Week 10 of the 2021 NFL season had big blowouts, a couple of unlikely upsets and … a tie. After suffering surprising losses last weekend, the Cowboys and Bills rebounded with lopsided victories. Dallas and Buffalo were joined by New England in going north of 40 points in important wins.
Tampa Bay lost its second straight, as Washington upset Tom Brady and the Bucs. It was the second shocker of the week, after the Dolphins stopped Lamar Jackson and the Ravens on Thursday night. The Titans held on against the Saints, and the Colts survived against the Jaguars. The Lions-Steelers game went to overtime, where both teams traded possessions before Pittsburgh tight end Pat Freiermuth fumbled the ball in field goal range, leading to a tie. Detroit still hasn’t won this season, but it ensured it would not go 0-17.
In the afternoon games, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers blanked Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. Cam Newton scored twice in his return to Carolina as the Panthers beat the Cardinals. The Broncos and Vikings also prevailed.
Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action. 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: So much for the Aaron Rodgers–Russell Wilson shootout. More like a game of which quarterback could make fewer mistakes. Both appeared rusty, Rodgers in his return from a 10-day COVID quarantine and Wilson in his return from finger surgery. Both threw red-zone interceptions, making it the first time in an NFL game this season that there have been two such interceptions. For Rodgers, it was his second red-zone pick of the season (the other came in Week 1). Last year, he threw 35 touchdowns without an interception in the red zone. The surest sign that Rodgers wasn’t at his best: he even misfired on a couple of throws to Davante Adams, who normally is always on the same page with Rodgers. He also fumbled a snap and threw behind running back Aaron Jones for what might have been a big play. Two plays later, he threw the end-zone interception. Rodgers finished 23-of-37 for 292 yards. He did not throw a touchdown and had the one interception. He had previously been 1-5 in games without a touchdown pass and at least one interception. — Rob Demovsky
How good is the Packers’ defense? If you didn’t believe they were legit before Sunday, then you’ll probably just say they feasted on a quarterback who clearly wasn’t at his best in his return from injury. But if you thought their No. 5 overall ranking coming into this week was real, then Sunday’s performance should have reinforced that. It was their first shutout since a 22-0 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 30, 2018. They picked off Wilson twice and both came in the end zone, one by Kevin King and the other by Adrian Amos. They lead the NFL with five end-zone interceptions this season. The Packers have played Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes and Wilson in the last three games and held them to a combined 34 points. — Demovsky
Demovsky’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, no change from 7.5. No change from last week after a loss at Kansas City because there was no panic after the Packers lost with Jordan Love at quarterback. It’s also reasonable to think Rodgers will play better once he settles back into a normal routine.
Next game: at Vikings (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Russell Wilson was not sharp at all in his first game back from a finger injury that sidelined him for a month. As impressive as he was to beat the projected timetable on his return, you have to wonder how much the finger is still affecting him. Wilson forced two throws that resulted in interceptions and misfired on several others, mistakes you usually don’t see one of the NFL’s most accurate and turnover-averse QBs make. The Seahawks continued their defensive improvement but they made costly mistakes and didn’t have enough of a running game to ease the burden on Wilson in his return. The result was their first shutout loss of the Wilson era and an even-deeper hole they’ll now have to climb out of at 3-6. — Brady Henderson
Are the Seahawks done? Not quite, but they need Wilson’s finger to get better and they need their defense to continue its turnaround. Considering the opponent, they may have played their best game of the season on that side of the ball against easily the best quarterback they’ve faced in a while. At 3-6, their hopes of winning the NFC West seem long gone. But they still have enough winnable games on their schedule (Washington, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston) to make a 9-8 finish and a wild-card berth possible. But that assumes no letdowns and at least one upset. And it assumes Wilson’s finger gets better than it appeared to be on Sunday. — Henderson
Henderson’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.1, up from 4.8. Their defense showed against Aaron Rodgers that its recent turnaround is no fluke, which will give Seattle a chance.
Next game: vs. Cardinals (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: After being targeted nine times combined in Weeks 8 and 9, Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson finally got what he deserved against the Chargers: the ball. Minnesota finally gave Jefferson a chance to be the deep-ball threat he’s designed to be in this offense, and it paid off big time in helping the Vikings snap a two-game losing skid. Kirk Cousins went 5-for-6 targeting Jefferson on throws longer than 10 yards downfield and 1-for-6 on deep passes to all other receivers. The star wideout, who finished with nine catches for 143 yards, stepped up with the game on the line with a spectacular, 27-yard sideline catch on third-and-6 with 3:02 left, his third such catch of the afternoon. This game proved that when Cousins gives his best playmaker a chance, even when he’s blanketed by a defender, Jefferson won’t let him down. — Courtney Cronin
Can the Vikings sustain this effort to make a greater push? This game had plenty of cringeworthy moments that could have led to another loss had the offense not been able to sustain critical drives in the second half. The way Minnesota looked at the end of the second quarter — when it predictably went three-and-out with 1:30 left in the half — and the way the defense allowed the Chargers to march to a touchdown on the first possession of the second half made it feel like the same old story for a bit. But the Vikings finally figured out how to not fold at the end of a game, which they hope will carry over into Week 11. — Cronin
Cronin’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.5, up from 4. A win in LA was important in righting the ship and potentially saving jobs, but the Vikings host NFC North rival Green Bay next Sunday. The pressure only intensifies from here.
Next game: vs. Packers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Chargers watched first place in the AFC West slip right out of their hands. They couldn’t stop or even slow the Vikings and RB Dalvin Cook, whom Brandon Staley warned was getting strong and faster as the season progresses. Cook ran for 94 yards, including a key fourth-and-2 conversion right before the two-minute warning to seal the game for Minnesota. So no fourth-quarter fab finishes this week. The defense was on the field way too long thanks to Cook and Vikings WR Justin Jefferson, not giving quarterback Justin Herbert a sniff of a chance at his eighth career comeback win. — Shelley Smith
How does Herbert get back on a roll? Herbert went 20 for 34 passing with 195 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception, a far cry from his 356-yard performance the week before against the Eagles. Dropped passes from his normally reliable receivers didn’t help, but Herbert continued his up-and-down play of the past month. Getting into a more consistent playcalling rhythm and additional help from his skill-position players would help Herbert break his current pattern. — Smith
Smith’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.5, down from 6.2. Their defense needs to get a few more three-and-outs and needs to get off the field more consistently on third and fourth down. Herbert can’t get in a rhythm and work his magic if he doesn’t have the ball.
Next game: vs. Steelers (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Receiver DeVonta Smith has arrived. Celebrating his 23rd birthday, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner caught four balls for 66 yards with two touchdowns. It was the first multi-touchdown game of his career, and he now has three scores in the last two games. He also became the third Eagles rookie to record 600 receiving yards in his first 10 career games since the merger (DeSean Jackson – 652 in 2008; Charle Young – 609 in 1973), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Smith’s leaping 36-yard TD grab against former teammate Patrick Surtain II showed the body control and awareness that made him such a standout at Alabama. His emergence, along with the continued success on the ground (214 yards rushing), will make things much easier for quarterback Jalen Hurts over the stretch run. — Tim McManus
Has the defense finally figured it out? Opposing quarterbacks had completed 75.5% of their passes against Philadelphia entering Week 10, on pace to be the highest allowed in NFL history. Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater has been efficient this season, completing 70.2% of his passes coming in, but went just 22-of-36 (61 percent) for 226 yards. Cornerback Darius Slay came up with the big play, returning a Melvin Gordon fumble 82 yards for the score. The defensive line was active and the back seven was tighter with their coverage. A marked improvement — now they have to do it consistently. — McManus
McManus’ confidence rating (0-10): 4.8, up from 3.8. The Eagles don’t have to get on a plane for the remainder of the regular season and have one of the easiest closing schedules in the NFL. With an identity now forged on offense and the defense emitting some positive signs, the ingredients are in place for the Eagles to finish strong.
Next game: vs. Saints (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Broncos simply may not be good enough to enjoy any prosperity they create. And if they can’t get a little healthier during the coming bye or find some consistency, that will be the anchor that drags them out of the postseason for the sixth consecutive year. With the disappointing loss to the Eagles at home — it ranks atop the disappointment list, now ahead of losses to Las Vegas and Baltimore on the home turf already this year — the Broncos staggered into their bye week 5-5 just a week after dominating Dallas in what may have been their best all-around win since Peyton Manning retired. This is the maddening side of the Broncos. They lost four in a row after opening the season 3-0 and now, with the opportunity to take their battered roster into the bye at 6-4, they instead had a chip-shot field goal blocked, had a fumble returned 82 yards for a touchdown, and continued to play plenty of three-wide sets even though they don’t block it well. — Jeff Legwold
Can the Broncos fix what ails them during the bye week? They won’t get much healthier after the bye. But if linebacker Bradley Chubb, who is expected to start practicing at some point after the bye, can get back in the lineup at some point it would help. But the Broncos’ can work to fix their issues with penalties, turnovers, red zone inefficiency and run defense. But the bottom line is this team will need to show a little fire. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater largely being a spectator on the Eagles’ fumble return for a score is exactly what some folks will point to as missing from this team. — Legwold
Legwold’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.5, down from 6.5. With a chance to go into the bye at 6-4 after a win in Dallas that showed some potential, the Broncos used up every bit of that goodwill with their poorest effort of the year.
Next game: vs. Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET, Nov. 28)
What to know: Carolina is in the NFC playoff and division race, and not just because of quarterback Cam Newton‘s two touchdowns in his return. Christian McCaffrey looks like his 2019 Pro Bowl self. The league’s No. 2 defense is getting healthy. The other three teams in the South lost on Sunday, leaving the Panthers half a game behind the Saints for second and 1 ½ behind the Bucs for first. Mix all that with the energy Newton brings and this season that appeared lost has hope. — David Newton
What can the Panthers expect from Cam Newton moving forward? Count on Newton starting next week against Washington and former Carolina coach Ron Rivera. With a full week of practice he should be ready to handle a larger role after eight plays Sunday. He had a touchdown run and pass on his first two. The threat Newton brings as a runner opens the offense for McCaffrey, who had 161 total yards in three quarters. Newton will build on that, but is a few weeks away from having a total grasp of the offense. — Newton
Newton’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.4, up from 4.4. Baby steps. Newton still has to prove he can excel for an entire game, but the early returns saw Carolina’s chances of making the playoffs jump from 7% to 16%, according to ESPN’s playoff predictor.
Next game: vs. Washington (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: It was U-G-L-Y for Arizona. From the get-go, the Cardinals looked lost, didn’t have any energy and played some really bad football while quarterback Kyler Murray and receiver DeAndre Hopkins watched from the bench. Games like this happen and for the Cardinals’ sake it’s better in mid-November instead of mid-January or mid-February. This was the type of game where you don’t watch the film. You just move on. — Josh Weinfuss
How will this loss affect the Cardinals? It’s biggest impact comes in the standings. The loss moved Arizona out of the top seed in the NFC and behind the Green Bay Packers. That means, as of now, Arizona will not get a wild-card round bye. — Weinfuss
Weinfuss’ confidence rating (0-10): 8.5, down from 9. It’s hard to knock the Cardinals too hard for losing with a backup quarterback and without their top receiver against a very good defense.
Next game: at Seahawks (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Coach Dan Campbell has yet to celebrate a Detroit Lions victory in his first season, but he at least avoided a loss Sunday. The NFL’s last winless team was on the verge of pulling off a major upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, but the game ultimately ended in a 16-16 tie. Detroit came close yet again, but couldn’t cash in, despite the Steelers being without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who landed on the COVID-19 list. The Lions’ ground game generated 229 yards, but quarterback Jared Goff struggled through a rough passing day with 114 yards. — Eric Woodyard
Can Lions running back D’Andre Swift build off this breakout game? Yes, this performance can be a confidence booster for Swift. And it wasn’t just Swift — the Lions’ running attack looked impressive against the Steelers even without Jamaal Williams (thigh). Godwin Igwebuike (42-yard TD) and Jermar Jefferson (28-yard TD) scored from long range. However, Swift carried the load with his second 100-yard rushing game, finishing with 130 yards. Campbell said he would become more involved in the offensive game planning moving forward, and this was his first opportunity coming out of the bye week. — Woodyard
Woodyard’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.5, up from 1.5. Outside of the 44-6 blowout loss to Philadelphia at home on Halloween, it’s hard to question the heart of this team. It’s more so the lack of talent, but this was another reminder that although its record isn’t good, this team continues to play hard and hasn’t given up on the season.
Next game: at Browns (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Sunday afternoon was a comedy of errors as the Steelers tied the winless Detroit Lions 16-16, recording the NFL’s first tie since Week 3 of the 2020 season. The game featured a snap over Mason Rudolph‘s head; a fumble by Diontae Johnson; multiple penalties on the defense; a missed 48-yard field goal by the Lions; a dropped pass by Pat Freiermuth and a fumble by Freiermuth. With season-dictating AFC matchups on the horizon, the Steelers couldn’t close out a must-win game in overtime as Rudolph made his 10th career start. Though starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was ruled out Saturday night because of COVID-19 protocols, the Steelers heavily relied on the passing game with mixed results. Rudolph showed his mobility, but his throws were inconsistent, often overthrowing or missing targets. Then, in overtime, Rudolph hit Johnson on the sideline for what would’ve been a big gain, but the receiver fumbled it at midfield trying to pick up extra yards and turned it over. The Lions missed a 48-yard field goal on the ensuing drive with 4:03 remaining. Then to top it off, Pittsburgh was driving into Detroit territory looking for one last chance to win it, only for Freiermuth to fumble away a short pass at the Lions’ 38 with eight seconds left. To bolster playoff hopes in a wide-open AFC North, the Steelers needed to beat both the struggling Chicago Bears and the Lions, but they accomplished only half with a gauntlet on the horizon. — Brooke Pryor
What happened to the Steelers’ run defense? The same Steelers run defense that largely held the Browns and Nick Chubb in check with just 96 rushing yards two weeks ago was nowhere to be found. The Steelers gave up a season-high 130 yards to D’Andre Swift — a mark he gained midway through the third quarter. Sunday also marked just the fourth time the Steelers gave up more than 200 rushing yards at home since Heinz Field opened in 2001. The absence of NT Tyson Alualu and DE Stephon Tuitt coupled with the Steelers’ inability to tackle created a worst-case scenario. To open the third quarter, the Steelers gave up consecutive runs of 12, 14 and 42 yards — the final one giving the Lions a lead. The Steelers clamped down late in the third and fourth quarters, but the damage was done. — Pryor
Pryor’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.3, down from 5. The Steelers’ four-game win streak ended with a tie against a winless Detroit Lions team, but it happened while Roethlisberger was sidelined by COVID-19 protocols.
Next game: at Chargers (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Bills’ offense returned to its pre-bye form and put together a dominating performance. Quarterback Josh Allen connected with his receivers downfield, especially Stefon Diggs, who had his first game 100- yard receiving game of the season. Gabriel Davis also went over 100 yards, giving the Bills two 100-plus receivers in the same game for the first time this season. Allen went 9-of-13 for 271 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on throws more than 10 yards downfield — the most yards on such passes by any quarterback in a game this season. He went 21-of-28 for the day, a much-improved performance from his loss against Jacksonville. The return of right tackle Spencer Brown made a significant impact on the right side of the line, and Buffalo had some success running the ball with four different players finishing with a rushing score. Running back Matt Breida had a bit of a breakout game, scoring a rushing and receiving touchdown. While it was against a struggling Jets team, the Bills’ offense looked unstoppable once again by not relying just on Allen to get the job done. That’s something this team can build upon. — Alaina Getzenberg
Is the Bills’ defense the best in the NFL? It’s making a solid case. Buffalo had four interceptions and forced a fumble in its win over the Jets. Every member of the secondary got a takeaway. The Bills entered the game leading the league in turnover margin (plus-11) and added to that total on Sunday. Without starting DT Star Lotulelei, who was placed on the COVID-19 list prior to the game, Buffalo held the Jets to 70 rushing yards. Only two teams have rushed for 100-plus yards on the Bills’ defense (Chiefs and Titans) and they entered the day fourth in rushing yards allowed (85.6). There are improvements to make, like with the pass rush, but the Bills are limiting opponents’ ability to score consistently. — Getzenberg
Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.8, up from 7. The Bills needed a bounce-back game and got it, dominating in all three phases, and the next test is keeping that up against tougher opponents.
Next game: vs. Colts (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Matt Breida reaches the end zone in the opening quarter with a 15-yard TD pass from Josh Allen and then again in the third quarter with a 15-yard rush.
What to know: Mike White mania was fun while it lasted. The unheralded quarterback, in his third start, suffered a four-interception nightmare in the Jets’ 45-17 loss to the Bills. Facing the NFL’s top-ranked defense, White came unglued with bad throws and bad decisions. Now the QB decision is clear: Coach Robert Saleh should go back to rookie Zach Wilson, assuming Wilson’s sprained right knee is good to go. They could’ve justified another start for White if he had played well, but now it’s time for the Jets to remember the primary purpose of the season: develop Wilson into a legit NFL starter. Last week, Saleh said the quarterback situation would resolve itself “organically.” It has, albeit painfully. — Rich Cimini
Is this the worst defense in Jets history? Statistically, yes. The Jets are allowing 32.9 points and over 400 yards per game, both the worst in franchise history. Against the one-dimensional Bills, who had been sputtering, the Jets surrendered at least 30 points for the fourth game in a row — a run of badness that has happened only five times in their history. Their young cornerbacks, Brandin Echols and Javelin Guidry, were overmatched by Josh Allen & Co. The talent on defense is awful. General manager Joe Douglas, who used his first four draft picks last spring on offensive players, needs to flip the script in 2022. — Cimini
Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.5, down from 4. Somewhere on a golf course in South Florida, Adam Gase must be smiling. The Jets are one of the worst two or three teams in the league.
Next game: vs. Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Titans’ pass rush is becoming a legitimate problem for opposing teams. That’s especially the case for Jeffery Simmons, who has transformed into a one-man wrecking crew as shown by his five sacks over the last two games. Simmons consistently wins one-on-one matchups and on stunts/twists. The Titans’ defense has 27 sacks through 10 games this season after finishing with 19 last season. — Turron Davenport
Who will be the go-to offensive player for the Titans down the stretch? Running back Derrick Henry isn’t walking through that door and wide receiver Julio Jones is out for at least the next three weeks after being placed on injured reserve. Wide receiver A.J. Brown had a hot streak entering last week’s game but finished with one reception for 16 yards. The defense can’t be counted on to be lights-out each time it takes the field. Tennessee needs Brown, or someone, to become the player it can rely upon to make a play when needed. — Davenport
Davenport’s confidence rating (0-10): 9, down from 9.5. The Titans’ defense looked good against the Saints in the first half. But it struggled in the second half while the offense went three-and-out a few times. Even though the Saints’ defense is a good group, the Titans’ offense failed to put New Orleans away when it had the chance. Tennessee’s schedule down the stretch doesn’t present many challenges, but the Titans can’t expect to play this way and win in the playoffs.
Next game: vs. Texans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Almost an exact repeat of last week, the Saints’ offense struggled early before coming alive in the fourth quarter and falling short. But the unfortunate trend leaves the Saints having to scratch and claw with a depleted offense in which RB Alvin Kamara and LT Terron Armstead were out for Week 10 and QB Jameis Winston and WR Michael Thomas are out for the season. The Saints also couldn’t overcome things like a fumbled kickoff return, two missed extra points and brutal penalties. — Mike Triplett
Do the Saints stick with Trevor Siemian at quarterback? Once again, Siemian’s fourth-quarter performance was probably impressive enough to keep him in the role. He struggled at times, especially when he took sacks that knocked them out of field goal range before halftime. But his pass catchers also continued to let him down with drops. Still, the Saints need to consider every option to add juice to this offense — and Taysom Hill is an obvious solution they have to consider. — Triplett
Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, down from 6.7. The Saints put up a good fight against the AFC’s top team. But their flaws remained fully on display. They need a healthy Kamara back as soon as possible.
Next game: at Eagles (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Colts were supposed to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Jets in their past two games. That had to happen if they expected to remain in playoff contention, even if the games ended up being closer than they should have been. But now the true test is about to happened for the Colts. Their next two games are against teams that have winning records and who would be in the playoffs if the postseason started today. The Colts play at Buffalo in Week 11 and are at home against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Week 12. The Colts have not beaten a team with a winning record this season, and you have to wonder when it will happen, considering how the Colts had to hold on against the Jaguars after jumping out to a 17-0 lead. — Mike Wells
Will the Colts ever get the ‘killer instinct’ they constantly talk about? No. They said they needed to develop it after blowing an 19-point lead in an overtime loss to Baltimore, and they said it again after blowing a 14-point lead in their loss to Tennessee. The Colts would have already developed it if they were going to get it, considering they’re in the second half of the season. — Wells
Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.9, down from 4.3. The Colts gave up nearly 500 yards to the Jets in Week 9, and they let a Jaguars team that isn’t very good hang around until late in the fourth quarter. That can’t happen against two teams in line for top-five draft picks next spring.
Next game: at Bills (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Jonathan Taylor keeps his legs pumping and pushes across the goal line for a Colts touchdown.
What to know: This deep into the season, the Jaguars’ offense is what it is: a unit that needs everything to go perfectly for it to function. Rarely does that happen, which is why the Jaguars are averaging just 17 points per game. Sunday was typical: five drops, too many penalties (including three by TE Chris Manhertz), receivers struggling to get separation, Trevor Lawrence indecisive and off-target on some throws, and awful third-down production. There’s no help on the way, either. The Jaguars didn’t put in a waiver claim on DeSean Jackson or Odell Beckham Jr. (Jackson would have been a big help as the team’s only speed receiver). The Jaguars have to seriously upgrade their playmakers, and that can’t happen until the offseason, so expect more of the same. — Mike DiRocco
Has the Jaguars’ defense turned a corner? It certainly looks that way. The unit gave up only 16 points on Sunday (the Colts scored one TD on a blocked punt return), one week after limiting Buffalo (the highest-scoring team in the league) to just two field goals. They had trouble with Jonathan Taylor early but shut him down in the second half. The front is getting good pressure and the secondary has cut down on allowing big plays. — DiRocco
DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, down from 4. The Jaguars struggled on offense and gave up a blocked punt for a TD but still had a chance to win a division game on the road.
Next game: vs. 49ers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Cowboys believed last week’s loss to Denver was an anomaly and desperately wanted to prove that on Sunday against Atlanta. How does a 43-3 win against the Falcons sound? The Cowboys ripped Atlanta apart with a 29-point second quarter. Ezekiel Elliott scored twice and added a 2-point conversion. Dak Prescott threw his second touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb. And Nahshon Wright recovered a blocked punt in the end zone a week after a deflected punt bounced off his arm, allowing Denver to keep the ball. The 29 points were the most the Cowboys have scored in any quarter. A defense that had been exposed by the Broncos allowed 58 yards on the Falcons’ first drive but 19 for the rest of the half. The second half had all the relevance of a preseason game, but the Cowboys made their point: The Broncos loss was a one-off. — Todd Archer
How important are the next three games for the Cowboys? The next three games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders and New Orleans Saints will determine how legitimate the Cowboys are as a Super Bowl contender. At 7-2, they appear like they will be right in the mix, especially with such a dominating performance against the Falcons, but if they can win all three, the Cowboys will be in the hunt for home-field advantage in December. Playing Patrick Mahomes and Derek Carr in a span of five days will be a challenge, and it’s never easy to win in New Orleans. The Cowboys close the year with five of their last eight games away from home, so grabbing at least two wins out of the next three would be a good thing. — Archer
Archer’s confidence rating (0-10): 9, up from 8.4. It dropped to 8.4 after last week’s loss to the Broncos. It goes back up to a 9 with how they dismantled the Falcons. You felt the offense would bounce back based on the personnel. The defense was iffier, but after giving up a field goal on the first drive, it shut Atlanta down.
Next game: at Chiefs (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Falcons might be in playoff contention, but to call them contenders for anything substantial this season would be fallacy following the Falcons’ worst loss since a 56-10 drubbing by Kansas City in 2004. Atlanta faced its toughest opponent since Week 2 on Sunday in Dallas and responded with a blowout bad enough that backup quarterback Josh Rosen came in and finished the fourth quarter. It shows, in some ways, the mediocrity in the NFC beyond the top five teams. Sometimes these games are aberrations, but considering the Falcons’ lack of depth and clear defensive holes, it’s reality for them. The Falcons might be in conversation for a playoff bid, but even if that somehow happens, don’t expect much if they get there. — Michael Rothstein
What can Atlanta do at receiver? It’s likely a longer-term question at this point, but it’s clear the team’s receiver depth is lacking with Calvin Ridley on the non-football-injury list with an unknown return date. Atlanta’s receivers were particularly poor against Dallas. None had a catch until the second half. Russell Gage, the team’s top receiver in theory (although Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson are ahead of him as a tight end and a running back), was targeted three times over the first three quarters and did not record a reception. It’s the second time in three weeks he hasn’t caught a pass in meaningful snaps for the Falcons. — Rothstein
Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 4.5. Atlanta is an average team, but it doesn’t have the players or the depth to compete against the best teams in the NFL.
Next game: vs. Patriots (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: Washington played, by far, its best game of the season. The defense was terrific, holding Tampa Bay to 273 yards. It’s also the second game the WFT defense held an opponent under 300 yards. Washington intercepted Tom Brady twice, leading to 10 points. The combination of pressure and good coverage led forced Brady to throw passes away or into danger. The defense did this despite losing end Chase Young in the first half to a knee injury and playing without fellow end Montez Sweat, out with a jaw injury. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who made his name in a loss to the Bucs last season in the playoffs, was very good. He threw for 256 yards and a touchdown. — John Keim
Can WFT sustain this play with all these injuries? Washington lost Young, possibly to a torn ACL, and won’t have Sweat for another three to five weeks. It is thin at tight end — though Logan Thomas might be back soon — and receiver. So it will be difficult to sustain a high level of play. At defensive end, Washington has young players James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill who can start. But it’s a very thin group now with a lot of inexperience. However, WFT showed a lot of grit in upsetting Tampa and has played with a good demeanor of late. It did not flinch when the Bucs looked ready to take the game over. That speaks volumes and provides hope that Washington can finish as strong as it did in 2020, when it won five of its last seven games. — Keim
Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 3. Washington had been playing better; it just couldn’t convert scoring opportunities. It finally did so — and now playing at Carolina it’s fair to wonder if Washington can go on a winning streak to finally generate momentum.
Next game: at Panthers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Antonio Gibson gets stopped, but his offensive line keeps him moving into the end zone for a touchdown.
What to know: Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came out of their bye week looking like a Super Bowl contender and never lost another game en route to winning Super Bowl LV. This year, against the worst pass defense in the NFL — Washington — they came out of the bye looking like an abomination, surrendering a 19-play touchdown drive in the final 10 minutes to end all hope of a game-winning drive in a 29-19 loss that dropped them to 6-3 in a competitive NFC. To make matters worse, defensive tackle Vita Vea was carted off the field with an injury. Quarterback Tom Brady threw two interceptions in the first quarter for just the third time in his career. Heinicke had way too much time to throw, completing 81.25% of his passes, and the home team managed to score on each of its first four offensive possessions for the first time since 2016. Even when the Bucs’ defense made plays behind the line of scrimmage — and it made several, sacking Heinicke five times and making 11 tackles for loss — it was unable to get off the field on third down. — Jenna Laine
Will the Bucs ever be able to cut down on penalties? This was something they had hoped to correct the way they did after the Chicago loss in Week 5 last season. But it hasn’t happened despite being a weekly point of emphasis. They were penalized six times for 43 yards, including a key neutral zone infraction on William Gholston and a false start on offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs just before halftime. In the third quarter, a defensive pass interference call on Dee Delaney took Washington from the Tampa Bay 14 to the 1-yard line, setting up a touchdown run by Antonio Gibson. — Laine
Laine’s confidence rating (0-10): 6, down from 8. The Bucs allowed a 2-6 football team and the league’s worst secondary to completely dominate them on the road — there was little to feel good about today.
Next game: vs. Giants (8:15 p.m. ET, Nov. 22)
What to know: Mac Jones looked like a seasoned veteran with his best performance of the season, raising the possibility that this team could make a legitimate postseason run. Most promising for the Patriots is that Jones had been grinding through a couple of so-so games the previous two weeks, sparking some questions about whether he had possibly hit a rookie wall. He smashed through it against the Browns (19-of-23 for 198 yards, 3 TDs), displaying the accuracy and decision-making that had shown up more consistently earlier in the season, and he was poised and on-point in third-and-long situations. The Patriots have proved they can consistently run the ball, and with Jones and the passing game finding its groove, the offense looked the best it has all season. — Mike Reiss
How deep could this team go in the playoffs? After signing a slew of big-money free agents in the offseason, and bringing Jones along masterfully, the Patriots are coming together at the right time and playing their best football. This was arguably their best performance of the season, considering it came against a team with similar playoff aspirations. When they play like this — weaving together an efficient passing game, physical running game and opportunistic defense and special teams — they can beat any team in the NFL. In a league where things can change quickly, one of their next challenges is not letting their guard down after winning four consecutive games. — Reiss
Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 6, up from 5.3. It all looks familiar from a different era — the weather in New England gets colder and the Patriots start playing their best football in hopes of making a postseason push.
Next game: at Falcons (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: A week after looking like an AFC contender, the Browns looked like a team that deserves to be watching the playoffs from home. Cleveland’s roller-coaster of a season continued with a demoralizing defeat in New England, which exposed both the Browns’ defense and QB Baker Mayfield, who completed only two passes to wide receivers. Despite Sunday’s debacle, Cleveland can still rebound to make the playoffs. But the margin for error now will be minimal. — Jake Trotter
What in the world happened to the Cleveland defense? The Browns couldn’t get pressure on QB Mac Jones, couldn’t get off the field on third down and couldn’t force turnovers. It also got dominated in the trenches trying to stop the run between the tackles. Cleveland boasts the talent to field a top-tier defense, evident in last week’s dominating performance in Cincinnati. But too often this season the Browns’ defense has just no-showed. And that’s why, to this point, they’ve ultimately underachieved. — Trotter
Trotter’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.9, down from 7.8. Gone is the week-to-week consistency, reliability and resiliency that defined the Browns’ 2020 run to the playoffs.
Next game: vs. Lions (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Dolphins’ defense is back, folks. It has been a slow build to this point, but Miami flashed some of last season’s defensive prowess during a loss to the Bills in Week 8 and turned it up the following week, forcing four turnovers and holding the Texans to nine points. But Thursday night’s effort against the Ravens was the team’s best performance of the season, effectively shutting down quarterback Lamar Jackson and the NFL’s second-ranked offense for four quarters. Defensive coordinator Josh Boyer blitzed his defensive backs 24 times and pressured Jackson 20 times — both career firsts for the former MVP. Miami’s defense scored on a Xavien Howard fumble recovery and held Baltimore under 100 rushing yards. This was the type of defense most people expected from the Dolphins to start the season. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Can this team make a playoff push? You read that correctly, I’m curious whether the 3-7 Dolphins can make a better-late-than-never playoff push. Over the next five weeks, Miami plays on the road against the Jets, then gets three straight home games against the Panthers, Giants and Jets again after its Week 14 bye. Those teams entered Week 10 with a combined 9-17 record, and in four of those weeks, the Dolphins won’t even have to leave Miami. It’s a long shot, no doubt, but this win Thursday felt less like a fluke and more like a long time coming. If Miami can crawl back to .500 before playing the Saints in Week 16, it would make the final three weeks of the season interesting. — Louis-Jacques
Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 6, up from 3.7. My biggest jump in either direction this season. If Thursday night is the new normal, then I’m fully confident the Dolphins have figured out how to win the games they’re supposed to, and there’s quite a few of those coming up.
Next game: at Jets (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Ravens need to better protect Lamar Jackson. He was under duress a career-high 20 times against the blitz-happy Dolphins. When Jackson has been pressured 14 or more times in a game, Baltimore is 0-3. The offensive line is never going to be at full strength because Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) is out for the season. But the pass protection should improve when left guard Ben Cleveland and right tackle Patrick Mekari return off injured reserve. — Jamison Hensley
Is this offense in trouble? There should be some concern. The Ravens have gone from leading the NFL in scoring in Jackson’s first two full seasons as a starter (31.2 points) to getting held to 17 points or fewer in two of the past three games. Baltimore is struggling with slow starts and third-down inefficiency, which makes you wonder whether the injuries have caught up to this offense. But Jackson is one of the most dangerous playmakers in the league. If he can get hot again, the Ravens should put up points again. — Hensley
Hensley’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, down from 8.3. The Ravens remain at the top of the AFC North, but they lost by double digits to the Dolphins and have only two decisive victories this year.
Next game: at Bears (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)