It was a slighter slate in Week 13 with six NFL teams on bye, but there were some massive shakeups in the balance of power in each conference.
In the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers thumped the Philadelphia Eagles with their speed, physicality and ability to bounce back from an awful first quarter. The Niners are one game back in the standings, but they made their claim as the NFC top team.
Still, there’s plenty of season left to play.
Here are the winners and losers from Sunday of Week 13.
Packers turn their season all the way around
Green Bay had a four-game losing streak earlier this year that put the Packers at 2-5. Quarterback Jordan Love was struggling. It was looking like a lost season. Now, however, the Packers (6-6) have now won four of their last five to climb into the final playoff spot in the NFC.
— NFL (@NFL) December 4, 2023
Green Bay’s upset over the defending Super Bowl champions was massive, as it sets the Packers up quite nicely the rest of the way. None of their final five opponents currently have a winning record. In fact, the group has a combined record of 20-40 (.333). The Minnesota Vikings (6-6) present the toughest remaining test. Winning out is not out of the realm of possibility.
Niners blast the Eagles, make case as NFC’s best
The midseason slump the 49ers had suddenly seems like it was ages ago. San Francisco (9-3) absolutely shredded the Eagles, handing Philadelphia only its second loss of the season. So now the 49ers have won four in a row, with the average margin of victory being 21.3 points.
The Niners started out terribly, going three-and-out on their first two possessions. In the first quarter, San Francisco posted negative-6 yards, while the Eagles recorded seven first downs and 124 yards. But the Eagles didn’t convert either of their red zone trips and settled for field goals. The rest of the game, the 49ers overwhelmed Philadelphia with speed, scoring touchdowns on the next six possessions. San Francisco bullied a very good Eagles defense on third downs (eight-of-11 conversions) and in the red zone (four-of-four) while outgaining Philadelphia, 456-333. The Niners set the tone with a physical, bruising defense, eliminating the Eagles' ground game. These two may meet again in the playoffs. Right now, the Niners look like the better team.
The AFC has a new No. 1 (for now)
The Miami Dolphins easily handled the Washington Commanders in a 45-15 rout. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and receiver Tyreek Hill continued their dominance. The defense pressured Sam Howell all game long. But this is more about what happened in Green Bay.
Tua Tagovailoa in Week 13:
🎯 280 yards
🎯 2 TDs/0 INTs
🎯 141.0 passer rating
Dolphins move up to 9-3 👀 pic.twitter.com/F79M2yRzJ6
— PFF (@PFF) December 3, 2023
With Kansas City’s loss against the Packers, Miami (9-3) moved into the No. 1 seed in the AFC. That would give the Dolphins a first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. This would be massive for a team that is 5-0 at home this year. But − and this is a huge "but" − this won’t matter unless the Dolphins prove they can handle the better teams in football. Miami still does not have a single victory against a team currently with a winning record. Weeks 16 and 17 will be the litmus test, as the Dolphins face the Dallas Cowboys (9-3) at home and then the Baltimore Ravens (9-3) on the road.
One quick note: the Jaguars can take the top seed with a victory Monday night. What's safe to expect is some jostling down the stretch.
Very few (if any) people outside of Indianapolis saw this coming from the Indianapolis Colts, especially when dynamic rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. But backup Gardner Minshew II has not only stabilized Indy’s play, he also has the Colts right in the playoff chase. A ton of credit should go to rookie coach Shane Steichen, but Minshew, in particular, has delivered in the clutch.
— NFL (@NFL) December 3, 2023
Minshew completed 26 of 42 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns, but it’s how he answered every punch the Titans threw with his own big play. None was bigger than a 55-yard bomb late in overtime, with the Colts needing a touchdown to win the game, to receiver Alec Pierce. The pass was perfectly thrown and put the Colts inside the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Minshew threw the game-winning touchdown to Michael Pittman Jr. to secure the 31-28 victory. Minshew, who’s on a one-year deal, is making the case for a nice payday this offseason.
Upstart Texans take huge step in playoff push
The Houston Texans had the Denver Broncos − the NFL’s hottest team, and one that had forced 16 turnovers during their five-game winning streak − come into their building. Both teams were tied at 6-5 and in the muck of the AFC playoff picture. Houston didn’t commit a single turnover, overcame the loss of standout rookie receiver Tank Dell (broken leg) and forced Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson, who had been reliable in the fourth quarter, into two costly interceptions on Denver’s final two drives of the day for a 22-17 win.
MAKE THAT 2 INTs FOR STING TODAY! pic.twitter.com/8ofoyi4hui
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) December 3, 2023
Houston’s defense was superb. It allowed the Broncos to convert just one of three red zone trips and shut them out in all 11 third-down attempts. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud continued his superb season. This was a game the Texans (7-5) needed to have; because the Colts (7-5) took down the Titans, they remained in the seventh and final playoff seed in the AFC. But Houston is right behind them.
Brad Allen's officiating crew
It's one thing for a crew to have a poor officiating game. It's another for it to come on the Sunday night showcase. In particular, the final drive of the Chiefs-Packers game was peppered with clear mistakes. The first was a personal foul unnecessary roughness on a hit against Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes while he was still inbounds. The second was an obvious defensive pass interference that should've been called against Packers cornerback Carrington Valentine. It should've given the Chiefs the ball inside the 10-yard line.
No defensive PI called on this play. pic.twitter.com/fBRzVqHFi2
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 4, 2023
Mistakes happen. Ones this bad that affect the outcome of games, however, are inexcusable.
When a win feels like a loss
The New England Patriots have a very good defense. We’ll say that upfront. But the offensive showing for the Los Angeles Chargers (5-7) in their 6-0 victory against New England, frankly, was unacceptable for a team with this much talent.
This doesn't even show the replay where Johnston obviously starts jogging after the break despite having separation. Just brutal.
— Bolt Beat (@BB_Chargers) December 3, 2023
The offensive line’s run blocking has been average at best, but offensive coordinator Kellen Moore tried repeatedly to force the run game, seemingly for the sake of balance. The result was disastrous. Los Angeles ran the ball 24 times for an average of 1.2 yards per carry. In particular, Moore tried to call the rushes on early downs, which often set up long distances on second and third downs. The Patriots' offense, which is truly horrendous, outgained the Chargers, 257-241. Los Angeles, matching the Patriots, did not record a single snap in the red zone. Drops and poor effort, mental mistakes and missed assignments continue to be the norm. It may cost coach Brandon Staley his job, and the same could be true for Moore, too.
So much for a post-Canada bump for Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh Steelers, just as quickly as they had appeared to be on the up-and-up after firing former offensive coordinator Matt Canada, came crashing back to earth. Pittsburgh (7-5) put up just 10 points on an Arizona Cardinals team that came into Sunday with only two victories and whose defense was ranked second-to-last in the NFL with 26.8 points allowed per game.
The downfield passing game, which was productive in Pittsburgh’s Week 12 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, was simply underwhelming. While Kenny Pickett did leave the game in the middle of the second quarter, he and backup Mitchell Trubisky finished the game averaging just 6.9 yards per pass attempt. Most concerning for the Steelers: red zone inefficiency was, once again, an issue. The Steelers converted just one of four trips inside the 20 last week; against the Cardinals, that number improved only to one of three. Interim offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner and play caller Mike Sullivan will need to be far better than that.
Carolina’s problems run far deeper than Frank Reich
And, frankly, they start all the way at the top, with owner David Tepper. Far too often, the impatience of NFL owners leads to instability on coaching staffs and front offices, which can torpedo the chances young players — especially quarterbacks − have at success. The Carolina Panthers drafted quarterback Bryce Young No. 1 overall and, while the 11-game tenure of Frank Reich was far from perfect, that’s far too short of a time to evaluate a coach.
The video of David Tepper following
this graphic sums it all up perfectly. pic.twitter.com/2VdGC8wEF7
— Michael Rimmer (@avl_mike) December 3, 2023
That’s compounded when you factor in that Carolina traded its best weapon in the deal to move up in the draft. In Carolina’s first game with Chris Tabor as interim coach, the offense was more or less the same. In a 21-18 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Panthers (1-11) converted just three of 15 third downs (20%), matching their season low. Young failed to throw a passing touchdown for the fourth time this season. Carolina needs to nail its coaching hire or run the risk of further sabotaging Young’s career. Based on Tepper’s tenure, there’s nothing to indicate that will be the outcome.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Week 13 winners, losers: Ugly officiating mars Packers' win