NFL Winners and Losers: Frauds? Maybe not, but Vikings loss will fuel the detractors


There was curiosity this past week over the Minnesota Vikings being underdogs Sunday at the 5-7 Detroit Lions. It brought a lot of attention to the Vikings being — let's be polite here — maybe not quite as good as their 10-2 record coming into Week 14.

It also led to discussions about analytics in football and whether that mattered at all.

The nerds, and the Lions, won Sunday. Detroit beat the Vikings 34-23. There's nothing wrong with a team that was 10-2 and will undoubtedly be NFC North champions, losing a game on the road. But it brings back all the questions about whether the Vikings are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

The Vikings never looked like the better team Sunday. That says something about the Lions, who have won five of six and still aren't dead in the playoff race after a 1-6 start to the season. Detroit played well. But the Vikings didn't do much to slow the Lions down, either. They were smashed for 464 yards.

Analytics don't like the Vikings and that's where the two sides square off. Nobody who enjoys advanced stats would try to take the Vikings' wins away from them or anything, but they'd tell you their run is unsustainable. You can't have a barely positive point differential, an awful net yards per play and a DVOA ranking in the 20s and win like the 1992 Cowboys. That's not how it works.

There are plenty of fans who don't care about advanced stats. They'll break out the old Bill Parcells line, "You are what your record says you are," and that's that. Not that they're wrong necessarily. Nobody has raised a banner because they had a great EPA (that's Expected Points Added ... don't worry, there's no quiz later).

The Vikings weren't going to win out, but Sunday was troubling for their believers. Minnesota even had a huge play that could have lifted it to the win (dare we troll Vikings fans and say "upset win"? Nah). On a fourth-and-4 in the third quarter, Kirk Cousins found Adam Thielen for a 23-yard touchdown. Minnesota inexplicably decided to go for the two-point conversion and didn't get it, but it cut Detroit's lead to 21-13. Then the Lions went on a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and took back control of the game.

The biggest problem for the Vikings is the defense is cratering. Minnesota has allowed 400 or more yards in five straight games, the longest streak in franchise history, according to Fox. In four of those five games its opponent has reached 450 yards. On the first touchdown of the game, the secondary let rookie Jameson Williams run wide open on a deep over route when he caught a 41-yard touchdown. That set the tone for another miserable game from the Vikings' defense.

The Lions weren't going to let the Vikings back in the game to win it, like they did early this season. On a third-and-7 just inside the two-minute warning, the Lions sent offensive tackle Penei Sewell in motion, and then threw to him. He was wide open and caught it for 9 yards. Sewell's catch set up a game-clinching field goal. That's the dagger the Lions didn't use in the first meeting.

The Vikings have lost three times this season. They were blown out by the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, perhaps the two best teams in the NFC. That added to the notion that despite their record, they were nowhere near being a Super Bowl contender. The Lions loss will make the detractors yell louder. The only way the Vikings can outrun those critics is to get back on a winning streak. Analytics don't like their chances.

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook fumbles as he is hit by Detroit Lions defender Isaiah Buggs. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 14 of the NFL season:


Jalen Hurts’ MVP chances: Hurts had another big day in the Philadelphia Eagles’ blowout win at the New York Giants, and Patrick Mahomes made some mistakes.

The Kansas City Chiefs won 34-28, hanging on after allowing the Denver Broncos to rally back from a 27-0 deficit as Mahomes had three interceptions. He also threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, but the interceptions could open the door for Hurts. It wasn't the best day for the Chiefs or Mahomes, despite the win.

Mahomes is still the best quarterback in the NFL, whether he wins the MVP or not, but presumably he’d like to collect his second MVP. He has competition the rest of the way.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) reacts after a touchdown against the New York Giants during an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Jalen Hurts and the Eagles are closing in on the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Trick or Treat Trevor: We're in a weird place with Trevor Lawrence. Some weeks he looks like a quarterback who can win NFL MVP in a year or two. Then the next week you wonder where that quarterback disappeared to.

The good Lawrence showed up Sunday. The Jacksonville Jaguars used some turnovers on defense and a solid game from Lawrence to beat the Tennessee Titans 36-22. Lawrence had 368 yards and three touchdowns and looked fantastic all day.

When Lawrence is good, like he was Sunday or in a comeback win against the Baltimore Ravens a few weeks ago, it's easy to buy into his upside. He reminds everyone why he was one of the most hyped prospects in many years coming out of Clemson. But stay tuned next week against Dallas. Let's see if he can keep it going.

Tyler Huntley, then Anthony Brown and the gutty Baltimore Ravens: Sunday might have been the most Ravens-style win they've had in many years.

The Ravens were without Lamar Jackson, so Huntley started. Huntley left with an injury, so undrafted Brown came in. And it didn't matter. The Ravens played good defense, ran the ball, Justin Tucker provided most of the points and they won a physical 16-14 duel with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens need to find ways to keep winning as their quarterback situation is in the air. The Cincinnati Bengals are still tied with them for first place in the AFC North. But the Ravens are getting it done somehow. That's what they do.

Buffalo Bills defense: The Bills didn't play their best offensive game Sunday. It's hard against a New York Jets defense that is among the NFL's best. Cold, snowy weather didn't help.

But the Bills also have a fantastic defense. Buffalo pounded Jets quarterback Mike White, rarely allowed substantial drives and handled New York in a 20-12 win. When the Jets had one final chance at the end to at least tie it, the Bills didn't allow a yard in a quick four-and-out.

The Bills might need to win out to get the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Whether they get a bye or not, they'll need to win some games when it's not easy, due to bad weather or facing a stellar defense that limits Josh Allen. Buffalo can win that way. That's what makes them dangerous.


Post-Germany Seattle Seahawks: Maybe it’s a total coincidence, but the Seahawks haven’t been the same team since they boarded a plane to Germany.

Before that long trip to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Munich on Nov. 13, the Seahawks were 6-3. Counting the loss to the Bucs overseas, they’re 1-3 since, including a bad 30-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers at home Sunday. The only win came last week against the Los Angeles Rams, who are as injured as any team in the NFL.

The Seahawks fell behind 17-0 early in the second quarter and while they clawed back to cut the Panthers’ lead to three points, they couldn’t finish. The defense allowed more than 200 yards rushing. The offense missed top back Kenneth Walker III, who was out with an injury.

The Seahawks’ season has taken a sudden turn for the worse. It could cost them a playoff spot.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: There will be plenty said this week about Brock Purdy and his fantastic performance in his first start for the San Francisco 49ers. That might take away attention from how terrible the Bucs are.

Their comeback win over the New Orleans Saints on Monday night masked that Tampa Bay is sliding fast. No, the Buccaneers are not going to come alive in the playoffs. This is who they are. An ugly 35-7 loss to the 49ers, when they trailed 28-0, should let everyone know that there’s not a sudden surge coming. Tampa Bay is going to win the NFC South by default and be nobody’s problem in the playoffs.

Tom Brady continued a season that hasn’t been awful, but it hasn’t been good either. When he hit Mike Evans for a long touchdown, it was called back due to a holding call on left tackle Donovan Smith. He could have had Evans on another touchdown later in the first half, but the pass was behind Evans and fell incomplete.

The defense, which was been good this season, fell apart against Purdy and the 49ers. It was a miserable day for that group.

Tampa Bay is bad. It's lucky it plays in the NFC South.

New York Giants: It's hard to keep fooling 'em in the NFL if you're severely outmanned. The Giants did their best for the first half of the season.

We saw New York exposed over the past few weeks. Nobody thought it was as good as its 6-1 record in late October indicated. Regression has come.

The Giants are 1-4-1 since that start after an uncompetitive 48-22 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. It was the most points the Giants have ever allowed at home to the Eagles. The Eagles are one of the elite teams in the NFL, but a team with playoff hopes like the Giants should show more life.

New York is still in the playoff mix but it won't be easy to stay in it. The Giants' schedule down the stretch isn't easy. And their roster isn't very good. There is a lot to fix in the offseason.

Dallas Cowboys looking elite: The Cowboys won and that's the most important thing. You can imagine what would be said about them if they lost to the one-win Houston Texans.

Ezekiel Elliott scored on a touchdown run with 41 seconds left and the Cowboys squeezed out a 27-23 win. Dallas (10-3) played terribly and should have lost. It needed a great goal-line stand after a fourth-quarter Dak Prescott interception, then a 98-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes to win.

This is probably a one-off performance for the Cowboys. They have been good most of the season. But they were pretty bad Sunday. We'll have to see if that was just a sleepy day against a bad opponent, or the first sign of a downturn.

The Cleveland Browns’ offense without Jacoby Brissett: The Browns spent a lot of money, traded valuable draft picks and took on a lot of controversy just for their offense to look worse than it did with Brissett.

Deshaun Watson looked better for the Browns than his first game, but it still didn’t matter much in a 23-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. It wasn’t all Watson’s fault. Cleveland ran a weird fourth-and-1 play early when it put Brissett in cold, presumably to get Cincinnati to think it would quarterback sneak, and then Brissett overthrew his target. The offense moved the ball, it just couldn’t score. That happens when a quarterback is out of competitive football for 23 months.

The Browns’ offense should continue to get better. We’ll see if their controversial trade was worth it in the end.