Thanksgiving’s triple-header was just the appetizer.with a whopping six contests between clubs with winning records.
We’ll be treated to the Bills at Patriots on “Thursday Night Football”, then the Chiefs at Bengals, Titans at Eagles, Commanders at Giants, Jets at Vikings and Dolphins at 49ers. Excuse me, I need to fan myself.
Let’s rank each of these teams based on how much they have to prove in this week’s action (from least to most).
12. Kansas City Chiefs
Hats off to Chiefs GM Brett Veach. He actively placed immense pressure on himself this offseason by trading Tyreek Hill, and his club is still humming along like it has every season to date during the Patrick Mahomes era. The cruising nature of this Chiefs team is partly due to the acquisitions that were able to be made in the wake of the Hill trade. The team enters Week 13 sitting in first in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA, and Mahomes is averaging a league-high 325.9 passing yards per game, which is also the most he’s averaged in any season of his NFL career. Now, if they lose to the Bengals for the third time in a row, a small collection of skeptics will appear. I will not be one of them.
11. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers getting run out of their own building by the Chiefs in late October feels like years ago, doesn’t it? Since that 44-23 smackdown, San Francisco has overwhelmed four-consecutive opponents, and the defense has been lights out. Plus, Jimmy Garoppolo has played tremendous football with the full cast of YAC-oriented characters at his disposal. In the past month, Jimmy G’s quarterback rating is 114.3. He hasn’t thrown an interception since that Chiefs game. And now the Dolphins and all the offensive electricity come to town. A loss would slightly shake the faith in the 49ers, but given Kyle Shanahan’s playoff track record, and the established leadership in that locker room, they don’t absolutely need this cross-conference win to make believers out of anyone.
10. Philadelphia Eagles
The owners of the NFL’s best record don’t have much to prove in Week 13, but they’re a bit down the list here because of how their past few contests have gone. There was the 11-point home loss to the Commanders, then an ugly, one-point win over the hapless Colts, and most recently a shootout win against Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love on “Sunday Night Football” in Week 12. Of course, dropping a 40-burger will secure victory in most cases in the NFL, but the 33 points allowed by the defense were a season high to date, and injuries are starting to disrupt this club that was exceptionally healthy for the first two and a half months of this campaign. And now they get those pesky Titans, fresh off a frustrating loss and another disappointing Derrick Henry outing, the third in a row for the all-world runner. The last time Henry had three-straight bad performances, he started a streak of five-straight 100-plus yard rushing games.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals know all about peaking at the right time. That’s what it appears they’re doing. They’ve won five of six, and most of those contests were without All-Pro wideout Ja’Marr Chase. Impressive stuff, Joe Cool. By the way, Burrow is cooking of late with 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions — and a robust 112.3 passer rating — in that six-game, Chase-less stretch. A-YO! They host the Chiefs in what should be a blast of an AFC title game rematch, and Chase is set to return. How is this game not in prime time again? The 4 pm ET window needs some juicy matchups, too. OK, I get it. Even if the Bengals can’t topple Mahomes and Co., no one will be off the Bengals bandwagon, particularly because we know they can beat Kansas City in the playoffs, and they’ve shown this season they’re one of the scariest teams in the deep AFC.
8. Buffalo Bills
The start-of-season Super Bowl favorites are 8-3, and their most recent loss was one of the most absurd defeats in NFL regular season history. But it’s the rampant injuries and Josh Allen’s recently— which coincides with his elbow injury — that have some questioning if this Buffalo team can win a championship this season. We have seen championship-caliber mettle from the Bills the past two contests, with gritty, unpretty victories over the Browns and Lions during a five-day stretch. In a suddenly highly competitive AFC East, the Bills enter a pivotal point in the schedule, with three-consecutive games against divisional opponents, starting with Thursday night’s clash with the Patriots in Foxboro. There’s certainly some pressure on the Bills to prove they should still be considered among the serious Super Bowl contenders, but we know when they’re decently healthy and Allen’s arm is close to or at 100%, they have a case as the most challenging team to play — because of their offensive and defensive balance — in the entire NFL.
7. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are currently undefeated in games Tua Tagovailoa starts and finishes, and they’ve won five in a row overall. And it feels like Miami is in first or second in every offensive or quarterback efficiency stat heading into Week 13. We know the Dolphins are explosive. However, it’s worth noting the Dolphins’ four most recent wins came against the Lions, Bears, Browns and Texans — four of the NFL’s worst, most susceptible defenses, even when they’re not playing Miami. In Week 13, they’ll face a completely different animal. The 49ers haven’t allowed a second-half touchdown during their four-game winning streak, which is mind-blowing in today’s NFL. There are legitimate superstars like Nick Bosa and Fred Warner on that defense, along with a host of highly talented, opportunistic starters and role players. This is a major litmus test for the Dolphins.
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6. New England Patriots
The Patriots are pretty good, right? Or not? I can’t tell either. They’re eighth in the entire league in point differential (+37) but 25th in offensive DVOA, and there’s reason to believe their No. 2 spot in defensive DVOA has been significantly buoyed by facing the likes of Mitch Trubisky, Sam Ehlinger and Zach Wilson (twice). But Mac Jones did have his most efficient effort of the season to date against the Vikings on Thanksgiving, when he averaged a meaty 9.8 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and no picks and a 71.7% completion rate. After getting smoked by Buffalo, 47-17, in the playoffs last season, New England is out to prove it can hang with the high-powered Bills. If it can’t, entering the second week of December at 6-6 would be a bad look for this enigmatic team.
5. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are 9-2. There’s a scenario in which they could clinch the NFC North on Sunday. In Week 13! Bananas, right? But for a solid month now we’ve all understood they’re going to win the division. It’s not about that. For Minnesota, it’s about proving they’re truly as good as their record indicates. That +5 point differential isn’t scaring anyone right now. The same goes for the shoddy defensive play on the back end. After beating the Patriots on Thanksgiving, the Vikings got a mini bye to prepare for a Jets quarterback who was the backup just a few weeks ago. Their reputation would receive a noticeable boost with a convincing win over the upstart Gang Green team on Sunday.
4. Tennessee Titans
The only thing I’m absolutely positive about regarding the Titans is that they’re unbelievably well coached and well managed by Mike Vrabel. He, somehow, keeps the Titans in seemingly every game regardless of the opponent. Vrabel’s impact each week from the sidelines is even more consistent than Henry, and that’s really saying something. And this fact frames this Titans club perfectly — they’ve yet to score 30 points in a single outing this season yet have allowed more than 25 only one time, and that came all the way back in Week 2 against the Bills. Coming off their home loss to the Bengals, the Titans are 7-4 and in the driver’s seat to win the lowly AFC South. But Tennessee’s main goal isn’t winning the division. It’s much bigger than that. They can send a loud and clear message to the rest of the elite clubs in the AFC with a triumph over the Eagles in Philadelphia. A loss would be very troubling for a team that won’t be content simply making the playoffs.
3. New York Jets
The Jets. What do we do with the Jets? The defense has been playoff-worthy all season. Lockdown. Currently fourth in defensive DVOA. Then there was all the Zach Wilson drama, which led toin Week 12. But let’s be real. For as good as White was Sunday, he and Gang Green’s skill position players diced a Bears defense that traded away two of its best players this season, is dealing with plenty of injuries, and wasn’t exactly a stingy unit to begin with. Fortunately for New York, the Vikings are allowing the most passing yards per game and per attempt in football right now. The bad news for White and Co. — Minnesota’s pass rush (35% pressure-creation rate) is markedly better than Chicago’s (26.3%). Everyone will monitor how White and the Jets do in a hostile environment against a 9-2 club this Sunday to see if New York is legit or if White’s effectiveness quickly fades like it did a season ago.
2. Washington Commanders
The Commanders are a feel-good story. Taylor Heinicke, finally earning a legitimate starting quarterback label in the NFL, the, and the club rallying around highly respected head coach Ron Rivera. The list goes on. But they haven’t been dominant during their current run. Beyond the Eagles victory — which one can argue is the best individual win from any team to date this season — they haven’t had to face a high-caliber team in a while. Mind you, a win is a win is a win in the NFL, but I want to see how this Commanders club, one that suddenly looks playoff-caliber, performs against a quality opponent on the road in a high-stakes contest. Are they for real? Or were they just a nice story in the middle of the regular season? A loss wouldn’t squash Washington’s postseason aspirations, but it’d indicate they’re probably not quite as good as we thought before Week 13.
1. New York Giants
The Giants are reeling. The once 6-1 club that was the talk of the NFL has lost three of four. Remember, the rousing start to the season was on the back of six victories in one-score games. Eventually those contests catch up to you. And they have for the Giants. Injuries have, too, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. They’re entering the tail end of a unique scheduling quirk that features four of five games at home before a finish with three of four on the road. And the Commanders, their Week 13 opponent, are surging. Quite easily, the Giants, with the season seemingly slipping away, have the most to prove of any contending team this week. They’d probably admit that, too.