Sunday Rundown recaps the most important developments from the day's action and examines the significance of those events moving forward.
Was it really just a week ago the Las Vegas Raiders went toe-to-toe with the Kansas City Chiefs for a second time, with Derek Carr looking like one of the league's best and most efficient quarterbacks right till the end? Because after the Atlanta Falcons rag-dolled Vegas on Sunday, it doesn't even seem like that happened in the same season.
The Raiders lost four fumbles that led directly to 20 points. Carr threw a pick-6. Vegas racked up 11 penalties for 141 yards, including handing the Falcons 40 yards via penalties on a touchdown.
It was a disaster, but disasters happen. What the Raiders must hope for now is that the campaign doesn't go sideways like it did last year - they started 6-4 only to lose four of their last five. Even though it seems like Vegas has trouble on the East Coast, the club is 2-2 this season when forced to face the dreaded 10 a.m. Pacific time kickoff. And the team travels back east to face the winless Jets next week, which ought to help.
It's time to start wondering about Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn's fate. Yes, the Chargers are now 8-19 since the start of 2019 - and 3-8 this season - but Lynn's poor clock management and fourth-down decision-making were on full display in Sunday's loss at the Buffalo Bills.
You get the idea. This was not a one-score loss but LA did waste time and crucial possession. All seven of the Chargers' previous losses were by one score and their 16 one-score losses since the start of last season rank as the most in the NFL. It's not hard to see why.
Here's where things currently stand in the NFC East: The New York Giants beat the Cincinnati Bengals to improve to 4-7. The Giants did this despite losing starting quarterback Daniel Jones to a hamstring injury, with backup Colt McCoy averaging just 3.1 yards per attempt in relief. New York, by virtue of their two wins against 4-7 Washington, is now in first place. Cue the sad trombone.
But the Philadelphia Eagles (3-6-1) can jump back into first place with a win Monday night at home against the Seattle Seahawks. And the last-place Dallas Cowboys (3-8) are still only one game back. Cue Yakety Sax.
This can keep getting funnier, too. Next week, the Giants are at the Seahawks, Washington is at the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Eagles are at the Green Bay Packers, and the Cowboys are at the Baltimore Ravens.
Cleveland managed to hold off the 1-10 Jacksonville Jaguars and quarterback Baker Mayfield threw two touchdown passes - his first TD throws in four games - but there are still reasons to be concerned about Mayfield.
Mayfield threw high on a third-down red zone possession in the second quarter only to have KhaDarel Hodge make a tricky catch to pick up a first down. On the next play, Mayfield missed a wide-open Rashard Higgins over the middle for what would have been an easy touchdown. Two plays after that, Mayfield threw high to Jarvis Landry in the end zone.
And late in the game, when the Browns led 27-19 and had a chance to put the contest away, Mayfield threw behind Kareem Hunt on third-and-1 from the Jacksonville 22. Hunt's attempted fourth-down run failed and the Jaguars were able to march up the field to cut the game to two.
Cleveland held on and Mayfield also made plenty of good throws, but he'll need to clean things up down the stretch if the Browns are going to make the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. They play the Titans, Ravens, Giants, and Steelers in four of their final five games.
The Kansas City Chiefs beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road. The Buffalo Bills won for the fourth time in five games. The Tennessee Titans took advantage of the Indianapolis Colts' depleted defense to pull into first place in the AFC South. Cleveland and the Miami Dolphins won again.
The undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers still have to play Tuesday night against the Baltimore Ravens but as things now stand, the 6-4 Ravens would be on the outside looking in for the playoffs. However, Baltimore can leapfrog the Colts for the No. 7 seed with a win.
The Chiefs and Steelers get a lot of attention because of their records, but Week 12 showed there's plenty of parity in the AFC and lots can still happen in the regular season's final five weeks - if not also into the postseason.
That said, it's hard to watch the Chiefs without coming away thinking they're the AFC's best team - if not the best team in the entire NFL.
Kansas City's only blemish was a home loss to Las Vegas - but that was seven weeks ago. Since then, the Chiefs have taken out the Bills, Raiders, and Tampa Buccaneers on the road - and they jumped out to a 17-0 lead Sunday before the Bucs even knew what hit them.
I know the Steelers are undefeated and, as I noted above, there's a lot of parity in the AFC. But the combination of Andy Reid's play-calling and Patrick Mahomes' all-world, do-it-all ability just make the Chiefs seem inevitable. The 25-year-old always justifies the great trust Reid places in him and did it again with a clutch third-down pass to Tyreek Hill near midfield with a little more than a minute to go. Mahomes made sure Tom Brady never got another chance to play the hero. It's what he does and it's what makes the Chiefs seem like the team to beat.
Sunday's home game against the Dolphins and ex-New York Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick might have been the Jets' best chance to get a W for the rest of the campaign. They lost, 20-3. New York has allowed more than twice as many points as it's scored (322 to 152). Sam Darnold threw two more interceptions and now has three touchdown passes against eight picks. Etc., etc.
From here on out, the Jets have the Raiders at home, the Seahawks and Rams on the road, the Browns at home, and the Patriots on the road. An 0-16 finish - and a possible chance to draft Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence - is certainly within sight. In the meantime, New York's best highlights continue to involve head coach Adam Gase responding to questions about whether he's again calling the offense's plays. Only five more weeks to savor Q&As like this.
For the second time in four weeks, Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury - who's known for being aggressive and forward-thinking - got conservative in a high-leverage situation. And it proved costly.
In Week 9, Kingsbury elected to kick a game-tying field goal on fourth-and-1 from the Dolphins' 31 with about two minutes remaining. The kick was no good and Arizona lost.
On Sunday, with 1:52 left and the score tied at 17, Kingsbury chose to kick a field goal from the New England Patriots' 27 on fourth-and-1. The kick was no good and the Patriots marched 33 yards in six plays to set up Nick Folk's 50-yard field goal on the final play. The Cardinals lost again.
The math shows just how big a mistake Kingsbury made:
Arizona is now 6-5 and clinging to the No. 7 spot in the NFC playoff race. The Cardinals are also in third place in what continues to be a wild NFC West.
The NFL was always going to be at the mercy of the virus by trying to play the season as scheduled. But with COVID ripping through communities across the country, the reality that the virus will indeed dictate what happens is hitting home for the league, even as it continues to try to get as many games played as possible.
The Ravens-Steelers game originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night is still slated for Tuesday night, but Baltimore had 22 players on its COVID list as of Sunday morning and now the virus is also affecting members of the Steelers. The San Francisco 49ers have no place to play home games in the coming weeks. And the Denver Broncos had to play a game Sunday with a practice squad wide receiver as their signal-caller because their four actual QBs were on the COVID list.
Things may only get worse in the days and weeks ahead. The Bucs and Carolina Panthers have the last two byes scheduled for next week, meaning it'll likely be impossible for the league to Jenga the schedule like it did earlier in the season. The NFL may be forced to create a Week 18 that would bump the entire playoff slate. It could also pause the season until things calm down, but there's no telling how long that might take. There's also been at least one report about the creation of a playoff bubble.
The league that always thinks it has the answers is about to confront a lot more questions about its self-proclaimed commitment to health and safety.
Having to start a practice squad wideout at quarterback on a single day’s notice went about as well as could be expected for Denver. Kendall Hinton attempted just nine passes and had more interceptions (two) than completions (one). Tight end Noah Fant had the single catch for a total of 13 yards. The Broncos' lone scoring “drive” began at the New Orleans Saints’ 40-yard line, after cornerback Essang Bassey's interception. Denver netted just one yard before Brandon McManus kicked a 58-yard field goal. Truth be told, the Broncos were lucky the final score was as close as 31-3 but their experience is likely going to have ripple effects. Look for teams to make changes in the days ahead to avoid having to confront a similar fate. Take it from agent Mike McCartney, whose client list includes Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins:
It’s also possible that teams could opt to sequester themselves at a local hotel, creating their own bubbles. There no doubt will be plenty of discussions between the league and the NFLPA about all kinds of scenarios in the days ahead.
Dom Cosentino is a senior features writer at theScore.