The NFL's 12th week of 2013 showcased a jumbled AFC wildcard race and also some crazy scores. Some takes from Week 12:
AFC EAST - Ugly is the word for the division's Sunday. The Miami Dolphins continue to play hard despite the investigation of Richie Incognito yet the Panthers upended another interconference foe late. The NY Jets managed to botch history by losing for a second straight game; they had opportunity to go 8-8 without a streak beyond one game either way.
But the Patriots turned ugly on its head after a hideous first half performance against a Denver Broncos squad that had been running out of gas the previous two weeks and which was coached by the subpar Jack Del Rio. The Patriots responded down 24-0 by staging the largest comeback win in the club's history (the previous biggest comeback was 1984's 38-23 defeat of the Seattle Seahawks after the Seahawks led 23-0), and making it all the more delicious was the irony that former Patriot Wes Welker showcased his irrelevance to the Broncos offense even before botching the second Patriots punt of the game. Held to four catches for 31 yards, Welker was almost completely taken out of the offense all game, a common outcome in his games with Denver.
The Patriots nonetheless have some issues. Stevan Ridley commited the biggest sin in the eyes of the Patriots - he's an error-repeater, unable to hold onto the ball even amid explosive production on his part. His fumble-six began the avalanche of first-half Broncos points before Brady and company erupted. Thus Foxboro remains a place the Broncos haven't won at since Jake "The Mistake" Plummer pulled off a win - on Sunday Night Football no less.
Even the Buffalo Bills, on their bye, wound up making news with reports of maneuvering by the Rogers Group in Toronto and wealthy musician and football fan Jon Bon Jovi in seperate efforts to purchase the team down the road. New ownership can certainly help a team with one of the best fanbases in football.
- More interesting turned out to be the AFC South as the cellar-dwellar Jaguars upended their fellow last-placers the Houston Texans, continuing the collapse of the Texans like Houston had not seen since the infamous 1994 Houston Oilers season. That Oilers franchise meanwhile gave itself some hope as Ryan Fitzpatrick finally led a winning touchdown drive, and with the 23-19 win at Oakland the Tennessee Titans took over the sixth seed in the conference playoff race; we know Fitzpatrick is not a long-term solution and has already authored heartbreaks for the Titans, but running the table for five weeks isn't out of reach for Tennessee.
But the biggest shock was the Colts - we knew the Cardinals are a team that just isn't going away and which is pulling off surprises, so that they beat the Colts wasn't quite a surprise; just how badly they crushed the Colts was the shock, 40-11 the final.
- Despite having losing records the Steelers and Ravens are still in the playoff race and the Browns showcased the frustration of not advancing to the next level. The Bengals for their part need to step it up a notch as the season's crunch time approaches while holding a two-game lead.
- The Broncos suffered the bitter loss yet are still in good shape for the conference top seed as the Chiefs were upended and the San Diego Chargers stay in the wildcard hunt in one of the best games of the season; the 41-38 Chargers win was the second-highest scoring matchup between the two (1986's 42-41 Chiefs win is the highest).
Even with that the Broncos have reason to worry as they've been running out of gas overall as November has proceded and Peyton Manning's second-half erosion from last year may be inching into view again. The Broncos season gets harder with tilts against the Chiefs, the Titans, and the Chargers, and they all have something to play for.
The Oakland Raiders meanwhile continue limping along as Matt McGloin shows real promise as a quarterback.
- The Cowboys and Eagles are now in control of the division as the NY Giants show anew their inability under Tom Coughlin to win in November (12-17 in November from 2006 onward, the one good November being 2008). One has to feel confident for the Eagles here as the Cowboys remain hamstrung by ownership and by Tony Romo.
NFC SOUTH - This may be the best division in the league as the Panthers continue pushing the New Orleans Saints with two contests pending between them. The Falcons have fallen out of it altogether while the Bucs are beginning to salvage something after they went old-school NFC Central against Detroit.
NFC NORTH - The Lions may wind up winning the division by default after a bitter 24-21 loss to former NFC Central division foe Tampa Bay; the Lions are 6-5 with the Bears but hold the division sweep tiebreaker, while the Packers are falling out of it. Matthew Stafford continues to show even in losses like this that he will become an elite quarterback.
The Vikings meanwhile remain a team that competes all the time yet has just two wins and a tie to show for it. Christian Ponder gets no respect as a quarterback yet the reality is he's produced quite respectably as a quarterback.
NFC WEST - With the Seahawks on their bye, the division suddenly has a new wildcard contender in the Cardinals, who have refused to go away and suddenly are looking legitimately dangerous for a playoff run, even with Carson Palmer still not showing enough yet to feel confident in him. The Rams meanwhile are also clawing into it at 5-6 and suddenly giving reason for optimism. The team falling out of it is the 49ers as Colin Kaepernick is now giving reason to doubt his long-term viability as the Niners face what is now a must-win against the faltering Redskins.
And so it goes entering Thanksgiving 2013.