Winning a game does not mean that the winning team is better than the losing team. The football is elongated and takes several unpredictable bounces every game. Sometimes assured quarterbacks fumble and unreliable quarterbacks throw for 400 yards and four touchdown passes.
What is 100 percent certain, however, is that a win improves the record of the victorious team. With only 17 games on an NFL team’s schedule, throwaway games don’t exist. Every single game is crucial. To be successful, teams must be able to win games in which they are not playing their best. Finding a way to cut through a downpour or a seemingly endless parade of turnovers can be the difference between a postseason berth and a head coach getting fired.
Some of the better teams in the NFL had far less than stellar performances in Week 11. They didn’t hang onto the ball and made significantly less explosive plays than they usually do. But with the postseason quickly approaching, those contenders have erased games in which they were clearly outplayed by their opponents. Not just any opponents, but by teams, who by any measure were weaker before kick-off.
A pair of postseason contenders suffered bad losses on Sunday. The Los Angeles Chargers has a top-10 offense, by DVOA, and has only 20 points in a loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Seattle Seahawks entered their game against the Los Angeles Rams with the same record as the San Francisco 49ers. Seattle scored only 16 points against one of the worst defenses in the league and was forced to rely on a 55-yard field goal attempt to win the game. The Seahawks’ kicker missed.
The Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions and Houston Texans played much worse football than the Chargers and Seahawks. In Week 11, they all struggled to hold on to the football throughout the afternoon. All three battled through those mistakes to win and put themselves in first place in the postseason with a month and change left in the regular season.
Tyreek Hill almost went down and took the Dolphins hopes with him
Hill was on his way to another spectacular first half performance against the Las Vegas Raiders. With just over nine minutes left in the second quarter, he had already totaled 80 yards on seven receptions and took a punt 38 yards for a touchdown.
The Dolphins must have held their breath when he left the field in the second quarter with a hand injury. For all the injuries the Dolphins have dealt with this season, he and Tua Tagovailoa have played in every game. Those two will always give Miami a chance to win. Without one, or both, they become an average team at best. Hill returned later in the quarter, but caught just three more passes the rest of the game. The Dolphins also lost two fouls in the first half.
Tagovailoa went on to throw an interception on the opening drive of the third quarter. The Miami offense did not score a single touchdown in the second half, only two field goals. The second of those gave the Dolphins a 20-13 lead with 25 seconds left in the third quarter. The score never changed.
It was the sometimes maligned Dolphins’ defense that stepped up to win the game. They intercepted Aidan O’Connell three times, all in the second half. In fact, O’Connell was picked off on the Raiders’ final two drives. The one that salted the game was courtesy of Jalen Ramsey – his second of the game – in the end zone.
The Chicago Bears played book ban conservative on Sunday and still pressured the Lions
A 2021 version of the Lions played Week 11 at Ford Field. They absolutely should have lost to the Bears. They turned the ball over four times and trailed by 12 points with just over four minutes left in the game. At that point, the Lions had not scored as there were less than 30 seconds to play in the second quarter.
The Bears scored on their first-four possessions of the third. Fortunately, three of those scores for the Lions were only field goals. The Bears never really made a move to put the Lions on the road. When playing a better team, the clearly weaker team with little to no chance for the playoffs should stop choosing to spin the wheel and solve the puzzle.
By record and metrics, the Lions are even better than they were projected to be before Week 1 of the regular season. They gained confidence last season and proved themselves as contenders early in the 2023 season by beating the defending Super Bowl champions on the road in Week 1.
Unlike the Bears, the Lions have championship goals this season. They entered training camp thinking about a Lombardi Trophy and played with that level of fervor and skill. To beat it, the Bears will have to at least match the former’s quality. They didn’t and the Lions scored twice late in the fourth quarter, also forcing Justin Fields into a fumble that resulted in a safety.
The Texans’ defense bailed out CJ Stroud
Week 11 wasn’t Stroud’s first bad game of his rookie season. When he beat Bryce Young during Week 8, he passed for 140 yards, no touchdowns, and averaged 5.83 yards per attempt — one of only two times a pro averaged less than seven yards per attempt. The Texans also lost to No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young, leading to the Carolina Panthers’ only win of the 2023 season.
Stroud was far from ineffective against the Arizona Cardinals. He passed for 336 yards and averaged 9.1 yards per attempt. However, he also threw three interceptions — a feat he never even accomplished at Ohio State.
The first of those turnovers came during the second quarter, in the end zone. Stroud threw a soft pass into triple coverage that was intercepted. It was one of two red-zone picks, but the second was a pass that went through Robert Woods’ hands. The third one was deep in Texans territory and also a poor decision.
Stroud’s last two interceptions were his team’s last offensive possessions of the games – without when they took a knee to run out the clock. The offense was able to get into a winning formation because the defense forced the Cardinals into consecutive turnovers on downs. Will Anderson Jr. – the Texans’ other top-five pick from the 2023 NFL Draft – has spent considerable time in the Cardinals’ backfield. On Arizona’s final drive, it was Anderson who hit Kyler Murray and forced a turnover on downs.