If I had to give an MVP award with the season essentially three-quarters complete, I would go with Matthew Stafford. He is flat out making plays all over the field, from four different arm slots, to a whole bunch of receivers on a team that doesn't have a running back.
Stafford put on another virtuoso display Sunday against a Saints defense that has been much more stout in recent weeks. He is making plays when they matter most -- like a bullet of a strike under duress on third-and-10 for a 66-yard touchdown that pretty much put the game away.
He passes the eye test each and every week, shifting around the pocket and finding the tightest of windows to sling the ball through. It's a pretty close vintage Aaron Rodgers impersonation most weeks, and for the Lions to be 8-4 despite some of the limitations of their roster, in the year after Calvin Johnson retired, tells you all you need to know.
They keep signing running backs off the street and shuffling new ones in due to injury, and no one would call this a top-flight offensive line. The personnel is limited at tight end. Yet this continues to be a powerful offense, and an especially timely one with Stafford's fourth-quarter exploits well established by now. Yes, Tom Brady has been exceptional -- but he's Tom Brady and he missed a quarter of the season and the Pats were still 3-1. Derek Carr would be neck-and-neck with Stafford for me right now.
Stafford went over 3,200 yards passing for the season Sunday, he is completing 67 percent of his passes and he has thrown one interception in Detroit's past eight games. He has 21 touchdowns to five interceptions on the season. The numbers aren't super gaudy, but the game is in his hands each week, Detroit's margin for error has been incredibly thin and he is the reason they are where they are (with a huge assist from offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter).
And now to another QB debate ...
Speaking of arguments, it will be a helluva battle between Brock Osweiler and Blake Bortles to see who is the worst 16-week starting quarterback in the NFL this season. Don't get wrong, I would have benched them both by now, but they aren't going anywhere.
All Bortles had to do Sunday was protect the ball a little bit and the Jaguar maybe beat a Broncos team that could barely crack 200 total yards. Instead he threw two interceptions -- including a horrible pick-six on an underneath route that basically was the difference in the game -- and the game ended on his fumble. Three turnovers. That brings his NFL-leading total to 19 on the season.
But don't sell Osweiler short. He had another brutal start to a game with 52 yards passing at the half in Green Bay. While he did manage a garbage-time touchdown, he did precious little. This underwhelming passing attack has infected DeAndre Hopkins -- he looks more lost and drops more balls by the week -- and the Texans have no spark and seemingly no hope of connecting on big plays.
It was more typical stuff Sunday. Third-and-5? Throw it 2 yards! Osweiler has a completion percentage around 18 on passes that travel 20 yards or more in the air and sadly for Houston's defense -- which shined again without J.J. Watt on Sunday (and without Jadeveon Clowney as well) -- this team is listless and limited passing the football. That's not going to change.
So try to somehow hold your breath for two more weeks, until Osweiler/Bortles Bowl 2.0, at Houston this time.
Why John Elway may be calling Jerry Jones
One of Sunday's big winners could be Tony Romo. Paxton Lynch is incredibly limited right now trying to operate a pro offense and the Broncos had basically no offensive attack at all against Jacksonville.
It might be a stretch to think Lynch is where John Elway would want his starter to be by next summer and if he's not convinced Trevor Siemian is the guy long-term, Romo might look increasingly attractive in a short window. Lynch had trouble reading the field and going through progressions and getting the ball where it needed to be, with his second start looking a lot like the first. The good news was Siemian was out of his walking boot and hopeful of being able to practice this week.
More notes from around the NFL in Week 13
Marshall Yanda is one of the most important offensive linemen in the NFL. He is the most important guard in the NFL. The Ravens go as he goes on offense, and since he returned from a serious shoulder injury Baltimore has stabilized its season.
If Joe Flacco gets anything close to the pass protection he enjoyed Sunday, the Ravens will be a tough out. They played with a pace, cadence and sense of urgency often lacking on offense this season and seem to be finding an identity just in the nick of time. And while the stats aren't sexy -- because the volume in the run game just hasn't been there -- look for the tandem of Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon to do damage in December.
The screen game is humming now and few teams are as effective lately on crossing routes and slants, with Baltimore destroying Miami in the middle of the field Sunday.
Lost amid the Lions' surge has been what the defense has done. They lack the sizzle they had a few years back with bigger-name players on the roster, but they stymied Drew Brees and the Saints' offense Sunday and had their sixth straight game allowing 20 points or fewer. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is in line for a head-coaching job and he has guys playing over their heads (the secondary was especially stellar against Brees). If not for Eric Berry's day in Atlanta we would be hearing a lot more about Lions safety Glover Quin, who had a huge pass breakup on a potential touchdown bomb and also had a vital interception.
The Packers are still desperate for any sort of consistency in the run game. An inability to get tough yards in critical third-and-short and fourth-and-short sequences allowed the Texans to hang around in a snow game in which Green Bay could have run away.
On what was yet another bizarre day for the Los Angeles Rams, including the closure finally on the long-rumored Jeff Fisher contract extension, the visual of Fisher unable to find his replay challenge flag is one I am sure the fans and media back in Los Angeles will have some fun with. I continue to like what I see from Jared Goff, but the lack of any semblance of talent around him on offense is something that will take more than one offseason to overcome. If they keep their personnel department completely as it there will be a lot of evaluators shaking their head around the league.
The Dolphins will have to swallow hard and get back to work after getting absolutely de-pantsed by the Ravens. They were battered in every facet of play, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines, which had been their greatest strengths during a six-game winning streak. They need to get off to better starts as well, carrying a minus-56 scoring margin in the first quarter this season.
Expect to see a ton of LeGarrette Blount down the stretch. He has rushed over 20 times in a game just twice in the past nine weeks. With Rob Gronkowski out for the season, the Pats knowing Brady isn't getting any younger, them wanting to be smart with the lead and with the weather turning, the big back is fresh for the playoff push. Blount attacked the Rams 18 times for 88 yards (a robust 4.9-yard average), which included a touchdown. In the past three weeks he has 48 carries for 279 yards, a gaudy average of 5.8 yards per rush.
The Saints' playoff hopes were expunged Sunday as far as I'm concerned. That's a home game this team had to have and they repeatedly found themselves in third-and-long and could not overcome it. Drew Brees looked like he has in some recent dips in form, when he forces the ball too frequently.
Nice of the 49ers to save their worst for a week in which the Browns -- the only team more inept than them -- were on a bye. Well done. That debacle in the snow, which included a return appearance from America's Quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, was San Francisco's 11th straight loss. Which makes you wonder: How did they win the worst Monday night game in history in Week 1, over the Rams?
The Bears are bad, with precious little personnel and further ravaged by injuries, and for them to outclass the 49ers like that should signal to 49ers ownership that this is a full-blown crisis and they might not have even hit rock bottom. Chip Kelly might want to rethink that Oregon job before someone else takes it. It's more likely that he stays in San Francisco and he and Tom Gamble take over personnel control and GM Trent Baalke is on the outs, but given Baalke's strong ties to ownership, you never know.
Regardless, the 49ers, like the Browns, will have a tough time trying to sell the status quo to their fans. Good luck sending out those season-ticket invoices, fellas.
Even when Tampa's offense is stammering around, Jameis Winston's leadership qualities and will to win shine through. He has a lot of fight in him.