Week 11 featured arguably the best individual performance of the 2021 NFL season. Colts running back Jonathan Taylor ran for 185 yards and four touchdowns, and he added 19 more yards and a fifth score on three catches. Indianapolis pulled off the upset of the Bills, 41-15, behind Taylor’s performance. The Vikings also upset the Packers on a final-play field goal, and receiver Justin Jefferson helped them get there with 169 receiving yards and a pair of TDs.
But perhaps the biggest upset of the week was the Texans’ 22-13 victory over the Titans. Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw four interceptions. Washington coach Ron Rivera won against his former team in Carolina, and the Dolphins won their third straight game. The Browns narrowly avoided a loss to the winless Lions, and the Ravens — playing without quarterback Lamar Jackson — hung on to beat the Bears after Justin Fields was forced to leave the game with a rib injury.
The Eagles’ run game continued to look good in a 40-point outburst against the Saints, with three rushing scores from Jalen Hurts and 94 rushing yards from Miles Sanders, and the 49ers took care of business in Jacksonville. Oh, and the Patriots looked dominant Thursday in a shutout of the Falcons.
Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about each team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.
What to know: The Cardinals got through Kyler Murray’s ankle injury 2-1 and now head into their bye week atop the NFC West and the NFC. The bye will give Murray two more weeks to get healthy and ready for the final six games and the playoffs. Colt McCoy did his job as Murray’s backup, with 328 yards passing against the Seahawks. — Josh Weinfuss
How important is the addition of tight end Zach Ertz? He had eight catches for 88 yards and two scores against the Seahawks, proving he is among the NFL’s biggest midseason additions after coming over in a trade from Philadelphia. Ertz gives the Cardinals a threat at tight end that they haven’t had. He has been especially important with Arizona down a receiving threat in DeAndre Hopkins. — Weinfuss
Weinfuss’ confidence rating (0-10): 8.5, no change from 8.5. It wasn’t always a dominant performance, but the Cardinals did what they had to do in an intimidating atmosphere with a backup quarterback.
Next game: at Bears (Dec. 5, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Seahawks’ offense is broken and their playoff hopes are all but dead. Those are the hard truths after they wasted a golden opportunity at home against a Cardinals team that was without quarterback Kyler Murray and receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Their resurgent defense should have been so much better against backup QB Colt McCoy, but it is their offensive ineptitude that is most galling. Russell Wilson (14-of-26, 207 yards) reiterated this week that his surgically repaired finger is fine, just as he said after last week’s shutout loss in Green Bay. So what is it: Rust from his monthlong absence? First-year coordinator Shane Waldron‘s scheme or playcalling? It’s hard to fathom how a quarterback who has been so good for so long and an offense with so many weapons can be this ineffective. — Brady Henderson
Is there any hope left? Mathematically, sure. But in order to squeeze into the playoffs as the NFC’s third wild-card team, the Seahawks probably have to finish 9-8. That would require them to win the five games they have left against their most beatable opponents — Washington, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco and Houston — and steal another win against a better team in one of their two games against Arizona or their rematch with the Rams. Facing the Cardinals without their two best offensive players made this their best shot at that upset win. The Seahawks’ offense is too bad, their defense is too untrustworthy and their hole is too big to have any confidence that they can make something of this season. Their only relevance now might be the uncertainty over what will happen with Wilson once it ends. — Henderson
Henderson’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.1, down from 5.1. At 3-7 and with a combined 13 points in two weeks, there’s not much to be confident about.
Next game: at Washington (Nov. 29, 8:15 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Chiefs’ defense is for real and good enough to help get the Chiefs deep in the playoffs. Kansas City was that impressive against the Cowboys, who entered the game leading the league in scoring and as the only team in the top five in rushing and passing. The revival of the Chiefs’ pass rush, which was unproductive the first several games of the season, and the play of Chris Jones are leading the defensive turnaround. — Adam Teicher
Will the Chiefs win the AFC West? At 7-4 and alone in first place, they’re positioned well. They’re also playing well enough that it’s difficult to picture any of their AFC West rivals catching them. The next three games are huge in that regard. After next week’s bye, they play the Broncos and Raiders at home and the Chargers in L.A. If they sweep those three games, they’ll win it with plenty of room to spare. — Teicher
Teicher’s confidence rating (0-10): 9, up from 8. If the Chiefs can handle the Cowboys this way, who can’t they beat?
Next game: vs. Broncos (1 p.m. ET, Dec. 5)
What to know: Maybe the Denver Broncos did not have the blueprint on how to slow down the Cowboys’ offense. Maybe the Kansas City Chiefs did. For the second time in three games the Cowboys’ offense struggled with a physical AFC West defense, losing 19-9 at Arrowhead Stadium. Unlike against the Broncos, when they scored two touchdowns after they were down 30-0, the Cowboys did not reach the end zone against the Chiefs. They hardly looked like the No. 1 offense in the NFL. They did not have Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith for a third straight game and were without Amari Cooper (COVID-19), but they had no answers. The reconfigured offensive line struggled in protection (Dak Prescott was sacked three times in the first half) and the quarterback struggled getting the ball down the field. He did not complete a pass of more than 10 air yards until the second half. The Cowboys missed a chance to make a statement in terms of confidence and the race for home-field advantage, although the defense was good enough. Maybe playing on Thanksgiving will give the Cowboys a quick chance to get such a bad taste out of their mouths. — Todd Archer
Will CeeDee Lamb be ready to play on Thanksgiving? Difficult to know at this point, but Lamb will have to clear the concussion protocols in a quick manner in order to be available against the Las Vegas Raiders on Thursday. The Cowboys know they won’t have Amari Cooper available to play against his former team with him being on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Not having Lamb would be a huge loss since he leads the Cowboys in receptions, yards and touchdown catches. The Cowboys have answered questions all season, like winning without Dak Prescott at Minnesota on Halloween. This might be even more difficult without their top two receivers. — Archer
Archer’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.4, down from 9. It’s not that they lost to the Chiefs — Arrowhead Stadium is a difficult place to play — it’s how they lost even without key performers on offense. They got pushed around and had no answers, which makes these next two games against the Raiders and New Orleans Saints even more important if the Cowboys are going to be legit contenders in January.
Next game: vs. Raiders (4:30 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: The Bengals are in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt. Both Cincinnati and Las Vegas desperately needed to end two-game losing streaks and keep pace in the conference’s crowded playoff field. It wasn’t pretty for most of Sunday, but the Bengals did enough to pick up a massive victory at the start of a three-game run that could decide their playoff chances. Cincinnati hasn’t made the postseason since 2015. — Ben Baby
Is the offense good enough to make this playoff push? At the moment, probably not. The Bengals needed three field goals of 50 yards or more to stay ahead of the Raiders early before scoring two late touchdowns to pull away. Fortunately, they drafted Evan McPherson, who booted each kick with room to spare. But the offensive inconsistencies continue to be a problem that must be sorted out. — Baby
Baby’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.8, up from 5.5. Cincinnati did enough to squeak out a win but left a lot to be desired for much of the game.
Next game: vs. Steelers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Raiders’ offense in general, quarterback Derek Carr in particular, is too tentative, too conservative early in games, and it contributes mightily to a winded defense fading late. And thanks to that formula playing out Sunday in a 32-13 loss to the visiting Bengals, it might be too late for the Raiders to save their season. Sure, the Raiders’ self-inflicted wounds on defense in the first half — third-down penalties that kept Cincinnati scoring drives alive — didn’t help, but another slow start/no show by Carr & Co. set the stage. — Paul Gutierrez
Can the Raiders save their season in Dallas on Thanksgiving, or is it over? Not as currently constructed. And not if Carr and the offense are just as stagnant for a fourth game in a row. In fact, it might be time to play Marcus Mariota to see if he can jump-start things. Then again, you might lose Carr mentally by benching him. But would that be a bad thing? — Gutierrez
Gutierrez’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.5, down from 6. The offense is stagnant. The defense is worn out. What leads you to believe anything will change on a short week at a tough opponent?
Next game: at Cowboys (4:30 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: Quarterback Tyrod Taylor gives the Texans the best chance to win. Coach David Culley said it over and over while Taylor was injured and rookie Davis Mills was starting, but on Sunday, Taylor showed why Culley had confidence in him, completing 14 of 24 passes for 107 yards and rushing for two touchdowns. Taylor became the third quarterback in Texans franchise history with multiple rushing touchdowns in a game, joining David Carr and Deshaun Watson. Taylor struggled in Week 9, his return from his left hamstring injury, but he did not turn the ball over against the Titans. Every team deals with injuries — the Titans were without running back Derrick Henry and receiver Julio Jones — but it’s easy to wonder how competitive the Texans would have been had Taylor stayed healthy. — Sarah Barshop
Did the Texans cost themselves the No. 1 draft pick? Houston entered the game a half-game back of the Lions for the worst record this season, but a big victory in Nashville for the Texans puts Detroit in the driver’s seat for the top pick. The second half of the Texans’ schedule is far easier than the first, and if Taylor can stay healthy, Houston looks like a team that could win a few more games. The Texans have two more important games for draft position: Week 12 against the New York Jets (2-8) and Week 15 in Jacksonville (2-8). — Barshop
Barshop’s confidence rating (0-10): 1, up from 0.5. The Texans played their best game since Week 1 and against a team that entered the game tied for the best record in the NFL.
Next game: vs. Jets (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Titans have a tendency to play up to their competition and, in this case, down to it as well. Tennessee was 7-0 against playoff teams entering the game against Houston, and the Titans were favored by 10 points against the Texans, who came into Sunday with one win. Starting with the first drive, though, sloppy play cost them. Houston controlled the game after jumping out to a 12-0 lead. — Turron Davenport
Is it officially time to worry about the offense? The Titans’ offense showed little life today. The lack of playmakers to take over the game continues to hurt them. But Ryan Tannehill‘s interceptions hurt Tennessee’s chance to win the game. Tannehill threw an interception after a defensive stop late in the fourth quarter that all but ended a chance at another comeback win. The question remains, can the Titans win with Tannehill carrying the bulk of the offensive load? His four interceptions against the Texans make it seem unlikely. — Davenport
Davenport’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.5, down from 9. Losing to the Texans is inexcusable. The Titans came out flat and never recovered. The defense can do only so much to keep them in the game. Tennessee’s offense simply didn’t carry its share of the load, and it showed. The injuries continue to mount with A.J. Brown being knocked out of the game with a chest injury. The Titans just don’t have many playmakers left on the offense.
Next game: at Patriots (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: When it was gut-check time, the Vikings’ offense answered the bell in a wild back-and-forth game that puts the team at .500 (5-5). Minnesota built off its win over the Chargers by continuing to establish an identity by getting the ball to its playmakers, and Justin Jefferson keeps taking his game up a notch. The second-year receiver caught eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns and was at 100 yards receiving at the end of the first quarter. Teams will always throw added defenders Jefferson’s way, but the Vikings got creative in getting him open by lining him up in the backfield before sending him out on a shallow route over the middle on his first touchdown. Jefferson also drew a 37-yard pass interference in the first half that set up Adam Thielen‘s touchdown. Cousins utilized his top two receivers, with Thielen contributing eight catches for 82 yards and the TD. — Courtney Cronin
Why can’t the Vikings protect a double-digit lead? Minnesota is 2-2 when leading by at least 13 points. The Vikings have built double-digit leads as easily as they’ve lost them; they threw punch after punch on offense by staying aggressive and taking shots down the field, yet their defense still allowed the Packers to come back in the game. After Green Bay took a 24-23 lead in the fourth quarter, Minnesota thundered back behind Jefferson’s second touchdown catch and Dalvin Cook’s 2-point conversion, only to have Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the first play of the Packers’ next drive to take the lead. Minnesota’s defense let Rodgers scramble for six-plus seconds on two of his touchdown throws, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. It’s up to the Vikings’ defense to protect leads if they want to land one of the final two seeds in the NFC playoffs. — Cronin
Cronin’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 4.5. The Vikings beat the best team in the NFC by hanging on late and staying aggressive on offense. If they can beat San Francisco in Week 12, the rest of their schedule is favors them securing another postseason bid.
Next game: at 49ers (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Vikings get the win over the Packers after Greg Joseph kicks the deciding field goal as time expires.
What to know: Well, maybe the Packers don’t quite have a championship-level defense yet. Sure, the unit made plays, notably a pair of sacks by Preston Smith, but when it needed one more stop, it couldn’t come through. Unlike in the Oct. 28 win at Arizona, there was no miracle interception in the end zone from Rasul Douglas. This was simply a defense that gave up 10 points on the Vikings’ final two possessions, including the winning field goal at the gun. They had no answer for Justin Jefferson, the Vikings receiver who caught eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. The second was a beautiful 23-yard fade that gave the Vikings a 31-24 lead with 2:17 left. The problem was the Packers then scored too soon, when Aaron Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 75-yard touchdown to the tie it with 2:08 left. The Packers’ defense, which came in ranked third in fewest yards allowed and third in fewest passing yards allowed, let Kirk Cousins throw for 341 yards and three touchdowns. — Rob Demovsky
How bad will Elgton Jenkins‘ knee injury hurt the Packers? They can probably handle losing Jenkins, assuming it’s as bad as it looked when he limped off unable to put much pressure on his left knee, if David Bakhtiari is ready to play. But that’s still a big if, especially after Packers coach Matt LaFleur wouldn’t say much last week about why Bakhtiari appears to have taken a step back in his return from ACL surgery in January. Bakhtiari seemed on track to play a couple of weeks ago when he came off the PUP list, but then he didn’t practice last week. With Bakhtiari back, the Packers could have moved Jenkins back to left guard, where he was a Pro Bowler last year. Now, they could be down to their No. 3 left tackle for a while. — Demovsky
Demovsky’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, down from 7.5. It’s waning in part because the Packers desperately need to get to their bye week, and they won’t get it for another two weeks. First, they have to deal with the Rams (7-3), who should be rested coming off their bye.
Next game: vs. Rams (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Browns may have won the game. But once again, they didn’t resemble anything close to a playoff-caliber team while slogging their way to victory over the winless Lions. Even with the return of Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb, who closed out Detroit on the final drive, the offense remains a mess. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is ailing. And so too is the passing game. In turn, Cleveland has scored more than 17 points in a game once since Oct. 10. To have any chance of making a run to the playoffs, the Browns will have to produce an immediate and drastic turnaround offensively. — Jake Trotter
How can the Browns get Mayfield going again? Unfortunately for Cleveland, Mayfield is going to be playing injured the rest of the season. He was noticeably limping in the second half — his knee and foot injuries compounding the torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. Reestablishing a running game that when rolling is among the best in the NFL, should help put Mayfield in more favorable situations. Ultimately, though, Mayfield is going to have be sharper than he was Sunday, no matter the injuries. Getting back to taking better care of the ball would be a start. — Trotter
Trotter’s confidence rating (0-10): 6, up from 5.9. Cleveland’s season ultimately hinges on what it does in its next two games — both against the Ravens.
Next game: at Ravens (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Running back D’Andre Swift showed why he’s the Lions’ best offensive threat with a career-best 136 rushing yards, marking his second straight game of 100 or more. In the third quarter, Swift ran for a career-long 57-yard touchdown, which was the longest rushing touchdown by a Lions player since Jahvid Best had an 88-yarder against the Chicago Bears in Week 5 of 2011. The play was the lone bright spot on offense. — Eric Woodyard
Should the Lions continue to start quarterback Tim Boyle when Jared Goff gets healthy? No. Although he didn’t play terribly, Boyle doesn’t look like the long-term answer for this team, either. He ended with 77 passing yards and didn’t do anything spectacular enough to take over Goff’s job on a permanent basis. His approach was much like Goff’s, too, opting for check-down passes and not experiencing much success on throws of 10 or more yards. — Woodyard
Woodyard’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.3, down from 2.5. The performance in Cleveland was another example of what we already knew about this team: What they lack in talent, they try to make up for in competitiveness. But they just don’t have enough firepower on the roster.
Next game: vs. Bears (12:30 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: The Eagles have officially entered the playoff conversation. With their win over New Orleans, they now have a 40% chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. It would have dropped to 11% with a loss, showing the significance of this game. Both sides of the ball have hit its stride. Coach Nick Sirianni’s offense rushed for 175-plus yards for the fourth straight game — their longest streak since the 1950 season, according to the Eagles — while the defense caused three turnovers and played winning football for the third time in four games. The Eagles entered Week 11 with the second-easiest closing schedule in the NFL, and with tiebreakers over the Saints, Falcons and Panthers, they are in good position to make a charge at a wild-card spot. — Tim McManus
Is Jalen Hurts on his way to securing the QB job long-term? He’s making a pretty compelling case. Hurts rushed for 71 yards and three touchdowns against the top rush defense in the NFL, capping his day with an Allen Iverson-like cutback en route to a 24-yard TD run that put the home crowd in a frenzy. He now has three games with multiple rushing TDs this season. In the past 20 years, Cam Newton is the only other QB to pull that off, per ESPN Stats & Information. With as many as three first-round picks in April’s draft, much of the talk has been about using that capital to bring in a top-end QB. Hurts is trying to prove they already have one in-house. — McManus
McManus’ confidence rating (0-10): 5.9, up from 4.8. The Eagles took their lumps early in the season under first-year head coach Sirianni, but with the teeth of their schedule behind them, the momentum should continue to build.
Next game: at Giants (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Darius Slay scores his third touchdown in four games with this 49-yard interception return.
What to know: The Saints’ season is on the brink after losing three straight games — for the first time since 2016 — and falling to 5-5. The schedule doesn’t get easier with the Bills and Cowboys coming into New Orleans over the next two Thursday nights. The hope is the magnitude of Sunday’s flop was somewhat of an anomaly since they were without running back Alvin Kamara and offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk (all of whom should be back soon). But the Saints’ passing offense has struggled even at full strength this year, and this was also a step back for the defense. — Mike Triplett
Are we getting closer to seeing Taysom Hill at quarterback? The Saints have to consider anything that will shake up this sagging offense. For the third straight week, QB Trevor Siemian finished strong in the fourth quarter after he struggled mightily early. He completed 22 of 40 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns, with one TD run and his first two interceptions of the season. Hill’s health is a factor, too. He barely practiced all week with a foot injury, then he was held out of his usual role as a runner/receiver Sunday while serving as New Orleans backup. And the Saints have only three days between games this week. — Triplett
Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.5, down from 6.5. The only glimmer of hope here is that the Saints showed how high their ceiling can be earlier this season. But they have now squandered the head start they built against the rest of the NFC’s playoff contenders (including Philly).
Next game: vs. Bills (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: The Ravens can win without quarterback Lamar Jackson. For most of the game, it wasn’t pretty or exciting. But with Jackson out with an illness, backup Tyler Huntley led Baltimore on a winning drive in the final minute. His 30-yard pass to Sammy Watkins set up Devonta Freeman’s go-ahead, 3-yard touchdown with 22 seconds remaining. This was an improbable and gutsy win considering the Ravens were without an MVP candidate in Jackson and top wide receiver in Marquise Brown (thigh) and they have 13 players on injured reserve. — Jamison Hensley
Will the Ravens’ defense ever solve its big-play issues? It’s nearly the same script every game. Baltimore plays shutdown defense before a costly mistake ruins it. On Sunday, the big plays nearly cost the Ravens the game. Ravens cornerback Chris Westry allowed a 49-yard touchdown on fourth-and-11 with under two minutes left in the game. The other Bears touchdown came on a 60-yard wide receiver screen to Darrell Mooney. Baltimore has given up 11 passes of 40 yards or more, tied for the most in the NFL. — Hensley
Hensley’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.6, up from 7.5. The Ravens know they need to play better heading into the toughest part of their schedule, where they don’t face another team with a losing record in the final seven weeks.
Next game: vs. Browns (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Ugly, ugly, ugly. The Bears found a way to lose to a Ravens team without quarterback Lamar Jackson. Chicago’s defense allowed Baltimore backup Tyler Huntley to do enough to set up Justin Tucker for three field goals, and then lead a last-second scoring drive to squeeze out the victory. Too bad, because it ruined Andy Dalton’s memorable afternoon. Dalton, who entered the game in the third quarter after Justin Fields left with a rib injury, promptly hit Darnell Mooney on a wide receiver screen early in the third quarter and let the speedster do the rest. Mooney broke a pair of tackles and then turned on the jets to outrace the Ravens’ defense for a 60-yard touchdown. Dalton later tossed what appeared to be the winning touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin on fourth down with under two minutes left, until Chicago’s defense collapsed at the end. The game represented a form of redemption for Dalton, who lost his starting job to Fields when he got hurt early in the season. But this was a game the Bears had to win. At 3-7, the Bears’ season has all but slipped away. — Jeff Dickerson
Is there another quarterback controversy in Chicago? Probably not. The job belongs to Fields when he’s healthy. Of course, there is a scenario where next week’s tight turnaround — the Bears play on Thanksgiving Day at 12:30 p.m. ET in Detroit — makes it difficult for Fields to play, depending on the severity of his injury. Dalton is nice insurance, but the organization is focused on developing Fields for the future. The moment Fields receives the medical clearance to play, the rookie will be back out there, and Dalton will return to the bench. — Dickerson
Dickerson’s confidence rating (0-10): 2, down from 2.5. The Bears can’t even beat the Ravens without Lamar Jackson. Good luck the rest of the way.
Next game: at Lions (12:30 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: Washington continues to lose bodies yet somehow win games. It was missing its top two tight ends and both starting defensive ends and needed to turn to its third center during the game. Yet it kept finding a way to stick around. A lot of credit goes to quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who played a smart and gutsy game. The day was supposed to be about the Panthers’ Cam Newton, but Heinicke threw three touchdown passes, completed 16 of 22 throws and ran for 31 yards. On the game-winning drive, he completed a fourth-down pass in which he had to scramble and was nearly sacked. Running back Antonio Gibson was benched for a couple of series after a fumble, yet he responded with 95 yards. Washington has confidence and will make the final stretch a lot more interesting. — John Keim
Can Washington sustain this level of play? Why not? Washington’s defense is playing well — it has held three consecutive opponents under 300 yards. It will get end Montez Sweat back in a few weeks, which will help. But a big key has been the play of the secondary, especially Kam Curl and Landon Collins. Curl’s ability to cover Christian McCaffrey helped on a couple of throws, including a late tackle on fourth down. The offense has found a rhythm and, more important, an identity. Washington’s commitment to the run game has allowed it to play more physically and limit Taylor Heinicke’s dropbacks. His efficiency the past two weeks has been terrific — a combined 12 incompletions. — Keim
Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.9, up from 5. The ability to overcome mistakes and bad plays happens when you play with confidence. Washington is playing with a lot of confidence; it has had numerous chances to buckle the past two weeks, yet it keeps overcoming, thanks to its mindset.
Next game: vs. Seahawks (8:15 p.m. ET, Nov. 29)
Taylor Heinicke finds Terry McLaurin in the end zone to even the score just before the end of the half.
What to know: Cam Newton did his part. He brought energy and playmaking, throwing two touchdown passes and rushing for another (24 yards). The league’s No. 2 defense that this team is being built around didn’t do its part. The Panthers (5-6) were beaten by Taylor Heinicke, another former Carolina quarterback, who threw three touchdown passes and engineered the game-winning field goal with a clutch fourth-down pass. Newton’s biggest mistake was throwing a late fourth-down pass short of the line of scrimmage. — David Newton
Can the Panthers be a real playoff contender and have a losing record at home? Newton said the goal this week was to reclaim Bank of America Stadium, where the Panthers were dominant during their past playoff runs under the quarterback. He gave away 50 tickets to help the cause. Instead, Carolina lost its fourth straight at home to fall to 2-4 there this season. The Panthers now have lost to the Eagles, Vikings, Patriots and Washington. Not a good résumé for a serious playoff contender. — Newton
Newton’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.9, down from 5.4. The schedule gets tougher after next week’s game at Miami, with two games against the Bucs and road games against Buffalo and New Orleans making it hard to imagine the Panthers can win enough to be a factor in the NFC.
Next game: at Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: In basketball, sometimes shooters need to see the ball go through the hoop to end a cold streak — different sport but same concept here. The Dolphins have now won three straight after a seven-game losing streak, and it appears that the fix to their cold streak was simply getting another win under their belts. For the first time this season, Miami’s offensive line didn’t look like a sieve, and for the third time, its run game topped 100 rushing yards (115). Safety Eric Rowe said winning games validated the team’s efforts and built up its confidence, which was fading after they didn’t see positive results for a month and a half. The Dolphins are making big plays on both sides of the ball and finishing games; there’s hope yet. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Has Miami’s offense been too reliant on big plays these past two weeks? Over the past two games, the Dolphins have hit on plays of 52, 64 and 65 yards. Outside of those three plays, they have averaged 4.5 yards per play. Entering Week 11, the Bears rank last in the NFL in that category at 4.7 yards. Look, part of football is capitalizing on your opponents’ mistakes — which is what Miami has been able to do these past two weeks. But it will have to figure out ways to move the ball effectively between those big plays. — Louis-Jacques
Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, up from 6. It wasn’t pretty, but the Dolphins did enough to win a game that they should have won; they’re rolling as they prepare for a 32-day stretch of not having to leave South Florida.
Next game: vs. Panthers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Coach Robert Saleh made the right call by replacing Mike White with Joe Flacco at quarterback. Too bad he couldn’t replace a bunch of other players, including kicker Matt Ammendola (two FG misses). Flacco, the surprise choice to start, did what was expected. For the most part, the savvy pro handled the Dolphins’ prolific blitz. He made a couple of mistakes, but he didn’t stall the offense and fed the ball to emerging rookie Elijah Moore (eight catches, 141 yards, one TD). Flacco finished with 291 yards and two TD passes. The Jets were doomed by dumb penalties and a major coverage breakdown in the secondary, resulting in a 65-yard touchdown. What they need now is to get rookie QB Zach Wilson (knee) back in the lineup. If he’s healthy, he should start. Period. No controversy. — Rich Cimini
Will the Jets lose the rest of their games? Don’t snicker; it’s a legit question. The Dolphins (4-7) were supposed to be one of the soft spots on the schedule, but the Jets were handled at home. If they fall to the pathetic Houston Texans (2-8) next Sunday on the road, where will they get a win? They face the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8), but you can’t win if you can’t stop anybody. Right now, the Jets’ defense, gutted by injuries, is a shell of its former self — and its former self wasn’t too good. — Cimini
Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.5, up from 2.5. Well, at least they didn’t get blown out. That’s what this season has deteriorated to.
Next game: at Texans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Finally. It took nearly a year, but the Colts have finally ended their eight-game losing streak against playoff teams from last season. They didn’t just end it — the Colts did it in the fashion that showed they’re right in the thick of the AFC playoff race while moving above .500 for the first time all season. The Colts led from start to finish and had some Buffalo fans heading to the door with about four minutes left in the third quarter after they forced three turnovers and were leading 31-7. Looking ahead, the challenge doesn’t get any easier for the Colts, who are still on the outside looking in. Four of their remaining six games are against teams with a winning record, starting with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Indianapolis in Week 12. — Mike Wells
Is Jonathan Taylor the best running back in the league? Yes, especially with Tennessee’s Derrick Henry potentially sidelined for the rest of the season with a foot injury. Taylor racked up 185 rushing yards and five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving). It marked the 18th time in NFL history a player scored five touchdowns in a single game. He now leads the NFL with 1,122 rushing yards, and barring any kind of injury, he’ll likely remain at the top of the list the rest of the season because the Colts will continue to lean on him down the stretch. — Wells
Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 3.9. Sunday’s victory over the Bills was the Colts’ most impressive win since they won at Kansas City in October 2019.
Next game: vs. Buccaneers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Bills’ No. 1 defense looked far from it against a Colts offense that has been inconsistent this year and came into the game ranked 12th in the league. The defense was without starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who is on the COVID-19 list, and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (hamstring), but even while keeping those absences in mind, Buffalo’s run defense has had a hard time stopping the game’s best running backs. Coming into the game, it was clear that the Colts would try to run the ball with the success Derrick Henry had (143 yards) against this defense in Week 6. Even with that knowledge, Jonathan Taylor scored five touchdowns and rushed for 185 yards. The Bills entered Sunday having allowed five TDs to running backs this season (tied for fourth fewest). Taylor reached that in three quarters. The Colts’ 264 rushing yards are the most by a Bills opponent in the last three seasons. — Alaina Getzenberg
Do the Bills have a serious problem on special teams? Something has to get corrected, because the rain-soaked turf wasn’t the cause of all the special teams woes. The worst play of the day — on an afternoon with many rough moments — was returner Isaiah McKenzie fumbling the football untouched on a kickoff return in the second quarter. The Colts recovered the football at the Bills’ 2-yard line and took it in for a touchdown on the next play. Kicker Tyler Bass also missed two field goals (from 57 and 49 yards) on a wet field. Bass had made 16 straight field goal attempts entering the day, and it’s the first time he has missed two field goals in a game since Week 7 of last year. Going forward, Bass will likely get things corrected, but this wasn’t McKenzie’s first time losing the football. For a team that places such importance on special teams, there have been too many clumsy plays this year. — Getzenberg
Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.2, down from 7.8. This confidence rating has been so up and down for the Bills over the past few weeks — good performances have been quickly erased by disasters, including this loss to the Colts with all three phases falling short — and the Bills have a lot to prove before this rating can go significantly up again.
Next game: at Saints (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: The 49ers have won two straight in dominating fashion and increasingly look like a legitimate NFC playoff contender. A convincing win against the Jaguars isn’t a huge feat in itself, but it’s exactly the type of performance a team with real postseason aspirations would have. And it shouldn’t be sold short considering the Niners were coming off a short week and traveling across the country for an early body clock start. At 5-5 with seven games to play, the real tests await, including next week against fellow wild-card contender Minnesota, but the 49ers handled business as they should have, something that hadn’t happened much prior to Sunday. — Nick Wagoner
Are the 49ers on their way to an offensive drive that eats up an entire quarter? It sure looks like it. On Sunday, the Niners opened the game with a drive that ate up a whopping 13:05, the longest drive by a team this season and the longest of any team in the past 20 years, according to ESPN Stats & Info. In consecutive weeks, San Francisco’s offense has posted the two longest drives of the season (11:03 last week). Is it a coincidence? To some extent, yes, but the Niners are clearly fine with using the opening drive to assert physical dominance and rolling from there. The only problem on Sunday was it ended with a field goal instead of a touchdown. Either way, those kinds of drives set a tone that is difficult to overcome. — Wagoner
Wagoner’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.8, up from 5.3. The Niners’ embarrassing loss to Arizona two weeks ago seems like a distant memory, and they appear to be rounding into form with some key games coming up.
Next game: vs. Vikings (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Jimmy Garoppolo stands in the pocket and throws a dart to Brandon Aiyuk for the 7-yard touchdown.
What to know: An already limited Jaguars offense is dead in the water without a healthy James Robinson, and unfortunately he’s going to be battling his knee/heel injuries the rest of the year. He just doesn’t have the same burst he did before the injuries. That means the offense is going to be all on Trevor Lawrence‘s shoulders. That’s an unfair ask for a rookie, especially with the Jaguars’ unimpressive group of receivers, and it’s a burden for which he’s not ready. — Mike DiRocco
What do the Jaguars do at cornerback? Shaquill Griffin left the game with a concussion and Tyson Campbell suffered a shoulder injury. That left Nevin Lawson and Chris Claybrooks as the top two corners — possibly for the near future. The Jaguars have the Falcons and Rams the next two weeks. The Jaguars had been relatively healthy all year until Sunday, when five key players got hurt. — DiRocco
DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 1.5, down from 3. Penalties and turnovers, inept offense, failure to get off the field on third down … just an awful performance against a team that played on Monday night, flew across country, and kicked off at 10 a.m. PT.
Next game: vs. Falcons (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Patriots’ defense is legit. In each of the past three games, the unit has allowed no more than seven points and 250 yards. They’re only the third defense in the past 15 seasons with a streak that long, and the other two teams made the Super Bowl — the 49ers in 2019 and Seahawks in 2014. A physical defensive front makes it tough to run against them, and the defensive backs are ballhawks. The Patriots intercepted a pass on four straight drives to end Thursday’s game, which is the second time under Bill Belichick they’ve recorded an interception on four straight drives, with the last time coming in 2001. — Mike Reiss
Are the Patriots the best team in the AFC? No one would have been asking that question five weeks ago when they were 2-4. But winners of five in a row, the Patriots are now one of the hottest teams in the NFL, playing complementary football with a hard-hitting D, an efficient offense, and solid special teams. The Titans and Bills are among the teams that can stake a claim to top-of-the-AFC standing, and as it turns out, the Patriots play them in three of their next four games (Titans on Oct. 28, Bills on Dec. 6 and Dec. 26). That will be telling. — Reiss
Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, up from 6. Five wins in a row, and playing such a physical game on a Sunday-to-Thursday turnaround, highlights a team that has found its identity.
Next game: vs. Titans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Falcons are in a bad place at the moment. They haven’t scored a touchdown in more than 130 minutes of football and offensively there are problems. The offensive line is struggling to block. The running game is essentially nonexistent. Matt Ryan threw two interceptions and had his second straight subpar game. Yes, these losses were against good teams, but that also tells you where the Falcons are as a team. — Michael Rothstein
How does Atlanta solve its offensive problems? Falcons coach Arthur Smith said they have to evaluate everything during the team’s mini-bye over the weekend, and while there aren’t any easy answers, there need to be some answers. Whether that’s shaking up the interior of the offensive line or as simple as getting a healthy Cordarrelle Patterson back, something has to shift — otherwise Atlanta might not win many more games this season. — Rothstein
Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.4, down from 4. Two games without a touchdown leads to a franchise in flux.
Next game: vs. Jaguars (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)