Key takeaways and analysis from Week 13 in the NFL
Sunday Rundown recaps the most important developments from the day's action and examines their significance moving forward.
49ers set the tone
The 8-3 49ers entered Sunday's heavyweight tilt against the 10-1 Eagles as a surprise road favorite. The oddsmakers knew what they were talking about.
A highly anticipated matchup that was supposed to provide a Game of the Year candidate was anything but in the end. The 49ers cruised to a 42-19 win, coming away with some much-needed revenge for last year's NFC title game loss.
San Francisco has dominated opponents for much of the season, with the only exception being a three-game losing streak in which Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams missed time. As it turns out, injuries were the only thing that derailed this wagon.
A full-strength 49ers team has logged blowout wins against the Eagles, Cowboys, Jaguars, and Seahawks. Each of those statement wins demonstrated the difficulty of stopping a team with overwhelming superstar talent and high-level coaching.
Samuel benefited from Kyle Shanahan exploiting the second and third levels of the Eagles' defense, with the star playmaker racking up 138 total yards and three touchdowns Sunday. Williams' steady presence up front was a major factor in San Francisco keeping the Philly pass rush in check and totaling 146 rushing yards against the NFL's third-ranked run defense.
It seems like the only chance opponents have against a full-strength 49ers team is to beat them in a shootout. But here's the problem: San Francisco's defense is also stacked. Bottling up the run game and keeping Jalen Hurts in the pocket significantly factored into how the 49ers limited a high-powered Eagles offense to its second-lowest point total of the season.
While every game is different, and anything can happen in a potential playoff rematch, the message has been sent. The 49ers may well be in a class of their own. Could this finally be their year?
Love here to stay
Hop back on the bandwagon, folks. It might be real this time.
Early season hype for Jordan Love was understandably short-lived. After a hot start, things began trending in the wrong direction with the Packers seemingly headed for the basement. There were legitimate questions about whether Green Bay would draft a quarterback.
Then came the turnaround. Love was a completely different player in November, leading the Packers back into the playoff race with wins in three of four games. A near-flawless performance in a Thanksgiving Day win over the Lions figured to serve as the highlight of his growth, but it turns out he was still only getting started.
One week later, outplaying Patrick Mahomes on Sunday night already gives him a new signature moment. Love was impressive against Kansas City's fourth-ranked defense, completing 25 of 36 passes for 267 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. He also finished the game with a career-high plus-14.7 dropback EPA, according to Next Gen Stats.
Love's arm talent has always impressed, as has the athleticism he demonstrates when extending plays. But the decision-making and general comfort from the pocket are night and day compared to the beginning of the season. Stylistically speaking, it's not difficult to see who he's been learning from for the past three years.
Love making one big-time throw after the other has been the key factor in the Packers knocking off Super Bowl contenders in consecutive weeks to get back to .500. This team now controls its destiny, and it's getting increasingly easy to buy in.
If the Packers are to play football in January, it only feels right that they do it on the back of some high-level quarterbacking.
Tyreek making history
A non-quarterback winning the MVP award seems crazy. In any other year, the idea would get little to no consideration from voters and the public alike. But this isn't your typical football season.
At a time when no signal-caller is separating himself from the pack, and each of the game's top passers has struggled at one time or another, the league's most unstoppable playmaker is building the best non-QB case we've seen since Adrian Peterson. How is Tyreek Hill not the league's most valuable player at this point?
The superstar receiver was again the best player on the field as the Dolphins steamrolled the Commanders this week, racking up a Randy Moss-like five catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns. It's the sixth time Hill has topped 140 yards this season, and the 10th game he's found the end zone.
This latest monster performance puts him up to an unbelievable 1,481 yards through 12 contests. In other words, a player who's averaging 123.4 yards per game needs only 519 yards across his remaining five contests to become the first receiver in NFL history to reach the 2,000-yard mark. It seems inevitable, frankly.
Hill's candidacy isn't a matter of individual numbers, either. His rare skill set is the X-factor for one of the league's best offenses and a Dolphins team well on its way to making a deep playoff run. While Tua Tagovailoa is enjoying an especially productive season, everyone knows who the most valuable and irreplaceable player is on that offense.
Assuming he maintains his record pace, Dak Prescott leading the Cowboys past the Eagles for the NFC East title should be the only outcome that gets in the way of Hill's chase for MVP.
Even then, what do receivers have to do to get some love? If a 2,000-yard season isn't enough, it might be time to reimagine these awards and ditch the "value" criteria that people will only ever ascribe to one position.
Texans D doing its part
C.J. Stroud isn't doing it alone.
The rookie phenom deserves all the praise he's received thus far, having effectively wrapped up the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and earning himself some unexpected MVP consideration. But the Texans' emergence as legitimate playoff contenders has been about much more than one player.
Slowly but surely, the defense has been coming together, too. At the beginning of the season, this group seemed to improve on account of scheme and mentality alone - the DeMeco Ryans impact. Now, some major investments at premium positions are starting to pay off.
Will Anderson and Derek Stingley each had the most productive day of their young careers in a crucial win over the Broncos this week. Anderson, this year's No. 3 pick, was responsible for two of Houston's three sacks on the day. Stingley, selected third overall in 2022, recorded two impressive interceptions to make it three straight games with a pick.
As good as Stroud has been, there are bound to be some growing pains - especially after losing top target and fellow rookie standout Tank Dell to a broken fibula. Playing complementary football, and not putting it all on a rookie quarterback, will give the Texans every opportunity to maximize their potential this season.
The Houston defense getting to close this one out, with Jimmie Ward intercepting Russell Wilson in the end zone, could prove to be a significant moment to that end.
This team is not going to be an easy out in January.
Flacco can kinda sling it
Joe Flacco saving the Browns' season - who would have thought? A 36-19 loss to the Rams might seem like a blowout in the box score, but that's not quite how it went down. Cleveland's offense was shockingly competent with Flacco taking the reins two weeks after joining the practice squad. The 38-year-old's 254 passing yards was the most by a Browns quarterback since Deshaun Watson in Week 3. Flacco has been decidedly washed for years, but there is something to be said for having a veteran signal-caller who can make some basic throws and keep the offense on schedule. Could his steady presence be all the Browns need to complement their defense?
The vibes in Pittsburgh were immaculate coming off last week's win. A long overdue coordinator change had seemingly injected some life into this offense, and it appeared like the Steelers being a playoff team might finally start making sense. That didn't last long. While we can probably cut them a little slack, with the weather contributing to a pair of lengthy delays, the offense took a step in the wrong direction in a home-field loss to the Cardinals. And with Kenny Pickett headed for ankle surgery, it's impossible to know what to expect from this offense down the stretch. Can Mitch Trubisky help Pittsburgh stay alive?
Rough one for Carr
The Saints have a problem. We spent some time last week talking about how this team has no way out of its current cap situation, and why that will likely result in a longer commitment to Derek Carr. That reality seemed bad enough then, and it's especially concerning coming off this week's loss to the Lions. Carr seemed to be the target of some Twitter/X shade from Michael Thomas during the game. New Orleans fans also cheered when Taysom Hill entered the game situationally and booed when Carr replaced him. To top it all off, Carr again left the game with multiple ailments after taking a massive hit in the second half. The Saints trying to hire a head coach who can salvage this big-money signing is probably the most likely scenario looking ahead to the offseason. If things continue in this direction, though, perhaps we shouldn't rule out a Brock Osweiler-level effort to get another team to take on his contract.
Evans does it again
Mike Evans is one of the most underappreciated players of his generation. The Buccaneers wideout once again hit the 1,000-yard mark in Sunday's win over the Panthers, making it 10 straight seasons to start his NFL career. That further extends his record streak and puts him just one shy of Jerry Rice's record for total 1,000-yard campaigns. He's going to get a nice payday as a free agent, and it'll likely only be a matter of time before he stands alone in this impressive category. The consistency is remarkable.
Chargers extra cooked
It's not often that a win makes you feel even worse than you already do about a bad team. But this is the Chargers we're talking about here - nothing should come as a surprise anymore. A 6-0 victory over the Patriots is as close as it gets to a morale defeat in this league. The defense is usually the issue, which is particularly damning for a defensive-minded coach. But when they finally get a good game out of that unit (or the good fortune of playing the Patriots), the offense disappears. It's always something with this team. This is going to be an important offseason to ensure the Chargers don't continue to waste elite quarterback play.
Mack still has it
The Chargers, flawed as they are, did get at least one thing right this offseason. Khalil Mack was seen by many as a potential cap casualty after a relatively underwhelming eight-sack debut season with L.A. in 2022. The Chargers doubled down on their investment, though, and the veteran pass-rusher has rewarded their faith with an incredible year. Another two sacks in Sunday's win over the Patriots give him 15 on the season, tying a career high in only 12 games. Mack is still a force off the edge and could have several more years to add to his 99.5 career sacks. The 2016 Defensive Player of the Year could still have a shot at earning a spot in the Hall of Fame.
New coach, same Panthers
The Panthers dumping Frank Reich and several of his key assistants before the end of their first season on the job was a clear effort to salvage what remains of Bryce Young's rookie campaign. We shouldn't get our hopes up for the stretch run, though. Playing through some heavy rain likely didn't help matters, but the Panthers' offense struggled with many of the same issues in Sunday's loss to the Buccaneers. This group lacks the ability to protect the quarterback or create separation at receiver. The scheme and personnel need to be better moving forward.
McBride breaking out
Trey McBride is the reason the Cardinals were willing to grant Zach Ertz his release. Amid a sophomore breakout, the 2022 second-round pick will take all the reps he can get. McBride recorded eight catches for 89 yards and a touchdown in Arizona's win over Pittsburgh, already putting him over the 600-yard mark for the year. Whether it's with Kyler Murray or another young quarterback selected early in a future draft, the Cardinals will be happy to have McBride as a reliable target over the middle of the field.
Stat of the week
Bengals vs. Jaguars
You won't catch me trying to sell this one as an interesting game. The Bengals still have plenty of stars on both sides of the ball, but it's not the same without Joe Burrow. There's no reason to believe this will be a productive offense with Jake Browning under center, and Cincinnati will probably fall out of the playoff race. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have quietly been putting it all together after a frustrating start to the season. The offense is finally finding ways to maximize Calvin Ridley, and Trevor Lawrence is thriving as a result. The Jaguars should also be looking to create some momentum for a struggling ground game against the Bengals' 29th-ranked run defense. Either way, this shouldn't be all that close.