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NFL Week 12 winners and losers: Bill Belichick has Patriots rolling. Wounded Titans are in a freefall.

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  • New England Patriots
    New England Patriots
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Tennessee Titans
    Tennessee Titans
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  • Bill Belichick
    Bill Belichick
    American football coach

If there is one overwhelming theme this season in the NFL, it's that teams who reach the top of their respective conferences should get used to the idea that they may not be there for long.

The Tennessee Titans became the latest team to fall out of the No. 1 seed, as they have lost their last two, the latest coming at the hands of the Patriots. New England, by the way, might be the hottest team in the entire NFL and has won its last six. That paved the way for a new top seed in the AFC, with the Baltimore Ravens outlasting the Browns in a sloppy, turnover-filled victory Sunday night.

Another team that needs to reassess its schemes and identity is the Los Angeles Rams, who have dropped their last three, despite making a couple of splashy win-now moves in adding Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr.

NFL WEEK 12: 32 things we learned

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Patriots quarterback Mac Jones reacts after a touchdown against the Titans.
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones reacts after a touchdown against the Titans.

Here are the Week 12 winners and losers.

WINNERS

Coach of the year: Bill Belichick

As teams atop the AFC keep getting to the No. 1 seed, only to tumble down after losses that seem to come against lesser opponents, the Patriots are surging. Winners of six straight, the latest a 36-13 demolition of the previously top-seeded Titans, the Patriots might just be the most dangerous team in the AFC. And, given how many additions New England (8-4) has had to incorporate into the team — none bigger than rookie quarterback Mac Jones — it's time to put Belichick in the coach of the year conversation.

Take Matt Judon. He was always a solid pass rusher in his five seasons with the Ravens. His career high in sacks in Baltimore was 9.5. Belichick and the Patriots have unleashed Judon, who has 11.5 sacks after only 12 games. New England is playing complementary football: the Patriots are tied for second in the NFL with 25 turnovers forced, they came into Sunday ranked fifth in third-down offense (45.77%) and their special teams are reliable. And, in typical Belichick fashion, the Patriots are versatile and adapt their game plans from week-to-week. It likely won't go down as the most impressive coaching performance of his career, but, if the Patriots continue to play like this, it will be up among the best.

The Baltimore Ravens

Again, there's a new No. 1 in the AFC. The Baltimore Ravens got some help from the Patriots but also took care of business with a 16-10 victory against the division-rival Browns, even with quarterback Lamar Jackson throwing four interceptions. Baltimore was able to do that, thanks to a stellar game from its defense and the steady consistency of placekicker Justin Tucker.

The Ravens frustrated Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, but the story of the game was how they erased the NFL's top-ranked rushing offense, holding Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to a combined 36 yards; the Browns rushed for 40 yards, overall. Baltimore, in fact, prevented Cleveland from ever making a trip inside the red zone, though Mayfield did connect with tight end David Njoku on a 20-yard score. Still, as maddeningly inconsistent as the Ravens can sometimes be, that they can scrape out victories like this, shows that if they can correct ball protection issues and eliminate the mental mistakes, they have enough talent and versatility for a deep run in the playoffs.

Drama in the NFC wild-card race

When the NFL expanded the playoff field before the 2020 season to seven teams in each conference, this is exactly what they had in mind — that and the added revenue of another playoff game broadcast. In the top-heavy NFC, the rest of the season figures to be a wild ride for the seventh and final spot in playoffs. Despite their loss against the 49ers, the Vikings (5-6) are still sitting at No. 7. Yet, there are seven other teams who are one game back or fewer.

In descending order, the Falcons (5-6), Saints (5-6), Eagles (5-7), Panthers (5-7), Washington Football Team (4-6), Giants (4-7) and Bears (4-7) are all within striking distance. In fact, if the Seahawks beat Washington on Monday night, both teams will be 4-7, adding another squad to the mix. All of this means, with a field this crowded, playing clean, mistake-free football will be essential. It also means that teams that potentially face bad injury luck, or even if they suffer outbreaks of COVID-19, could stand to lose more than just a game or two when the margin of error is so slim.

Efficient Tua and the Miami Dolphins

They still have a ton of ground to make up in the AFC wild-card picture, and need a lot of help in the process, but the Miami Dolphins (5-7) have now won four in a row. While the team's offensive line still struggles, Miami has mitigated that by getting the ball out of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's hands quickly and relying on play-action passes to get players like receiver Jaylen Waddle get in open space.

Tagovailoa is an accurate passer who has shined in key situational moments. He joined Kyler Murray, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks since 1950 to have consecutive games with at least 30 attempts and 80% or better completion rate. Against the Panthers, Miami converted both of its fourth down attempts, three of its four red zone attempts and all three of its goal-to-go attempts. Will the Dolphins make the playoffs? They're the No. 13 seed in the conference, so it's unlikely. But the young team is building solid momentum that can help down the road.

LOSERS

The skidding L.A. Rams

The Los Angeles Rams made a series of win-now moves, trading for Von Miller and signing Odell Beckham Jr. Since the Miller trade, they haven't won a single game. The Rams (7-4) have lost three in a row after they fell to the Packers, 36-28. And, rather than worry about Super Bowl aspirations, the Rams need to focus more on defense and protecting the ball.

During the losing streak, the Rams have committed seven turnovers. Their turnover margin in those games is minus-5. Quarterback Matthew Stafford became the first passer since Matt Schaub with the Texans in 2013 to throw pick-sixes in three consecutive games. They've also allowed 95 points in the three losses. In the last two, the pass rush has generated just two sacks. The Rams have plenty of season left to solve these issues. But what they may need most is time for the new pieces to gel and for the coaching staff to figure out how to overcome the loss of receiver Robert Woods.

(Wounded) Titans in freefall

When a team loses its best player, it's always a near-impossible task to not regress. The Tennessee Titans are not doing the impossible. Since star running back Derrick Henry went down with a potentially season-ending foot injury, the Titans have gone 2-2, but both of those losses have come in the last two weeks. The latest was a 36-13 defeat against the Patriots. But it's not necessarily the rushing game that is hurting Tennessee; the Titans ran for 270 yards against the Patriots.

The play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill has faltered, though the team is dealing with a rash of injuries on offense. Receivers A.J. Brown (chest) and Julio Jones (hamstring) both have landed on injured reserve. Tannehill threw for only 93 yards against the Patriots. The team's leading receiver was Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, with 25 yards and a touchdown. This comes one week after Tannehill threw four interceptions in an inexplicable loss against the Texans. With the loss, the Titans (8-4) fell out of the No. 1 seed in the AFC and now sit in the third slot. Unfortunately for Tennessee, which has put 17 players on IR this season, it will be weeks before the team can even approach better health, which means the slide could continue.

The idea that Cam Newton alone makes the Panthers a playoff team

The nostalgia was nice. The scores on his first two plays back were fun. But Carolina's 33-10 road loss to the Dolphins showed that the Panthers (5-7) will not be a playoff team just because of the addition of Cam Newton. In his second start since he signed earlier in November, Newton struggled significantly, especially in the passing game. Part of it is that Newton, whom Carolina released in March 2020, is not built for the offense that coordinator Joe Brady had installed at the beginning of the year.

To be fair, Newton's receivers have constantly let him down since he returned to Carolina with drops and occasional lapses of concentration. The offensive line is a mess. But Newton's ball placement is too inconsistent — especially on deep passes — and his arm strength naturally isn't what it once was. He has also slowed down a bit, though he is still a force as a short-yardage rusher. But Newton, right now, cannot give the Panthers much more than that. Coach Matt Rhule benched Newton early in the fourth quarter after he completed only five of 21 passes for 92 yards with no passing touchdowns and two interceptions. His QB rating of 5.8 and completion rate of 23.8% are both career lows. This team has a lot of holes. Newton, at this point in his career, isn't capable of masking them.

The Steel Curtain

After an embarrassing 41-10 loss to the AFC North-rival Bengals, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the team is "open to changes." If that means changes to the coaching staff, defensive coordinator Keith Butler may be in trouble. Pittsburgh's defense has imploded, especially over the last two weeks. Pittsburgh, when combined with a loss against the Chargers last week, has allowed 903 yards. Against the Bengals, it was running back Joe Mixon who exposed the lack of physicality and speed that the Steelers have at the second and third levels of the defense.

Mixon gained 165 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. He only had two carries of 25 yards or more, but it was a steady barrage of 7- or 8- or 9-yard rushes, most of which came outside. This Steelers defense has two key injuries along the defensive line to Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu. But there is still a wealth of talent on the defense. This comes down to scheme and execution.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Week 12 winners, losers: Patriots surging. Titans, Rams struggling