas’ 28-6 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, he’s thrown no touchdowns and five interceptions, and the Cowboys have lost all three games.

What’s even stranger about all this is that Dallas hasn’t exactly been awful on the ground. Alfred Morris has been the primary back in Elliott’s place, and he’s rushed for 180 yards on 35 carries.

Of course, Dallas’ offensive line has also been a train wreck recently, which has added to Prescott’s level of discomfort. Clearly, the second-year quarterback has hit a rough patch. If he can’t work his way out of it in the next few games, the season is over.