It's not uncommon to write an NFL team off too soon. We live in a world where fans crave instant reaction, and it's easier to trample the team that stumbles out of the gates rather than chart the ways it can turn its season around. When the Minnesota Vikings were sitting at 1-5 heading into Week 8, they were that team. Their playoff hopes were all but dead, and critics were calling for head coach Mike Zimmer to lose his job. Those critics, however, weren't accounting for the wide receiver duo of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. These two players have largely fueled Minnesota's turnaround, as the Vikings have won five of their last six games and are now lurking in the NFC playoff picture as the projected No. 7 seed at 6-6.
Another NFC team that once appeared dead in the water and is now in the playoff picture is the New York Giants. They started the season 1-7 and have ripped off four straight wins to take hold of the No. 4 seed as the leaders in the lowly NFC East. Their most recent win was unexpected, and not just because they had to play the Seattle Seahawks on the road but because they had to throw it all the way back to 2014 in a sense. Keep reading this week's numbers to know, and you'll understand what I mean by that.
The Arizona Cardinals are sliding after losing to the Los Angeles Rams 38-28 on Sunday. They've now lost three games in a row and have dropped four of their past five outings. The Cardinals stood at 5-2 after taking down the Seattle Seahawks in overtime in Week 7. They went into a bye the following week, looking like a team that was ready to take over the NFC. A month or so later, Arizona is 6-6 and at a crossroads.
The biggest driver of the Cardinals' early-season success was quarterback Kyler Murray, who was producing on an MVP level. In the past few games, however, his numbers have started to slip. Over the past three losses, Murray has averaged only 204 passing yards per game and 4.1 rushing yards per attempt. He boasted averages of 263.9 passing yards per game and 6.9 yards per rush attempt before the losing streak started. Murray has been dealing with a lingering shoulder injury, and that could be why his stats have dipped.
The New York Giants' 17-12 win over the Seattle Seahawks was a throwback victory. With starting quarterback Daniel Jones sidelined by a hamstring injury, the Giants started backup quarterback Colt McCoy in his place. The result was McCoy's first victory as a starter in 2,232 days (Oct. 27, 2014). He only threw for 105 yards in the win, but it came against a pretty solid Seahawks team on the road. The Giants are now 5-7 and the only NFC East squad with a win over a team that currently has a winning record.
McCoy's performance wasn't the only throwback to 2014. Giants running back Alfred Morris, a teammate of McCoy's in Washington, scored both a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown. It had been six years since the last time Morris scored two touchdowns in a single game (Week 9 of the 2014 season). Morris' receiving touchdown — which was McCoy's only TD pass of the game — was also the first of his career. New York's defense did most of the heavy lifting, but vintage efforts from McCoy and Morris were crucial in this win over Seattle.
The Cleveland Browns are riding a four-game winning streak after beating the Tennessee Titans 41-35 in Week 13. This ties the franchise's longest winning streak since returning to the NFL in 1999. The last time the Browns won more than four games in a row was during the 1994 season, back when Bill Belichick was the team's head coach. The 9-3 Browns are tied with the New York Giants (of all teams) for the league's fourth-longest winning streak right now.
Cleveland's ground game deserves a lot of credit for the winning streak, but another big reason why the Browns keep stacking wins is that quarterback Baker Mayfield is limiting his turnovers. He has gone five straight games without throwing an interception, after throwing seven interceptions in his first seven outings of the season. While he did lose a fumble late in Sunday's win over the Titans, the lone mistake was far outweighed by the four touchdown passes he threw in the first half. Mayfield and the Browns can solidify their standing as true contenders in the AFC by exacting their revenge on the Baltimore Ravens (who beat them 38-6 in the season opener) next weekend.
Chicago Bears KR/WR/RB Cordarrelle Patterson reached a unique career milestone during a 34-30 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday. With his five-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, Patterson became the only player in NFL history with at least eight career rushing touchdowns, eight career receiving touchdowns and eight career kickoff return touchdowns.
Patterson entered the NFL as a first-round draft pick back in 2013, but his career has not followed the same path as any player who came before him. He's been named first-team All Pro three times as a kick returner while struggling to nail down a permanent role on offense with four different teams. His playmaking ability is immediately apparent whenever you see him in open space with the ball in his hands, but those moments are few and far between. Patterson has captured lightning in a bottle just enough times in his professional career to carve out his own corner of the NFL record book.
The number 12 is a big one for Minnesota Vikings receivers after their 27-24 overtime win versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. Let's talk about Justin Jefferson first, since he's the star rookie. He's now just the fifth player since the NFL merger to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards (1,039) in his first 12 games. Odell Beckham Jr. is the most recent player to accomplish this feat (2014). Jefferson racked up 121 yards on nine receptions against the Jags, including a 20-yard score that put Minnesota ahead by three late in the third quarter.
Jefferson has a bright future ahead of him, but you can't forget about veteran wide receiver Adam Thielen. He leads the team with 12 touchdown receptions, after scoring on a three-yard strike from Kirk Cousins on Sunday. Thielen joins Randy Moss and Cris Carter as the only players in Vikings history to record 12-plus TD receptions in a single season. It took Minnesota a couple of months to find its footing after starting the season 1-5, but Thielen and Jefferson now have the team in full stride at 6-6.
The Las Vegas Raiders defeated the New York Jets 31-28 in shocking fashion on Sunday. Something that may be equally shocking: Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has 19 fourth-quarter comebacks since 2015, which is the most in the NFL during that span. Carr has certainly enjoyed his moments, but he doesn't get the credit as a quarterback who thrives in the clutch. Then again, how much credit does a quarterback deserve for barely beating the Jets.
The Raiders are 7-5 and are still very much alive in the playoff race, but they didn't look like a playoff team in Week 13. The Jets almost got their first win of the season, before gifting Carr a 46-yard touchdown strike to rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs, sealing the game with only five seconds left in the fourth quarter. Carr leans heavily on tight end Darren Waller, who went off for 200 yards and two touchdowns on 13 receptions Sunday. True contenders will find ways to keep Waller in check and expose Carr.
Bill Belichick's New England Patriots absolutely dismantled the Los Angeles Chargers in a 45-0 beatdown on Sunday. This game marked the fourth career regular-season game in which Belichick's team has defeated its opponent by 45 or more points. That ties Tom Landry, Vince Lombardi and Hank Stram for the most such victories in NFL history. The Patriots are now 6-6 and in a position to potentially make a late push for a playoff spot.
The most impressive aspect of Sunday's win was the way the Patriots handled Justin Herbert, who was on a fast track to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award before bumping into Belichick. For the first time all season, Herbert did not throw a touchdown pass. He also posted his worst completion percentage of the year (49.1) and threw multiple interceptions for only the second time all season. It may be a down year for the Patriots, but Belichick still knows how to befuddle an inexperienced quarterback.
Aaron Rodgers threw his 400th career touchdown pass in a 30-16 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. The long-time Green Bay Packers quarterback is the fastest player ever to reach the milestone, hitting it in his 193rd career game. Rodgers currently leads the league with 36 touchdown passes and has now eclipsed the 35-touchdown mark in five different seasons (NFL record).
No player is helping Rodgers break these records more than wide receiver Davante Adams, who caught two touchdown passes against the Eagles. Adams has scored at least one receiving touchdown each of the past seven games and now has 13 total on the season. That's tied for the most in the NFL, despite the fact that he has missed a couple games due to injury. Rodgers-to-Adams might be the most unstoppable QB-WR connection in football right now. They're the biggest reason why the Packers sit atop the NFC North at 9-3.