Welcome to the AFC playoff picture, Denver Broncos.
The Broncos have done plenty of winning the past month, and now have the league’s longest winning streak at four games after snapping the Vikings’ five-game winning streak on Sunday night.
On the opposite end, the Seahawks, Jets and Steelers might be fading with inconsistent offenses. But at least two of those teams don’t have to worry about coaches on the hot seat. The same can’t be said for the coaches leading the Chargers, Panthers, Commanders and Bears.
Here are our winners and losers of Week 11 in the NFL.
It’s time to acknowledge the Broncos’ four-game winning streak, which has gone somewhat under the radar, even though it includes wins over the Chiefs, Bills and now the Vikings.
Denver was ignored because of its dreadful start to the season, which reached rock bottom with the 70–20 loss to the Dolphins in Week 3. Sean Payton’s team now has the league’s attention with a 5–5 record, clawing to within just one game of the Texans and Steelers for the Nos. 6 and 7 seeds in the AFC.
Payton deserves credit for Denver’s turnaround, but he did himself no favors before the season began by talking and acting as if the Broncos would be easily fixed under his watch. After learning the hard way that Denver was far from a finished product, Payton designed an ideal scheme for Russell Wilson to improve his play, and the defense has been one of the best units in the league during the winning streak, which includes 13 takeaways.
If Wilson and wide receiver Courtland Sutton continue to produce for the offense in clutch moments with an opportunistic defense, perhaps these Broncos can sneak into the postseason. They can help their cause by beating the Browns and the Texans the next two weeks.
One of the best moments of Week 11 was watching an emotional Dorian Thompson-Robinson on the sideline after he did his part to set up Dustin Hopkins’s game-winning 34-yard field goal to lift the Browns over the Steelers, 13–10.
The stats weren’t pretty (24-for-43, 165 yards, one interception), but the fifth-round rookie quarterback got the job done when it mattered most, completing four passes on the final drive to put the Browns in field goal range. Thompson-Robinson made the most of his second opportunity after a forgetful starting debut during the Week 4 loss to the Ravens.
If the UCLA product is able to make plays in crunch time, the Browns (7–3) might have a chance to push the Ravens (8–3) for the AFC North title. Cleveland has arguably the best defense in the league and a balanced attack to assist the rookie signal-caller.
The Lions checked off another box in their development as a league powerhouse by rallying against a team they were supposed to beat.
It doesn’t matter that the Lions were down 12 points to the Bears at home with less than five minutes left in regulation. It matters that they found a way to win to improve to 8–2 and gained the inside track to the NFC’s No. 1 seed in the postseason.
Perhaps the Lions can use the Bears’ scare as a wakeup call to dominate the Packers on Thanksgiving and upcoming winnable games vs. the Saints, Bears again and the Broncos. Detroit likely needs to win all those games to keep pace with the Eagles, 49ers and Cowboys—three teams with much more difficult schedules in the coming weeks.
So far, the Lions have handled business against lower-tier opponents (wins vs. the Panthers, Packers, Falcons, Raiders, Chargers, Bears and Buccaneers). They’re 1–2 in the tougher games—beating the Chiefs in Week 1 and losing to the Seahawks and Ravens. Detroit can earn a few more quality wins in the final three weeks of the regular season, with two games vs. the Vikings and a road game in Dallas. But first, the Lions need to continue handling business against teams they’re supposed to beat.
The Ravens are in a good spot, despite losing tight end Mark Andrews to an ankle injury.
The Ravens swept the season series from the Bengals after their Thursday night clash that was overshadowed by injuries, including Lamar Jackson’s ankle injury and Joe Burrow’s wrist injury. Fortunately for Baltimore, Jackson returned to the game and should be available to play this week. That wasn’t the case for Burrow and the Bengals.
If Jackson is healthy by the playoffs—he hasn’t completed a regular season since 2020—the AFC might come down to the Ravens and Chiefs. The Jaguars and Dolphins have struggled against top competition, and the Browns and Steelers have uncertainty at quarterback. C.J. Stroud could make noise in the postseason, but the Texans might be a year away from being a real threat. The Bills could find a way in, but they have been too inconsistent this year.
If the Ravens end up in the AFC title game or the Super Bowl, perhaps they could see a return from Andrews.
The Jaguars had the perfect performance vs. the Titans to quickly brush off the lopsided loss to the 49ers the week prior.
Trevor Lawrence delivered his best performance of the season with four total touchdowns and Calvin Ridley finally made an impact with two touchdown catches. It was a dominant victory vs. the struggling Titans, but Lawrence and Ridley getting on the same page could make Jacksonville a real threat in the AFC.
But first, Lawrence and Ridley need to prove it wasn’t a one-week fluke, and they can start by beating the Texans next week on the road in an intriguing AFC South showdown.
Coaches on the hot seat
The Chargers, Panthers, Bears and Commanders had a few things in common this past week: They all lost in embarrassing fashion with a head coach on the hot seat.
Chargers coach Brandon Staley, Carolina’s Frank Reich, Chicago’s Matt Eberflus and Washington’s Ron Rivera appear to have less job security than the rest of their peers across the league with how poorly their respective seasons have gone.
Staley’s Chargers defense has shown minimal progress the past three seasons under his watch, and just allowed Packers quarterback Jordan Love to throw for a career-high 322 yards in a game filled with missed tackles and failed opportunities by L.A.. Reich’s Panthers offense has failed to help rookie quarterback Bryce Young all season, and somehow the unit got worse in Week 11, recording 10 points and a season-low 187 total yards vs. the Cowboys.
Eberflus was on the verge of delivering a quality victory against a divisional rival—the type of win that would have been remembered by the Chicago front office after the season. But the Bears had an epic fourth-quarter collapse, blowing a 12-point lead in the final five minutes of regulation to the Lions to erase the standout performances by Eberflus’s defense and Justin Fields for nearly four quarters.
Rivera’s Commanders got lit up by third-string Giants quarterback Tommy DeVito in the 31–19 loss. Magic Johnson and the rest of the new ownership in Washington clearly didn’t like seeing that last week.
Cincinnati (5–5) took the biggest blow of Week 11 after it was announced that Burrow is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season because of the wrist injury on his throwing hand.
Perhaps Jake Browning can play as well as Josh Dobbs has for the Vikings to keep the Bengals in contention for the AFC postseason. But it might not matter, because Cincinnati already has five losses and sits in 11th place in the AFC. The Bengals still have to play the Steelers twice, Jaguars, Colts, Vikings, Chiefs and Browns.
Cincinnati might be better off thinking about 2024 and landing a better draft pick. This team could look drastically different next season with upcoming decisions on a few key in-house free agents, including wide receiver Tee Higgins.
The Seahawks (6–5) blew a golden opportunity to win a game vs. the Rams before a daunting four-game stretch.
Jason Myers’s missed 55-yard field-goal attempt gave the Seahawks two losses to the Rams this season, and Seattle now has to play the 49ers on Thanksgiving followed by games vs. the Cowboys, 49ers again and the Eagles. The Seahawks might be outside of the playoff picture after those four games.
Seattle still has a winning record, but might be one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL because of its stacked roster. Geno Smith, who’s dealing with an elbow injury, has failed to establish consistency for the offense.
Regardless of whose fault it was, the Jets waited way too long to pull the plug on Zach Wilson, and now they can kiss their season goodbye.
Blame Aaron Rodgers, coach Robert Saleh or general manager Joe Douglas for sticking with Wilson for nine starts. It doesn’t matter who bears the bulk of the brunt, because the entire organization should take a giant L for drafting Wilson No. 2 in 2021 and for ignoring for weeks how poorly Wilson has played. It took Wilson running into Saleh on the sideline for the Jets to finally bench him.
The Jets could have traded for Dobbs or signed Carson Wentz. Instead, they stood by Wilson for two different three-game losing streaks and are now turning to Tim Boyle, a 2018 undrafted free agent with three career starts. At 4–6, Rodgers shouldn’t worry about coming back this season.
The Steelers will have a chance at making the postseason because of their defense and the fact that coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t do losing seasons. Now in his 17th season at the helm, Pittsburgh has never finished below .500 under his watch.
But it’s starting to become somewhat obvious that the Steelers will be crushed by a division winner in the first round because they can’t gain yards or score points with second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett. Being outgained in every game this season and still having a 6–4 record is nothing to be proud of in Pittsburgh.
Unless the Steelers give Jaylen Warren 30 touches per game, it’s tough seeing them making noise in the postseason, especially not after their dismal showing in Sunday’s loss to the Browns.